One day, Jason Strudwick was in the Stanley Cup final and feeling in the zone. His team was up 1-0 with ten seconds left and the faceoff in the attacking zone. His team won the draw and passed the puck to Jason. But Jason charged off the hash marks to hit the other team's defenseman. The other team turned the puck around and scored. The commentators said Strudwick was good in the room, and the players looked upon Strudwick's example and learned what it took to be an NHL player.
In case it wasn't obvious, I'm getting pretty sick of Jason Strudwick by now.
I thought it would be impossible for the Oilers' defense to get worse until they asked me to play on it. Boy, was I wrong. The return of Jason Strudwick brought back all the old feelings: incandescent rage, combined with various other adjectives for the same general idea. Whenever I saw 43 hop over the boards I would preemptively slam my hand in a door to try and blot out the inevitable pain of watching Strudwick in action, but of course, it didn't work. Watching Strudwick transcends mere physical discomfort. Adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes was once so tired of his necrotic fingertips that he cut them off in his shed with a fretsaw, but clearly he never watched Jason Strudwick play hockey.
Yet that's not the worst part. The worst part is that you could argue that Strudwick wasn't the worst Oilers' defenseman on the night. Oh sweet merciful hockey gods. This team could be pretty decent if so much of it wasn't so terrible.
It all got off to such a promising start, and like most promising things involving this team, it came courtesy of Jordan Eberle. I like Jordan Eberle. I like Jordan Eberle so much that any day now Fernando Pisani is going to text me asking why I never talk to him anymore. He's little and quick and scores short-handed goals more than the rest of this team scores the regular kind. His hands are so quick that he once punched a man in the face before the man knew he had one. His goal was a dazzling display of individual talent, helped just a little bit by the fact that Antero Niittymaki clearly thought Eberle could never make that move and was frozen when he did. The Oilers were up 1-0, everything was glorious, the sun was shining, and good times were ahead.
After that, well, the Sharks put through a couple of field goals and that was that. To be honest, when the Oilers get scorched for six it's hard to keep track of them all. I could try and pull out the chalkboard and explain that this goal came when the Oilers decided to slack off on defense and this goal came when the Oilers slacked off in a slightly different part of the ice, but that would be neither entertaining nor illuminating. They all unfolded in much the same way, anyhow: a blueliner caught watching the play, or chasing the puck carrier rather than reacting to events, or reacting in exactly the wrong way to whatever happened, and oh hey we got scored on again. Nikolai Khabibulin looks up at the Jumbotron in something between horror and apathy. And the crowd isn't just quiet, it's dead, the sound of seventeen thousand souls wondering why they spent $20 on those scarves again.
The horrible thing is that I actually saw a bit to like from the Oilers. Most of the forwards, for example, were alright. Eberle, of course, was excellent. The Taylor Hall and Andrew Cogliano Experience once again looked pretty effective, even if Gilbert Brule was unpleasant. Zack Stortini won his fight, Dustin Penner was quiet but constantly forced the Sharks to respect his athleticism, and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson was also in the lineup. There were some poor nights up front, but as a unit, they did okay. Nothing to plan the parade over, but an encouraging show from a weak, rookie-laden forward group.
The defensemen quite made up for that. The best of the bunch, Ryan Whitney, was maybe a five out of ten. It was not a good time to be an Oilers blueliner. Jason Strudwick was his usual horrifying self, but boy Jim Vandermeer was giving him a run for his money, as if determined not to lose his crown as an old, useless heap of meat somehow posed into a hockey player's shape. The young guns, though, were fighting hard as well: Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert, two titans of terrible, gods of grotesque goofery, treating the puck like it was matter and they were antimatter. It was beautiful, like a nuclear explosion, or blood streaming down from a cut on your forehead and getting into your eye. Men have made great works of art after experience less traumatizing then watching the Oilers defense last night.
(Oh, Nikolai Khabibulin was pretty poor too. What was he doing on Dan Boyle's goal? Sliding towards the short side post even as Boyle was teeing one up for the far side? Was he afraid he'd forget where it was? Actually, never mind, he practices with Jeff Deslauriers so I can see that.)
The great disappointment wasn't Strudwick. If you were surprised that Jason Strudwick was terrible, you haven't been watching the Oilers for very long. No, it was guys like Gilbert and Smid, guys who are supposed to be good, who we know can play well, and yet who embarrassed themselves like Taylor Chorney with a closed head injury. Even Jim Vandermeer was pretty okay in Phoenix last season, yet no sooner did he join the Oilers than he's flicking the puck to the other guys and taking crazy penalties and roaring around the board chasing after dudes like this is Rollerball. What the hell happened? Do they all have colitis? Did they spend their offseasons eating pork rinds and watching Jersey Shore? Is Pat Quinn sitting in the press box with a Suck Ray, muttering darkly about revenge? I didn't think Ladislav Smid could play that badly if you broke both his legs and replaced his stick with a piece of rebar. Shows what I know.
The glass is not half-full. There is no glass and there is no water. There is just a boot stamping on a human face forever. But yeah, those scarves were pretty kicky.
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars:
18th Star: By popular demand, it's C Shawn Horcoff. I actually didn't think this was Horcoff's worst game, although it was a pretty poor one. He picked up an assist, even if it was of the "cool play, Jordan" variety. And he chunked a few chances, including a particularly gilt-edged one from Eberle, and he lost two-thirds of his faceoffs, and he played really poor defense. But at least he got into position to have offensive opportunities, he was far from alone in playing crapulous D, and nobody on the Oilers can take a draw worth a damn so 5-for-16 is merely a symptom of endemic failure.
If I'm honest though, he was pretty bad. One of the forwards did have to be on this list, if only to represent the slack-ass play from Horcoff, Gilbert Brule, Ryan Jones, and Colin Fraser. Hey, why was it the two-way forwards who played like butt while the supposed one-way players had pretty nice evenings and the goon not only won his fight but both his faceoffs in the bargain? Is Pat Quinn's Suck Ray set to "wide angle"? The fact that they were playing the San Jose Sharks probably didn't help, but Horcoff feebly trying to poke a puck out of the zone through three guys isn't going to work against anybody.
19th Star: D Jason Strudwick. Hey, buddy. Welcome home. Sorry it's not the star you're used to, but this was a really bad defensive game.
I'm not sure which of your seventeen minutes, twenty-seven seconds of ice time I liked best. You went -2, which was pretty cool given that we conceded three of our goals on the power play. You stood in the centre of your own zone as the Sharks roared about looking for scoring chances, and one could almost read the emptiness of your mind as you occasionally waved your stick through the play, like you were trying to scoop dead fish out of a tank. You went forward at exactly the wrong time and never got back quickly enough, which is fair enough since I've watched you play 144 games for this team and I still don't know whether you can skate. And the best part was that you always seemed wryly amused by it all, smiling in vague self-satisfaction as you gazed to the bench, the red light burning the back of your neck, the crowd howling derision on a level that would turn Rick Rypien into the Incredible Hulk.
I think I've got it figured it out, though. You know how terrible you are, don't you Jason? You know full well you don't deserve to be an NHL player on merit. But the money's great and for some reason these idiots keep cutting the cheque, so why not? What's the worst that could happen, you'll completely embarrass yourself in front of a national audience? The horse left the barn on that one long ago. So keep cashing those sweet NHL paycheques, and while bloggers like me sit on couches from IKEA saying how much you can suck you can start swimming in a vault full of cash like Scrooge McDuck. I fully respect that life choice, although I'd prefer you went back to the Canucks for it.
20th Star: D Ladislav Smid. Picture everything I just said about Strudwick, and add more swear words. This is a kid who realized he's never won an individual award and figured the Golden Rooster would be the easiest one to get.