You know, it's the exact same story every year. September comes along and I get beyond excited for the new season, I mean why not? It's another chance for the Oilers to beat the Flames, at least in theory. Being an Oiler fan and Edmontonian living in Calgary, I can't help but hope that I'll have something to hold over my coworkers, my neighbours, and that weird smelly guy on the train that wears a Flames hat. Yes, this is the best time of the year, anything is possible, and in my mind the Oilers are going to win every time they come to town.
So, the anticipation for tonight's game was high; I had my brand new Eberle jersey ready to go and my thick skin on as I traveled to the Saddledome. When I arrived on the scene I saw a lot of the same old same old: Iginla, Kiprusoff and Phaneuf jerseys (I did feel badly for roughly 25% of Flames' fans who would be needing new jerseys this year) and a whole lot of other Oiler fans complete with sunshiny eager faces.
Now some of you may recall our very own Ben Massey lamenting that he had a boring game to review from Friday night; imagine what he would have to say about tonight's game! This being my first game review for Copper & Blue, I hope you'll bear with me. I promise I'll get better as the season progresses, much like what I hope for the rest of the Oilers. Let's have a look at the game that was shall we?
I love going to live hockey games. There is usually something in the air that electrifies you, whether you're at a home game or not. Somehow it just didn't feel that way at the Saddledome tonight. I attribute most of that to the fans' general unhappiness from the end of last season. It doesn't matter that the Flames have won every game of the pre-season, the fans still don't seem happy. Take, for example, the cheers in the crowd during the course of the game. Some fans would start up a "Go Flames Go" but it wouldn't carry on very long, and it certainly didn't get very loud. Oiler fans would get our chant going, it would be loud, and it would carry, but the response "Oilers Suck" would get just as loud, if not louder and carry on for a while. I have never understood cheering for your team by negating the other teams' chants, it just seems wrong. And another thing, I really hate it when they say "Let's go Flay-ames" it just sounds wrong, stick with your other one... Okay, I feel better. I'll stop here, no more griping about the fans.
I wanted to go over the warmup a little since I know that there are a number of fans who rarely get to see the Oilers live, and they don't show this stuff on television broadcasts. The first thing I recognized is that there are a lot of name and number combinations that don't just leap out for me. I blame Bell Satellite for that; I mean, I have only been able to listen to broadcasts so far this year. The next thing I saw was Dustin Penner leading the warm-ups. I enjoyed seeing this as he is someone that I would like to see step up as a leader even more this year; don't worry, I also want to see him wake up a little more on the ice, but that's another matter. The other thing I like to watch is the opposing players and their interactions along centre ice. The Oiler that I noticed interacting with the Flames was Jason Strudwick. I made note of it as I was wondering if he would be fighting later in the game. No, that fight never came to be, but it was still interesting to see.
Sadly, I didn't have an amazing seat, but sometimes the nosebleeds can offer a different perspective and allow you to see things the average person might not see. Seemingly, all Oilers hate all Flames. Take the rookie tournament: how many fights did we see? I always just figured that would carry forward to the GMs too. So imagine me, sitting in my seat when I look up at the catwalk by the press boxes, and I see Darryl Sutter. No big deal, you would expect to see him around. Who was he talking to? Steve Tambellini! I know, right? They were talking, not fist-fighting, they were actually smiling and talking. I don't know why I thought you would like to know that; I guess it's because I hadn't ever seen an interaction like that, so I figured you wouldn't have thought of it before either. Or maybe, I haven't recovered completely from the altitude of my seat.
In the first period, Linus Omark was definitely aware of the fact that he is fighting to be on this team, and it was good to see, unlike the amazing giveaway by Strudwick right in front of Devan Dubnyk. I groaned and closed my eyes, but luckily the scored remained tied. But not for long. Strudwick ended up in the penalty box soon after, putting our "first" PK unit out there. Remember how I said I couldn't put names to some of the numbers? Well, thankfully, I had my cheat sheet. Who was out there? 16 - Colin Fraser, 25 - Ben Ondrus, Smid and Gilbert. They tried, and obviously did a better job than I would have done, but Alex Tanguay got the better of them, putting the Flames on the board. perhaps in an attempt to bring some life and excitement to the team, Steve MacIntyre was on the ice immediately after the goal. Shockingly though, no fights, not just in the first period, but in the ENTIRE game! The rest of the first period saw the good guys with a single power play, with Gagner, Giroux, Eberle, Smid and Gilbert. There was a beautiful shot by Eberle, and Belle looked strong with the puck. Belle seemed to move easily with sticks nipping at his skates and his head held high, watching the play enfold in front of him. The shots on net were 13-7 for the Flames.
Going into the second period I made a note that we needed to see more physical play from the Oilers. They couldn't expect to get through this game if they kept losing battles along the boards and weren't able to carry the puck through the neutral zone. It did appear as though the Oilers had a little more jam, at least to start the period. Omark showed a quick easy shot on net. Unfortunately, it was RIGHT on net and easily stopped. I was just happy to see shots on goal though; you miss 100% of the shots you don't take, right? Cogs showed some speed at one point, reminding me why I still root for him, but otherwise, he looked as small and lifeless as most of the team. It pains me so much to say that. You know what else I'm pained to say? Everyone that knows me knows that I am not in the Gagner fan club, but he showed some chemistry with Eberle. The two seemed easily able to anticipate the other's movements and location in front of the net, so that was something positive. Positives are good, especially from Eberle, who seemed to be the main target for hits. I know I'll be cringing as the season progresses and Eberle sees more and more of them. Mercifully, the shots were even at the end of the second period 18-18, and there were no injuries for the Oilers.
Final period, what's the worst that can happen? That's right, a blowout. Since we all know how this story ends, it was a so-so ending since the score didn't change. Truly, it seemed that the players were done before this last twenty minutes even began. For me, the most exciting part was watching Ryan Jones skate. Can I tell you that this man has amazing hockey hair? I found myself nostalgic for Ryan Smyth, especially watching Jones play a physical style. At one point, Jones had lost his stick, but that didn't slow him down. He was out there hitting anyone in his vicinity with his fabulous hockey hair flapping in the wind. Cogliano had a beautiful giveaway at centre ice that gave the Flames defensive pair all they needed to bring the play to the Oilers' net. So there you have it, that was our game and the way I saw it unfold. The best part of the game tonight was the 6:00 p.m. start. Can I tell you how fabulous that is? It lets me get home to start writing this by 9:30 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. games also let me get home from games in Edmonton with enough time for sleep to make it to work in the morning. See, you knew it was killing me to sound so pessimistic.
What else did I take issue with during the game? Well, my main concern is how easily some players cough up the puck. Seriously, Tom Gilbert, you are a veteran on this team. You need to be able to carry the puck or pass it to a member of the Oilers, not the opposition. No, Gilbert was not the only one that this comment could be directed at. I'm also looking at Gilbert Brule right now, but this is still just pre-season, and the players do get some forgiveness to an extent. I swear, if I had a telescoping lens I would have seen Penner yawning on the ice. I didn't like seeing Gagner lying on his belly, but that happens to everyone at some point or another, right?
Ok, this is way too much negativity for me. Time to reflect on the positives. Let's start with my boy Cogs, yay! He went 5 for 9, and Colin Fraser went 8 for 11 in the face-off dot, so that was something to be very happy about. I know I just complained about Brule's propensity to give up the puck, but I really appreciated his energy on the ice, especially when there was very little energy from the rest of the team. The other energetic player I took note of was Ryan Jones. No, it isn't just his hockey hair - although that helps - his hits really made me take note of when he was on the ice.
So, walking out of the arena, my grin wasn't quite ear to ear anymore, but I still felt extremely proud that my team did as well as they did. The Flames dressed something close to their full NHL team, and they played this pre-season to win every game. On paper, this game was a blowout for the Flames, the Oilers didn't stand a chance. So a score of 1-0 was really quite amazing, and something to be proud of. You know what else we can be proud of? We didn't lose three major players to injury during the pre-season. It was cloudy so I couldn't get the 630 post game show, I listened to the fan 960 on the way home. The Flames were very clear on addressing the fact that they dressed and played to win every game. The price? Injuries, already, to some of their big names even before the start of the regular season. Could you imagine if Hemsky was starting the year on the injured reserve list? Yeah, I know you can, but thankfully you don't have to.
This wraps up our 2010 pre-season. Let the real games begin!