It seems like a broken record around here, but the game started like so many other games thus far in 2010. The first half of the first period looked like the Red Wings were playing an AHL team. The refs didn't help the cause as they blew two calls and Nikolai Khabibulin didn't help himself as he kept kicking pucks into the slot. The Oilers got out of the period down only 1-0, but they were outshot 13-7 and the Wings attempted 32 shots to the Oilers' 11. As far as territory goes, the Red Wings claimed the Oilers zone in the name of the king.
The second period started in pretty much the same fashion, as Jim Vandermeer tripped on his own two feet during a three-on-two against, turning it into a three-on-one, but the Oilers righted the ship quickly thereafter. Taylor Hall scored on the power play and although the Oilers gave up a goal thanks to their pathetic penalty kill, they started to control parts of the game at even strength. The third period was another series of bad breaks and bad rebounds by Khabibulin. Taylor Hall slid a puck wide on a perfect feed from Shawn Horcoff on a two-on-one, a puck that he can bury in his sleep. The refs blew another call and the Oilers couldn't bury any feeds.
Once again, the Oilers were fine at even strength, but pitiful on special teams and essentially gave the game away. Yes, I know it's the Red Wings and this is a rebuilding Oilers team, but the things that are going wrong were/are easily correctable, but inertia is a bitch, especially in the Oilers' front office.
Taylor Hall's shot on the goal he scored was wondrous. He reached out, snagged the puck and lifted it skyward with a flick of the wrists. If he'd have missed the net, the puck would've clanged off of the roof at Rexall. He's got some silly hands.
The forwards as a whole weren't that bad. Really. The first half of the first period was a total mess as both the forwards and defense chased the puck around the rink like a Timbits tournament, but after that, the forwards settled down. There were backchecks and there was defense, Horcoff was outstanding (14W 6L) in the faceoff circle, and the forwards were generating shots and opportunities.
Once again, Penner's presence on the third line has stabilized Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule. They remain a low-event line, but they aren't spewing chances like they were early in the season.
The fourth line was fun to watch tonight. Ryan Jones - Colin Fraser - Zack Stortini put together some meaningful shifts, kept pressure on the offensive zone and didn't get trapped in the defensive zone all night.
The Oilers defense is not good. It's the kind of unit you need to watch through your fingers and there's no fix because there's just no high-end talent beyond Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert and there is no organizational depth. If this is going to stop, the Oilers are going to have to spend about six million dollars on some depth defenders next season. And I don't mean depth defenders like Jason Strudwick, I mean real NHL players.
Nikolai Khabibulin's rebound control is non-existent right now and it's getting worse. He rolls around and makes "timely saves" (the latest and worst hockey narrative) but he can't ever just hold onto the puck. Yes, the Oilers' penalty kill is pathetic, but Khabibulin could help himself if he would just hold onto the puck. He's kicking and swatting juicy rebounds into the slot time and time again and setting up his opponents with golden opportunities. He's easily his own worst enemy right now and the glorious mainstream media isn't saying a word.
If it wasn't for bad luck, the Oilers would have no luck at all. They hit two posts in the second period, including a shot by Dustin Penner that Jimmy Howard never even saw. The Oilers didn't get the benefit of a slewfoot on Penner and the stripes missed Jacob Kindl opening up Penner like a can of sardines. The refs also saw fit to call Sam Gagner for a high stick on a follow-through shot attempt, something that very rarely gets called, but tonight it was. In the third period, Ruslan Salei fed Magnus Paajarvi a mouthful of hockey stick not more than 15 feet from Don Van Massenhoven, yet there was no call. Finally, Shawn Horcoff and Taylor Hall broke in on a two-on-none and Hall pushed a perfect setup pass wide. It was a terribly unlucky night.
The newly-created Paajarvi - Gagner - Eberle line was bad. I've written about Paajarvi's struggles on the scoring chance board, and this line never had a chance against the Wings. It might be time to see what Linus Omark can do.
The Oilers' penalty kill isn't getting any better. The The Oilers' penalty kill. I know I've been harping on this recently, but nothing has changed. When the Oilers have four men on the ice, the defensemen are chasing the puck all over the place; they chase it to the half-walls, and to the points, and it's a terrible strategy that isn't going to work. Whoever implemented this should be fired immediately, yet the glorious mainstream media isn't saying a word.
I'm not sure when this started, but Don Henderson jumped into the middle of two separate fights one punch into the scrap. You might remember Henderson from such wonders as "Rypien Gone Wild" where he wrestled Rick Rypien around the ice for 30 seconds. At the time, I was aghast that a player was engaged in a wrestling match with a linesman and couldn't figure out why Rypien wasn't suspended for even longer because of it. After watching Henderson's premature interdiction, I'm left feeling no sympathy for him when he was wrestling with Rypien. Tonight he jumped on Gilbert Brule after Brule was jumped by Jonathan Ericsson. Ericsson was able to throw punches at a surprised Brule until Brule got his feet under him and was set to fight...only to have Henderson jump him. In the second period, after Brad Stuart charged Ales Hemsky and wasn't called, Ryan Whitney jumped him, only to have Henderson dive on top of him, allowing Stuart unfettered access to Whitney's face. Henderson deserves some discipline from the league office for this.