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Edmonton - Phoenix Post-Game: The Pitton of Despair

Oh, in how many ways do I hate the Oilers?

They allow five points to a former draft pick? That's a pretty good example. Matthew Lombardi, lest you forget, was a seventh-round pick of the Oilers back in 2000, but he re-entered the draft after Kevin Lowe refused to shake enough change out of the couch cushions to give him an entry-level contract. He was then picked by the Calgary Flames who traded him for Olli Jokinen, so things could always be worse.

They played not-awful hockey, on balance, considering that they lost 6-1. That's probably even worse than them simply rolling over. With Sam Gagner back home nursing what we can only assume is a career-ending knee injury, the offense lacked any degree of spontaneity or spark but it had some methodical plodding quality that battered holes in the Phoenix defense at points. They were the lesser team in spite of the shot clock, but they weren't far the lesser team. They weren't five goals worse than the Coyotes.

Well, most of them weren't. Jeff Deslauriers was. Waving at pucks passing him on the glove side like a middle-aged man at the company softball game. Standing around gawking like an idiot as pucks were deflected by him. Opening holes so large it was a wonder Radim Vrbata didn't simply skate the puck into the net just to be sure. Every time it looks like he might be putting things together or shoving it up the backsides of his critics, he is utterly destroyed by sub-par offensive chances and he makes us long for the sweet embrace of Nikolai Khabibulin and his league-average goaltending.

There was every chance in the world for the Oilers to get something positive out of this. Bryan Pitton was on the bench, and he had never played in an NHL game. Deslauriers was fanning on the puck in the most egregious manner, and in any other situations surely would have been pulled. It's not like the Oilers were playing for anything more than pride, either in the game or for the rest of the season. Let the kid get a chance, grab a puck he can take home and show the family, and tell the grandkids he played in the NHL, because at least it would be a nice story.

Bryan Pitton is surely one of the worst goaltenders the Oilers have ever given money to. Last year he posted an .886 save percentage in thirty-four games, which is horrifying in any context and even worse than horrifying when you realize he put up that number in the ECHL. In the OHL playoffs, he once posted a save percentage below .800. He's a terrible, terrible netminder, and I was still viscerally longing to see him replace Deslauriers before the game was through.

I've given up on cheering for wins and am now cheering for narrative.

Post-game posts for games like this are always hard. I'm not a professional. I only have so many ways to suck on my pipe, put on my tweed jacket, and say "the reason the Oilers lost this game is that they scored fewer goals than the opposition." When somebody sticks a camera in my face and I assault them on the elevator, nobody cares. When I call a player for quotes after the game, he gets confused and orders pizza from me. My resources are nearly as limited as my imagination.


Or my patience, for that matter. I spent most of the third period surfing hotel sites, looking up hot deals for a trip in the summer. I was vaguely aware the Oilers were playing in the same sense that one is vaguely aware of mosquitoes during malaria season. When Dustin Penner scored to cut the margin to five, I typed in a raucous comment in the gameday thread and then sat back for a second. "Huh? We scored?" I had been acting purely on reflex. My subconscious has started digesting Oilers game and excreting bland platitudes. If I can start writing these post-game things without realizing I'm doing it I'll be loaded for bear.

One event and one event only roused me from my reverie, and that was Mike Comrie chucking them with Petr Prucha. Fellow aficionados of the fistic arts may remember Comrie - Kovalchuk I, a twenty-second tilt that culminated in the 6'2" Kovalchuk clinging to the 5'10" Comrie's hair for dear life as he threw off-balance haymakers that clanged against Comrie's shoulder pads while Comrie occasionally popped Kovalchuk in the kisser with a right hand from the Sugar Ray Robinson school of fisticuffs. Mike Comrie can drop some bombs. His last year in the AJHL, he had 138 penalty minutes and earned every damned one of them. So it was fun to watch Prucha and Comrie's brief rumble: Prucha with two inches on Comrie, skating in with modest confidence for a rare tilt, realizing almost immediately that he had bitten off way the hell more than he could chew and going to the ice like a sack of potatoes.

Emotionless and talentless score-settling along the lines of Jason Strudwick v. Paul Bissonette, I have no time for. But if every Oiler game for the rest of the season was replaced by sixty minutes of Mike Comrie fighting guys, you would not be able to tear me away from that.

You'll notice I haven't said much about the actual game. There's a reason for that. What's there to say about this one that hasn't been true for the last several weeks? Our defensemen are awful, our goaltenders are worse, Robert Nilsson is better than you probably think, Gilbert Brule isn't as good as you probably think, Dustin Penner looks like a thirteen-year-old dog that needs to be put down, Marc Pouliot and Fernando Pisani could cure cancer and end the crisis in the Middle East if that fat idiot Quinn would give them some damned ice time.

(Yes, Pouliot played a perfectly respectable 17:09 tonight. Shut up, I'm on a roll.)

The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars:

20th Star: G Jeff Deslauriers. Is there any point in mentioning anybody else? If the Oilers and Coyotes get equivalent goaltending, we're probably in overtime of a 2-2 or 3-3 game. But Ilya Bryzgalov was excellent, and Jeff Deslauriers was quite the reverse. It would be unfair to say that he single-handedly cost the Oilers the game (Steve Staios, to pick a name, was dreadful). But, well, he arguably single-handedly cost the Oilers the game.

How many real five-bell chances did Deslauriers face? I count one: Phoenix's second goal when the two Oilers defensemen were dicking around behind the net and leaving the Coyotes wide open to move the puck in front at their leisure. Even then, Lombardi's release was lacking; it was a considerable but not impossible degree of difficulty, and you expect a starting NHL goaltender to make one or two of those a game.

I know we don't care about 2010, beyond the Fall for Hall. But there's a case to be made that the Oilers should get a goaltender anyway. The Price/Halak situation in Montreal seems doomed to have one of them leave and either one would be an improvement on Khabibulin, to say nothing of Deslauriers. We have to think of the Oilers players at some point, or at least the ones we care about like Penner, Gagner, and Ales Hemsky. Give them something to hope for besides a lottery pick. Get rid of the enormous, flaming crap that currently patrols our crease and bring in someone who's at least a reason for optimism. There are ways to build a team between "loading up on every veteran you can find" and "balls-out tanking".