Years ago there was time when the Oilers used to allow fans to hang signs in what was then Northlands Coliseum. Yes, sonny, it's true, people who wanted to hang signs didn't get taken under the stands and given the water torture treatment, or have Zambonis parked menacingly behind their cars in the parking lot. Mind you those signs were pretty tame for the most part - every player seemed to have exactly one sign, and it would say something inane like "Messier Makes His Mark" or some such. Nothing too controversial, but all different and clearly done by different folks, if ultimately approved for display by the same corporate entity. Real fan input, imagine. Anyway, my favourite sign was the one down at the Zamboni end that said something like "Formula for success: Skate + Hit = Win".
That formula was about 100% successful for that team back in the day, and it's been pretty successful for most teams right across the 47 years I've been watching this game. Tonight it even worked for the Edmonton Oilers, 2009-10 DFL Edition.
This was my eleventh live game of the season, and the first time I've been impressed by the Oilers' skating on a team-wide basis. As a team, they were flying, and that was great to see. Team speed has always been a fundamental of successful Oiler hockey, be it the dynasty years or the Little Team That (Nearly) Could. Tonight they were breaking out of their own zone and into San Jose's with speed, precision passing, and an attacking spirit that has been sadly lacking many nights.
As for the hit side of the equation, the event summary has the hit count at 30-19 Sharks. I'm not at all surprised the Sharks had the edge, somewhat surprised it was quite that wide, and frankly don't care about the numbers all that much. The Oilers took their licks and came back looking for a few of their own, and were not in the least intimidated by the Sharks' heavy-hitting ways. Good to see them answer the bell; one of major concerns about this team the last number of years is its tendency to get run out of the building some nights.
Alas, the biggest concern tonight is the apparent loss of one of the Oilers' physical leaders. Theo Peckham had really stepped up during his latest recall and was a strong physical if not defensive presence in every game. He had another solid game tonight with 4 hits and 3 blocked shots until getting catapulted into the end boards by 6'3, 240 pound Douglas Murray, stay-at-home defenceman cum forechecking demon. Trouble was Theo hadn't come close to touching the puck yet, which cost Murray a 2-minute interference penalty. The play very likely cost Theo Peckham the rest of his season.
This is one movie I am getting very tired of watching: Edmonton guy is on the receiving end of dangerous/reckless/dirty hit; Edmonton guy leaves game, injured; opponent gets a two-minute minor at most. Like Derek Boogaard before him (who injured Ryan Jones at the last game I attended), Murray may face supplemental discipline from the league, as his hit had things in common with the recent Lapierre, Ovechkin, and Wisniewski hits, but that's not going to help the Oilers, nor will it bring back Peckham any sooner.
Oh well, lots of good things happened tonight, among them:
- Devan Dubnyk on his game right off the hop, with a number of excellent stops in the early going. His calm demeanour between the pipes is quite the contrast after years of Roli and months of JDD.
- Zack Stortini with a clean, crunching hit on Dan Boyle, then responding to a subsequent challenge by decisioning Rob Staubitz in a fight that immediately followed. Staubitz somehow avoided being tabbed as the instigator on the play, in yet another example of inconsistent application of that irksome rule.
- Robert Nilsson with a great steal off of Joe Thornton in the neutral zone to send himself in alone on a breakaway, where he screwed Evgeny Nabokov into the ice before popping 'er home. Nicest unassisted goal of the year for the Oilers; this one was all Bobby. Thornton, meanwhile, coasted to the bench after coughing the puck, avoiding even a -1 for his gaffe but once again showing the leadership that will get the Sharks precisely nowhere in the playoffs.
- Dustin Penner with an alert and athletic play to score on a rebound, in which he jumped in the air while pulling a backhand under his own skate and in the net. If he didn't jump the puck had nowhere to go. His 100th NHL goal in his 333rd career game.
- Stortini again with another booming check on Scott Nichol which resulted in two Sharks taking a run at him in the neutral zone. Stortini took the sandwich hit while banking a soft backhand pass up the boards to send linemates Mike Comrie and Sam Gagner away 2-on-1. Unfortunately Comrie never could decide whether to shoot, pass, or stick his head up his butt, before eventually choosing (wait for it) Door No. 3.
- Dubnyk flummoxing Dany Heatley in a one-on-one in tight to the net.
- Shawn Horcoff doing yeoman work behind the Sharks goal, Tom Gilbert sneaking in from the point and calling for the pass, receiving it and shooting in one motion, and Fernando Pisani collecting the rebound in his skate, kicking it up to his stick and putting it upstairs. Three solid pros each with an excellent play, rewarded for their efforts.
- Ethan Moreau of all people acting as middleman on a HON candidate goal, receiving Pisani's sharp cross-ice pass, then finding Horcoff with a crisp feed across the crease which Horcoff buried upstairs.
- Aaron Johnson finding twine yet again with a long drifter which somehow found a hole in a leaky Nabokov. Johnson is rolling hot dice right at the moment. Warts in his game, but lack of try is not among them. He was among the most prominent Oilers who stood up to the Sharks physicality with a little muscle of his own.
- Stortini again, responding to Murray's cheap hit on Peckham by challenging the 240-pound Swede at next opportunity and soundly decisioning him in a relatively one-sided tilt. The fight didn't bring back Peckham either, but that was a hit that needed to be accounted for, and Zorg did the accounting. The fans responded with a rousing, partially-standing ovation.
- Comrie wiping the floor with Nichol in yet a third fight in this spirited, physical affair. The last time the Oil won three fights in the same game may have been in the Dave Semenko/Kevin McClelland/Marty McSorley Era.
- Dubnyk with a solid effort for 60 minutes, a near shutout, and his second straight win. I've been hoping for awhile now that Devan might get a nice stretch of games at some point, and under Pat Quinn's "win and you're in" dictum DD has suddenly found the magic formula.
- Several Taylor Chorney sightings in which young 41 briefly resembled an actual NHL defenceman.
- Very solid play from Gilbert and partner Ryan Whitney who both played an assured, controlled game, each ending the night +3.
- ... and a very solid 5-1 count on the scoreboard. That bears repeating: EDMONTON !! 5 !!! SAN JOSE !!! 1 !!
To my eye the Oilers were deserving winners, although not by that margin. Those who measure games by the shot clock, or especially the attempted shot meter, might see things differently. Indeed, there was a very unusual disparity among those metrics tonight. At even strength the shots on goal were dead even at 24 aside, a 1:1 ratio. The Sharks directed 20 shots that missed the target compared to just 5 for the Oilers, resulting in Fenwick numbers of 44 for the Sharks, 29 for the Oilers, for a ratio of > 1.5 : 1. Moreover, the Sharks had 20 shots blocked at even strength while themselves blocking just 2 Oiler attempts, meaning Corsi numbers at evens were 64 for the Sharks, just 31 for the Oilers for a ratio of greater than 2:1. I guess you can conclude that Sharks dominated zone time from that stat, but all of the difference was in shot attempts that never found the target, a rather useless category that the Sharks carried by an astonishing 40-7 margin. What does it mean? Not a lot, on this night. Perhaps it's more pertinent that under 35% of all San Jose shot attempts tested the goalie, while double that percentage of Oiler shots found their way through. The Oil were the more accurate shooters tonight as well as the stauncher defenders (29 blocked shots to 4!) The Corsi-ists will hate me for this, but tonight the Oilers made their shots count.
Some pretty unusual shots data at the individual level too. Dubnyk of course was even in shots and -33 in Corsi. Andrew Cogliano was +6 by shots but -6 by Corsi. Which tells the tale? Jason Strudwick was outshot 9-12 when he was on the ice, but wound up with a Corsi of -20. He and his partner blocked 10 shots between them, though; don't they deserve some credit for that? I must admit to liking Fenwick number (blocked shots excluded) over Corsi (everything in), although the latter is useful for some functions. And in some respects I prefer true shots on goal over Fenwick.
What I really prefer is a decent effort from the home boys and a real, actual win. A regulation win. 2 points for us, 0 for the other guys. It's happened just 5 times now in the last 40 games, and just this once for me in 11 home games I've attended live. We actually kicked somebody else's butt? How refreshing.