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Edmonton - Detroit post-game: The "Last" Season

Tough day today. Went to visit an old friend on his deathbed. He's the same age my dad was when he passed 2½ years ago so he hasn't been cheated, but it was damn tough regardless. It all reminded me that Dad would have turned 86 today; I miss him still. But time marches on.

I was a little late coming home so listened to the opening minutes of the game on "Rod-o-vision". That's a rare pleasure these days, with most games being available on TV and the rest on computer. But it's soon to become a past pleasure, as Rod is set to retire after an incredible 37 years at the mic. I have to say his voice sounded just as good as ever ... hard to believe that he is in his last season and on the cusp of his last game.

"Last" being the key word for this sorry season. As in Dead Fucking Last. It's now official. The Oilers needed one more loss to sew up the first DFL in the franchise's own 37-season history, and they got it in style, roaring back from a 4-0 deficit to tie the score in Detroit of all places, only to lose anyway on a late and controversial goal on Brad Stuart's high stick deflection.

A bizarre, entertaining, and scary game. A few highlights after the jump:

  • Andreas Lilja of all people opens the scoring, as the plodding defensive blueliner plods about 50 feet out of position into the unfamiliar territory of the low slot, only to have Valtteri Filppula's high shot bounce off of him and past  a startled Jeff Deslauriers. Lilja is credited with his first since Elizabeth was a princess. 
  • Johan Franzen loses the puck in the slot right onto the stick of Nicklas Kronwall, himself a good 30 feet out of position. Presented with the surprise gift, Kronwall snaps it home.  
  • An innocuous clearing pass by Nicklas Lidstrom deflects off of Dustin Penner's stick, rides up his shaft, and catches the big guy square in the eye. Penner leaves, bleeding from the eye socket, and does not return. Medical updates are frustratingly incomplete and inconclusive. Yet another item on the list of "The Last Thing Oilers Need" checked off. This sorry, sordid season can't end fast enough.
  • Jason Strudwick plays a shift that lasts 1:55, then after a 90-second rest, he and Taylor Chorney get caught out for a shift that lasts 3:45 without a whistle, the longest shift since Eddie Shore in 1929. In those agonizing 225 seconds the official play-by-play records 17 events, every last one of them in the Oilers zone. By the time Deslauriers finally manages to pounce on the puck, the overmatched duo has each recorded a Corsi rating of -11 on a single shift. 41 and 43 are a prime pair if I've ever seen one. (Sorry for the math joke.)
  • During that barrage JDD delivers the save of the season for the Oilers, a diving glove stop to rob Henrik Zetterberg of a seeming open-netter. This save is so incredible TSN might even notice.
  • Chorney makes a rare strong play, battling two Detroit forecheckers to win possession in the corner, then chipping the puck to Strudwick on the other side who has a clear path to walk the puck out of the zone. Almost. A broken stick on the ice manages to both check the puck off of Strudwick and trip the lumbering defender in the process, resulting in another own-zone turnover and more Detroit pressure. Watching a replay of this debacle on my PVR, I find myself reduced to hysterics. Oilers' season in a nutshell (other than the good play by Chorney part).
  • Shortly after Detroit runs the score to 4-0, Oilers finally score to break the shutout; unfortunately SportsNet forgets to cover the goal, a PP tally by Tom Gilbert.
  • Mike Comrie scores immediately after, a beautiful "goal scorer's goal" in which he fakes a shot on Jimmy Howard, goes to his left to get Howard's legs moving, and slides the puck through a tiny, temporary hole.  Somehow the Oilers outscore Detroit 2-1 in the second despite being outshot 20-8. At this point the scoring chances stand at 24-3 Detroit, the score just 4-2.
  • The unlikely comeback continues in the third, with Zack Stortini notching his first goal in 40 games. Everything about the goal is ugly except Zorg's second effort, taking a rebound from his first near-miss and circling the goal to stuff in a wraparound. The goal is briefly reviewed but even the NHL War Room can't figure out a way to hose the Oil this time.
  • Before you know it Gilbert scores again off a sharp Andrew Cogliano feed, and don't you know but the score is 4-4. Detroit has utterly dominated the game except for a very few minutes, yet the Oil are poised to sweep the season series. The crowd is shocked into silence.
  • The game opens up with end to end action. A Todd Bertuzzi blunder opens up a 2-on-1 opportunity but Shawn Horcoff fails to cash the gift. A couple other chances come close at both ends.
  • Finally, defenceman Stuart cruises in front, 40 feet out of position, to deflect Pavel Datsyuk's suspiciously high wrister down and underneath a leaping Jeff Deslauriers. JDD plays it like a champ - a dodgeball champ.
  • Oilers pull the goalie and press for the equalizer. Brule draws a penalty with about 20 seconds left, but it takes the Oil 10 seconds to give Detroit the puck to turn the 6-on-5 into a 6-on-4.
  • The last 10 seconds are lost when Horcoff loses the draw, then two Detroit players kill the clock in the corner while POS stands off to the side, waiting for them to share.
  • The line of Ryan Potulny between Gilbert Brule and Patrick O'Sullivan plays perhaps the worst game of an Oiler line all season. Admittedly there is lots of competition, but their stats are pretty impressive, in a negative sort of way:

Traditional +/- -3 -3 -3
EV Scoring chances +/- -7 -9 -10
Corsi +/- -10 -19 -19
  • This despite being the most protected line on the club in terms of ZoneStart (each -1 on a night the team has 8 more draws in their own end than Detroit's). On the blue, the most sheltered pair is Chorney and Strudwick (each -2), who respond to the O-zone opportunities by posting Corsi counts of -16 and -22 respectively.
  • Meanwhile Gilbert has a brutal ZoneStart of +9, yet holds his own on the shot clock and the scoreboard. He finishes the night with 3 shots, 2 goals, 3 hits, 2 blocked shots, and an uncounted but high number of solid, heady plays in all three zones. Gilbert has played some of the finest hockey of his career since being paired with Ryan Whitney four weeks ago.
  • Despite JDD's unorthodox leap over the game winner, the crack crew on SportsNet is so impressed with his 5 GA performance that they name him a game star anyway.

Sum it up, and tonight was an exciting if ultimately futile way to seal the deal and wrap up that prize #1 lottery ticket and a near-guarantee of a top two pick. (I say "near" because there are always trades.) Some guys stunk the joint out, but others fought hard in Penner's absence and made a game of it. At least on the scoreboard. On a night the shot clock read 44-26 and the chance meter 29-9, there can be little argument that the better team won, despite the odour hanging over the last goal. There's a stronger odour that hangs over the 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers. A DFL kind of odour.