Well that was different. I scored tickets to tonight's Wild @ Oilers game (thanks, Woodguy!), dutifully went to the game, and wouldn't you know but the Oilers actually won! Well, they "won", it was really a tie with a skills contest at the end, but when that was done (almost) everybody cheered and the scoreboard said "Oilers 2, Wild 1". A first for me in 2009-10; in my previous 8 games - home games all, mind - the Oilers posted an 0-6-2 record, or as some might put it, 0-8. I guess I was due.
This was a half-decent game, not great but it had its moments. It was competitive and threated to boil over a few times, especially when Wild goon Derek Boogaard viciously kneed Oilers newcomer Ryan Jones and put him down and out. A flagrant, deliberate attempt to injure that was as obvious a five-minute major and game misconduct as I've seen in quite some time. However, Jones is only an Oiler, so while the knee was detected the penalty was only two minutes. There's a precedent that it's OK to do whatever you want to any Oiler - smash Hemsky head first into the end boards, trip Souray at high speed into the end boards, crush Smid into the end boards five feet from the puck - and the maximum penalty is two minutes (none at all in Smid's case). I'm bloody sick of it. Year after year the Oilers wind up with half their team on the IR, and the entertainment value of going to a game only to see some poor sod get helped or carried off the ice is not very bloody high.
I know I sound like an Oiler whiner and for sure shit like this happens to other teams as well, like when that gutless puke Maxim Lapierre tried to put Scott Nichol in a wheelchair last night. I can assure you I get enraged when I see cheap crap like that no matter which team is involved and even more enraged when the refs somehow wind up missing it, or undercalling it, much more often than not. But put a little hold on a guy or shoot a puck over the glass and they're all over it. The NHL and its officials do a bloody terrible job of protecting their players and its time for all concerned to pull their heads out of their collective asses and start treating reckless, dangerous and/or dirty play seriously. Safety in the workplace should be a priority, Mr. Bettman, but you and your lackeys don't seem to be doing anything about it. Or as Jeremy Roenick famously put it: "Wake up NHL ... NHL, wake up!"
More on the game after the jump ..
It was a very even game, an old-fashioned goaltenders' duel despite relatively low shot totals that stood at 23-23 after 60 minutes of 1-1 hockey. A significant percentage of those shots were of the dangerous variety. I enjoyed seeing Minny's splendid line of Mikko Koivu between Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunette - three very smart, versatile, and underrated players. The old codger Owen Nolan played a strong game, while on the blue another crafty vet, Marek Zidlicky, showed smarts and skills reminiscent of a Zubov or Visnovsky in logging a game-high 28:01. I got an eyeful of the emerging power forward Guillaume Latendresse, who scored the tying goal on a fine rush and wraparound (now known as a "Deslauriers").
Speaking of whom, JDD delivered a very strong game for the Oil, wraparound aside. He delivered a number of ten-bell stops including the pictured blocker robbery off Nolan in the first period in which he displayed otherwordly lateral movement. He got stronger as the game went along and was nothing short of brilliant in overtime, making 6 stops, all of them difficult. His intensity and confidence seemed to grow as the game proceeded, and he even looked competent handling the puck on this night. Let the bells ring out.
I tried to focus on the newcomers, although Jones didn't last a period. I was moderately impressed with Ryan Whitney who had more good moments than bad. He likes to make a play with the puck every time, he's not one to dump it out and he showed real patience with the disc on occasion. Meanwhile, Aaron Johnson impressed in a regular shift with Theo Peckham, leading both teams with 5 blocked shots. Johnson tried to do a little too much at times, for example following a dump in with a deep forecheck which ended up being a Wild 2-on-1 as the forwards failed to cover. But I saw lots to like about this player, who seems to be a real competitive son of a gun. He and Peckham brought a welcome helping of both crust and jam.
Up front Andrew Cogliano was particularly impressive with what may well have been his best game of the season, skating hard and battling harder. He's a real fun player to watch when he brings both his legs and his game face. Gilbert Brule had a strong game, showing lots of creativity in the offensive zone as well as his powerful shot, spiced with a couple of dandy hits. This guy has some real dimension to the offensive side of his game. Zack Stortini had a splendid game on a line with Mike Comrie and Ryan Potulny, a couple of skill guys who could make something out of Stortini's board play. Indeed, Comrie scored the Oilers lone goal after a fine sequence of plays by Stortini in which Zorg won two board battles to get the puck out of Oilers end, then bulled to the Wild net to create chaos and confusion at the near post before shovelling the disc to Comrie for the wararound to the far side. In an action packed 9:43 Stortini posted 0-1-1, +1 with 2 penalties (both coincidental), 2 shots, 3 hits, and 2 takeaways.
Patrick O'Sullivan played his 82nd game as an Oiler and pushed his +/- rating during his time here to an ugly -40, the number where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet. O'Sullivan actually played not too badly, made one dandy cross-crease pass to Brule which forced one of Backstrom's best stops. Meanwhile Dustin Penner had a very indifferent night, creating next to nothing, while Robert Nilsson was once again ineffectual despite a decent effort.
In the end it boiled down to the shootout, which was an entertaining contest as these things go, extending to six rounds. Koivu anticipated JDD's pokecheck and made his move early, roofing a backhand; Potulny scored on a great deke which screwed Backstrom into the ice to even it up. After a series of saves and one loud goalpost by Horcoff, Brule picked the top corner with a bullet shot, but Zidlicky answered for the Wild with a perfectly-placed shot of his own. JDD delivered a couple of fine stops in Rounds 3 and 5 when a goal would have won it for the Wild. Finally in a showdown between the goal scorers from regulation, Mike Comrie scored on a nice move to his backhand to put the Oilers on top before Deslauriers made a fine glove stop off Latendresse to put this baby to bed.
Just the Oilers' 5th win in the last 32, but the large Friday night crowd stayed to the end and was very responsive. It was a happy crowd which stood shoulder to shoulder in the concourse, literally inching our way out of the cramped old building but exuberant nonetheless. It had been a rare good night in what has been an extremely bad season.