The preseason mirage continued against the Desert Dogs on Wednesday night as the Edmonton Oilers ran their preseason record to 4-0-0, but not without a few hiccups along the way. For the third time in three home games, the Oilers faced a visiting team that left its top guns - Shane Doan, Ray Whitney, Wojtek Wolski - on the rack, although the Coyotes' first string goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov, went the distance in nets and had a strong outing. It was an entertaining game with a number of excellent scoring opportunities including several Oiler breakaways. The hard-hitting affair featured a goodly number of crunching checks that left victims on both sides looking around for the proverbial license plate number of the truck that ran them over.
The Oilers started slowly, falling behind 2-0 in the first before gradually taking charge of the game, helped significantly by a run of six consecutive powerplays in the second and third periods. After taking a 3-2 lead in the third things seemed to be well under control until Phoenix manufactured the tying goal out of the blue with under two minutes left. The Oilers then survived a shaky OT session (outshot 5-0) before dominating the shootout to
secure the two points send the fans home happy.
Although all's well that ends well, I was slightly disappointed to see Coach Renney go with the usual guns (Gagner, Penner, and Hemsky) in the shootout. To me, an exhibition shootout is a real good opportunity to see what you've got a little further down the depth chart. But Penner and Hemsky both converted easily while Gerber slammed the door, so who am I to quibble?
#91 Magnus Paajarvi - #89 Sam Gagner - #83 Ales Hemsky: This high-numbered, highly-skilled line had its moments, notably Gagner's goal on a rare powerplay breakaway (thanks to a horrible Keith Yandle line change), which got the Oilers on the board at 2-1. Gagner also sprang Hemsky for a first period breakaway, but at other times, the two seemed to be working at cross-purposes, going to the same areas of the ice, and occasionally overpassing the puck. I likened it to a basketball team with two point guards on the floor. Paajarvi added his own passing skills and speed to the mix, but was most effective at drawing penalties which he did on three separate occasions - a hat trick of a different type in his second preseason game. Drawing penalties is a repeatable skill, and an invaluable one at that; while three in a game won't happen often, it's another area to watch with the impressive young Swede. The trio were 1-2-3 among Oiler forwards in ice time, with both Gagner and Paajarvi over 21 minutes. That includes primo powerplay time, about seven minutes apiece, but among them they generated a pedestrian 7 shots on goal.
#27 Dustin Penner - #13 Andrew Cogliano - #67 Gilbert Brule: I was happy to see Renney reunite this trio that played quite a bit together down the stretch in 2009-10. The PCB Line might be a toxic mix among Oiler fans, as each member has his detractors, but they again demonstrated decent chemistry. Brule in particular had a very strong night, showcasing his multi-dimensional game with 4 hits, 3 shots, some industrious backchecking, and some fine playmaking including the single best pass of the night as he floated a perfect stretch pass that sent Penner in alone in the second. Cogliano had a better night in the faceoff circle - he could hardly have done worse than last game's 0/9 - posting a creditable 3/6 = 50%, and again had a nice jump in his step. Penner had a low-key but solid night, saving his best for last when he scored the winning goal in the shootout on a nifty backhand deke.
#85 Liam Reddox - #16 Colin Fraser - #28 Ryan Jones: The "tough minutes" trio endured a particularly tough minute between 13:09 and 14:08 of the first, when all three were on for two goals against. Jones, playing his first game after a training camp injury and in tough for a spot with the big club, wound up -3 on the night, pretty harsh on a night the Oil won 4-3. He did have a few good moments, notably in the third period when he came hard on the forecheck, stole the puck, made a strong move to the net, and then led with his chin in the ensuing scrum to draw yet another Oilers' powerplay. Fraser had another underimpressive night to my eye, especially on the faceoff dot where he went just 1/5 = 20%. Reddox had the best moment of the three, tellingly during a line change, serving as the middleman who sent Giroux in alone for the 2-2 goal. The trio combined for just 2 shots.
#12 Alexandre Giroux - #42 Ryan O`Marra - #57 Colin McDonald: A real solid game for this trio of long-shot hopefuls with all three likely helping their cause to some extent. Giroux showed his sniping ability, picking the top corner on Bryzgalov when sent in by Reddox in the second, and got stronger and visibly more confident as the game went on, firing 3 of his 4 shots in the third. McDonald looked real strong along the boards, drawing a penalty during one particularly impressive forecheck, and scored the go-ahead goal in the third with a nifty mid-air deflection of Plante's innocuous point shot. Besides the goal and the drawn penalty, McDonald finished the night with a team-leading 4 shots (tied with Giroux), a hit, 2 takeaways, and even went 2/2 = 100% on the dot. O'Marra was, by eye, the least impressive of the three but got an assist from the faceoff circle and posted solid stats. The trio generated 9 shots on the night, the most of any Oiler line despite less ice and powerplay time than the top units.
#5 Ladislav Smid - #48 Alex Plante: An action-packed night for this pair, some bad, more good as they were on the ice for 1 goal against but all 3 for. They got burned down low on Kyle Turris' 2-0 goal, but Smid made up for that a period later with the night's single best save, coming to the defence of a wandering Martin Gerber by batting an empty-net-bound shot out of mid-air. Smid also made the key play on Gagner's goal with his calm puckhandling :) opening up the ice before a sharp pass up the far boards that sent Sam in alone. He also made a strong own-zone pass to Plante to start the sequence that ended in Giroux's goal. Plante followed up with a beauty lead pass to Reddox on that one for his first assist of the night, then got another with the point shot that McDonald tipped home. Alex also took a suspect penalty for overpowering Turris when the Coyotes' speedster tried to beat him wide up the boards. I remain very impressed with Plante's puckhandling. The big man has a shot at making the big club right out of camp; if not, he's real close.
#41 Taylor Chorney - #77 Tom Gilbert: Chorney contributed a key sequence at 2-0 when he took on an entire line in short order, stepping up to rock Lee Stempniak with a great open ice hit, drawing a retaliatory penalty when Taylor Pyatt decked him from behind, then jumping to his feet to accept Vernon Fiddler's challenge and holding his own in the subsequent scrap. Otherwise had a reasonably solid, low-event game with 1 shot, 2 hits, 2 blocks, and no glaring blunders in 19 minutes of work. Didn't hurt that he was playing with a competent defence partner in Gilbert who had his usual strong game.
#37 Richard Petiot - #26 Kurtis Foster: Another big night for Petiot who led the team in both hits (6) and blocked shots (5). Made a couple of eye-catching plays in the offensive zone as well. Ended the night with an unflattering -2, getting caught in no man's land on the tying goal as Upshall got behind him and Plante was not quite able to cover from the far side. Foster had another solid night and looked comfortable in all three zones.
#38 Jeff Deslauriers: Was unlucky on Stempniak's goal which bounced in off an out-of-position Reddox, but was the architect of some of that by kicking out a greasy rebound in the first place. Then was beaten in close by Turris who slipped the puck under JDD while he was dropping to the ice. Made a few decent saves, nothing earth-shaking. On balance didn't really do much to make his case. 15 saves, 2 GA, .882 Sv%.
#29 Martin Gerber: Gave up his first goal in three half-games (including the Joey Moss Cup) when he gambled and lost by diving towards a loose puck that Upshall was able to flip over him with his own diving effort. Also made an execrable puckhandling play that should have resulted in goat horns, and didn't only because of Smid's improbable mid-air save. When he decided to stay in his crease Gerber was real solid, making more than one save look easier than it really was. 18 saves, 1 GA, .947 Sv%, not counting 2 excellent stops (on 2 attempts) in the shootout.
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Next up: Calgary at Edmonton, Friday October 1, 19:00 MDT