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Oilers Play Better, Still Lose 3-2 To The Red Wings

On Christmas night when all children go to be with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads I will be dreaming of the Red Wings. Not because I think Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Lidstrom are great hockey players (which they are) but because they're the team that Oiler fans aspire to be. It's a team like theirs, one that is consistently among the upper third of the NHL, that is supposed to be the pot of gold at the end of the rebuild rainbow.

Try as they might though the Oilers aren't in the same class as the Red Wings this season. Tonight the Oilers would play better than they had in some of their most recent outings but would still fall 3-2 to a much better Wings team, their fourth loss in a row and sixth in seven games. Playing better was a welcome change but it's getting more and more clear as each game passes that this team is a long way from that pot of gold at then end of the rainbow.

Scoring Chances - Fenwick/Corsi - Head-to-Head Ice Time - Shift Charts
Box Score - Event Summary - Faceoff Report - Shot Report
Red Wings Beat Oilers 3-2, Move Back Ahead of Blues in Standings, World Returns to Normal

The first period went reasonably well for the Oilers; for a change they looked awake and ready to play right from the opening puck drop. In the first period they outshot the Red Wings, they generated some good scoring chances, had 56 seconds worth of 5-on-3 powerplay time, and even got a shot behind Jimmy Howard only to be turned away by the post. But at the end of the first period they still found themselves trailing by a goal. The lone goal of the period came off what should have been a harmless backhand from Jakub Kindl that Dan Cleary deflected past Nikolai Khabibulin. On the replay you can see Cleary standing right between Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid and yet neither takes the man in front of their goalie. Not a good defensive play from the Oilers two best defensemen (as a result of injury) and yet nowhere close to the worst play we'd see on this night from an Oilers blueliner.

In the second period the Oilers would draw even thanks to a Ryan Jones breakaway goal. I'm sure every goalie would like to have back every goal the let in but I've got to think Howard might want another chance at this one more than most. Given Jones' angle and that he didn't make a move of any kind Howard shouldn't have let this goal in. In the post game celebration my wife said "I saw that happening and though, oh crap it's Jones." Trust me, she watches enough hockey to know that Jones wouldn't normally score from there.

The Wings would again grab the lead on a Jiri Hudler goal later in the second period. If you thought Gilbert/Smid not picking up the man was bad, this was worse. For reasons I can't figure out, and I'm sure the main stream media won't ask, Ryan Whitney just abandoned Hudler in the slot leaving him open to tip-in the Zetterberg shot. Whitney struggled mightily again tonight as he continues to "play himself back into game shape" but that play was simply a brain cramp on his part. The Oilers would go to the dressing with the scored tied though after Jordan Eberle's slap shot with 0.5 seconds left on the clock beat Howard. The puck almost left the Wings zone but Jeff Petry chipped the puck to the boards where Ryan Nugent-Hopkins picked the puck up only to have his shot blocked; Eberle was Johnny-on-the-spot ripping the rebound home to tie the score at two.

The third period would see the Wings start to take control of the game dominating on the shot clock (10-5) and in scoring chances (6-2). The Oilers weren't necessarily hanging on but they weren't taking the play to the Wings either. I can't say that they really looked like they they were on the verge of winning at any point during the game's final period. Finally the Wings regained the lead they deserved when Drew MIller deflected home Lidstrom's point shot for, what would eventually be, the winning goal.

A late delay of game penalty to Niklas Kronwall gave the Oilers their last gasp at a point but they were unable to generate much of anything in terms of scoring chances with the man advantage and, as a result, let this game end with more of a wimper than a bang. In the end the Oilers played better tonight than they have in some of their recent losses but the result was exactly the same, another loss.

News and Notes:

  • The Oilers veteran line of Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, and Ales Hemsky had a good night. They were aggressive, were even or better when it came to scoring chances, and recorded the best Corsi numbers on the team. However, as a group, though they have only three assists in seven games, only one of which the Oilers have won.
  • Hemsky has now gone six straight games without a point for the first time since January of his rookie season. I'm a Hemsky supporter and I'll admit that he's not great every night but I'm stunned at how hard some of the fans are being on him; a group that's growing with each game. I'm getting the feeling he'll be the next guy run out of town if he doesn't start producing a lot very soon.
  • While the veterans looked better, Nugent-Hopkins seemed to struggle, especially at even strength. None of the Chosen Line had a great night but this was one of the few times on home ice this season that I thought Nugent-Hopkins might have been the weakest of the group.
  • Jones now has 11 goals on the season and trails only Smyth, Nugent-Hopkins, and Eberle on the team. I'm not sure what I find more amazing about that: that Jones is ahead of his goal scoring past of last season or that only three Oilers are scoring more goals than he is.
  • More and more Eberle is becoming the guy I find myself watching every time he's on the ice. He has a style to his game that sees him go to places and the puck seems to just find him at the right time. Add to that a very good shot and some amazing passing skills and It can be a lot of fun to watch.