The Oilers battled the Habs pretty evenly throughout the game last night with neither team being dominant for a prolonged period of the game. Of course, the place that matters most, the scoreboard, is where the Habs were able to pull ahead and stay ahead. Check out the games highlights and then we will discuss why:
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I'm going to forego the game recap here because there are a few points I want to talk about in the game notes and I don't think anyone needs a 2,000 word game recap. Also, I'm going to touch on some stats in my notes. If you enjoy that kind of thing, great, if you're not interested in statistical analysis and are looking for a game summary...WATCH THE DAMN GAMES as the stats guys get told so frequently. :)
- It was a tale of two rosters for the Oilers last night. If you check out that link to Michael Parkatti's stats breakdown you'll notice that the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mark Arcobello lines had excellent nights in terms of controlling the play. Both lines directed far more shots at the net than they allowed. If that is a trend that continues, the Oilers' fortunes should improve.
- The second part of the roster last night was the bottom two lines. The Boyd Gordon line had a bad night. Gordon has been the team's most reliable player throughout the first three games, so I don't think anyone is going to tear this group apart for a single bad outing. Yakupov also struggled and Ryan Smyth is having a hard time convincing anyone that he's still an NHL player. We all love you Smytty, but the game is passing you by.
- As for the fourth line...they were an absolute trainwreck. To be clear the performance of Gazdic-Acton-Brown on this night was enough to make fans yearn for the return of Eric Belanger and Lennart Petrell. The absolute best thing that you can say about the group on this night is that they weren't scored on, which they owe greatly to Devan Dubnyk. Acton's line got their show RUN last night by basically whoever was on the ice against them. The Oilers only attempted a single shot at the Habs goal over the course of the entire game while Acton was on the ice while allowing a staggering 12 against in only 6.8 minutes of even strength ice-time. That's um...bad. Gazdic and Brown were only marginally better because they actually played less than Acton. On per minute of ice time basis, they were every bit as awful.
- Now, you may ask yourself..."Alan, why do you care about the 4th line? They didn't get scored against and they only played like 6 minutes 5v5 all night!" Well, do you remember this:
From that press conference:
We need greater depth. We’ve got a lot of great primary pieces and this has a little bit of a wake feel walking in here and I want to put that all behind us from this point forward. I think that the future is extremely bright with these young players but we’ve got to add some depth. We’ve got primary pieces here but we’ve got to add some depth.
When Craig MacTavish said that, he was specifically referring to nights like this. There are going to be nights in an NHL season where your top players play well but don't get the results. On those nights, your team is not going to win if you get ZERO offensive contributions from the bottom half of your roster. I'm certainly not expecting a 4th line to go out and dominate the game, but to get outplayed to the extent that you are only able to attempt one shot on goal in a game while allowing a dozen against...that's not even in the same realm as a group that can be considered secondary contributors over the course of the season. Bottom line, the Gazdic-Acton-Brown group isn't going to get it done and they need more from that bottom line to ease the burden being placed on those top two lines to get it done every single night. This is the same problem that plagued the team last season.
- For an example of what a fourth line can be, one need only look across the ice to the Montreal Canadiens. The line of Moen-Bournival-Prust was actually among Montreal's best last night and, winning the possession battle at approximately 70% of shot attempts compared to the opposition when they were on the ice last night. Consequently, they contributed a goal that helped the Habs defeat the Oilers while their counterparts served as punching bags.
- Another area that should be pointed out is that the illustrious new captain of the Edmonton Oilers is getting brutalized right now. His possession numbers have been decent enough, but this is one of the cases where the advanced stats don't tell the full story. The Oilers are getting their chances when Ference is on the ice, but their opponents are cashing in on far too many of their opportunities while the Captain is manning the blueline. Over the last two games, Ference has been on the ice for every single goal against in all situations, EV and special teams, with the exception of the empty netter tonight. As a guy who was brought in to be a reliable, veteran presence to support the team's young Dmen, Ference isn't living up to that billing so far.
I could go on, but the bottom line here is that there was good to be taken from the game last night for the Oilers. Marc Arcobello continues to show that he's deserving of an extended stay in the top nine, which should help the team's depth once Sam Gagner returns. However, on a night when the team's top guys played well but weren't able to cash in on their chances, the Oilers demonstrated that they still have yet to provide a supporting cast that can help carry the load for this team on a night when their stars come up short on the scoreboard.
You can examine the individual events from last night in detail if you want, but the end result is that the 10 or 12 Oiler players who can actually contribute positively to a win got beat by the 19 Habs at the other end, and that's something that's going to keep happening if this team doesn't start generating an occasional goal from the bottom of the line-up.