Before the game started, the sentiment among Oiler fans heading into this afternoon's match-up with the Colorado Avalanche was the polar opposite of the feeling entering the Oil's previous game against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.
On Thursday, Edmonton was facing the league's hottest team in their rink on the second night of a back-to-back. Everything pointed to a tough night, but the Oilers fought hard all night and stole a single point before eventually losing in a shootout.
Today's game was being approached with much more optimism. The Oilers dominated the first 40 minutes of their first meeting with the Avs (before sitting back too much and having to hang on more than they should have) and earned a regulation win. Colorado entered the game without Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly, arguably their top two players, as well as David Jones and Steve Downie. They appeared to be primed for the Oilers to pick-up another regulation victory and move back into top spot in the Northwest.
Except they didn't.
The Oilers got off to a strong start in this one, jumping out to an early lead in the first minute of the game with a variation of the zone entry we've seen the Gagner line use before. Gagner pulls up just outside the blueline and veers to the middle to draw the defender towards the middle of the ice and drops a back-pass to a streaking Hemsky. This time, Hemmer made a great pass between the feet of the Avs defender to an oncoming Nail Yakupov who put the Oil on the board.
Devan Dubnyk. For a game the Oilers should have won but seemed like they didn't really show up for, Dubnyk was the guy who brought it all game. He was sharp, calm in his crease, didn't give up excessive rebounds and basically gave the Oilers an opportunity to get a point in a game they had no business being in given the way the team played. At one point the Oil had a 5-3 against and Dubnyk made two excellent saves about 15 seconds apart that really stood out as his finest moment in an another overall strong performance.
The Hall-Nugent-Hopkins-Eberle line was generating chances throughout the evening, but wasn't able to produce anything on the scoreboard.
Eric Belanger earns some kind words for returning from a painful-looking blocked shot on the foot and an arm injury. He looked to be fighting some pain when he came back, but his presence, particularly on the penalty-kill and in the face-off circle was sorely needed.
Lastly, a hit tip in the "Good" category for C&B's own Derek Zona for a trade target scenario he posted in the game thread. Check it out. I think it's got some potential.
While the Young Gunz line was the most dangerous again today, both RNH and Jordan Eberle seem to be fighting the puck a bit the last couple of games to my eye. Both have smooth hands and tremendous skill, but seem to be having difficulty either converting one-time opportunities, getting a solid shot off, or finding a lane to get their shot through to the net.
Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner went a combined 12 for 34 (35%) on the dot this afternoon. Both guys seem to be up and down, particularly Gagner, who is either above 50% or below 40% most nights. They need to be better to allow the team to take advantage of offensive zone face-offs. Either that or Krueger is going to need to start talking to Craig McTavish about FOGO (Face-Off-Get-Off) shifts for Belanger and Horcoff when he returns.
Overall the team seemed to lack the urgency needed to put this game on ice, particularly given the early lead. They had everything they needed to step on the throats of the Avs today and the let them up off the canvas and got knocked out for it. The passion and the energy that this team can create that was evident in the Kings game among others was lacking tonight in a game they should have won. These are the games that playoff teams win and teams that miss the playoffs look back on and regret.
Ladislav Smid. It's like he had a brain transplant over the off-season. The guy still does a lot of things well, but his vision on the ice and his recognition of the opposing team's attacking players has been awful so far. On the Avs' first goal, the puck made it's way back to the point and Smid had 5 feet in every direction between himself and the next closest player on the ice, and even then, that was Dubnyk. When the Avs moved the puck across the blueline and the possibility of a shot on goal presented itself, instead of looking around to identify any Colorado forwards in the vacinity of a potential rebound, Smid stood still, (possibly thinking he might have a chance to block a shot) and essentially screened Dubnyk while Ryan Wilson just directed his shot wide for an on-coming PA Parenteau to deflect into a wide-open net. Petry deserves some criticism for failing to tie-up Parenteau earlier, but Smid was the net-front presence of the pairing and did nothing to control the closest Avalanche attacker. He was just oblivious to his surroundings.
Ryan Whitney. Glue Factory. That is all.
The Copper & Blue Three Stars:
★★★ - Taylor Hall
★★ - Eric Belanger
★ - Devan Dubnyk