I was all set to unleash a Ben-like screen on Ryan Whitney's busted up ankles and broken career when I began watching the game for a second time on DVR. I quickly realized just how enjoyable the Oilers loss to the Stars actually was, as long as I covered up the part of the screen that displayed Ryan Whitney and to a lesser extent Potter, Corey. It's not his fault, the issue lies with Oilers' management, so I'll leave him be until the end. Instead, let's focus on the amazing Ales Hemsky and the ridiculous Taylor Hall. Back in August, I wrote:
- Ales Hemsky still drives play against top competition. Even through his injury issues over the last few seasons, that has never changed.
- Taylor Hall is remarkable. He's light years ahead of the other young Oilers forwards and the centerpiece of any future success the Oilers might have. Compare his usage and results from last season to Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and it's obvious that one of them is driving the bus and two of them are still passengers. Hemsky and Hall are the Oilers best forwards and it's really not close.
It seems crazy to have to say it, but at the time it was overlooked in a market that was swinging from the short-hairs of luck and percentages.
Regardless of that luck, both Hemsky and Hall's greatness was on display against Dallas. Hemsky was a force in all zones. He backchecked hard, breaking up plays or stealing the puck on the backcheck at least 4 times. He carried the puck through the neutral zone and dominated the offensive zone as well. Though he was able to score the goal in the second period, that goal was a side-effect of the amazing work he did in the 35 seconds prior. It was perfect Hemsky hockey and I think both teams were caught watching him. If this is the Hemsky we're dealing with, the Oilers are getting a .9 P/G player who takes on toughs and beats them consistently. He's one of the best wings in the league.
Hall was everywhere Hemsky wasn't. His cannonball style was on full display as Hall exploded into the neutral zone and carried the puck to the net all night long. Hall drove the bus tonight.
Aside from Hemsky and Hall, both Nail Yakupov and Sam Gagner were clicking. Gagner kept his point streak alive, killed penalties with vigor, pushed the play and aside from Hall, seemed to be the most dangerous Oiler in open ice tonight. I am a big supporter of Sam Gagner and always have been, but even I was surprised by the total game he displayed tonight. He still has some work to do, especially low in his own zone, but for a hockey player who spent his formative adult developmental years in the hockey equivalent of a third-world country, he's quite good.
Teemu Hartikainen has a new role on the power play: stand in the crease and annoy people. He screened Kari Lehtonen on Justin Schultz' goal and was a general pain in the butt. He's not so easy to move, either. When he gets his frame planted, he uses his strength to dig in and even the Stars' big boys were struggling with him.
Nail Yakupov showed why he's such an amazing overall talent. Not only is he a fantastic playmaker, but he showed a wicked wrist shot, the ability to hit and backchecking ability as well.
Taylor Hall was shifted to centre on the power play and at even strength a couple of times. He responded by winning faceoffs and playing dominating hockey down low. If Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can come back Saturday, I would ice the following lineup:
Nail Yakupov - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky
Magnus Paajarvi - Taylor Hall - Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Lennart Petrell
Ben Eager - Chris Vande Velde - Teemu Hartikainen
Truthfully, there's not much bad here. I could pick on the faceoffs, or the soft goal Dubnyk allowed in. I could pick on the zone entries issues that plague the Young Gunz™ on the power play, or I could pick on Darcy Hordichuk because, he stinks. Potter, Corey is out there with no idea what to do from shift-to-shift and Jeff Petry had two terrible turnovers, but there's not enough there to rail about given the circumstances. Even though the Stars were the worst defensive team in the league, and even though they were down three centres, 15 guys played their hearts out to get a point.
I think I'm just going to leave a permanent paragraph in this spot dedicated to Ryan Whitney. We've exited the orbit of "frustrating to watch", we've left "infuriating to watch" in the rear view mirror. At this point, Whitney is not an NHL defenseman. I know he's "sublime with the puck" and "incredible on the breakout", but he can't move on defense and can't pivot without hopping into the air. His turnover to Jamie Benn was ugly and not beating Jamie Benn back to the puck while the Oilers had a power play was uglier. His feet-in-cement act against Jaromir Jagr to end the game was the typical "hop hop" move that he needs to turn. The '84 Oilers would struggle to beat the Stars with Ryan Whitney logging 20 minutes.
Thanks for coming out Darcy Hordichuk. Thanks for signing Darcy Hordichuk, Oilers' crack management team. Rather than place a useful player on the roster, you've saddled Krueger with an anchor and in a game like tonight, when Ryan Smyth had nothing left to give, useful players would have helped greatly.
The Copper & Blue Three Stars:
★★★ - Sam Gagner
★★ - Taylor Hall
★ - Ales Hemsky