This was an important game for the Oilers to win. They were facing one of the worst teams in the Pacific division. The poor records of every Pacific team (Los Angeles excluded) had generated a "playoff mirage". To the rational optimist the playoffs seemed a somewhat plausible thesis for a team looking for meaning and purpose on the long and winding road that leads to the draft lottery. The Oilers had managed to maintain a rational possibility of making the playoffs despite losing a ton of man-hours to injury, injuries including extremely valuable players like Connor McDavid and Oscar Klefbom. Could they take advantage of this situation? Could they take advantage of the brilliant play of Leon Draisaitl and Taylor Hall?
Antithesis: First Period
The flames came out in the initial ten minutes of the first period and set the tone, generating 15 shot attempts and working Anders Nilsson who appeared slightly overwhelmed but yet solid.
In the last five minutes of the period Benoit Pouliot tipped-in two shots on back-to-back shifts: the first coming from a shot from Jordan Eberle in the high-slot, the second on a shot-pass from corner ice by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. This second-line seemed to be shining tonight, although still received second-line minutes.
The first period was special-teams free and it seemed like the Oilers had escaped the initial roar of match-sticks and gasoline, that the Flames were starting to run on fumes. The first period ended with shot-attempts tied at twenty apiece.
Antithesis: Second Period
The Oilers continued to slightly tilt the ice in their favour to start the second. However, with just under three minutes gone Justin Schultz gave-up a turnover in neutral ice and watched Johnny Gaudreau and TJ Brodie play hockey (yes, they're good players Justin, I like to watch them too). At 8 minutes in, Justin Schultz took a hooking penalty while trying to defend against Sam Bennet; the Oilers escaped the penalty only giving up one shot.
Just after the kill, at about the half-way mark in the second, Leon Draisaitl made a brilliant defensive play in his own end, and together with Taylor Hall sent Teddy Purcell on a break-away. Purcell, being the "by' 'dat scores 'de goals, and brings 'dem home to Liza," easily threw the puck past Karri Ramo. At this point in the game it felt pretty good to be an Oilers' fan. I thought we had a pretty decent chance of winning. We had made a couple mistakes, but overall the chances seemed pretty even, Anders Nilsson had saved our bacon a couple of times, and we got the lucky bounces.
At twelve minutes in, the Oilers caught a break and got a call in their favour from the refs, a holding the stick penalty against Joe Colborne drawn by Iiro Pakarinen. To start the power play the Oilers iced Taylor Hall, Matt Hendricks, Teddy Purcell, Leon Draisaitl, and Justin Schultz. They've frequently played Purcell at left defence together with Schultz with the man advantage. During the cycle Purcell lost the puck and almost gave up a break away. He made a mistake that has often been made by Schultz this year, but unlike Justin, Purcell was both determined and able to fix his mistake.
After a neural zone face-off Draisaitl crossed Calgary's blue line with the puck. The puck ended-up in the corner and Purcell followed it forgetting he was a defender. TJ Brodie emerged from the corner with the puck. Instead of stopping the pass Taylor Hall went for the body against Brodie and missed completely, giving the Flames a two-on-one. Justin Schultz was the only man back. Anders Nilsson made the initial stop and Schultz Jultzed with all of his might in the crease but eventually Stajan put the puck in with what looked like a high-stick. The call was not reviewed. The refs were clearly playing a game of chicken with the Oilers coaching staff, and the white stripes have obviously been told to put the onus for delaying the game on the shoulders of the coaches.
This goal changed the momentum of the game, Nilsson was rattled, the fans were elated, and you could feel that the Flames were going to come hard and the Oilers were not going to be able to stop them. The score was 3-2, but it didn't feel like the Oilers were going to be able to hang-on.
The second period continued with the Oilers giving up a powerplay goal to Giordano and an even-strength goal to Johnny Gaudreau, with Schultz leaving Gaudreau all alone in the slot a second time.
Antithesis: Third Period
The third period started with Cam Talbot in net replacing Anders Nilsson. I read mixed messages in this goalie change. Todd McLellan seemed to be saying he expected more from his goalie, but he also seemed to want to shake-up the Oilers a bit. The cameras panned-over to Nilsson during a break and Nilsson seemed upset. He didn't look great on the power play goal by Giordano, but the other goals could clearly be attributed to poor defensive coverage and turnovers.
At 16:11 in the third, Justin Schultz decided to help Gaudreau and the Flames some more, this time by taking another hooking penalty. Giordano capitalized again on the man advantage for his second goal of the game.
If the innovation of Wayne Greztky characterized the dynasty team of the first four Cups, if the determination of Mark Messier characterized the fifth Cup team, if the toothless grin of Ryan Smyth characterized the 2006 Cinderella run, perhaps the Jultz of Justin Schultz characterizes the since-Hall Oilers. I wish I could write that Taylor Hall, or Jordan Eberle, or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins characterizes our team - and in a certain sense they do - but not in a good way. Justin Schultz is talented, overpaid, able to score goals, but utterly incompetent when it comes to the basics, when it comes to doing his job. And so it has been with lots of players on this team. I'd like to believe that's changing.
We are so blessed to have Connor McDavid, Matt Hendricks, and Leon Draisaitl showing what hard work is and what doing your job looks like. But the truth is that there's a little Justin Schultz in most of the Edmonton Oilers. It's time to waive him and dare the Anaheim Ducks to pick him up. Let him become their problem and live with them at the bottom of the Pacific. Without Schultz, we just might have been able to win this one.