Monday, November 14, 2011

Game 17: Chicago 6 Edmonton 3

The Edmonton Oilers finished off their six game road trip with three games in four nights, against some of the best teams in the league. After struggling mightily in the first two games against Boston and Detroit, the hope was that the team would come out with a solid effort against the high flying Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately, the tough times continued as they were schooled for the third successive game. This time losing by a score of 6-3, to Western Conference leading Blackhawks.

The Hawks came out buzzing and took an early 2-0 lead, scoring twice in 34 seconds against a stunned Oilers squad. Captain Jonathan Toews opened the scoring at the 4:55 mark and defenceman Steve Montador added his first of two on the night, only moments later. As per usual, the Oilers fought back but could never get over that hump. Ryan Smyth scored his tenth on the campaign, just before the twelve minute mark but Montador restored the two goal deficit less then five minutes later.

The teams exchanged a pair of goals in the second, as Toews potted his second of the night at the :22 mark of the period and defenceman Ducan Keith scored his second of the season. The Oilers responded with goals from Jordan Eberle on a breakaway and Shawn Horcoff on the power play. With the score 5-3 heading into the third, it seemed as though Edmonton may have had a chance to make it interesting. Goaltender Corey Crawford looked shaky all night in the Hawks goal but the Oilers could muster up nothing in the final period.

Chicago took it to another level in third period and simply dominated play. The Oilers looked like a weary side that had little left in the tank and proceeded to turn the puck over all period long. The only reason this game didn't end up 10-3 was because goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin stood on his head in the final twenty.

While Edmonton played very well in starting their season off with a 9-3-2 record, everyone knew that there would be tough times ahead. Considering how this road trip started, a 2-4 record is a disappointment but when you look at who and where they played over the last four nights, the outcome is no surprise. If they could have found a way to muster up a win in one of those final three stops, the trip would have been deemed a great success. Instead, it should be viewed as nothing more then a slight under achievement. At the moment, Edmonton are no where near the caliber of team of the likes Boston, Detroit and Chicago but they have taken huge steps this season that show they are headed in the right direction.

The Good

  • While he has come back to earth over his last two starts, allowing eight goals, Nikolai Khabibulin continues to play at a very high level. It was only a matter of time before pucks started sneaking by the veteran netminder. If the Oilers can eliminate some of the massive blunders they have been making with regularity in the own zone, their goaltending seems more then capable of giving them a shot to win on a nightly basis.
  • What can you say about Ryan Smyth that hasn't been said already? The veteran picked up his tenth of the season last night and actually had another that was waived off in the second period, on what was a terrible call by the referee. Smyth has been given every opportunity to succeed by this coaching staff and to his credit, he is making the most of his opportunity.
  • It was nice to see that a forward not named Smyth or Nugent-Hopkins score a goal for this team. The goals by Eberle and Horcoff, brought the total number of goals scored by Edmonton forwards on this  road trip, again not named Smyth or Nugent-Hopkins, to a grand total of four. If you don't get production from your core people, winning becomes a lot more difficult. This was a step in the right direction and hopefully it will help turn things a round

The Bad

  • The smoke and mirrors routine that this defence was able to run on, over the first twelve games has caught up to them. When you look at the Oilers current defence, it seemed almost unthinkable for them to have the best goals against average in the league. Yes, a big reason for that was the play of their netminders but for the most part, the group had been solid. That is no longer the case and this team is starting to bleed scoring chances because of it. The giveaways are too numerous to count, from both the forwards and defence, and the club is starting to once again struggle when it comes to moving the puck up ice. The play of top pairing Tom Gilbert and Laislav Smid has slipped a bit but that should come as no surprise. The two have been fantastic this season but they can't be expected to continue to play the minutes that they are. This club desperately misses Ryan Whitney but the blueliner is at least a week to ten days away. If they can hold the fort until he returns and if management could turn one of their many forwards and/or prospects into another top four defenceman, this team would be far better off.
  • The bottom six continues to produce nothing and I think the time has come for them to totally overhaul the lines. The Oilers do not play again until Thursday, which will allow this coaching staff plenty of time to change thing up. Most teams third line is a checking line but the Oilers currently run on the mentality of throwing whomever on that unit. They talk about it being a scoring line but who's kidding who here. I have said this team needs to make changes to their line combinations for some time but it's now at the point were it needs to be take it even further. That is something I will get into greater detail over the next few days but it needs to happen and in a hurry.
  • The way this staff continues to use Magnus Paajarvi is still a mystery. They get him back into the lineup against Detroit and he was ok but didn't play a ton. In fairness he was on the fourth line so he gets what he gets. Last night he was on the third line and again looked alright and had one really good shift with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.Yet at the end of the night, he has played the least of any forward at 8:36. He had fourteen shifts on the night and four of those shifts were sixteen seconds or less. Not sure what they expect out of him playing so few minutes and sitting for long stretches of time between shifts but I am sure they know what they are doing. 

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