Friday, December 30, 2011

Game 36: Minnesota 4 Edmonton 3


In what was a hard fought and chippy affair, the Minnesota Wild managed to end their season high eight game losing streak by defeating the Edmonton Oilers by a score of 4-3. Edmonton now sits at 0-2 to start their season high seven game road trip and have a record of 2-8 in their last ten games.

The Oilers came out fast and managed to open the scoring when Taylor Hall continued his strong play since returning from his shoulder injury. Hall buried a slick cross-ice pass from Jordan Eberle, just 1:24 into the contest, to get Edmonton off on the right foot. The assist extends Eberle's current point streak to six games and marks the seventeenth time in the last twenty games, that the sophomore winger has registered at least one point. It was just the start the visitors were looking for but for a reason known only to this clubs coaching staff, the kid line saw roughly four minutes of ice time in the first. In fact, the only Oiler forwards that played less then a Hall in period one were Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk.

Edmonton had the opportunity to grab this game by the throat but that never materialized because coach Renney and company were simply unwilling to play the kids in four-on-four situations. Teams tend to play their best players when both sides are playing four aside but Edmonton looks at these situations as if they are short-handed and hence the youngsters don't see the ice.

Not surprisingly, it was in one of those four-on-four occasions that the Wild would tie things up and it was their best player, Mikko Koivu, who did the damage. The talented centre took a drop pass at the Edmonton blueline and skated, untouched, into the Oiler zone and snapped a perfectly placed shot past netminder Nikolai Khabibulin. The teams went to the dressing room with the game knotted at one, in what was an entertaining period of play.

Three and half minutes into the second,  Edmonton was given a four minute man advantage when Koivu caught Shawn Horcoff with a high stick  The visitors had control for most of the power play but were unable to take the lead. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with just under a minute left in the power play, after asking officials how they missed an earlier high stick on Hall, that left the star winger spitting blood.

The Wild would take the lead just past the midway mark of the period when Jarod Palmer scored his first NHL goal, on a couple of miscues from Oiler defenders. Jeff Petry was caught just outside the Oiler blueline after turning the puck over, which allowed Palmer to walk in alone and beat Khabibulin high on the glove side. Corey Potter didn't help his partner out, when he let Palmer skate in as he thought he was facing an apparent two-on-one. Potter had the opportunity to step up and force the Minnesota winger but instead he did nothing and Edmonton was trailing for the first time.

Nineteen seconds later, Oiler killer Pierre-Marc Bouchard made it a two goal lead. Theo Peckham allowed Bouchard to sneak in him behind him at the Edmonton blueline and the Wild centre snapped a quick wrist shot past a stunned Khabibulin to make it 3-1. The Oiler netminder was not set for the shot and it somehow found it's way to the back of the net. Not a good goal on the veterans part.

Less then a minute later, Hordichuk would drop the mitts with big Matt Kassian in what was a very one sided affiair. Though Hordichuk was tossed around like a rag doll by the hulking Minnesota tough guy, the tussle seemed to spark the visitors. That extra jump resulted in Edmonton cutting the lead to one, when Ladislav Smid scored his third of the season.

With Taylor Hall being doubled shifted on the fourth line, the talented winger teamed with Ben Eager to gain control of the puck deep in the Wild zone. Hall then sent a beautiful cross-ice pass to a streaking Smid, for an easy backdoor tap in. Just like that the lead was back down to one but less then a minute later, the home side restored their two goal bulge.

On what was a bit of an unlucky play, Marek Zidlicky's wrap around attempt ricocheted directly to Dany Heatley for an easy tap in goal. It was a tough sequence for Petry, who had the puck hit him on the backside on the Zidlicky wrap around and then he lost his mark in Heatley. That made it 4-2 for Minnesota heading into the final frame.

The third period opened with round two from Hordichuk and Kassian. While the Oilers tough guy managed to get in  a couple of early shots, the result was the same as the first go around. Once again, the tilt seemed to spark the Oilers who easily played their best period of the night. Shawn Horcoff would cut the led to one, when he scored his first in thirteen games at the 6:40 mark of the third. Much like the Bouchard goal on Khabibulin, the Horcoff wrister somehow eluded Niklas Backstrom but the Oilers and their captain weren't about to give it back.

Edmonton carried the play for much of the third but were unable to find the equalizer, despite having a six-on-four advantage for the last minute and half of the game. They had chances but couldn't find a way to get the puck past Backstrom.


The Good
  • For one of the few times this season, Edmonton played with a nasty edge to their game. Minnesota came out hard and hitting everything that moved and for once, the Oilers would respond. Be it guys like Hall and Ryan Smyth getting into it after whistles or Colten Teubert and Peckham throwing big hits. Edmonton was engaged and probably deserved a better outcome on the night.
  • Taylor Hall has now been back for six games and he has been the best Oiler in five of those games and it has been by a very wide margin. The kid looked possessed at times last night and there was very little the Wild could do to stop him.When he got that puck on his stick, he did whatever he wanted out there. There were at least five occasions when Hall was not only the first forward back on the back check but he was beating his on defencemen back into the Olers zone and picking up the puck behind the net. With all do respect to the other two kids, when Taylor gets it going, Hall is the best player on this team. 
  • While Darcy Hordichuk was thoroughly beaten by Matt Kassian in both their fights,the fact that he was willing to not only engage with the Minnesota tough guy but go looking for it, both times, says a lot about his character. He needed to send a message to his teammates that it's not acceptable to just sit and take abuse without fighting back. Darcy took a pounding but it appeared to wake the rest of his teammates up.
  • Ales Hemsky returned from a two game absence and played his best hockey, since the first four periods of the season. Ales was flying and involved all night long. With a little luck he would have scored a goal last night but it wasn't meant to be. With as good as Hemsky was playing, it did seem odd for him not to be one of the Oilers six players on the ice in the final minute and a half but that is another matter altogether. When Hemsky plays like that, it is hard to imagine the club not wanting to sign him long term but those performances have become the rarity and are no longer the norm.  
  • Edmonton replaced Khabibulin in the third with Devan Dubnyk and he was solid all period long. Dubnyk looked like the goalie that ended last season and started this campaign. He was square and in perfect position on every shot and his rebound control was fantastic. You can easily count the number of so-so performances from Khabby on one hand this season but after back-to-back shaky outings, look for Dubnyk to get the call on Saturday afternoon against the Islanders. 

The Bad

  • In his post game comments, Tom Renney mentioned that they could have taken this game over in the first if they would have seized the opportunity. The Wild played a hard fought game the night before and with the Oilers early goal, Minnesota was ripe for the picking. I couldn't agree more with Renney's assessment and that's what so puzzling. If he wanted to take that game over maybe he should have put his best players on the ice. Instead the kids never saw the ice in the first because he is too afraid to have them play in four-on-four situations. It makes no sense at all and it makes his post game comments seem comical. He apparently knows what the problem is but is unwilling to try and fix it.
  • Without question, the worst Oiler on the ice was Corey Potter. Every time the puck was in the Oilers end and Potter was on the ice, it was like a fire drill. He was constantly out of position and was making one poor decision after another..be it with or without the puck. No one expected Potter to continue playing at the level he was to start the season but the drop in his play has been alarming. Since returning from injury he has looked nothing like the player from earlier in the season and that might just be what he is. It looks like the clock may have struck midnight on what was a storybook-like start to Potter's season.
  • No offense to Shawn Horcoff but if he can't win a face-off on the power play, there is no reason for him to be on the first unit. As I have said all season long, they have an elite power play guy in Ryan Smyth and yet they refuse to use him on the top unit. It is rather humorous because they seem to have no interest in getting him off the damn ice when he should be on the bench but have no urgency in putting him out in situations he is suited best for. As good as Edmonton has been with the man advantage this season, they would be even better with Smyth causing havoc in front of the opposing teams net.

 
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