Just when you thought we had a good thing going, the Oilers go out and throw another wet blanket on their fans’ enthusiasm. Yes, it was an arduous back to back game against one of the better teams in the league, and yes, it’s hard to expect your team to win every game. But it’s an opportunity missed. Detroit and Minnesota both lost in regulation tonight — if the Oilers had managed to win this game, they could have pulled within 3 points of the division lead and even with the Red Wings. But, instead of going something like 7-4-1 to ensure a playoff spot, we’ll have to go something like 7-3-1. It’s not an impossible task, but there are some heavy hitters on deck for us this weekend (LA, ANA).
This is one of those games that makes you realize why using CorsiClose (restricting the data set to situations where the score is close) is important. The Oilers managed to crawl back to respectability in overall even strength Corsi events 37 to 35 on the strength of a 18-8 3rd period, but those numbers were entirely due to score effects, or the tendency of a trailing team to out-attempt the leading team. The Oilers fired many desperate shots at the Nucks net in the 3rd, but their best chances were whiffed on or blocked. This was a reflection of the game as a whole — the Oilers just could not generate any offensive pressure or even any means of crossing the offensive blueline under control. The Canucks played great defence, sure, but the fire and desperation you felt throughout the games with Calgary were entirely absent versus Vancouver.
It was a curious decision to start Khabibulin, but I’d have a hard time putting > 50% of the blame on any goal on him. He made a half dozen very good saves on scoring chances (intentional or not), and kept the game within two goals heading to the third period when it could easily have been worse. Maybe Krueger was banking on the fact we’d likely be sacrificing this back-to-back game and decided to give Dubnyk a rest? That’s likely being a bit too empathetic, but honestly, this was going to be a hard game to win regardless. They just need to come out strong against the Kings, a team they’ve actually played decently against this year.
It’s a tale of two lines tonight. On the plus side, Horcoff’s line with Ryan Jones and Yakupov had their best possession numbers of the year, ending the game 2nd, 1st, and 3rd respectively in Corsi per minute. They all saw a majority of their time against Lapierre, Kassian, and Jensen — not world-beaters by any stretch, but they snuffed them out all night.
On the bad side, the Gagner line with Hemsky and Paajarvi were by far the worst line of the night, ending last, 4th last, and 3rd last in Corsi per minute. They saw a heaping tablespoon of Hansen/Roy/Higgins and did absolutely terribly. I realize Roy was probably a bit pumped up playing the first game for his new team, but it was just unacceptable to be dominated in this fashion — Gagner was 16% on the night! Before the game there was speculation that Paajarvi might miss the game due to a small injury, with Lander even taking the warmups. He looked completely ineffective all night. Of course the coaches have to listen to the player in terms of his readiness, but the decision to let him play did not work out at all. Why not play Lander on the 4th line at centre, moving Smytty up to second or third line left wing?
The player-with-player Corsi chart has some sunburns. The deep red square of fail makes a return appearance in the bottom right of the table, with Hemsky/Gagner/Paajarvi addressing the encore. What seems appropriate is that their damage was almost entirely done while the Schultz pairing was on the ice with them. Gagner played about 9 of his 13.5 minutes with the Schultz pairing, and (fittingly enough) they accounted for -9 of his -13 raw Corsi. Hemsky, however, had all -8 of his -8 rating while on the ice with the Schultz’. Pretty incredible.
An odd result was that Petry/Smid were -3 with all of the top line tonight, who were generally even on the night, while Justin Schultz was +4 with them in about 3.5 minutes of ice time. Jschultz was -1 on the night, but -5 with his normal partner Nick. He was +3 with Whitney in 1.7 minutes, oddly enough considering how poorly they’ve done together. Even weirder is that their only two shifts together were in the first period, meaning they put that +3 up while the Oilers were being pounded. Interesting.
Here’s the real story of the night. Derek Roy was up against every Oiler except Ryan Smyth (go Smytty!). Gagner and Paajarvi were -10 against him in their head-to-head matchup.
The first line saw a ton of the Sedins, and ended the night between -2 and -6 against them. Considering the top line played most of their night with the Petry/Smid pairing, I’d be looking for them to break even in the power-vs-power matchup. They did not have it tonight. I’ll give them a break, considering the historically ridiculous run they’ve been on. They’ve got to get right back on the horse vs the Stanley Cup champions on Saturday.
Cam Barker still plays in the NHL! Jones, Yak, and Horcoff were +12, +10, and +9 against him respectively, accounting for almost their entire positive margins for the night overall. Even in a blow-out, Barker manages to play bad. I loved him in junior.