I think we can basically call the season here. Unless the Oilers go on a lopsided winning streak to end the year they have no shot of making the playoffs. And it is a shame, considering that they’d battled their way back into the conversation with an impressive five game winning streak. But three feeble games and losses later will sink any hope they’d created for themselves, culminating in this 2-1 lifeless effort versus the Aneheim Gordon Bombays.
This was a must-win game. The fans knew it. The coaches knew it. The players knew it. Hell, even Matty knew it — within 10 minutes of the game being over he’d started blathering on about the upcoming entry draft in a way that left one with the sense that he was a bit happy to put that comfortable sweater back on. Ahh, we don’t have to get all tensed up here guys! This team is meaningless again, let’s go back to chatting about young dudes!
As you can see, in said ‘must-win’ game, the Oilers couldn’t even take the majority of even strength possession, losing the Corsi battle in the first two periods and having the desperation to tie the Ducks in the final period. I will say that there were many good opportunities for the Oilers to score in this game. All of Hall, Eberle, and RNH had a scoring chances that simply should have been goals. Eberle couldn’t convert a sweet no-look Hall pass in the first, Hall found himself all alone in front of Hiller in the second but stuffed it into his pads, and RNH took a pass from Eberle on a 2-on-1 in the third that left him with a ton of open net to shoot at but he somehow missed the net on. There were more than those, but it seemed to remind me of the conversion problems the first line had in the first month of the season at even strength, especially RNH. That line played great, and were the only threat (and I mean the *only* threat) to create offence out there, but they did not cash in the opportunities they created to score. In a close game, that makes all the difference.
And here are the numbers to prove the great night of the first line. When RNH, Hall, and Eberle were on the ice, the Oilers had 73%, 71%, and 61% of Corsi events. What makes it even more impressive is who they did this against, but we’ll get to that in a second.
First I wanted to discuss how the Oilers lost this game. By no means do I think the Oilers deserved to win this one after how mediocre they played, but with 12:55 left in the third period with the game tied 1-1, I feel like one odd decision pulled the rug out from under their playoff hopes. For a defensive zone faceoff, Coach Krueger decided to keep Jerred Smithon out to play with Hall and Eberle instead of them taking their normal shift with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I do realize Smithson was having a pretty good night on faceoffs to that point, winning 5 and losing none, but RNH was having a great night of his own, winning 60% of his draws tonight.
Smithson had just taken a quick 21 second shift with Gagner and Petrell that ended in the defensive zone. Whatever you want to make of the line combination, Krueger decided to put two centremen out there to try to win the draw no matter who got thrown out. But then he decided to keep Smithon out there to take the draw in the Oilers end with Hall and Eberle. Smithson promptly got tossed from the faceoff, and the Oilers spent the next 20 second in fire drill mode versus Koivu/Winnik/Dvorak, resulting the the go-ahead second Ducks goal.
Firstly, Smithson is a player that Coach Krueger has known for less than 48 hours, and that he’s seen play probably a handful of times in a limited minutes role. He’s someone that had played essentially no time with Hall or Eberle. The season is on the line, and you’re putting people out there who have no familiarity with each other at all.
Secondly, why not put RNH out there with Smithson and have two centremen out there, as he had just done 20 seconds earlier with Gagner & Smithson? Smithson was tossed from the circle, leaving only Hall to take the draw, which he lost to a 17 year NHL veteran in Saku Koivu. If you’re going to get cute, at least leave an insurance policy for when your cute ‘gut’ decision doesn’t work out. It’s just mind bogglingly careless.
Thirdly, this isn’t like you’re coaching Team Canada in the 2010 Olympics and you’ve got Patrice Bergeron as your 4th line defensive faceoff specialist — this is Jerred Smithson, one of the worst possession players in the entire league (along with the rest of the Oilers’ bottom 6). Why on Earth would you pin your season’s hopes on this fellow being able to outplay the opposition in the defensive end?
Fourthly, prior to this sequence, Smithson had played one other shift in the 3rd period, a period entirely played at even strength up to that point. Krueger had seemingly started to shorten his bench, but was putting out some weird line combos. Why? Was he trying to play to protect the tie into overtime? I mean, this is some of the same cliched thinking we’ve seen earlier this year from Krueger. RNH had just as much rest as Hall and Eberle. Smithson had just played a shift with Gagner and Petrell. Why on Earth would you be searching for ways to double shift him?
Again, I don’t want to imply that this one play lost the game and therefore the season, but it was muddled thinking and execution on Krueger’s part when the Oilers needed a clear head and a rational choice. Our first line was our only true threat all night. Why, with the season on the line, make a decision like this? At the very least, it cost them the chance to take it into overtime.
Without Hemsky the second line with Gagner/PRV/Yakupov played a pretty terrible game when they were needed the most. Even without Hemmer the red square of fail is following this line around in the bottom right of the player with player chart. They had a decent shift late in the game that Yakupov almost converted into a goal, but it was not to be.
The Horcoff line was also an unmitigated disaster tonight. The Oilers needed much, much more out of their veteran line with Horc, Smytty, and Jones, but ended up being pounded by all comers.
Literally, the only Oilers who had a decent game with the season losing its grasp were the wunder-kids.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Hall steamrolled the Ducks tonight. Look at how that line did against the top Ducks threat in Perry. Hall was +13 against him, RNH was +11. Other than converting their chances, the top line did all they could. RNH wasn’t in the red against any Duck tonight, including Koivu, Dvorak, or Winnik. Just let the kid play for his damn season, I believe he earned that right.