In the second game of tonights Hockey Night in Canada double header, the Edmonton Oilers will face-off against the Detroit Red Wings for the first time since they’ve migrated back to the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings, like most teams in the Oilers rebuild era, love visiting Edmonton, having stolen 17 of a possible 22 points in their last eleven games at Rexall Place, including a sweep of last seasons three game season series.
The Oilers hobble into this one with no Taylor Hall, still out nursing a knee injury he received on a knee-on-knee collision with Ottawa’s Eric Gryba. The penalty called on the play was given to Hall, as he tried to give Gryba a slash to the back of the leg using the one hand that wasn’t holding his kneecap in place. I say ‘tried’ because he missed Gryba by about a foot, but the ref raised his arm anyway. Sam Gagner returned to the team last game after the vicious broken jaw he received at the hands of Zach Kassian in a preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks. David Perron remains a question mark, sitting at home with an illness. I’m sure it’s just the flu but wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Phil Kessel poisoned him prior to their game on tuesday evening.
In net the Oilers will push on with their one-hit-wonder, Richard Bachman, who turned surefire loss into a shootout loss sunday night against the Kings, but turned around and laid an egg against the Maple Leafs in a 4-0 beat down that has Edmonton’s many Leafs fans more obnoxious than ever. Bachman’s first two NHL starts have been interesting to say the least.
Back to the Red Wings, this is a team that plays a puck possession system and a strictly professional brand of hockey. Watching them play the Calgary Flames last night, superstar Pavel Datsyuk seemed to yawn as he posted a 1-1-2 line en route to a 4-3 Red Wings victory. This is a team that doesn’t care at all at this point in the season, but simply walks out onto the ice, wins a hockey game and goes on to the next one. So far this road trip they’ve posted wins in Vancouver and Calgary, and in the second game of a back-to-back, the Oilers will still have an enormous task in defeating the seasoned veterans. At 1-4-0 this year in Rexall Place, the Oilers will be looking to post a regulation win in front of their home crowd for the first time this season.
Notes: The Oilers have lost the building. Rexall Place has become a hostile place for the young team to play, with rowdy fans booing and jeering at every mistake this team has made since around the midway point of last season. The fans are sending a message; Win or go home. So far, the Oilers have heard the message, but simply don’t have the defence or goaltending to win. Dallas Eakins’ systems are beginning to take hold on this team, but they haven’t been able to post a full game of the hard-working style of play Eakins’ is trying to impress. Look for more growing pains tonight as the Oilers fight the Red Wings as well as their hometown crowd.
Back to the comments made about the Oilers’ strange early season injuries, during the Leafs game I saw Smid fall on top of Kadri and the two slid into the boards. Both were fine, which is a huge problem. Our first line centre is dodging flying knees from goons like Kings forward Kyle Clifford, and our appropriate response is for Jones to come try and fight him.
This is great, because fighters would rather not fight and not get paid than fight and gain respect around the league, right? The thing Clifford, Gryba and Kassian all have in common is that they’re all no-names, trying to earn a regular spot in the NHL, and they are all on very good NHL teams. Ladislav Smid, as tough as he is, has no mean streak. His team is losing and the other teams first line centre is underneath him as they slide with velocity into the boards. Either Smid doesn’t care and isn’t pissed off by his 3-8-2 record, or I’m missing something. This may sound vicious, but Kadri should either have been lying prone on the ice after that play or getting up steaming mad, slashing Smid in the back of the legs and chirping at the refs for a missed call. As Hall did in the Gryba play. Smid had a perfect opportunity to get an aggressive forward just a little bit off his game and he passed it up.
This is the killer instinct that the Oilers lack. They aren’t playing to win, they’re playing to win their way. They play to win with skill.
Another note I’d like to share is the lack of net-front presence. Watching a Flames game earlier this week, I watched as the Flames power play put the puck to the point and then, before the shot, drew three players to the front of the net. One forward was still on the half wall while the two others as well as the other defenceman drove the net. The Oilers have found it difficult to get anyone anywhere near the front of the net.
Regardless of how small their forwards are, they’re going to have to find a way to get guys in the tough areas or this team is simply not going to win a lot of games this year.