Another week of Edmonton Oilers hockey and finally there were some wins. After going the entire month of January without a victory, the Oilers started February with 2 wins before returning to their losing ways.
The team started the week with a 4-2 victory over the 28th place Carolina Hurricanes. It was a game that the Oilers finally played good enough to win and the Canes looked like the Oilers had the previous 13 games. After allowing the first goal on the first shot, Jeff Deslauriers settled in and played a pretty good game. The new fourth line of Marc Pouliot, Zack Stortini and Jean-Francois Jacques caused the Canes problems all night and scored 2 goals including the game winner by Pouliot. Hurricane’s goalie Cam Ward had been playing good and the team was undefeated in 5 games coming into this one but Ward was shaky and the team was lethargic and looked like the team who had sat 30th in the standings most of the season. Rookie defenseman Alex Plante made his NHL debut for the Oilers and played a solid first game and even picked up his first assist. The Oilers were not without fault and many of the problems that had been present during the losing skid were still there but they were able to come out on the right side of the score for once. 26 giveaways are not going to win many games but fortunately the Canes weren’t able to capitalize. It was a positive result that gave the team something to build on.
The second game of the week was against the Philadelphia Flyers. Another team who had struggled during December but had turned their season around in January. This game was a good close game and it took until the 19:43 mark of the third period for Ryan Potulny to find the twine on the powerplay. The powerplay unit had suffered most of the season and had been ineffective during their slide but a high sticking penalty to Flyer’s Darroll Powe with 1:50 remaining gave them a chance to win the game, which it did. Again the fourth line gave the opposition problems in the offensive zone but again they are weak defensively and it did give up a few good scoring chances. Jeff Deslauriers was again on his game and picked up his second shutout. Michael Leighton also played a good game in net for the Flyers and he appears to be a great waiver wire pick-up for the team. The Oilers played a pretty good game again although the 19 giveaways were still too high but the team played with intensity and there was lots of effort from everyone. 2 games and 2 wins to start the month.
The NHL schedule maker was obviously trying to give Minnesota the advantage on Thursday as the Oilers played the Flyers on Wednesday night, had to catch a flight to Minnesota and finally got to their hotel after 4:00am. The team then had a game at 6:00pm so only about 20 hours between games. It wasn’t like the Wild needed any help though as they had won 11 straight games at home against the Oilers and they are one of the top home teams in the league. The Oilers started the game looking like they were sleep walking and only late in the first did they manage to come out of their slumber. On this night it was not Niklas Backstrom, who had beat the Oilers every time he had played them, but Josh Harding between the pipes. Unfortunately for the Oilers this didn’t make a difference. It took the Wild just over 21 minutes to finally make their domination count with Martin Havlat beating Deslauriers. The Oilers were able to tie the game 5 minutes later on a powerplay goal by Mike Comrie. The second finished still tied and was actually a rather boring period. The Wild got their lead back early in the third period and again 5 minutes later the Oilers tied it up, this time on a goal by Pouliot and the fourth line. Just less than 2 minutes later Jacques had a wide open net but Josh Harding dove across the net and snagged the puck heading into the gaping net. Harding reinjured his hip on the play and was replaced by Anton Khudobin who was making his NHL debut. This obviously looked good for the Oilers but it was the Wild who stepped up their game with Guillaume Latendresse beating Deslauriers on a great play only 2 minutes later. Havlat closed out the scoring just over 5 minutes later and the Wild again beat the Oilers at home. The Oilers did manage to get 9 shots on Khudobin in his 9:33 of time but nothing was dangerous. The Oilers lost this game because they didn’t play with the same kind of intensity they had the last 2 games and because they only managed to win 27% of the face-offs. It is hard to win a game when you start without the puck most of the night. Shawn Horcoff continued his season from hell as he won just 32% of his face-offs and was a minus 2 on the night. The minus 2 left him at –27 for the season which placed him dead last amongst all players. Pretty disgusting considering the salary he makes and the cap hit he puts on the team.
Saturday night the Oilers were in Denver to take on the Colorado Avalanche, at least they were supposed to be. The bodies showed up but the minds didn’t because this was one of the worst games the team has played this year…and there have been plenty of stinkers. The Oilers were outshot 42-20, and when you take into account missed shots and blocked shots they were outshot 86-44. If it wasn’t for the 26 blocked shots and the great job by Jeff Deslauriers, this game would have been over early and been a slaughter to boot. The Avalanche may have the youngest team in the league with several rookies but they sure make the Oiler’s veterans and youngsters look like minor league players. This was so one sided that the 3-0 score was a flatter to the Oilers. In fact, the Avs only lead by 1 goal with 3 minutes to go in the game but a weak goal by Ryan Wilson put the nail in the coffin and an empty net goal by Brandon Yip was not even needed. Shawn Horcoff continued his poor play again tallying a –1 and increasing his lead at the bottom of the leagues +/- category and again only won 39% of his face-offs even though the team was 50%. While Deslauriers was the reason that the Oilers were even in this game until the end, the weak goal with 2:54 to go killed off any hope. It was a shot that needed to be saved and one that was needed if he was to try and steal a game for the team, something an NHL caliber goalie has to do from time to time.
The first 2 games looked like the luck had maybe changed but the lack of effort after those 2 wins shows this team has quit. It was embarrassing to see Pat Quinn going ballistic on the bench in the second period during a commercial time-out. I would have been embarrassed as a player to know that was being shown on national television and I would be embarrassed to know that my team was playing as bad as they were. Obviously this team and its players don’t care any longer.