Thursday, October 27, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 9: Khabi vs. Goliath

Left to right: Backstrom, Semin, Ovechkin, Chimera, and Khabibulin
On a night that featured a 17 goal game, an improbable come from behind Cardinals victory in game 6 of the world series, and an early stab at scrap of the year, it was only fitting the Oilers victory had a bit of weirdness going as well. Khabibulin was was not just a wall, he was a cliff-face of granite, and with his 34 of 35 save performance (.971), Khabibulin shot to the top of the goaltending list. Numero uno is our new savior-Russian in GAA and save percentage. By the end of the game, the former villain (and butt of every save-percentage-vs.-blood-alcohol-content joke in the league), Khabibulin, has emerged as an early - gasp, cough - MVP.

We are not even past an eighth of the season yet - grains of salt for everyone - but you can't deny he's playing as solid as anything China or Berlin could erect. It's his calmness in net, and consistency that are really striking, and while it's impossible that Khabibulin can maintain anything near his 0.964 save percentage, we might as well wring every last point out of the soggy teams on the schedule.

Once again, in a complete 180 in comparison to last year, the special teams provided the rest of the work in the victory. Two power play goals in 8 attempts was all the Oilers needed when combined with perfect 4 for 4 penalty killing. The Oilers PP crept up a spot to lucky 13th (17.5%), and the PK is firmly entrenched at the #3 spot, at 92.3%. Considering the special teams last year were more special ed, this drastic turn around still seems a little too good to be true. The personnel isn't drastically different, but Potter, Hallsie, Ebs, and The Nuge all seem to be primary reasons for early improvement. The Tic-Tac-Toe for Hall's point-blanker was the product of another divine disc delivery off the stick of the baby-faced assassin, and Eberle's goal was the product of another great Potter lightning bolt.

Fortunately the Oilers only needed two on the night, as for the most part, the Capitals played a far superior game and were basically hosed by the moronic interference by the zebras. As much as I can't really complain about the Oilers getting a gift basket of bad calls to put them on non-stop powerplays, you knew eventually some of those chump calls would come back on us. Some of the calls were correct, but stuff like the Carlson delay of game and a couple of those softer than sun-burned butter hooking calls left a lot to be desired from the jailers. We very well might have lost that game had the Capitals not been smothered under an avalanche of second period calls, but let them play hockey for gods sake.

After the second period the Capitals started flexing their well-oiled offensive biceps, and a relentless wave of red on white started pounding the puck deep and generating plenty of sizzle in the Oilers zone. There were a lot of scrappy, by-the-skin-of-their-teeth clears for the boys in blue, and the third period shot clock reflected how grim actually looked for a while there: 19 to 6. Thankfully the backchecks were basically there all night to prevent the actual breaking of the goal barrier, and Smid sopped up another 6 or 7 pucks with his shins for vacuum cleaners.

Individuals and a wrap after the break.

Eric Belanger - Aside from one bizzare shot-block attempt where he belly flopped face first towards the puck, I was not terribly impressed with the Francophones game. He seems to be a little too willing to look for excuses on the ice rather than fighting through a little slew foot or forearm shiver. I actually question his intensity and competitive fire sometimes, as he loses battles and gets knocked down in ways that seem a little soft to me. It's still early and I still need time to assess (cue the Tambo jokes), but I'm not convinced he's been full value for even one game this season. A nearly empty scoreline doesn't help much either.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Welcome to the NHL kid, you deserved it. NINE points in 9 games, what else could you possibly ask for in an 18 year old, asparagus thin rookie? It may be early, but if the Kid line stays together, the forecast calls for chances of Calder. Still, let's take it one game at a time. And polish off a coronita for the kid would ya?

Jordan Eberle - Didn't actually play his best game, but his pass and goal were something I expect a ton of from Jordan this year: third-eye type passing, and karmic retribution in the form of rebound goals. The kid has a nose for the net, a brain for the pass, and the cutest little gap tooth smile you ever saw. A little of Hall's nasty might do him some good now and then, but I'll take a guy scoring at a PPG clip with sublime hands for now. 2 more points, and the kid line is now all PPG across the board.

Taylor Hall - I think we will see him score more with his shot this year versus lunch-pailing in gangbang pucks from the blue paint. His laser beam still hasn't quite been calibrated for NHL action - something I expect will still take a little time. He's close though, and it's only a matter of time when everything locks into place like an insanely awesome infomercial ladder. He went 1-1-2, -1, 2 SOGs in 18:32 of ice.

Ladislav Smid - What's not to like? He brings he offensive nature of a Mr. Dressup joke, but he can sure withstand a lot of abuse from pucks and people. He was 4th in blocked shots entering the game, and he made a couple more critical blocks in this one. His quiet, efficient game has really solidified him as a top shutdown guy in the rotation, and even though he only played 16:41 because of the special teams, he was full marks tonight.

Theo Peckham - Decided to go against all the Don Cherry advise he's ever soaked up in his life and fire an errant backhander up the middle when - who else - Ovechkin was prowling the junkyard for a loose bone. Thankful for the Oilers he didn't cash (2 goals seems to the limit of the offence most nights), but it was one of those what the fuck moments that remind you the generally blunt, and warted nature of Peckham's game that emerges at times. Coach Renney must have have let loose some expletives too, as he only played the big guy about 13 minutes.

Sam Gagner - Can you believe Gagner had 4:35 in PP time tonight? He managed one shot and also a cloak of invisibility for most of the game. Sure, there is rust there, but damn Sam, you are like ghost out there, to quote my favorite Belorussian janitor. I don't know if it's his linemates (Pony Prv is still snakebitten), but we need and expect more from the former 6 overall draft pick.

Magnus Pajaarvi - Was the one guy I indicated I felt was most likely to have a slump when I said the following:
Paajarvi… Well he doesn’t have the same level of brains or brawn as either. If I had to predict the smallest P/60 increase, I would say PRV would be my first choice.
Notice I still said a P/60 increase. The night is still young and the Damsel may yet be bedded but Pony better get to it. The broadcasters were talking about the possibility of Omark coming in and Pony out. At this point, I'm certainly open to the idea.

Corey Potter - Corey Potter, after 4 years in college and 5 seasons in the AHL, has gone 7gp, 1-5-6 and looks like a rock on the Oilers blue line. It was another game where Potter exhibited extreme poise with the puck; he constantly will hold, and use his big body to shield while he finds an outlet that won't immediately turn the puck over (Peckham could learn a thing or two). Let's not forget, the guy is 27 and this is his 6th pro year. You expect him to demonstrate some wily veteran savvy, but not as much as he has for an NHL fringe guy. Now let's not throw him away for nothing like we did with Hejda.

Nikolai Khabibulin - What a strange and fickle bunch we are. From hoisting pitch-forks and contemplating voiding his contract, Khabibulin was getting a full-on, throaty Khabi chant thrown his way from the thousands of plumply satisfied Rexall fans after the game. His performance was amazing, and while the team still learns how to win, we will need Nik and Dubie to anchor us.


Thankfully the Refs were drunk, the posts were stalwart, and Khabi was Berlin pre-1989. It was a night where the Heatley bounce never went against us, and the special teams were just special, instead of short-bus-and-headgear special.

Now the question is, how much excitement can we sacrifice and still win? Is it too much to ask for an offensive orgasm one night?

3 in a row. 2 points closer to the ____offs.


Post a Comment