I kind of feel sorry for the Oilers' fans. There's a team that should be much more competitive. It seems to be much less than the sum of its parts. Three first overall draft picks, plus Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz, the catch of the 2012 free agency period, should add up to more than that listless team showed tonight. Factor in much-ballyhooed Dallas Eakins as head coach, and you'd think that team could get its act together. Makes you wonder why the latter got so much hype...
Oh, yeah, of course, never mind...
It's hard to feel sorry for the team itself though, as they named the putrid Andrew Ference as their captain. The Dissembler in Chief, Mr. "I didn't do it, despite all the video evidence that clearly shows that I did", pulled another one of his patented low, dirty, dangerous, dishonourable, immoral and faintly sociopathic moves tonight when he pitchforked the perfidious Brian Gionta between the legs, right in the groin. The only explanation to this violent, lurid act must be that the Canadiens captain must have done something to deserve it. What other reason can there be? Mr. Ference, champion of personal accountability that he is, couldn't just be an amoral creep and a lying thug, could he?
As usual, this was unpunished by the refs, even though it occurred right in front of them, and it will not be subject to supplementary discipline, even though clear video evidence of it exists, many angles and viewpoints of incontrovertible proof. Somehow a player attempting to emasculate another on the ice in front of twenty thousand spectators falls below the bar set for the NHL's laughable system of justice. Colin Campbell will sleep soundly tonight.
The thing is, with the way the game is handled, a cheapshot artist like Andrew Ference is actually a competitive advantage, since let's say roughly 90% of the crap he pulls will go unpunished. So for every two minutes he gets, he perpetrates nine other acts that will injure or intimidate his opponents. That's a good rate of return. It's profitable. And that's how players like Wayne Simmonds and Chris Neil are valuable assets to their teams, and Ales Hemsky and David Perron are trade bait.
Peter Budaj got the start and did his job. He doesn't have the panache of his colleague, and his puck-handling is adventurous, to put it diplomatically, but you can't complain about a game in which he stops 28 out of 29 shots. We should be so lucky that our goalie flubs on a clearing attempt or two every game, but compiled that kind of save percentage.
This was the game that Michel Therrien decided to revamp his forward lines. Last season, Lars Eller found himself benched after the first game, and the coach famously stated: "On a pas l'temps d'niaiser." (Translated: There's no time to mess around.)
The Daniel Brière-David Desharnais combo that most of us thought wouldn't work this summer is proving to be a hurdle for the team and its coach, and he jumbled his lines around trying to find a winning formula, or at least generate a spark. We saw Mr. Brière at centre, Tomas Plekanec centring last year's rookie wingers, Lars Eller on the wing on the powerplay. Nothing too significant was discovered, save that the Oilers are even worse off than we are, and that Michaël Bournival is a big step up at centre on the fourth line from Ryan White. His speed and better puck skills meant that Travis Moen was free to crash the net on a couple of occasions, which he did (!) Michaël didn't get an assist on the goal by a hobbled Brandon Prust, but deserved one, he created that goal with his disruptive, dog-in-a-bowling-alley style.
The defensive corps was also in a state of upheaval. Pierre Houde of RDS mentioned how limited Josh Gorges seemed in his movements, but lauded his game effort. Nevertheless, Coach Therrien and Coach Daigneault were reduced to relying on the first pairing of Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban. The reigning Norris Trophy winner continues on his personal quest to make me win my fantasy league, notching 3 assists. All told, P.K. and Andrei played 25 minutes each, Raphaël Diaz and Josh about 22, and Nathan Beaulieu and Francis Bouillon 12 minutes each. Nathan Beaulieu didn't look out of his depth, and was filling in for a Jarred Tinordi who'd had a difficult night in Calgary and spent the night in the press box.
Next stop, Vancouver, and a meeting with the Canucks, who are also having difficulty getting off the ground. They'll be at home waiting while the Canadiens have to travel, and be in a foul mood after a loss to the Sharks.