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Stauffer Stuff: February 8

by Bob Stauffer / Edmonton Oilers
Sam Gagner faces off against Nikolai Kulemin of the Maple Leafs, during the recent 6 - 3 loss in Toronto (Photo by Getty Images).
It was a frustrating night in Toronto Monday as the Edmonton Oilers saw a three game winning streak come to an end in a 6-3 Maple Leafs victory.

The Oilers had some challenges containing Toronto’s speed especially in transition as Edmonton’s now healthy defence had a difficult night.

Frankly I am not surprised.

Consider this a case of playing the wrong team at the wrong time.

The Maple Leafs are an improved team who has speed throughout their top three lines. Four-time 30 goal scorer, Phil Kessel is obviously lightning fast, an All-Star caliber winger capable of beating teams by himself when he is on. Mikhail Grabovski has exceptional speed down the middle on the Leafs’ second line, and Oilers-killer Matthew Lombardi can fly on Toronto’s third line.

The Oilers are finally sporting a healthy defence; but there is being up to NHL game speed, and then there is playing against arguably the fastest team in the Eastern Conference.

Ryan Whitney and Cam Barker had just returned from injury in the last couple of weeks, and Tom Gilbert returned that night. They certainly had some challenges.

Lombardi hopped inside of Gilbert on one rush that led to a scoring chance, and Whitney and his defence partner Corey Potter were under duress all night.

As for Barker, who was out two plus months recovering from ankle surgery particularly struggled.

Grabovski wheeled past him on one rush to set up a goal for an activating Jake Gardiner, and then Barker coughed the puck up to Tyler Bozak in the second period that lead to a brutal goal against.

Based upon the more reactionary Oilers fans out there who were quite overt with their criticism of Barker on message boards and on twitter, several have already given up on the #3 overall pick from the 2004 NHL Draft.

I think a little patience and perspective is needed here.

At the start of the season to me Barker looked a little distant with his teammates, but in my mind he started to look more comfortable with them each and every game prior to suffering an ankle injury in Boston.

I was concerned that the injury which ended up requiring surgery might take him out of the mix with his teammates, and that Barker would pack on weight during the recovery period.

The exact opposite happened.

Barker hired a nutritionist and spent a lot of time in the gym and returned ahead of schedule as an
Cam Barker returned to the Oilers lineup Feb. 2, 2012 (photo by: Andy Devlin)

No question he had difficulties in Toronto, but that was just Barker’s third game back in the line-up after missing 35 games. Let’s see where the former Medicine Hat Tiger is at in the middle of March with his play before writing him off as an NHL defenceman.

Heck, a month ago many of you felt that Jeff Petry was never going to be a player, and I don’t think anyone is saying that right now.

Back on January 8th Petry was in a funk going -11 in the previous seven games.

With Whitney, Gilbert and Barker all out the Oilers needed Petry to step it up in a major way. He has played exceptionally well since playing 22+ mins in 11 of 12 games, registering one goal and six points.

Monday night in Toronto, in front of scouts and management personnel from 22 NHL organizations, the player that was the talk during the intermissions in the hallway was Petry.

The Oilers are starting to be rewarded with their patience with Michigan State product, we will see if the same holds true for Barker, who could be your classic reclamation project.

Whereas I wasn’t surprised that the Oilers defence had some challenges, I did expect more out of the likes of pending unrestricted free agents, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth who flanked Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Hemsky and Smyth are veterans and the Leafs clearly wanted to avoid taking penalties, which should have given Hemsky in particular an opportunity to have a field day challenging Toronto’s “D”.

Hemsky was unlucky to go -4, but he was guilty of making little happen offensively.

With Nugent-Hopkins tweaking his shoulder again and now out 7-10 days, the Oilers are really going to need Hemsky to help carry the second line.

That did not happen in the third period of the game in Toronto once RNH went out.

Bob Stauffer is the Oilers Radio Analyst and Hosts Oilers Now on 630 CHED daily Noon to 2:00 PM
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