When you're 17 games into a season with a 4-11-2 record, I'm sure that the "process" isn't the first thing that jumps into the minds of the players and it certainly isn't the first thing that jumps into the minds of the fans. The lack of a result in Tampa Bay Thursday night isn't something that can be spun into much of positive, given where the record is already at, but I find myself in the same breath somehow unable to be disappointed with the game.
This team has not been beyond fair criticism by any stretch, with the home ice game versus Detroit as a poignant example, but I just can't find it reasonable to beat them up for the sake of beating them up when, objectively, they played well enough to win that one.
Dallas Eakins said the other day that on a lot of plays throughout the game it isn't as much about what you make as it is about what you leave, and the two Stamkos goals Thursday night certainly slam home his point. That being said, I thought the team did more than enough to compensate for those errors and when the 60 minutes was complete I felt like their game was probably good enough to win 6 or 7 times out of 10 over the course of a season.
With 40 shots on goal, and another 19 directed at the net that were either blocked or missed, the offence was driven by Taylor Hall in his return to the lineup. After being stopped on a couple of breakaways, Hall willed himself to a goal in the third period on one of his eight shots. Toss in a couple of hits and blocked shots and he was at his finest in his first game back from a knee injury.
Though they had been consistently generating chances throughout the second period and into the third, it didn't look like the Oilers were going to be able to beat the exceptional performance of Ben Bishop to get within a goal. Hall, when at his best as he was in this game, isn't going to be denied easily. The lineup had such a different vibe to it with Hall in the lineup and it was exactly the type of game where his teammates might have been sneaking glances at his spot on the bench and missing him if he wasn't there. In a game where the Oilers needed just that little extra push to stay in it, it was no surprise that it came from number four.
Even though it's a bit hollow in a loss, it has to be noted that it isn't easy to absolutely dominate an NHL game. In Tampa Bay, Hall absolutely dominated, and that's not a rare occasion.
With Ryan Smyth already back, and now Hall, and David Perron meeting the team in Philadelphia, the left wing is starting to get put back together. With Jesse Joensuu hopefully not far behind, the re-addition of some injured bodies to this position will be relied upon, as Hall was last night, to push the offence another notch higher, especially on home ice.
*There was a play last night in the second period where Jeff Petry got clipped by a Tampa player on a bit of a cheap play. With a power play coming to the Oilers, Andrew Ference stepped in to send a message to the Lightning player and ended up negating the power play. On Twitter, I reacted negatively to that, stating that the Oilers could have used the power play more than the message sent at that moment.
After watching the play again, I've changed my mind. First, I think it was an awfully poor call by the official to make it 4-on-4 in that circumstance. Upon review, I don't think Ference did much worthy of a minor penalty. Nick Kypreos on Sportsnet might have had it right when he said Ference deserved the minor but the Lightning player should have ended up with the double-minor to keep the Oilers on the power play. Either way, I thought it was a poor call by the official. But frankly, even if the call was right, I still think I was wrong about the play by Ference. He's a captain standing up for a teammate on a roster that has had this as a stated need for years and I was wrong with my instant analysis of that play.
*After scoring watching him score his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, Dallas Eakins told Taylor Fedun prior to the Tampa Bay game that there's no rule against scoring again in his second NHL game. Fedun responded with a simple "duly noted", and then proceeded to score in the first period. Much has been made of the story, and rightly so, but my hope for Fedun is that he can become much more than just the guy that overcame the injury. Heck of a start to that end.
*Arcobello's story is a great one too. He is a Yale grad, while Fedun is a Princeton grad. They easily set the NHL record for highest combined IQ of players scoring their first NHL goals in the same game.
*First guy I talked to about Boyd Gordon after the Oilers signed him was Jason LaBarbera, his teammate in Phoenix who signed in Edmonton simultaneously. When asked to describe Gordon, LaBarbera told me "he's an animal". He nailed that one. From his all-in, drop-to-his-knees face-off technique, to his endless quest to find shots to block, Gordon is a fearless player and a lot of fun to watch if you can peel your attention away from the skill guys for a moment or two. With four goals and eight points, his offensive contribution has been a boost in a few games too.
*Speaking of rugged play, the Oilers are second in the NHL in blocked shots and fourth in hits. It hasn't paid off yet, but it will. In any event, if that keeps up, they'll shed the "easy to play against" label pretty quickly.