Monday, February 18, 2013

Good Game Good Game Good Game

Capsule wound up our regular season Saturday night. Its been a very good year for the good guys, only five losses in twenty one games, three of those to one team, the first place club, the team we will have to beat if we’re going to go all the way. We played them three weeks ago and for the first time this season we deserved better. We carried the play all game and if not for some bad luck we would have walked away with the win. Sometimes the hockey gods smile on you, sometimes they do not.

We came into last night a point out of second, a point up on fourth, playing the team just below us. A 10pm game on a Saturday night in a snowstorm doesn’t do a lot for attendance and so we looked around the room before the Zamboni finished up and realized that there were seven of us skating against a club who we’ve tied and beaten by one with a reasonable roster and amongst the missing were two quality Dmen and our leading scorer whose wife just gave birth to their first child (Congrats Ben!!).

A tough row to hoe. Two subs.

And they’re a good club. We were hemmed in early and they potted one and it looked like a long night coming and then I fired a pass out in front to my centre who has been on fire for a couple of months now, scoring almost every game, and he made no mistake and … we were tied.

A few minutes more of hard skating and again we were in our zone and this time I basically fell over from being tired and sure enough my man was alone and pushed them ahead again and as I sat on the bench I figured we were done. I certainly was.

Except a couple of shifts later we hemmed them in and equalized it and then soon after we executed a two on one to perfection and Higgs potted his second and what the hell we were in the lead. So said our faces and theirs.

For a good part of the rest of the game we just shut them down. They have a guy who leads the league in scoring, an enormous young man, and every once in a while he’d wind up and try to take it all the way and each time one of us managed to shut him down, get in his way, chip the puck away. His teammates were less imposing and so after we killed a four minute power play it looked like we might escape.

Tension mounted. The first time we played them it was a scoreless tie when one of their guys took a bad fall into the boards. He ended up in the hospital unfortunately and so there’s some bad blood despite the fact that the incident was one of those bad luck flukes. The next time we played them there were probably a dozen instances which were more dangerous (and had more intent) than what had happened with such bad results in the first game and things almost spun out of control. In that game they scored the go ahead with ninety seconds left only to see us tie it with under a minute left and then win it (!) with only seconds left.

So there is some history and we’re pretty evenly matched but for the most part this was more of a game where there were tough battles and not a lot of shit going on. And as the game neared its conclusion they began to gamble and we began to find our legs as we realized that we might pull it off. I had a partial break and, realizing I had an avenue to the net, I went hard and as I tried to cut across I ran over the goalie. I took a header into the post and then lay prone, waiting for someone to pound me. Nothing happened (it turns out the big man had shoved me into his own goalie so this is why) and their goalie, who resembles Tim Thomas and is perpetually smiling, asked after me and I after him. Shoulder is killing me today but no stiff neck so I guess I’ll live.

And then with six minutes left, a good bounce for them and game tied and then seconds later things finally boiled over and two of us and two of them were sent off for roughing and jawing and all of that and so there were five of us left to hold the fort without relief, a task that became even more difficult when we didn’t get a whistle for almost four minutes.

And somewhere in that morass their big man, league’s leading scorer, picked off a pass through the middle and went in all alone. Shoulders sagged, none of us could catch him at full speed even if we weren’t exhausted, and he drove in, juked, went forehand and then, then he found our goalie right with him and no space and so the puck glanced off the outside of the post and skittered into the corner.

And with the penalties over the other two forwards headed to the bench and so I continued what would turn out to be almost a six minute shift. Ninety seconds left, I gathered the puck and headed down the wing, I skipped by the Dman and took it deep and one of them, maybe the winger, caught me, got his stick into me and began to waterski. I kept the feet moving, that’s what I do, and buddy had me wrapped up and I kept churning and there was no call and then I did something I’ve never done before, in forty years of playing hockey.

I fell down. On purpose.

And the ref’s arm went up.

I hate divers and our league has plenty of them and it makes me mental. Our last three games have featured some topnotch embellishing from the other team, guys falling like they’ve been shot as soon as someone skates near them, that sort of stuff.

So I’m not proud of what I did but I can certainly rationalize it. I’ll bet this is how it all started with Anakin Skywalker though. *lovingly caresses Dustin Brown hockey card*

And so just seconds later our LW carried the puck into the zone, backed off the D and let a hard low shot go, Tim Thomas grinned, butterflied and the rebound caromed out to the top of the circle on my wing and onto Lightning Boy’s blade and I fired it top corner.

I stopped dead, raised one arm and then raised both and gave a little pump. One of our Dmen cruised in, arms up, letting go a whoop, and then, for the first time I remember, we celebrated a goal with some quality hockey hugs. (we're fist bump men as a general rule, big goal or not)

They had one last gasp and the puck skittered through out crease with just seconds left and then it was over.

One of the best ever.

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After showering I checked the twitter, saw that somehow the Oilers were losing 4-1 to the Avs, read Cam's tweet that despite the score the Oilers were a good bet to come back (noted Oiler hater and pessimist Tyler Dellow chimed in in agreement), muttered and then headed out the door. Twenty minutes later we walked into the pub back in the neighbourhood, checked the TV and saw that it was 4-3.   While we talked and talked about our own game and bars and restaurants and holidays and all of that out of the corner of my eye I saw Eberle tie it and then the big PK near the end and then Paajarvi with the game winner and so when we finished our pints and headed into the night I was happy although of course, like you I wondered why Cam and Tyler hate the Oilers so much.

 The Oilers probably deserved two wins this past week and they got them although they should have lost to the BJs and beaten Dallas and of course that's hockey. What have we learned from this past week? Anything?

 - thank goodness for Belanger. Seriously. When Horcoff went down the Oilers basically got boned for a week but that week also saw Belanger out and Ted as well and then Lander went down too. Folks wailed about the Oilers' depth at centre but no club could survive losing three of their top four guys. Luckily for Edmonton Ted and Belanger came back fairly quickly and the ship righted itself. The Smyth at C experiment was a disaster, as expected, and Vande Velde has done his job since he got the call. He just has to give them low event minutes until Horc returns. Meanwhile Belanger has been carrying the defensive load, and well, proving that last year was an aberration

 - the problem for the Oilers, for once, is that while ideally they would have another top two or top four Dman, their top four has actually been decent. Its the bottom pair that has been a nightmare. On a club that has been loaded with decent 5s and 6s over the past few years (but very little above those guys) its weird to have a club with a reasonable top four and then a bunch of 7s and 8s. If Schultz's back flares up or something happens to Smid or Schultz Senior or Petry then that will be it for the Oilers. Fistric is a legit bottom pairing guy I think but poor Whitney is done, Potter is an AHL guy and Theo is eating barbeque in OKC. This is probably the biggest issue for the club right now.  

- I really can't see the issue with Paajarvi and I'm not sure, honestly, why he's not playing top nine minutes every night. I love the kid, full disclosure, he just seems like a nice kid (those pics of him wheeling Lander around the WEM are priceless) but here's the thing, buddy is a big part of the future. If somehow they get past their own stubbornness and hang onto Ales then he will be a third line guy who can slide up the lineup and if they don't well then he has the speed and talent to take a place in the top six imo. And yet he was going to be scratched last night? He should be on Belanger's flank until Horcoff returns and then he should move beside 10 and play the heavy minutes with him. Best thing for him and the club. He and Teemu have to play and when Jones comes back I'd run the three of them and Smytty and spot in Petrell and Eager here and there  

- loved Smyth's game last night - the two assists, the greasy work along the boards and in front of the net. I would love to write on what happened with him this week but this piece and this piece say it all, there's no way I an say it better. Especially love Tyler's last paragraph. Gave me chills.  

- Love Eberle, Ted, Gagner and Yakupov but the best players on this club are Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky. Seeing Ales healthy and playing the way he can has been the best part of this season so far. Would love to see him play meaningful games for the Oilers once again. Folks forget 2006. He was just a baby then and he was still wonderful in that run. Would love to see it again.

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