Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The GAME of the night
Oilers 4, Red Wings 3

Edmonton wins series 4-2

"It's tough not to do that [show Detroit too much respect] with that team because of all the great players they have. When we gave them respect, Lidstrom picked us apart. We had to come back with our game, which is to fore-check and be aggressive. When Ales got that first goal, you could see him pick up. He's got all the makings of a superstar in this league."
— Edmonton Oilers defenceman Steve Staios

There's a lot to talk about here, and I especially want to get reaction from both the Edmonton and Detroit camps from around the 'net. Of all the first-round series, these two groups of fans were by far the most ardent and spent the most venom. (Stick around for my thoughts on the Ducks-Flames game further down, however, as there's lots to say there. Our first Game 7 has arrived.)

First to Hockeytown, U.S.A., where sadness, anger and frustration are the words of the night. Here's On the Wings:
This is when all Wings fans saw the score and looked at the clock with shock. Here the Wings were, down a goal with only a minute left. This after being up with four minutes left. Complete shock. The Wings pulled Legace and put together a desperate, but unproductive attempt at a comeback. ... And that was it. Oilers GM Kevin Lowe was seen consoling Yzerman, and the way Yzerman looked he is most likely done.
OtW's game review takes issue with the Oilers' third, tying goal, saying Ales Hemsky had clearly kicked the puck in. And while it's true that the goal, which was reviewed at length, appeared to go in off Hemsky's foot, I didn't see one angle on the broadcast which indicated a distinct kicking motion. (Goals directed with the feet are as good as gold, after all, and I'm almost certain that's what happened here.)

The only real quibble could have been that the play wasn't whistled dead on a borderline Shawn Horcoff high stick near the crease. A tough way for the tying goal to be scored, to be sure, but what would this series have been without a controversial ending?

(And, for what it's worth, The Detroit News' blog says the tying goal was good.)

On the Edmonton side of the blogosphere — the portion of it I can quote without fear of mass expletives, that is — The Oilers Source is feeling rather, uh, elated:
The Oilers defied what most hockey analysts wouldn't have bet 5 bucks on two weeks ago...that's right, the Edmonton Oilers dramatically defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 and eliminated their opponents from the playoffs. ...

Honestly, I was shocked to see Ales Hemsky come out of his shell in the final 5 minutes, but he did just that and scored to late goals to give his team the victory and the series!!!

With that said....Hail ALES HEMSKY...Hockey God!!! ...

As it stands....the Oilers are Stanley Cup favorites this year!!!
You've gotta appreciate that passion/delusion.

Oh, and I can't go on without at least a few bars from The Battle of Alberta:
Apparently Legace, when asked how he felt after the game (why do they keep asking these stupid questions) said, "How do I feel? I feel like I want to go home and hang myself." Yikes, I sure hope he doesn't act on those feelings. Legace wasn't horrible, and he certainly didn't cost the Wings the series. Hell, I'm not even convinced he cost them any games.
(I've asked a question like that before. And you know why I did? To get a quote like that.)

My thoughts on the series? Well, Oilers fans have been correct in punting the old team/young team silliness some pundits have been selling — after all, with the additions of vets like Dwayne Roloson and Jaroslav Spacek at the trade deadline, the Oilers have an average age pushing 30.

Detroit may have the oldest line-up in the NHL, but that wasn't a factor here.

Puck pressure was a huge part of what happened in this series, but, for all the off-the-wall penalties called, special teams weren't. Detroit and Edmonton had nearly identical numbers on the powerplay and penalty kill, although the Oilers were the more penalized team throughout, giving up 40 powerplays to the Wings 37.

Detroit goaltender Manny Legace is going to take a lot more heat than he deserves for the loss, but it's hard to avoid the fact that the Oilers Dwayne Roloson faced more shots than Legace in every single game of the series — and often a lot more.

Roloson finished the series with a .929 save percentage; Legace had only a .884. Ultimately, when people look back on this series in the future, those numbers will be what they point to.

James's pre-playoff prediction: Detroit in 6

Ducks 2, Flames 1
Series tied 3-3

"We know tonight's game was live or die and the seventh game is going to be that way, and they'll have to face that too. It's going to be a great game."
— Teemu Selanne

This series, more than any other in the first round, deserved to go to Game 7.

The big 'shocker' last night was that Ducks coach Randy Carlyle chose to make a switch in goal, putting in the unheralded Russian Ilya Bryzgalov instead of regular starter J-S Giguere, who had struggled so far in the series.

And it's a good thing, too. After 166 minutes played in this series, Bryzgalov has been dynamite (1.08 goals-against average, .958 save percentage). Those numbers are enough to have Miikka Kiprusoff shaking his head.

The Calgary side of this series has been getting good representation from The Battle of Alberta boys, so I'll just serve up a few points on the Ducks — a team I believe is the most underrated in the league. And so begins the portion of the broadcast Matt Fenwick will hate...
  • Anaheim has one of the best transition games in the league. The criss-cross passing out of their own end and in the neutral zone is a thing of beauty, and you can really see Carlyle's influence as a former power-play QB coming through. At the beginning of the series, I thought the Ducks' style would be more comparable to the Flames wack-it-up-the-ice strategy than it is.

  • If there's any team that's going to win or lose based on how their rookies fare, it's Anaheim. For the winning goal on the power play, Carlyle had three freshman forwards on the ice: Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Penner, none of whom played the full season in the NHL. Add in blueliner Francois Beauchemin, who had quite a mini-war with Jarome Iginla last night, and that's a huge portion of Anaheim's offence coming from first-year players. (Perry and Getzlaf are just 20, while Penner is 23 and Beauchemin 25.)

  • There's been a little bit of a mini-debate about the relative greatness of Scott Niedermayer happening during this series at The Battle of Alberta, one where I've weighed in on Niedermayer's side more than once.

    Mr. Fenwick of BoA infamy claims Flames defencemen Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf are better than the fleet-footed Norris Trophy winner. As Dennis says in the comments:
    Wow...I never thought I'd have a stroke at such a young age. But I don't know how else I'd explain the fact that I thought I just read someone saying Phaneuf was better than Neidermayer.
    Agreed. (Then again, I'm not a Flames fan.)

    The whole Niedermayer vs. Regehr (et al) argument reminds me a lot of the 'Steve Nash isn't a two-time MVP' debate going on at Deadspin ever since it was announced the mop-haired Victoria native is, in fact, a two-time MVP.

    Discounting the fact that both Nash and Niedermayer are B.C. natives who share the same hairdresser, they both also play a game built on speed, transition play and making their teammates look far better than they are. If you try and compare what Nash can do with heavyweights like LeBron James and Shaq, you're going to come up with a lot more in the 'can' category for the big men. Over-powering defenders, jumping over people — other basketball-related activities that taller gentlemen can do well (suddenly I can sympathize with Will Leitch trying write about hockey) — those aren't Nash's strongpoints.

    Nash is an entirely different player on the court from the big men, as different as a guy like Zdeno Chara or Chris Pronger is from Scott Niedermayer. But both Nash and Niedermayer are two of the Top 10 players in their respective sport in the world — regardless of their lack of size and/or power. The truth is — and Wayne Gretzky proved this as much as anyone — you don't need strength to outwit your opposition, even in a physical game like hockey.

    I think Niedermayer proved that himself last night with his game-winning goal. Phaneuf and Regehr? Well, they had a good view of it — from the bench.
Bring on Game 7.



At 7:54 a.m., May 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was there anything more painful than having to listen to Greg Millen and John Garret debate Hemsky's goal? Those two were flip-flopping more than a fish outta water.

At 11:22 a.m., May 02, 2006, Blogger Tex Texerson said...

Yes, there was. Listening to dinosaurs Mark Lee, Don Wittman and Bob Cole's feeble attempts at providing us with a lucid play-by-play.

At least the Calgary series featured excellent color commentary and analysis by Andy Murray.

At 11:43 a.m., May 02, 2006, Blogger sacamano said...

Yeah, I guess you're right; if Legace is going to give answers like that one, you've gotta keep asking.

At 12:41 p.m., May 02, 2006, Blogger PJ Swenson said...

Regehr is better at delivering an elbow to the head after a whistle than Niedermayer is.

At 12:48 p.m., May 02, 2006, Blogger Matt said...

I understand your Nash analogy perfectly; I just think you've got Scott Niedermayer on the wrong side of it.

He's valuable precisely because of what he can do; break a play with his speed, make a terrific pass to a streaking teammate, etc.. Where he's lacking is in all the little things. He makes mistakes. He gets beaten 1-on-1 a lot more than you'd expect to see from a Top 10 NHL player, especially one who's that fast.

Regehr is Nash (or at least, the regular season Nash who doesn't turn it over to the Lakers twice in the dying seconds of the period with the lead). He doesn't get beaten; he does the little things right that makes his teammates better.

I'm receptive to the argument that Scott is The Man because of the threat he represents; what I don't understand is why everyone seems so willing to forgive or ignore his flaws. The d00d is -4 in this series, and it's not a freak coincidence...

At 7:33 p.m., May 02, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

James, I'm sorry, but you don't know whether Ales Hemskey's goal was good. I don't know if it was good. I really doubt that anyone other than Hemsky, and maybe Manny Legace, knows whether it was good. The angles just weren't good enough to tell.

And good god, is Anonymous right about how painful the coverage was. I thought I was listening to two Kennedy Assassiantion cranks examine the Zapruder film. I swear I heard someone say that Legace's glove went down and to the left. It was awful, and that they had made a determination which way they were going to come down on, and were simply trying to justify that rather than examine the evidence. That there wasn't any just made that more obvious, much like the aforementioned Kennedy nuts.

At 9:43 p.m., May 02, 2006, Anonymous Earl Sleek said...

I'm receptive to the argument that Scott is The Man because of the threat he represents; what I don't understand is why everyone seems so willing to forgive or ignore his flaws. The d00d is -4 in this series, and it's not a freak coincidence...

The point on Niedermayer is that you are looking a little too hard at events within a game and taking your eyes off the game itself. His presence and coverage on both ends of the ice are truly unique, and enables the Ducks to play their aggressive transition game.

Sure there are better defenders. In my opinion, Scott is less Norris-worthy than he is Hart-worthy (especially given his missing zero games on his 'four-week' knee procedure).

Remember, he has been paired most of the season with rookie Beauchemin (or another rookie Getzlaf on the PP); I think this gets overlooked a lot. He is essentially filling two slots on our blueline depth chart, playing all the critical minutes.


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