There’s a cardinal rule in pro sports when it comes to providing so-called “bulletin board” material to the opposition.
So the Montreal Canadiens’ Lars Eller should have known that the fertilizer might end up hitting the ventilating device when he likened the Edmonton Oilers to a “junior team” when asked before Tuesday night’s game what he expected from his opponents.
“It can be anything, you know? They play a little bit like a junior team, I think, sometimes. They take a lot of risks, a lot of chances, they’re a little all over the place. There’s not a lot of structure, always, in their game,” quoth Eller.
After the Oilers beat the Habs a few hours later, Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins said of Eller: “he might as well have sent me a fruit basket and a bottle of wine.”
“We thank Lars Eller for his comments before the game. Awesome,” Eakins said.
Montreal counterpart Michel Therrien gravely intoned that Eller’s remarks were “unacceptable” and that “he’s a young player, he’ll learn from this.”
Okay, fine and dandy.
It’s all very good theatre, and the talking heads will lap it up (guess this is the end of Eller as a reliable and thoughtful quote).
Except this would all be more convincing if what he said wasn’t true.
People will focus on the “junior team” phrase, but the Oilers do in fact sometimes look like a junior team, they certainly did in the first period on Tuesday; after trying to trap the Habs to death in the first half of the first period they yielded two goals – one by Tomas Plekanec on a power play, the other by Brendan Gallagher after an egregious defensive zone turnover by Ryan Jones.
They only really started turning up the heat at the midway point of the second, and only after giving up some gilt-edged chances.
It could have been a lot worse, much-maligned Edmonton goalie Devan Dubnyk ensured it didn’t get out of hand.
Before the Oilers get too self-congratulatory, it should be pointed out that they gave up a raft of scoring chances and were at least semi-fortunate to get back into the game.
The Canadiens haven’t been very good in the second period this season, and they weren’t again this night.
The Habs have out-scored the opposition 23-10 in the first and third frames, but have been outscored 9-6 in the second.
“I wish I knew why,” said Therrien. “We’re not going in there between the first and the second and telling guys to change the game plan.”
He mused that it might be a function of his young team’s lack of maturity defensively, whatever it is it will have to be fixed, and quickly – the Habs play Anaheim and San Jose later this week, and will want to avoid piling up too many losses.
As it was, the Habs might have made it 3-0 when Alex Galchenyuk laid a slick toe drag on Edmonton defenceman Justin Schultz and walked into the slot, but Gallagher couldn’t bat a bouncing puck past Dubnyk.
The Oilers set sail back up the ice, and after some iffy back-checking by Galchenyuk and Eller, Ales Hemsky’s knuckling wrister squibbed between Carey Price’s right arm and body.
Edmonton’s next goal was similarly fortuitous, the puck took a friendly carom off the side boards to an uncovered Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, whose slapshot rebounded of Price’s right pad directly to Ladislav Smid, who slotted the puck home.
The Oilers’ third goal, which came after a sprightly opening to the third period – their only truly convincing stretch of the game – wasn’t anything to do with luck (although the off-setting minor penalties that preceded it might have done), Nugent-Hopkins took advantage of an over-committed Josh Gorges to create an odd-man rush and make a sweet set-up that Jeff Petry could have walked into the net.
Their fourth straight goal came after the Habs’ Ryan White threw an aimless pass up the middle, and Price couldn’t cover David Perron’s wrister before Jones stuffed it by him (and then proceeded to high-stick Perron during his goal celebration, chipping his front teeth) “I didn’t feel all that great today, to be honest, we’ll get prepared tomorrow for the next one,” said Price, whose form in the last four games should be considered a mitigating factor in assigning blame for this one.
The upshot of the game – it finished 4-3 after Brian Gionta scored a meaningless goal in the final three seconds – is that the Oilers have the dagger between their teeth (“we’re counting it as a streak right now, it was a huge win for us tonight”).
They’ve won two in a row, and are headed home after a draining road trip.
The Habs, meanwhile, have lost two straight – and have blown sizable leads twice in the last week – and will need to white-knuckle their way through the next couple of weeks as they await the return of top-six forwards Max Pacioretty and Daniel Briere, and inspirational leader Brandon Prust.
Those absences present a thornier problem than anything anyone might say in a pregame scrum.
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