I finally sucked it up and ordered Centre Ice last night, just in time to, er, enjoy the Canucks at the Oilers. (I'd hoped to catch some of the Hawks-Wings game too, but that didn't work out.) Of course, I could have held off a couple of days - the other team I'd like to watch is Pittsburgh, and of course they and the Oilers both are on CBC tonight. C'est la vie. At any rate, I took some notes from last night's game, and will again at least for the Oilers tonight - we should be seeing two different teams.
MacTavish started out with fairly standard lines; Reasoner with Brodziak and Sanderson started, Horcoff with Hemsky and Penner, Stoll between Torres and Gagner, and finally Cogliano centred Nilsson and Jacques. I must confess that I thought of Sanderson as a throw-in on the Lupul/Smith for Pitkanen deal, but he's showing that while he's not likely to score 35 ever again, he's still valuable to have in your lineup. He was fast all night, although his cross-ice passes led to a few rushes the wrong way when they didn't work. When the passes did work though, they usually resulted in a decent chance, and at least it changes up the Oilers offense a bit.
Sheldon Souray is high event at both ends; he looked like an AHLer on the 1-0 goal as he went for the big hit on Bieksa behind the net and put himself way out of position, leaving his man Pyatt out front and Penner unable to contain him. (I see Souray got credited with a hit on that. Not sure if the -1 is sufficient punishment, that goal was mostly on him.) However, the 2-1 goal was the result of some good work by Souray. I suspect a lot more of the same this season.
Garon looked really bad, although I'm not sure why he got pulled. The 1-0 and 3-1 goals weren't really his fault; Souray left his post for the 1-0 goal, and the 3-1 was a shorthanded breakaway that the Canucks should have never had. (The 2-1 was, however, on his head - still, even Patrick Roy dropped the occasional puck.)
Once the score was 3-1, MacTavish started changing up the lines, Gagner finally got the spot on the top line MacT more or less promised him to the press, but couldn't get much going. Nevertheless, if the young man keeps playing like he did last night, good things will happen. He drove the net a couple of times and while he was outmuscled several times, at least had a lot of try in him and got an assist on Souray's goal. He should do much better with another 10 or 15 pounds of muscle. Despite all the talk about stunting his development and such, it's hard to see how the team can justify sending him back if he continues producing - I think we're just so used to seeing middlin' picks make not much out of their first shota at the pro that we've forgotten that sometimes, 18 year olds really can come in and do well. It remains to be seen, of course, if he can keep it up, but I'm not seeing a lot of weaknesses in his game save his physical presence, and you can't teach size any better in the OHL than you can in the NHL.
Jacques continues to amaze - how many minutes can a man play with NHL players and not get a single point? Even Scott Pearson got the occasional goal, for pete's sake. I don't know how many more chances he's going to get, one suspects this is his make it or break it year.
All in all, it was a pretty lousy effort by the good guys, and Luongo was there to bail out the Canucks when they did make mistakes. Nilsson and Jacques going down for Stortini and Schremp is as much a message to the rest of the team as it is a chance for Robimus Prime and the Sudbury Kid - the team has some AHL depth this year and aren't afraid to use it. Since I've talked about the other Top Kids, I might as well at least mention Cogliano and Nillson. Cogs is fast like stink but not much doing at either end last night. Nilsson didn't show much of anything beyond he's young.
The surprise for me is Pouliot - I haven't seen much of him this year, but if Stortini draws in for him this game I'll have to hope that the young Frenchman is hurt. After the way he played near the end of last season, he deserves a pass for his apparently not great pre-season.