The final score in Saskatoon on Tuesday night was 4-2 in favor of the Edmonton Oilers, but final scores in preseason games means very little in April, May and June.
However, what we saw from the players on the ice means more as fans get ready for the 2011-12 season. Here are a few reactions from the game.
Viktor Stalberg looked good. He was fast (as always), but he was noticeably physical on both ends of the ice and appeared to be working hard.
Rostislav Olesz looked much better against the Oilers than he did in the first scrimmage of the preseason on Saturday morning. On a line with Stalberg and Jonathan Toews early in the game, he showed good net presence and scored the first goal of the Hawks’ preseason. He did a lot to improve his stock on Tuesday night.
Brandon Saad continued to separate himself from most of the prospects in the organization, and Mark McNeill received high praise from coach Joel Quenneville after the game. Both flew up and down the ice, were physical, and showed good hands. The Blackhawks appear to have hit a home run with the first couple rounds of their 2011 draft class.
Nick Leddy looked stronger on the ice, but clearly there were chemistry issues on the blue line between Leddy and the other defensemen in uniform. There were too many turnovers trying to get the puck out of the defensive zone. The grain of salt with which the performance tonight should be taken is the roster; Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson weren’t in uniform.
Jamal Mayers looked strong and surprisingly quick up and down the ice.
Marcus Kruger didn’t have a very good first period (kicked out of first faceoff opportunity, penalty late) but improved as the game moved along. He’ll need to be better than he was on Tuesday to stick in Chicago when camp ends.
Ben Smith didn’t do anything exceptionally well, but the coaches used him in every phase of the game. He didn’t make any enormous mistakes, was efficient in the corners, and handled the puck well. If he is competing directly with Kruger for a roster spot, he likely left the rink tonight with the upper hand.
John Scott sucks. He does not belong in the NHL, and a team that has championship aspirations shouldn’t waste a roster spot on someone with his ability (or lack thereof).
Kyle Beach looked lost again. The difference between last year and this year is night and day; he appears to be sedated. There’s no chip on his shoulder, no edge to his game, and no fire in his eyes. He tried to put one big hit on an Oilers player on Tuesday night, and wound up on his own backside.
The battle between the goalies was tough to call.
Ray Emery was solid in the first period, but wasn’t tested very often. He allowed two goals in the first half of the second period before being replaced. The first was a tough shot; the second he would probably like back.
Alexander Salak wasn’t tested very often, but when he was finally pressured he allowed a pretty soft goal that wound up being the game-winner. The goal, scored by Jordan Eberle, came just as a Hawks power play ended and was on an odd-man rush, but he didn’t appear to have a good feel for his net and left half of the crease wide open for an easy mark.
Overall, the final score obviously leaves something to be desired. But with so many NHL regulars not playing, it’s hard to consider this loss much more than a learning experience for a number of young players.