Thursday, December 11, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 29: Eakins Thinks it's Execution

This is an analogy for being an Oilers fan: we're in the chair, Eakins is the guy at the switch,
and the Oilers play is the lethal electricity coursing through our body.
EDMONTON
OILERS
ANAHEIM
DUCKS
1

FINAL
2
22 SOG
34 SOG

Eakins has been absolutely hammering on the fact that the young Oilers squad has been losing games recently due to offensive execution. There might be some weight to that, as you can see in the table below which features forwards that were on last year and this year's team:

Player Shooting % Shooting % Diff from 2014 Shooting % Diff from Career
TAYLOR HALL 11 0.2 -0.5
JESSE JOENSUU 11.1 3.8 1.6
NAIL YAKUPOV 6.7 -2.3 -5.5
STEVEN PINIZZOTTO 11.1 11.1 11.1
JORDAN EBERLE 8.2 -5.8 -5.5
LUKE GAZDIC 0 -6.7 -5.4
MATT HENDRICKS 5.4 -0.7 -1.8
MARK ARCOBELLO 10.6 4.9 2.9
BOYD GORDON 11.8 1.8 4.8
DAVID PERRON 8.1 -4.6 -4.8
TYLER PITLICK 0 -11.1 -9.1
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS 10.6 -0.1 -0.1

Some key players are way below career #'s: Yakupov, Eberle, and Perron - all have played plenty of 5v5 minutes, and the only regular guys up are Arcobello and Gordon - neither of which are in the top 6 usually. I'd suggest that shooting percentages like we are seeing are contributing to Eakin's feeling like the Oilers are missing in executing the scoring play after generating it. While shooting percentage is no direct representation of "execution", it certainly is a proxy for the impression of whether a player is executing.

Applying the analysis to tonight's game, I'm not sure the Oilers really blew a ton of grade A chances, and I'm quite certain Anaheim did. Rene Bourque had a couple of Getzlaf-gifted tap-ins that he shanked worse than a pedophile in jail. In terms of territorial play, surprisingly the game was even enough by corsi (click on the Corsi EV in the Game Flow section). There were clear sections in the game where the Oilers carried play - first half of second and third periods - after being roundly stick-paddled in the first.

It speaks to a couple of things:
  • The Oilers refuse to play consistently in the opening portions of the game. It's feast or famine: we've seen them absolutely shut out opponents in the opening frame, and too often we've seen the enemy pump pucks up the backsides of our stay-puff net defenders. This game featured famine.
  • The Oilers continue to be resilient regardless of lousy first periods. As a testament to coaching or familiarity, the Oilers do tend to settle into a consistent brand of hockey that seems to give them the competitive chops to hang with most teams in the league.
  • We still have no idea what kind of goaltending will show up for a game. It doesn't matter if it's Fasth and Furious or the Professor, we are getting a huge range of performances from both of the goalers. In this one Fasth was rock solid, and what does that mean for the future? Who the fuck knows!
  • The Oilers continue to lose, and the offence is a big reason. They can still throw up the odd 5-6 goals against if a defenceman has an off night or career (wink, Nikitin). Thing is, we've seen them play strong defensively, but we've yet to really see them be strong offensively. They have to scratch and claw for every goal. For a team with a buttload, a bevy, a bountiful blessing of beastly first round forwards, it's just not making any sense. The Oilers have only won TWO GAMES BY MORE THAN 1 NON-EN GOAL!
Couple of players after the hop.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 28: Oil Futures Plummeting

What will be lower, the Oilers point total, or the price of Oil?
EDMONTON
OILERS
SAN JOSE
SHARKS
2

FINAL
5
27 SOG
24 SOG

The Oilers have been playing a much more consistent brand of hockey. Unfortunately, there are still some "heart and soul" guys who are still finding their way into the lineup and not providing quality minutes. Not that I necessarily blame Eakins for playing Ference 20:55 - not a lot of selection for him - but I am going to go out on a limb right now and say that straight up replacing Ference for Marincin with no other changes would improve the Oilers ability to win hockey games. It also wouldn't hurt to see a guy like Anton Lander playing Gazdic's 9 minutes, since the guy is about as effective as a string cheese sword.

The consistent brand of hockey mentioned in the leading sentence was on display for most of the game, a game in which the Oilers outshot and out-corsied the Sharks, and once again the Oilers were killed by a couple of key mistakes. Coach Eakins talked about the Oilers needing to finish and "putting themselves into better spots to finish"; it was in stark contrast to the oppositions chances that were emphatically cashed by the cold fish of San Jose. A glorious Deutschland dangle from Draisaitl was almost a leading goal and a game changer in the second, but after the stop by Stallock, another game winner via tip-in topped the terrible team from Texas North.

In the land of glass is half full, Klefbom came within inches of hammering a howitzer of a first NHL goal, and was an extremely strong defenceman otherwise. He lead the team with 23:22 and was the only plus player for the Oilers. Aside from that, Jultz once again wandered into the 22+ territory, and I thought he had a couple of lousy plays in the game that gave the Sharks chances that another Oiler defenceman might not have given up. The chrono-demotion of the Universe's Best Defenceman seemed to be in line with the Oilers playing better defence, so I'm not sure why Eakins chose to only give Aulie a bit over 10 minutes and boosted the Jultzian One. It just speaks to a coach not trusting to play his D lineup in a balanced fashion, which is something the GM needs to address: Marincin.

The Good

  • Klefbom has stopped making the absolutely bone-headed decisions with the puck. As he was easing into this season, he was making some seriously suspect plays with the puck: 5 foot passes into traffic around the net and the like. He seems to have left those behind, and he is just playing rock-solid in big minutes. He played 23+, and was even in shots, corsi, goal differential, and saw plenty of the Sharks top forwards.
  • Perron continues to get rewarded for strong play.  When Pitlick was popped off the top line for the pesky Perron, the premier line perked up. Going forward it's an arrangement that I'd like to see the Oilers continue - Pitlick simply isn't getting it done and Hall and Hopkins have really struggled with "farm-boy strength" in the side-saddle.
  • Draisaitl was an offensive catalyst. The Oilers desperately need secondary scoring, and Dr. Drai had the kind of game that gives the Oilers hope for the future, and a bit of scoring for the present. He had 2 shots, an apple, and was solid over 17+ minutes.
  • The Oilers held their own versus a strong San Jose team. It's another entry filed in the who-cares-the-season-is-blown or score-effects-for-the-corsi-win category, but at least they look like a team that can play at the same level as top teams. Now if only they could actually find a way to, uh, score or stop pucks.
The Bad
  • Schultz had over 22 minutes, and Ference over 20. If those are key rearguards providing all-purpose minutes for a team, you might expect them to be a lousy team. I figure if I embed the word Marincin in the post enough (see above), it will cause a butterfly effect and get the kid re-inserted into the lineup. Marincin.
  • Top line scored as many points as Eli Porter in a rap battle. As mentioned earlier, the addition of Pitlick seems to have seriously slowed down the top line, although I think some of it is just the Eberle and flow of the season.
The Ugly
  • 0.792. That was Scriven's save percentage in this one, and while it's a team number, you just need more from the goalie and the defence in general. You aren't going to win anything except for early tee-times with percentages like that.

Thoughts on the draft after the hop.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 27: Baby Steps

The next step is 29th overall in the league... sigh.
SAN JOSE
SHARKS
EDMONTON
OILERS
1

FINAL
2
21 SOG
24 SOG

Thankfully the Oilers managed to put up a hard, gritty effort against a very competent Sharks squad, otherwise I would have been forced to top the previous "Worst Day in Oilers History" title with an even more ostentatious and hyperbolic headliner. That might have looked something like: "Oilers cause blogger to commit suicide after losing streak hits a dozen", complete with me taking a short step off a tall building after lighting myself on fire.

It was a low-event, evenly played game, featuring a whistle-light first period that the Oilers dominated, and the consummate puck luck that stands out especially in a one-goal game decided by said lucky goal. The Oilers spent long stretches of the third period attempting disjointed breakouts, mostly due to superior puck pressure from the finned opponents and some shoddy passes from the rearguards. In many ways it was a carbon copy of a perfect road game, played in front of 18k fans. For a team with saran-wrap thin confidence, it was exactly what the puck-doctor ordered.

Pluses

  • Responsible defensive play across the board. Aside from the brain damaged decision making on the Sharks only goal, there was probably only one other sequence featuring a total collapse of defensive responsibility. Fortunately Scrivens was up tot he task of making 3 quick in close saves to preserve the game.
  • Puck Luck. It might seem to be weird to list this as a plus, but I'm a firm believer that occasionally players need to be rewarded for strong play with a bounce or two, or else you start getting a little Charlie Brown storm cloud hovering over your head.
  • The Goal scorers needed the Goals. Yak and the stinky-shoulder Frenchman both needed to bolster their early season totals. Perron has gone 2-2-4 in his last 4 games, and is starting to get chalk marks on the black board even though honestly I don't think his game has changed much. Yak just needs anything right now, to stop retarded journalistic forays that the troglodyte press troops are spinning. it would be nice to see him actually pot a goal at distance, without receiving a lingerie clad puck on a bed with rose petals.
  • Scrivens was solid. Unspectacular, but solid. Let's hope he doesn't have to spectacular going forward to drive Oilers success.
  • Justin Schultz's ice time reflected his performance. That jerk Jonathan Willis stole my thunder on this topic, so I might as well link him in. Long story short, like I've mentioned a lot previously, Schultz's ice time going down is generally a good thing for the Oilers. His career low of 13:14 is probably more in line with his recent play.
  • Nikitin is on the IR. See previous swearing in virtually every post game report this season for an explanation of that plus...
Some negatives after the hop...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 26: The Worst Day in Oilers History


EDMONTON
OILERS
WINNIPEG
JETS
2
OT 
FINAL
3
24 SOG
26 SOG

Normally a statement in the realm of "worst in history" might be steeped in some hyperbole. In this case, I'm hard pressed to think of a moment where things have been worse in the heartland of hockey than December 3rd 2014. From the franchises inception, it had essentially 4 phases: the Gretzky Phase (fantastic and dynastic), the Messier Phase (3 years, 1 cup), the long mediocrity (most of the 90s and early 00's), and the current phase: from heaven to hell (the cup run till today). The first two phases kind of speak for themselves: both headlined by at least one cup and a hall of famer (or 5). The troubled times in the 90's and 00's still gave the Oilers fans several playoff series and at least a couple of wonderful upsets.

Which leaves falling off the mountain top post cup run '06. Since that glimpse of Oilers heaven, the Oilers have been the worst team in the league by virtually every measure. Number of playoff games since: 0. Points percentage since: 30th. Cap dollars per win since: 30th. Fanbase angst since: 1st. For a fanbase that truly does love our ice puck hitting team, it's been the ultimate exercise in sadism. We've been the abused girlfriend who keeps coming back for more because we hope the other side will change, somehow, even though we've never seen anything to the contrary except for empty promises.

Ultimately, with all of that losing, all of those atrocious, abnormal, and abysmal seasons, this has probably been the most savage, the most hurtful, the most heart-breaking. The season began with expectations of improvement, and instead it's been categorically a clusterfuck of Patrick O'Sullivan proportions. At the barrel end of a 11 game losing streak (with some Bettman banish-the-tie blessings tossed in there), it might be possible to say that today is the worst day in Oilers history.

Sitting on a beach in Cancun, sipping a Mai Tai in +28, I managed to shut out all media, twitter, blogosphere, and all Oilers related thoughts. I was hoping that a strong 4-game stretch would give me some hope when I returned a week later. Unfortunately, 0-2-2 was beamed into to my eyeballs over a 290 minute turbo-PVR session, including a soul crushing effort against the lowly & struggling Arizona Coyotes. Reider - a former 4th round Oilers pick traded for Kale "Probably Never Play" Kessey - scored two nice shorties, and was truly a cosmic fuck you from the Tambellini GM grave.

Sportclubstats.com has our playoff chances at a depth-defying 0.07% and to get a 50/50 shot at the playoffs, the Oilers would need to go 34-14-8. I don't care if you swap the entire roster and coach for the Blackhawks organization, that just doesn't look even remotely in the realm of possibility. Like I've said before goes double now: make peace with the fact that the Oilers will absolutely not even get close to a sniff at the post-season. It also happens that the first draft with a possible 1-2 punch of generational talents is available in the draft, and if you want a quick fix to your woes, one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel is assuredly it.

Some thoughts on the game after the hop.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 21: Numb

CHICAGO
BLACKHAWKS
EDMONTON
OILERS
7

FINAL
1
30 SOG
25 SOG

Only by the quirks of the NHL tie breaking system do the Oilers find themselves out of the darkest, deepest pit of NHL hell. On the night after I reaffirmed that I thought the Oilers had shown stronger underlying numbers, they serve up the seasons most lopsided loss. If it was a test of my resolve, I will say that it took a lot of effort from damning the Oilers to the darkest pits of hell and completely abandoning logic to the warm, seductive embrace of hardcore hate. In some twist of irony, the Oilers actually out-corsi'ed the Hawks 5v5. The hockey gods have a sense of humor after all.

Rather than dissect every nuance of the Hawks hammering the hometown heros, here are some bits:

  • The reffing was garbage, for the most part. The call on RNH to put the Hawks up 5v3 made me think the ref had sports select riding on the game. Otherwise, it was uneven, and just non-situational reffing.
  • The Oilers didn't lose the game on goaltending, not when you consider either goalie gave up enough goals to lose. I will say, Scrivens could have stopped the first goal but it would have been a tough save for any goalie, even the leagues elite. When the Oilers have been playing as awful as they have recently, they need the spectacular, goalie-probably-shouldn't-have-saved-it level of stop.
  • Hall looked frustrated, and since return from his injury, he hasn't been able to stand out like the superstar left winger he is. I think it's mostly the product of a team without confidence and with serious problems in defensive execution. If you are afraid that any stray pass will lead to goal against, there's no question it will affect your game.
  • Jeff Petry had the most ice time for the team (23:33), and it's about time Eakins realized that he's currently the teams best defenceman. He's the only defenceman who looks like he can handle the role properly, certainly better than any of the other current Oilers. Justin Schultz played 16.5 minutes, and if the switch between top pair and second pair happens between Petry and Schultz, sign me up.
  • The Oilers got burned by virtually every mistake they made. How many times have you seen the Oilers - or in fact any team - make a mistake, and have the opposing team shoot the puck two inches too high, or have their seam pass hit a rut in the ice before a 20 goal scorer can smash it into an wide open 6x4. The Cosmic Curse that's deep-dishing the Oilers ass can't seem to get the hint. At some point, all these laser-precision top corner shots taken moments after an Oilers turnover aren't going to hit toonie sized spots in the sunlight behind the stoppers.
Now what? Some thoughts after the hop.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 20: The Heart of Darkness

Normally the post would be crowned with a picture and a score line, maybe some witty caption, but black, oily bile has clawed its way up my throat, and my heart feels hollow and dark. So simple words will have to do; words will have to be my catharsis in this bleak, awful, and agonizing time for the Edmonton Oilers faithful.

Of all the fans in the league, no one quite knows suffering like the Oilers fan, and certainly not in the last decade or so. After the ultimate rejection by one of the worst modern era Stanley Cup winner, the Oilers have ridden a black steed down to the bottom of the league, through the gates of hell, and sat upon a pile of draft corpses, gutter slime seasons, and the bleached bones of long gone NHL coaches. Like greasy, worm-fed scoundrels, we - the unnamed mass of misguided fans - have crowded to bow before this dark throne, and begged our black master to show us the past glories. The days of yore when the Oily tendrils of the Orange and Blue spread across North America and dominated professional hockey. When the master of the puck was anointed, and he lead us to a dynasty of silver cups piled upon one another. It was hockey rapture, and the probably the greatest run a hockey fan could ever experience.

The echoes of that greatness are with us still: it's drawn one of the largest and most passionate group of fans in the world, a knowledgeable group of dedicated and intelligent writers, and finally pride. The kind of pride that had Kevin Lowe make a fool of himself when the Oilers recent ineptitude was challenged. The kind of pride that had our GM Craig MacTavish proclaim that Justin Schultz had "Norris" potential. The kind of pride that Eakins exercised in his first season as an NHL coach and that eventually humbled him before his second.

The kind of pride that has prevented the Oilers from making the kind of ruthless, necessary decisions with their roster to truly fashion a contender.

Today, after the Oilers shutout loss to the Devils - who were a measly 4 points up o the Oilers before the game - we are faced, again, with absolute fucking rock fucking bottom. Second last in the league ahead of only the -35 goal differential, possibly-historically-bad Buffalo "McDavid" Sabres, there remains almost nothing more to be said about the travesty of the first quarter of the Oilers season. It's a failure, from the coaches early season decisions to the goaltenders early stopping ability to the inept power play. It's been a failure, a fuck-up, an absolute anal-blasting top to bottom. Even in my darkest nightmares I couldn't imagine how impossibly bad the Oilers results would be.

We are left with three paths.

First, you can shun the Oilers. You can finally admit you don't have the stomach for all of this fucking carnage, all this blood, all this eye-bleeding, loser-powered play. You can walk away, wash the oily film off your hands, and find solace in liquor or crack or cat videos. This is the path for the flighty, floppy fan; the fan who doesn't truly bleed Oil; this is for the weak-willed.

Second, you can rage and scream and throat-rip. You can dial the digits of your local sports talk radio, and make the lines burn with your anguish. You can call your local witch doctor and curse the unborn children of Nikitin, place a hex on Hendricks, prick a Ben Scrivens bobble-head with voodoo juju. You can wave away the math, spit on the off-season signings, and ultimately embrace the hate. It's the easiest path. It might be the most satisfying, to give in to all that anger. I couldn't blame you in the slightest - it's been too long, too dark, and too empty for me to disparage anyone who simply wants their pound of flesh. Maybe some of that hate will light a fire in the Oilers that seems to be missing from their game since their dead-eyed coach doesn't seem to help instill it.

Third, you can believe the numbers that say that the Oilers continue to be incredibly unlucky, and that they have made real gains on the shot clock this season. I'm sure right now this seems like a laughable idea, like I'm high on heroin, that I'm watching the games on spreadsheets, or I'm stupid. Again, considering how bad they've been, even I have begun to doubt my own conviction - who wouldn't? This is the hardest path, and probably the least popular.

There have been serious problems: the coaches ice-time decisions, the power play strategies, and the general GM reaction to a lack of center, goalie, and defenceman depth. And yet, the Oilers aren't getting buried in their own end any more, and they have been the butt of bad percentages that surely can't sustain. The opposite (bad possession, high percentages) burned the '13-14 Avalanche, the '13-14 Leafs, and the '11-12 Wild even as their fan-bases screamed at the statletes that they were idiots and pencil-pushers. And now we have the opposite, and again we will probably be ridiculed or even worse, give in to the hate since it's so fucking tempting to just throw the coaching staff and players and management under the bus.

I'm sticking to my fucking guns. I believe that they are better, and even if Eakins gets replaced by Dan Bylsma, even if the Oilers find respectable goaltending and the power play punches out a few opponents, I won't have wavered. You win games by possessing the puck, not riding percentages, and I am willing to die by that sword.

Let's just hope the Oilers don't thrust it through my heart.

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 19: The Agony of Repeat

VANCOUVER
CANUCKS
EDMONTON
OILERS
5

FINAL
4
31 SOG
32 SOG


Faced with another one goal loss, it was difficult to conjure up another calm and collected response to the collective cluster-fuck that flubbed a four four tie in the third. I wanted to howl and scream, I wanted to post incendiary headlines like "Oilers Top Team in West" or "Oilers Blow Harder Than Scrivens' Goal Horn Last Night". I wanted to be there in the post game scrum and ask Coach Eakins why the Oilers got crushed in the first period once again, and why he plays the worst 4.5 million defenceman in the league the most ice time on the night - 23 minutes of tomfoolery and timidity.

I wanted some relief from the wretchedness of repeated losing seasons, and instead, what I was left with was a dark, cold plasma screen staring at me, a girlfriend pissed at me for a 3 hour silent treatment, and another one goal loss in the books. The Oilers had fashioned 3 comebacks in the uneven, mostly garbage game from luck and Miller's bad goaltending, but then regurgitated the lead when it got to crunch time. The normally reliable "4th" line made bad decisions, and once again the Bubble-Face Boys feasted on inept defending by sliding a puck under a swimming Captain Ference for a late winner.

To add insult to injury, we have guys like Glenn Healy sucking the Sedins sour-milk maker all game, heaping praise upon them as if they were baby Swedish Jesuses... Jesii? If there is anything worse than watching the Canucks TV team circle-jerk themselves into friction-induced flaming flattery, it's probably Hitler. They loved looking at some typical hockey play from the Oilers as if they had just blasted buckshot into a bunch of babies, and the Canucks making some typical play as if it was revolutionizing the game with hockey. When the color commentary - Hughson and Simpson - has you yearning for Louie Debrusk, you know they've crossed some critical threshold into one of the seven circles of Hell.

Sitting 6-11-2 is has many fans wondering "Why am I here?" and "What is all this good for?". I don't have the answers. I have predictions borne of math and logic, but even on a night when the Oilers scored on 11% of their even strength shots, they let in 5 goals, most of them preventable. Not even to mention most of the offence came from the third and fourth line on exactly the night when our top 6 was inept at generating offensive pressure.

In the post game scrum, some idiot beat reporter had the audacity to analyze Scrivens' game (click on Scrivens post game) by saying something like "It's obvious you would have liked more than a couple of those back." First of all, idiot, more than a couple would basically be every goal in the game, good job on learning kindergarten math. Second, the goal on the Aulie give-away may or may not have been a bad goal. I'm of the opinion that a perfectly placed wrist shot with NHL velocity from the top of the circle will beat every goalie in the league. Was it perfectly placed? Was it NHL velocity? I don't know. What I do know is that the Oilers didn't lose the game on the back of Scrivens game in net. He made huge saves, and while he's been Ebolabrutal for the much of the season, the team gave up double digit odd man situations.

Finally, and with greatest venom, I wish to lampoon Nikitin, and by proxy, Coach Eakins. How the spazzatronic, smoking the chronic Nikitin is getting the most ice time on the Oilers positively perplexes me. In the post game scrum Eakins - I'm paraphrasing - said something to the tune that he had to play Nikitin because the defencemen behind him were struggling. Well then, pick up the macphone, and request some competent players to rebalance the D squad. You might also start by giving Marincin a fucking start or two as well.

Or screw it, let's draw in Gazdic!