Thursday, October 30, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 10: Western Country Blues

The Predators are probably a team that has been hurt by their own success. Barry Trotz carved out multiple successful seasons from oftentimes journeymen rosters bolstered with intelligent defencemen draft decisions. As a result of their consistently above mediocre results, the Preds have been a team that has usually been bereft of high-end talent, especially in terms of scoring prowess, often obtained by new teams via the draft.

When a team has zero elite offensive talents, often times you wonder how they would ever win the cup. Regardless of questioning their ability to capture Lord Stanley's silverware, the 2014 version of the predators with Laviolette at the helm and a couple of mercenary centers was more than enough to firmly put the streaking Oilers in their place.

The corsi graph tells a lot about the flow of the game: the Oilers were getting marginally outplayed possession-wise until the winning goal bulged the twine. Even at that point though, the Oilers were within 3-4 shot attempts at sawing off possession. Unfortunately the Oilers rode the scoring effect wave (the proven concept that teams with leads let off the gas) to begin taking over the game, which became less surprising when the Preds went up by 3. Specifically - as highlighted by the Sportsnet crew - the Nashville dmen were moving the puck quickly and smartly out of their own graveyard into the central swamp. Something which the Oilers struggled with right from the start. As Eakins said, the passes were just a bit off, and the lack of cleanliness in their own zone ultimately cost them.

The game started off with another disallowed Oilers goal against, and this one wasn't without some controversy. It seemed it was disallowed because of intent to blow (which was almost the title of this post), but mine eyes also spied that a NSH forward pushed on Scrivens' trapper which might have contributed; regardless it was a gee-whoa moment that should have signaled to the Oilers bench to get their shit together. Instead, they shambled around in a pre-Halloween stagger: passes fit for Frankenstein, and general chaos in the execution around their own net.

Two goals in the early second built the coffin and put the Oilers corpse in it, and a Weber blast early in the third nailed it shut. Unfortunately I've written half of the post by the time my mind decided to switch from a "sad cowboy" theme to a Halloween theme, you'll just have to stick it out now. Anyways, as far as specific thoughts, check them after the hop:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 9: Block Québécois

Marriage made in Canada. This is also block shaped.
The Oilers extended their win streak to 4 games and hit the 50% points per game mark, largely in thanks to the hockey gods, gritty play, and another solid effort by the professor. The Habs are nowhere as good as their record indicates. Phrases like "class of the East" are nothing but smoke and mirrors statements from analysts with no business analyzing. They mostly outplayed the Oilers in the possession game but it was mostly an even game until the Oilers went up by 2, and some desperation entered the Hab's game.

That's when the Oilers hounds took over, spearheading a 21 block effort by the blue guys. They hacked and chopped and swore their way out of Montreal pressure shift after shift. Some of the play was downright oogly in the Oilers zone, however they never really gave that puck-on-a-platter chance that they seemed to earlier in the year. Montreal had chances - mostly the kind of bouncing, bunched, and half-baked chances that had legs in the way or a square goaltender. You don't want to take away from Scrivens effort at all - he played a wonderfully composed game - but you'd be hard pressed to remember a single outrageous stop Scrivens made.

Aside from that, it was the German Gretzky's boundary game, and on the other side lies at least a 40 game audition (the UFA-year-burned-barrier). Even though at the time of this writing we haven't heard anything, I would guess there is zero suspense in this regard. LD is here to stay, and while his game wasn't flashy, I honestly think Leon has skated better the last 3 games. He's reached a level that gives you some comfort that he will be able to keep his German designed engine driving results.

In terms of the Oilers offence, Pouliot and Yak were the goal scorers. Pouliot's effort was a sweet little dash, deke, and deposit from a Canadiens fall and a nice Arco pass. Yak jammed the biscuit in off a missed shot and a shovel pass. A little glitz, a little garbage, but most importantly the "third" line got off the snide and provided some incredibly welcome secondary scoring. We know we can count on the 6 million dollar kids most nights, so any contributions from forwards 4 through 9 is going to give the Oilers more double v's than we've seen in the last half decade.

Finally, let's all remember this key point: the Oilers are 19th in the league overall, and 9th in the west. Unless everyone is happy with the 13th overall pick and an extra two months to contemplate the draft, there is a lot of work to still be done. The proud blue you can celebrate when we actually rise above the dregs of the league.

Some individuals after the hop.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Oilers Arrows: Part I

With the Oilers roughly 10% into the season, I felt like it was about time to evaluate the performance of each player on the team, and the direction they were trending. Without further ado, your 10% complete Edmonton Oilers (all numbers below are for 5v5):

Status Quo:

Good Performance:

Bad Performance:

Check it out below the hop.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 8: Fresh Meat

The Oilers took a bite out of the floundering Hurricanes
The shell-shocked Raleigh team rolled into town Friday night, sporting a lengthy scoreless streak and an ambulance trailing behind, packed with injured players. They had scored only 2 goals in the last three games, and had been obliterated by the lowly Calgary Flames the previous night.

To put it bluntly, the opponent was a perfect storm of suck, the kind of softball lob that Pancakes Penner is used to cranking out of the park at his local beer league game. Thankfully to those bleeding viscous oil, the Edmonton team's skill was the edge needed versus Carolina's raw desperation. While they didn't hit it out of the park, they more or less won an evenly matched game by demonstrating a commitment to an unchanging game plan. They also had the benefit of one of the worst missed calls I can remember, a Benoit Pouliot lumberjack-job to the wrist of Brian "Who's That" Bellmore. It was the kind of axe-stroke that leaves two pieces of wood afterwards, and how the striped overseers missed it was only explainable by the cosmic karma that missed the Canucks hand-pass-for-a-goal earlier in the season. Regardless, Eberle did the right thing: kept playing, and his quick snipe was integral in the end result.

The victory was capped off by the Deutschland dangler, Leon potting the rebound from a AAA Alberta beef offensive chance. Leon's reaction was wonderful; you could see the chains of expectation evaporate as he smilingly whale-flopped on top of captain Ference. He needed that boost I think, and so did the Oilers management. Earlier TSN's Bobby Mac had laid out an interesting scenario where the Oilers play him past the 9 game mark but send him down before the 40 game mark. The second deadline is the one that burns off a UFA year for the player. Waiting 40 games before deciding accomplishes two obvious things: gives Draisaitl plenty of time to destroy doubt or drive his demotion, and gives MacT time to find the appropriate 2C on the marketplace. Regardless, it was a feel good moment for the kid and for Oil fans in general looking for some positive energy at the start of the up-and-down season.

The corsi chart from the game shows an inexorable trend towards more offensive zone time for the Oilers and after the scoring started, it seemed like the see-saw steadily tilted more towards the Hurricanes end of the ice. There was still the fumes of desperation powering the Oilers game as well (as there should be), and combined with the fact that the Oilers have a more mobile D and skilled O, was enough for a 6-3 victory.

Plus and minuses doled out after the hop.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 7: Two it for Scrivvy

"I don't want it to come across that we're thrilled where we are right now"
- Ben Scrivens postgame quote
The score read 3-2 Oilers, and the corsi chart illustrates how lucky the Oilers were to actually get that result. The Oilers white-knuckled it through the game after the eventual winning goal and the shot attempts after the first period were 48-21 for the Caps. The more the Capitals pressured, the more the Oilers structure and passing seemed to crumble. Thankfully Scrivens stopped 100% of the "must save" shots and probably made a few 5 bell saves sprinkled in there to secure the Oilers 2nd victory of the season.

In case you haven't picked up on it, Ben "The Professor" Scrivens is a thoughtful, even-keel guy who manages to contribute sound-bytes worthy of a Cornell grad. After the game he was quick to riposte the anime-eyed reporters from taking to much from his, or the teams performance. The record still stands at 2-4-1, and the Oilers still sport a 26th ranked points percentage of .357 - coincidentally the caliber of self-inflicted gun-shot wound Oilers brain pans will be sampling if the number stays that low.

For now, we can revel in the slight relief that the Oilers brass loses a little pressure to do something quickly (see: definition for stupid), and perhaps more importantly, gives the team the charge of confidence it needs to say, play with a lead like they weren't juggling a baby and a hand grenade. It was my impression that the Oilers defenders were not willing to risk maintained puck possession in their own zone for most of the third, which lead to them making hasty and hopeful passes. A more confident squad adapted to winning might instead skate pucks out of their own zone and make shorter, smarter outlets.

Some thoughts from the game after the hop.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 6: Release (the hounds)

Remind you of our 4th line?
With 6 minutes left in the third, a whacky Perron clearing attempt had bounced off ex-Lightning Purcell, and landed on Johnson's stick, paving the way for an easy slot job by Connelly to tie it at 2. It was the second bit of puck luck that lead to a Tampa goal on the night - Boyle's first went off Jultz from a very sharp angle shot. It could have spelled the end for a less resilient team, and certainly would have whispered "woe is me" in the ears of the copper and blue.

Thus when Ondrej Palat's poorly performed pass clattered off Jordan Eberle's stick high in the Tampa Bay defensive zone, the huddled fan base inhaled deeply. It offered a timely bit of retribution and restitution for the unfathomably awful Oilers season start. Moments later, Hopkins sent the puck zipping inside the post, and the crowd, the bench, and the kids all let out the primal scream of release. Sure, there was another 3 and change to go, but the Oilers slammed the storm shutters closed and the Stamkos-support-structure managed zero shots on goal and a single (corsi) attempt.

I will preach over and over that the win was merely a product of the Oilers playing a much better overall puck possession game. As Eakins said, the results are the only thing that matter, but the best way to generate results is playing a strong puck possession game, which the Oilers - right now- are doing. Moving Marincin into the shutdown role has obviously helped Schultz for obvious reasons: less minutes played against weaker opposition. It was the first time all season, I think, that Jultz didn't have the highest TOI amongst the Dmen. His 19:48 trailed Ference by 3 seconds, and trailed Jeff Petry by 2:43. Ference playing almost 20 minutes I can really do without, but it signals a change from Eakins in that he recognizes that Schultz probably can't be the do-it-all #1 guy.

The first line did a bunch of heavy lifting tonight, with Hall's penalty shot the injection of fire every oil-drop-blue vein needed to give belief. It was his third attempt, and he made it look very easy. Eberle had a bunch of great chances in the game that Bishop stoned him on, but his intercept and pass to Hopkins for the win really cemented the performance for the top line as a whole. Considering the middle part of the lineup-sandwich has been lean-scoring beef so far, our success has been dictated by the top and bottom slices of the sandwich (see below).

Finally, one of the keys to success continues to be the "Release the hounds" (4th) line, being sicced on every opposing teams top lines, buried deep in the bunkers of their own warzone. Not only are they preventing good players getting offence, they are also getting good cycles in the opposition zone and forcing everyone on the ice to play their version of chippy, bang-bus hockey. That energy helps drive the team, and more importantly, allows easier match ups to cycle through the rest of the lineup. It was a statement at the beginning of the year that the Gordon line would perform this duty (shutdown and shit shoveling), and they've been doing it with an impressive intensity and competency. It's been the best fourth line the Oilers have iced since the Brodziak and Glencross days. The three players are splattering mud on the oppositions offensive poetry.

Conclusion after the hop.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 5: No Rest for the Wicked

The playoff rock grows larger...
Hockey can be a cruel mistress, and perhaps none is crueler than the one draped in an orange and blue Oilers jersey. She's teased us with wishes upon shooting stars, and yet this same temptress has poured puck-black bile down faithful throats for 8 long, dreary, awful years. It's been hundreds of numbing losses, thousands of soul wrenching goals, like some kind of morbid sacrifice on the altar of first round draft picks. Which leads to today, the fruition of fan pain: it seemed like here, now, surely there would be results. Unfortunately, the exact total opposite has manifested. We've been the worst defensive team off the line, and our vaunted scoring power has fizzled like a power grid managed by Enron. That's young-gun-offence is now at 2.2 goals per game, good for 24th in the league - not a worthy spot for a team with talent like ours.

Tonight's game was about as bittersweet as a loss could be. The played the Canucks very evenly through the entirety of the game (28-30 on the puck ticker), and one missed assignment (was it Purcell, was it Fayne?) led to a second period goal by Vrbata that ultimately sunk the Oilers. Scrivens had a stand-out bounce-back game, and Marincin stepped into the blue line like all the statletes knew he could. I said bitter too: the top line barely cycled, forwards missed obvious chances, and the PP only offered up a mediocre 6 shots in 4 full opportunities. Overall, the commitment to team defence, and the Oilers assembling a healthy - and in this writers opinion - correct lineup is a small first step to exorcising the nasty-bad losers JuJu. At which point maybe the brownie points earned tonight can be exchanged for real points, arithmetic the Oilers are becoming desperate to realize.

There are 6 games left of this lazer crucial home stand (adding a lazer to anything makes it important), and we already need to start crunching the numbers here. Last year Dallas squeaked into the big show with 91 points, and a point percentage of 55.5%. The Oilers are currently at a point percentage of 10%. To reach a point percentage of 55.5 (or higher) at the end of the home stand, we would need 0.555 * 11 (games) * 2 (points per game) = ~12 points at the end of it. Subtract the point we've already gained (launch the fireworks), and that means 11 points in 6 games. It doesn't take a degree in brick science to figure out that there are only 12 points available over the rest of the home stand. Which means, ultimately, that everyone should start contemplating the real possibility that the #Oilers will miss the playoffs once again.

Let me be clear: virtually every news outlet, guide, and "expert" placed the Oilers on the outside looking in, and any who throw a coin in the wishing oil-well are likely to be burned once again. I can deal with missing the playoffs. It's an incredibly tough division, in a tough conference, with a still incredibly young team. What I can't stand, what we won't stand is the Oilers being a bad team. If they play more games like tonight, I think we will sample just as much success as failure.

And god it will be sweet if this team can ever realize it's potential. It would like being tortured by al-Qaeda for 8 years, only to finally be rescued by loyal sex-robot slaves made of pure gold. Or something.

Some players and a conclusion after the hop.