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.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 4: Touchdown!

You take the blue pill - the story ends,
you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland
and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

After the Arizona Coyotes generously contributed to our goals against column with a touchdown, the communal Oilers spirit is wondering: how deep does the rabbit hole go? In case you wondered if the Oilers would get off to a good start, here are the numbers:

Stat Value League Rank
Points 1 30/30
Goals/Game 2.75 20/30
Goals Against/Game 5.5 30/30
Goal Differential -12 30/30
5v5 Goals For/Against 0.4 30/30
PP% 27.3 10/30
PK% 68.8 26/30
5v5 CorsiFor% 55.2 4/30
5v5 Shooting% 5.88 24/30
5v5 Save% 83.2 29/30

The Oilers even strength defending has been like a Gasoline & Matches Party in a fireworks factory. The team has been incredibly unlucky as well, their 5v5 PDO is dead last in the league at 89.03. In retrospect, at the end of last season the lowest value was Florida's 98.02. The Oilers tenders will not continue to stop pucks at 83.2, now will the team continue to shoot at 5.9% at evens. So if you wanted a willy wonka golden ticket in your chocolatey bar of Oilers shit, there it is: they've been massively unlucky.

That said, the game last night was a reflection of all the above statistics. Goaltending stanky like the corpse of Dubnyk's NHL career, awful even strength defence, and percentages more appropriate for a C peewee team. We started from the bottom and now my whole team fucking here: the bottom, again, amazingly, unfeasibly.

We are in the abyss of infinite awful. The chasm of the continuous rebuild. The 7th level of boys on the bus hell.

And the game the game, surely there was a game. Justin Schultz and Petry took turns looking lost like little girls, and Scrivens shoved it up the backside of his supporters. Scrivens especially was rotten, and while he probably didn't have much of a chance on 50% of the goals, 50% less goals would have possibly given the Oilers a win. I will say absolutely that I haven't given up on either Oilers goaltender yet, evidenced by numbers like:
Scrivens was .900 or better in 27 of 36 starts last year. His WORST (full) game all year was .838.
In retrospect to his start:

Ben Scrivens comes by his .800 save percentage honestly. By game: .808, .800, .793. An unnerving start for fans
Conclusions after the hop.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 3: Oil City Burning

This is nuclear waste on fire, which is an analogy of
how the Oilers played last night.
June 10th, 2013: Dallas Eakins proceeds to the Oilers branded podium, and speaks with a firm, clear voice. He's likeable, ruggedly handsome, and seems to be a born communicator. He talks about a commitment to "tactical hockey", and the collective Oilers soul nods in agreement.

Eakins said the right things, had the right pedigree, and the Oilogosphere roundly praised the move. Over the course of a flaming-hearse-launching-off-a-cliff 2013 season, my needle of appreciation went from "approval" to "skeptical". In the seasonal intermission it rebounded slightly to "cautiously optimistic". Then we had decisions to keep Will "Hack and Whack" Acton, and demote Martin "Corsi Masher" Marincin. Both were fairly inexplicable at the time, sort of like the design of single ply toilet paper. I could handle Acton being the 13th forward, since it should translate to a couple dozen games at max, and less once they realize he can't pass.

And then the needle finally edged towards "fuck", as in the way you swear when the realization dawns that you bought a shiny new sports car with a damaged, rusty 4 cylinder under the hood. The last little push I needed was the decision to healthy scratch Jeff Petry before last night's game. Here's his quote on this:
Petey hasn’t had a training camp. His game’s coming, and he continues to get better; we’re encouraged by that. But when we looked at the makeup of our D we need a couple of guys in there for power play. We’ve had a defenceman sitting around not playing; we want to get him in. When you started going to the pieces that you need in your lineup, when it comes to special teams, certain matchups, it ended up being Petey. Now I highly doubt it would have been Petey if Petey would have had a training camp and wasn’t just that little bit behind right now. We’re encouraged by Petey’s rehab, his commitment to getting better, commitment to getting up to speed. It’s a hard decision but at the same time it just made sense across the board.
Let's digitally dissect this, shall we?

1) Petey hasn’t had a training camp. - You know who else didn't have a training camp? Nikita Nikitin. Is he playing better than Petry? I don't know ANYONE who would say that.

2) But when we looked at the makeup of our D we need a couple of guys in there for power play. - As anyone can understand, you spend way more time 5v5 and PKing, and really good PKing is the same as a good PP. How effective is Brad Hunt on the PK exactly? Or 5v5 for that matter?

3) It’s a hard decision but at the same time it just made sense across the board. - This is a guy who preached puck possession, coaching on a team that made analytics hires, all in the name of the almighty Corsi. And yet, seems to disregard the fact that the defenceman he's scratching is also our best possession defenceman. Why hire analytics guys if you won't listen to their advice? Forget Corsi, has Brad Hunt looked effective in his own zone to ANYBODY? I dare say not.

That's a lot of wind up for an actual game, a 1-6 cluster-puck which went something like this:

A couple of players after the hop.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 2: The Tale of Two Flippers

79.1 Hand Pass - A player shall be permitted to stop or “bat” a puck in the air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the Referee, he has directed the puck to a teammate.
It's one of those moments in a game where there's a glitch in the matrix: everyone stops moving, and the outcome you expect (a hand pass stopping play), the outcome you've seen hundreds of times, suddenly doesn't materialize. Moments later the turning point of the game was deposited behind Viktor Fasth, and the blank faced zebras merely pointed to the goal as if they hadn't seen the black cat pass by twice. A blown call on the hand pass, and once missed was not reviewable, even if the mother ship in Toronto realized the mistake.

The game teetered off the rails thenceforth, as a cacophony of dumb penalties, bad defensive decisions, and a generally disjointed Oilers attack kept the oil drops anchored in their own end. Ultimately they got a Bettman point, and were a carnival ride away from another, but there is no way Eakins can be happy with the overall game the Oilers played tonight. No matter which team you are playing, taking 14 straight PP minutes from 4:48 in the 2nd to 6:20 in the 3rd isn't going to lend itself to a lot of success. Aside from obviously helping the Nux pot 2 PPGs, it also nullifies the attack and kills hustle and flow.

The second flipper in the title I'm alluding to is the flippers that dropped off Mr. Hopkins hand-model hands, and the knuckle exchange that materialized afterwards (Nugers first). It was a surprisingly feisty tilt with Hamhuis, and the scene showed, I think, three things:

  1. Hamhuis is a wussy: listed at 6'1" 210, he averages 0.66 PIMs per game, and you probably didn't need me to tell you that he spends more time in the cologne aisle than inside a boxing ring. It makes his posturing with a skinny skill forward a decade his junior look somewhat comical. At least he can puck.
  2. Hopkins is growing up. He said to Dan "Puff Pastry" Hamhuis that he could see right through Hamhuis' tough-guy posturing. I like Hopkins standing up for himself, and the cross-eyed crazy inside me kind of liked Benoit burying Matthias into the boards moments later (see point 3).
  3. Team toughness is up a peg this year: The kids are meaner, the wings are bigger, and let's hope this stops the hopeless Edmonton scribes screaming for Nuclear option goons. Which reminds me, Gazdic is set to draw back into the roster...

The final thing I want to touch on is our fucking rotten defencemen. One half of every pair is looking inept to start the year. Nikitin, Hunt, and Ference are all various degrees of charming - you've got a Russian with a name like a bond villain, a gap tooth smurf/J15 missile system hybrid, and Captain Oilers himself. They also are remarkably similar in terms of the amount of time they tend to spend in their own zone. They were the bottom 3 Dmen on the night for the CorsiFor% and by the eye test, a different Oilers Defenceman ghost of the past.

  • Nikita Nikitin = Ryan Whitney: Both big, smooth skaters, and supposedly puck movers. Both overpaid for most of their careers. He's been positively terrible almost from the start. Oh, and lucky us, was 9 seconds short of the most Oiler icetime on the night (J.Schultz had 22:29).
  • Andrew Ference = Late Stage Steve Staios: No, it's not a cancer, but it might as well be since Andrew has infiltrated Oilers hearts everywhere (including the coach and management). He doesn't pass that well, doesn't defend that well, isn't fast. What exactly does Andrew Ference do well? Oh yea, take selfies of working out. He does look incredibly fit. Side note: Steve Staios was an excellent defender for the Oilers until his flesh bag began to inevitably decay.

Martin Marincin is in the minors, in case you missed that.

Conclusion after the hop.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 1: Jerseygate

Two early Flames goals dipped every Oiler brain into a vat of angst-y tears stored up over 8 years of futility. Apparently that salt-water bath was too much for one fan, who decided to throw their jersey onto the ice. Bravo, nameless fan, you have redefined the urban dictionary entry for "knee jerk reaction", emphasis on JERK.

Starting with the obvious, the Oilers almost completely dominated the Flames in the possession game. The shot attempts were 75 to 39 for Edmonton, and aside from a nearly even third period the Oilers looked generally like a much better team. Not that it was all good, obviously. The 4 EV goals against speak to a team that still struggles with fundamental defensive deficiencies. The D core didn't look in synch with their goaltender, and some key assignments were missed. All in all, not worthy of $260 of that guy's hard earned dirty-oil-rig-dollars. If you want a silver lining, the Calgary Flames are paying DERYK ENGELLAND to play defence on an NHL team! Engelland had a lofty CF% of 16.3% (which means 83.7% of the shot attempts while he was on the ice were against his goalie).

The Good:
  • Naheel Yakupof - Despite only getting ~14 minutes of ice, I thought Nail played an incredibly smart game. He constantly made good decisions to *not* force the puck into stupid spots on the ice. He looped, pivoted, and danced to find smart outlets and he had some nice Yak's Touch Pass Magic™ on the first PP goal.
  • Jeff Petry - Quickly reminded us why he was last years best Dman. Unlike Schultz, he actually skates the puck into the offensive zone (seriously Justin, why do you stop behind the net every time?). Aside from one eyelid-twitching pass he made in the third (tape to tape with a Flame), he's the one guy you see drives play positively for the Oilers. Should have had J.Schultz's EV mins.
  • Puck possesion - The Oilers owned the biscuit for most of the night, and you could see that when the Oilers put their head down, they were a clear cut above the Flames. Granted it's possibly the NHL McDavid destination, but still encouraging. Probably because I still think the Oilers can pass better than they did.
The Bad:
  • The top line - Here are the three throat noises that describe their performance: pffbblt. Hrmmph. Blechh. Y'know, they didn't play terrible (hence why they aren't in The Ugly section below), but they were a combined -6, and didn't dominate play as much as they should. Their entries and cycle game was lacking, and aside from an Eberle solo-generated pipe clanger, I was underwhelmed to the extreme. They are going to be better, folks.
  • Justin Schultz - I really don't understand how this guy lead the Oilers in overall ice time by almost 3 minutes. He's not currently at performance level befitting a first pairing defenceman. He may never be. Specifically, he wasn't physical enough, didn't skate the puck out of the D zone enough. It's early, so maybe this mystical norris caliber, Coffey 2.0 is still lurking behind that petulant little face of his, but I'm really beginning to doubt it. He always looks so smug, doesn't he?
  • Andrew Ference - This isn't really a knock on the guy. He really does exemplify leadership qualities, and pours his steaming guts onto the ice every game. The problem is that the Oilers are playing him when there are better defencemen on the team, right now, who should be playing his minutes. I have unlimited doubt that the Oilers would ever have the balls to say "Andrew, we're sorry, you just aren't good enough to be in the regular lineup." Unfortunately, I think that day is today.
The Ugly:
  • 4 EV goals against - Last years 23rd ranked 5v5 goals for team pumped 4 EV goals past a pretty good goaltender, and this was EXACTLY the trend that must be stopped for the Oilers to be successful this year. These weren't flipflop, jamjob, luck of the gods goals either. Missed assignments, brain cramps, and poor defensive intuition all lead to the goals. The Oilers will not survive if they remain this inept in their defensive zone coverage.

Take a deep breath. That's all you need to do. Let the hate flow out, and good vibes flow in. If last nights contest tells us anything, it's not going to be that bad this year.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 38: Special Education

Are the Oilers becoming unplugged, or plugging in?
The Hockey Gods, every once and a while, have to turn up some improbable results to keep mortals on their toes. Tonight was such a game. The Oilers, in the midst of a 7 game road losing streak, staggered into the United Center against the best team in the NHL (quantitatively) and improbably came away with two shiny points.

The special teams figured prominently in the game, and while the Oilers have been a sack of Gypsy piss most of the season, their special teams have been surprisingly special. Their PP is #2 ranked, and their PK #11 ranked, and this is in sharp contrast to Chi-town, who is 15 and 27 respectively. On this night, that special teams battle made all the difference as the Oilers finished 2/5 and the Hawks 0/5. For a season filled with negatives so far, you certainly can't say much has gone wrong with special teams execution, especially considering they ended up 27th on the PP and 29th on the PK last year.

Both goaltenders had a hand in the result, with Crawford and Dubnyk letting in some stinky business, but Dubnyk ultimately made that one extra save. In terms of the other five orange and blue lotto engineers on the ice, I felt the Oilers carried play fairly well into the third period, at which point Chicago realized they might lose the game to the lowly oil droppings, and turned their game up to a 11. When they turned it up the ice became a seesaw with the fat kid in the Oilers end. The Hawks beaned Doobers with 23 shots in the third period, and he managed to redeem some of his earlier eau du fromage with a more stable, consistent effort.

In the forward ranks, it was a good news, bad news kind of night. I'm sure anyone reading this blog will be aware of the fact that Nugent took a tumble in the second that caused him to injure his shoulder, and early word is that the injury will prevent him from playing tomorrow. There is even a suggestion floating around that a forward may be called up. If I was a betting man, and I am, I would guess the first selection for call-up will be Magnum Paajarvi, who finally got a pro goal this season. His early OKC numbers are alright: 7gp 1-6-7 +3. I think expectations have been tempered somewhat with Pony, but if he ever figures it out he could be a bigger, faster version of Ryan Jones (yea, I just said that). On the good news front was Hall, and he continues to generate offence on a nightly basis. After watching him for about 100 games now, I have really come to understand the success of Hall's game. He is a relentless player in that he's constantly in attack mode for every second he's on the ice. His hunger and compete level might actually outstrip his skill levels (which are already ridiculously high), and I might suggest this is why he actually posted better numbers in the OHL Playoffs than in the regular season. If RNH is out for any extended stretch (I want that damn Calder trophy), Hall is the guy who will have to take his game to an even higher level (beyond ludicrous, perhaps Plaid).

Defensively, it was also a rainstorm with the sun visible kind of day. I'm starting with the bad news first again, and that is of course the injury to the Oilers number one defenceman, Tom Gilbert. I still see some real fucking looney tunes posting disparaging remarks vis a vis Gilbert's creamy insides or his lacy sock garter, but these are simply lunkheads regurgitating unexamined expectations from a sloppier, younger Tom Gilbert. Make no mistake, the Oilers were a Chinese fire drill in their own end with Tommy-gun playing the best hockey of his career, and it certainly won't get better with him out. He was eating big minutes in all situations, and he is a central figure in any hope the Oilers have of climbing back into a low-seed playoff race. The good news was from a strange source: Andy Sutton. The big man has shown a strange knack for timely offensive plays, and he's a mountain of muscle in the own-zone. If he was our number 6 guy with 2nd unit PK time, I think the that he has shown he wont shoot you in the foot. Playing third or fourth in the lineup, however, illustrates a continuing problem for the Oilers back end: not enough high end talent.

In the end, the Oilers gutted out an improbable victory, but I felt that it was a deserved one. The Hawks dominated the third, but score effects work strongly against the Oilers here, and the first two periods were even or possibly weighted in the Oilers advantage.

Some names and breakdown after the anchor tag.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 36: War of Attrition

Rudimentary sieve
As we move ever nearer to the mid-point of the season, all of the early season shine has now been completely knocked off the ass of the 2011-2012 version of the Edmonton Oilers. The team continues to lose games, and the recent 2-8 skid has more or less annihilated any chance the Oilers have at playing playoff impacting hockey into even February. We probably shouldn't be surprised but when you live in the nexus of the hockey universe (sorry Toronto), we tend to get easily worked up for good or for bad. The fans around here are desperate to catch a few glimpses of the future championship caliber team the Oilers management has been subtly promising after bombing to the NHL basement for a couple of seasons.

The game tonight was basically an illustration of the kind of razors edge a team with Edmonton's liabilities has to walk in order to win. Potter's brain-dead mistake on the second goal's two-on-two was the turning point of the game for me. Inexplicably he played it as a straight, uncontested two-on-one, and when he let the Wild nobody walk into the low slot and snipe, it would have been the same result if he hadn't been there at all. The other Oilers backchecker clearly was in range to disrupt all but a perfect pass, and Potter should have recognized it and closed on Palmer immediately. That mistake was then compounded when Khabibulin let in a soft-ass goal from an obtuse angle a dozen seconds later, and I've said it many times: we need our goaltenders to play mistake-free to win hockey games. Period. Khabibulin has an expiry date, and I can't help but wonder every time he lets a cheese wheel in, that maybe we've overshot his best before.

Offensively, I think we probably played an OK game, especially in the third period when the Oilers started handling the tired-on-back-to-back-nights Minnesota Wild, and probably the biggest positive was it was the first time in a few weeks that the veteran line -- which I've identified as being absoulutely key for the Oilers success -- actually had a positive impact on the game. Hockey is a zero-sum game in that you can only put your tough-minutes defenders on the ice for so long, and the more strong offensive minutes you can get from one line simply means weaker defensive assignments for another. On the Oilers we have a couple of decent candidates for soft-minute killers, namely some mixture of Gagner, Hall, Eberle, and RNH. With Belanger playing the role of 5-on-5 boat-anchor (6 ES points in about 385 minutes of ice), and Renney's love affair for icing a fourth line that gets buried by everybody, we can't just have the three wunderkids providing all the offence. They get the toughest assignments and kudos to the kids for still managing a decent output on a nightly basis. Calling Dr. Hemsky.

The only other note I have from the game is that the zebras were typically lousy. Instead of having the guts to make the correct calls and send off the singular infracting player, the refs just fence-sat and carted off everyone in cute couples. I have no idea what RNH said, but if he was complaining about the obvious missed call on the Smytty trip, time to take off the panties ref. How thin must your skin be when a 165-soaking-wet gets under your skin that easily? They capped off their indecisive night with perhaps the worst call: the Falk interference with 1:23 to go. I realize that I'm a biased Oilers fan, and truly I wasn't mad about the call, but I know if the situations were reversed, I would have been livid. If that's an interference call, pack up your bags and go home, because hitting has been removed from hockey.

Post-mortem after the hop.