Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 35: Pfffbbblllllltttt

here we have the SS Oilers Playoff Chances
Is the sound of the remaining wind going out of the Oilers sail. It might have been the lackluster second period. Perhaps it was Khabibulin looking painfully mortal on the third (game-winning) goal. One could easily point to the ominous chance of losing Whitney for any considerable amount of time. I'd say it's a combination of all of those things. The three items illustrate perfectly why the Oilers chances of making the playoffs are similar to Tiger Woods endorsing monogamy.

The second period was a failure both for the Edmonton Oilers as well as anyone tuning into the Sportsnet feed. This is because the Oilers don't have the urgency of a team that needs to now win almost exactly 2/3rds of every remaining game to make it into the playoffs. It's like when they stick the frog in the pot of water and then slowly boil it. The frog would be going crazy if dropped into hot water, but slowly bring it to a boil and it sits there passively. The Oilers don't have that urgency because its so damn early in the season (or in the analogy: because the pot takes a while to reach its boil). I don't even know if I can blame the coach or the players for this. Mission critical at game 35? That's a tough sell for any hockey player; they simply needed to be better at an earlier stage in the season.

Khabibulin was mortal in this game. He didn't really shit the bed, but that was only because the Oilers didn't really give him a chance to outside of a few obscene scoring opportunities (the 2 on 0 comes to mind). Because the Oilers are balancing on the edge of catastrophic ruin every game, one bad goal by Khabibulin is easily enough to sink the Oilers. Unless that changes, even strong play from Khabibulin throughout the rest of the season will not be enough for a playoff spot.

Finally, defensive depth once again is a serious concern for the Oilers. Losing Whitney early meant we started seeing 90 seconds of Foster on the powerplay. I don't know if I'm in the minority here but Foster being the number one option on every powerplay is starting to piss me off. His shot seems like it should be doing damage, but consider this: he leads the team in shots, and has the second most PP time of any Oiler, and we are 23rd on the PP in the league. Foster has 3 goals - all on the PP - but it's time the Oilers rethink their PP strategy. If you are going to have Foster teeing off ALL THE TIME, place a big body in front. Is it too much to ask? Let us pray Whitney just tweaked something (dantencer's twitter says we won't know till tomorrow - it's 'some right ankle thing').

Individual thoughts after the hop.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Postgame: True Grit

The above is Theo Peckham if he was a white 60 year old man who lived in the 1880's and had a Saloon-sized chip on his shoulder. He's one of those guys that is built from door hinges and bricks, a real throw-back, and nastier than Bobby Brown's dance repertoire. Even though he will never dazzle like Cindy or Geno he gladly pulls his guts out his chest cavity every game and whacks dudes around with 'em. He's exactly what the doctor ordered for this team of flyweights and flywheels - a meat grinder in the midst of fancy cuisine.

If I had to pick a moment that exemplified the Oilers game tonight I would chose Teddy Peckman's tilt with Kyle Clifford. Teddy popped Kyle with a couple of Snooki-specials and it really seemed like the Oilers played a determined, gritty game after the fight that split the first period roughly in two. They played tough, and when tough wasn't enough Dubnyk generally was. He made a handful of great stops to keep it even, and even though he let in JJ's softie second goal I'd say the outing was a positive one for him. I also liked his aggressive play in the shootout - he explodes outwards from the goal line the moment the opposing player touches the center-ice puck and really challenges them to try a deke.

On a side note, Scuderi's face sports one of the uglier facial cuts I've seen on a dude before - the LA feed I was watching had 4 minutes of closeups on his ground-beef mug after Gilbert whacked some more ugly into his face. Rob Scuderi's face was like 'oh no way dude, I'm already full of ugly'. Pretend Scuderi's facial wound is saying that in a Southern Cali Surfer voice and you will be rolling with the same image as me.

In the end it would have been nice to get the full two (we really need every point we can get so desperately to have any shot), but I don't think you can fault the Oilers effort tonight. Both goalies finished 27-29 (.931), and both teams had a completely even sheet for +/-. An even, seesaw affair that was finally tipped by a Deking with the Stars skills competition.

Some thoughts on individuals after the hop and a yuletide conclusion.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Postgame: Deja Vu

I hate harping on the same points over and over again but its all the same problems happening over and over again. In case you missed the Oilers formula for failure it typically goes:
  • Allow first goal
  • Do not score on the PP
  • Get scored on the PK
One other thing that we've also seen of late is Khabibulin playing well. Whether its a function of our defence playing a simpler game or the three crones spinning the loom of fate I'd guess the former. Our defence HAS been better defensively. The problem is that it is sacrificing puck movement for simplicity. If it weren't for Whitney and to some extent Tom Gilbert, we'd have approximately zero defenceman who could make a pass to a forward under pressure. The typical defensive flow without those two goes something like:
  1. Opposing team chips puck into zone
  2. Lumbering Oilers Defenceman (LOD) utilizes below average footspeed to recover puck, opposing winger hot in pursuit
  3. LOD panics and rifles puck along boards
  4. Speedy Skill Winger (SSW) utilizes wheels to intercept puck moments before opposing center arrives
  5. SSW returns to consciousness and scrapes themselves off of the center ice, their last memory was them attempting to chisel another LOD slap pass off the boards before getting bunker-busted by the roaming centerman
Repeat that for 75% of the LOD ice time and you see why we typically get outshot: fully 2/3rds of our D-core cannot move the puck under sustained pressure. There was a point when I thought Smid might be one of those guys who could shrug off the buzzing bees and make crisp waffle passes to streaking centerman but I'm really beginning to wonder.

Thoughts on individuals after the hop and a conclusion (it doesn't end well).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Playoffs? You want to talk about Playoffs?

It was an interesting card that Tom Renney played recently.
"It won't surprise me when we make the playoffs. It won't," Renney told reporters. "The biggest surprise of all might be if we don't.
"Just because I know how deep the care is. I know how willing they are to be coached. How proud they are, quite honestly, to be here doing this in Edmonton. That's the hard part about losing.
"The masses don't get an appreciation for how badly out guys want to do well and win and be a playoff team. When they have those tough nights, and there's more to come, we all know that, it's tough."
Some very bold words indeed. Unfortunately our job is to mate those words with the cold, hard icy world of reality and this is where things simply don't seem to make sense.

There is a great tool out there already that tackles the job of estimating (in a coarse way mind you) the probability of a team reaching the Let's-Make-Our-Owner-Some-Bling knockout stage of the season. It's the website Sports Club Stats and the site owner actually does a very good job explaining how it works. The Cliff Notes version basically takes the current league (and their current points and standings), and flips a coin for every game, with the coin being weighted towards teams with better records and/or home advantage. Do this enough times and you start seeing the statistical trends. The site owner, Ken Roberts, freely admits that the weighting of the 'coin' does not take into account things like team injuries, sprinkling jock-straps with powdered unicorn spleen, or Bruce Boudreau's incredibly high ratio of F-word to PG vocabulary.

After all that nebulous processing takes place what you have left with is millions of possibilities, and the percentage of those that place your team in the post season. The Oilers magic number right this second is 2.5%. Simply put in 45 million simulated runs of the remaining 51 games of the season, approximately 2.5% of those scenarios had the Oilers making the playoffs.

Further analysis after the hop.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reversing the Draft Lottery

I saw that my arch-nemesis posted an entry that wandered off into his existential angst about the clouds of concrete grey that perpetually hover over the Oilers franchise. In mc79's mind those seem to be building-sized cumulonimbus clouds; huge, murky towers of vapour blotting out the sun, driving fans to commit hari-kiri with rusty skate blades - tears mixing with belly blood, their own death an unworthy penance for another season without the post.

OK, yes, I may be poking some fun with the overwrought passage back there, but sometimes that seems to be the mood over there. Eventually (after a detour into his unending galaxy of sorrow) mc79 came to his point:
I started to think about the NHL draft a little bit. It strikes me that it might be a much more interesting league if, instead of the best draft pick going to the worst team in the league, it went to the best team that didn’t make the playoffs. Imagine a system where the team with the best record to miss the playoffs picked first, followed by the team with the next best record to miss the playoffs, the 30th place team picked 14th and then the playoff teams picked in the traditional manner. It strikes me that this might not be such a terrible thing, because the incentive to win would always be there. You might tweak it a bit - maybe an equally weighted lottery for draft position amongst the teams finishing 17th to 21st to ensure that there’s no perception that it’s better to miss the playoffs than to make the playoffs.
Well I'm going to have to take a different position (after the hop).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Choose Your Own Junior Adventure

I think every hockey-playing Canadian boy has fantasized about stepping onto an NHL sheet of ice and living the life of a pro athlete. I think most of the time its a murky, ephemeral thought; flashes of holding Lord Stanley, highlight reel moves on top-flight goalies. Generally the most concrete realization for the general population is inputting our name and idealized stats into a NHL video game.

I always thought it would be fun to take it a few steps farther. I've always had an active imagination, and in this case I did not fantasize about some Wayne Gretzky'esque castle-in-the-sky fantasy version but rather a direct extrapolation.

For instance I'm about 5'11, 205lbs (xmas holidays might have something to say about that number, lets just say those are my official roster numbers). If I took that size and placed it against the backdrop of US average weight and height numbers of 5'9 and 190lbs, that puts me about 3% taller than the average American male and about 8% heavier. The average NHL size is 6'1 and 204 (based on this) so if I extrapolate my size I come out to 6'3 (1.03 * 73) and 220 (1.08 * 204). So now we know what my NHL extrapolated version looks like. I'm a pretty big dude. Which is good because now it's time to move onto phase two.

I played minor hockey mostly as a goalie, and pickup and rec hockey mostly as a defenceman. While it might be fun to make a goalie persona, there is something about being the teams designated hitman that always has appealed to me. I also shoot right, and those are a beauty on the backend. So lets take a look at this player:

John Klappstein #64 - D

* DOB: 1980/10/05
* POB: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
* Height: 6-3 Weight: 220lbs
* Shoots: R

My junior career after the hop.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Postgame: Linus Christ

Balls. Either you got 'em or you don't. Ales Hemsky has balls; it's the same quality of character that allows Hemsky to try the exact same toe-drag dangle 5 minutes after getting knocked on his ass for it. Linus Omark has balls. I mean you can go on and on about his elite edge control, his ultra smooth stick handling, or his sometimes omnipresent passing - no question he's got a boatload of hockey talent. But more then all of those things, Omark has and plays with the huevos of a star, the cohones of a champion, the jujubes of -- well you get the idea.

When he's got the puck on his stick you get the sense that he is willing to try just about anything, and it's almost like hes more comfortable with a hulking defenceman draped across his back. It's like he's mentally processing that's one less guy that can block my pass. He's not muscling guys in the corner (because he can't really) but there were a couple of puck retrievals where he used hand dexterity and his ninja profile to get a puck back to the point or forward to say a waiting Paajarvi.

Of course, and actual hockey game went down during the resurrection as well. I think there were probably four key things that I noticed about the game:
  1. The Oilers did not lose the special teams battle. They didn't win either, but for the Oilers not losing the special teams battle sometimes seems like a minor miracle.
  2. The Oilers dominated the goaltending battle. Mason was about as far removed from Calder form as Sarah Palin is from Russia. At least two soft goals, and a poor choice on Boucher's part to leave him in between the first and second period. He'd been yanked 2 of his last 3, how does a coach keep him in? The Oilers were being demolished on the shot clock. Columbus had more shots in the first 9 minutes then the Oilers have had in games this year.
  3. The Oilers dominated the goaltending battle. Khabibulin, on the flip side, was full marks for making a lot of grade A scoring chances look routine. He wasn't just stopping them, he was not giving up easy rebounds. If not for his heroics in the first, this is a different game no question.
  4. The young guns had some pop. Eberle boosted his point total to 22 points with two excellent goals. In doing so he climbed into a three way tie for the rookie scoring lead with Skinner and Couture. Hall had his first 3 point night of his young career, and while he wasn't quite the dynamo like versus the leafs, he was making great touches all over the ice. Paajan was playing that solid north-south game he seems to favour, and seemed to have some decent chemistry with Jesus Omark.
All said and done that was more than enough checkboxes to give the Oilers a fairly easy evening. The third period hat trick goal by Huselius might as well have been a Dolphin's tear in the sea for all it mattered.

Individual players and a conclusion after the hop.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Postgame: Why we hate Phaneuf

Exhibit A, the sexy Elisha Cuthbert on the right here, who is shacking up with Dion Phaneuf (and gives me an easy way to slip eye candy into the postgame write-up). I think in some general sense we always find opposing villains easy to dislike due to their gorgeous women, their preposterous salaries, and their global fame. Sometimes though, the opposing villain makes it easy, like when Phaneuf decided to beak the Oilers bench after scoring the opening goal. His Cro-Magnon jaw wagged beneath his Cro-Magnon dome that was probably struggling with output that went something like: 'Me score good, you stupid!'.

Dion, I don't mean to tell you your business, but when you have two goals in your last 39 games, and your first in like 30 of those, I'm not sure that's the correct time for a 'so there suckas'. The Oilers absolutely creamed the Leafs in the first period after that, with Hall having a fistful of scoring chances all to his'self. I'd tell Phaneuf to make a mental note but I'm pretty sure that would break his brain.

Anyways, as far as the game goes it was a repeat of all of the same highs and lows that have plagued the Oilers this season. Based on the previous games checklist we managed to tick off three of the important boxes: crap power play, crap penalty kill, and allowed the first goal. At this point I think the Oilers should be putting out calls to Voodoo doctors of the deep jungle and get them to cast some spells because getting Foster to slam another point shot into a defenders shin-pad does not seem to be the ticket.

Ultimately the special teams problems were our downfall even after a powerhouse first period that could have seen the Oilers up by 4.

Thoughts on individuals and a conclusion after the jump.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Postgame: The Sisters and Stifling D

The above represents the German representation of 'F*&^ing had 12 shotsallgame'. Twelve shots! The break down was 4 - 7 - 1 in order of the periods, and if it wasn't for Eberle's (nice) curl and snipe with 4.5 seconds left, we would have tied for the teams record low (11). As an Oilers fan I recognize that Vancouver has a team with responsible centers that win faceoffs, a fat, snowman of a goalie, and a solid, intelligent game plan, but that is no excuse for one shot in the third period when your team is desperate for two goals.

There wasn't a lot of good to report in this game, and for whatever reason the team seems to be encountering exactly the same game flow regardless of who they are playing. This involves the some or all of the following:

  • Getting outshot badly in the first period (12/29 we have been outshot by at least 2:1)
  • Allowing the first goal (19/29, see above)
  • Going 0-for on the PP (14/29)
  • Allowing at least one goal on the PK (19/29)
  • Becoming emotionally involved by the mid way point (maybe try the start of the game?)
  • Outscoring the opponent in the third period (13/29, yay us)
The third period goal scoring is nice but the rest of those are symptoms of a team that has serious puck possession, game plan, and special teams problems.

Some thoughts on individual performances after the hop.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Stopper

As a part of this ongoing series about the various holes in the Oilers lineup, I will finish the discussion today with probably the most important position in hockey. Mistakes from the goaltending position tend to cost teams games. Not only that, a goaltender can play lights out and still allow 6 goals. The symbiotic relationship they have with team defence cannot be overlooked; a goaltenders save percentage is as much a function of their skill as the defensive strategies of the team. So in this article I will talk about two things, do the Oilers have good goaltending (here or in the system), and do they need it for a sip from Lord Stanley's silver mouth.

It's also a position that sees meteoric rises and spectacular failures from season to season. Steve Mason put up 10 doughnuts in 61 games and a .916 save percentage to win the Calder in '08-'09 and followed it up with .901 in a 58 game campaign the next year (he was MORE experienced). Sure Hejda and Klesla lost some time, but going from near the top of the league to being basically a replacement level goaltender (see: Mike Smith, what the f#%& is Tampa doing right now with their goaltending, seriously someone tell me; Stevie Y what?) has gotta make the statisticians scratch their head.

Some Red Wings envy and Holland quot-age after the hop. And maybe some stuff about Devan 'Skyscraper' Dubnyk.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Swedish Meatball and the Tokyo Tornado

Hi, My first name is pronounced LEE-nus
On the left here is Linus Omark, the kid I lovingly refer to as the Swedish Meatball. He's a mixture of goofy goal-scoring and a meatball like composition (low center of gravity, rolls with punches), and is also the focus of many of the Oilers fanbase (mostly a drooling rabid lot). Well folks, he's been called up the papa smurf leagues and he'll probably get a look as long as Hemsky is on the IR.

He's probably most famous for an amazing shootout goal but most of the number crunchers and bloggers realize he's a bit more complete of a package than a glorified hotdog factory. His NHL equivalency numbers are solid: 82gp 18-18-36, and I have watched him enough on the world stage that I really do think he has the tools to be a legit top 6 forward in the league.

I think the main question with Linus Omark is can he play the simple game when the Oilers need it, or will he be toe dragging out of his own zone with a one goal lead with five minutes left. Regardless, as an Oilers fan I'm stoked to see him up and I hope that this is the start of a beautiful relationship.

O'Marra and new line combos after the jump.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Postgame: Oilers vs. Anaheim

There was a group of forwards that had a fairly forgettable night, mainly Cogliano, Brule, Fraser, and especially Jacques who even in his 8 minutes of ice time looks pretty much completely inept. It seems clear that a lot of the offensive might that the two tiny tykes bring is when they are being driven on the bus that Penner likes to drive when he feels like it. Peckham did not seem to get into his normal skull smashing groove and from my eyes one of the weaker games he has played in the last dozen or so.

When Horcoff went down and the line juggling commenced (Fraser taking on center roles with Brule etc) the offence seemed to struggle unless it was some two way magic with Eberle and Hall or Paajarvi and Gagner.We are not that far removed from a team that was getting clobbered and only scoring 1 or 2 goals a game. I think if Horcoff is going to miss any significant amount of time it will definitely be time for some Omark up to the big show and perhaps sliding Brule into the middle.

Some quick thoughts about last nights game after the jump.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Filling in the Backend

I was going to use Keyra to cap off this segment but that old bones Lowetide stole it for one of his posts (and it wasn't a witty innuendo tie in either). The question of filling the top pivot spot was in many respects easier then the top defenceman spot. We didn't have one on the team (apologies to a version of Sam Gagner that can grow real facial hair), didn't have one in the stables, and it's next to impossible to trade for one. In terms of a number one D-man nothing is quite so clear cut. I'll approach this topic similar to how I talked about getting a #1 C: Do we have one right now? Do we have one in the system? Can we acquire one? Do we even need one to win Lord Stanleys mug?

One question at the time, answered after the jump.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Plugging Three Holes

No, it’s not the name of a Porn movie. I’m talking about the differences between recent cup winners Pittsburgh and Chicago and an extrapolation of the Oilers current talent and roster. The general consensus is that we are missing the three following ingredients:
  1. A (big body) first line centerman
  2. A (big body) first pairing defenceman
  3. A number one goaltender
    In general I agree those are probably the three most obvious holes in the Oilers line-up, regardless of whether you’re talking about Hall arriving for the morning skate in a flying car or one with wheels. With that knowledge in hand, let’s talk about how a team might go about plugging said holes. The three obvious routes are UFA/RFA signings, trades, and finally drafting. Aside from secret Chinese cloning labs (I’d say a mix between LeBron and Crosby), I’m not sure how else a team can acquire good hockey players, so these are the three methodologies I will focus on, one hole at a time.

    Analysis after the jump.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    10 Seconds

    Andy MacDonald’s world kaleidoscopes into a black, swirly place as his helmet smashes into Horcoff’s knees. Whether it was the aging ice plant in the Oilers barn, or merely a statistically probable ‘lost edge’, Old MacDonald got his eggs cracked in a frying pan of hard plastic shin guard. The puck skitters backwards to a thick, almost bored, Ryan Whitney in his own zone. Whitney has played the game long enough to accept the vulcanized rubber with his periscope up, always up. The ice unfolds in front of him and his back-brain reacts quickly to the orange and blue flicker bursting across the red line. Whitney snaps an angled tap-pass through center ice and he who shall not be named swoops into the puck; a mixture of gawky teenaged angles and raptor speed. There is a certain aspect of the predator to this player, a certain poise, a ferocious tenacity that oozes from every choppy stride.

    The oxygen content drops a few millionths of a percent as the crowd collectively inhales, their oval seating pointing all gazes sharply inward at the unfolding spectacle. It is an arena, a palace of sweat and blood, refined surely from the days of down-turning thumbs and slaves, but still a place of gladiator spectacle. The history-forgotten St. Louis defenceman reacts quickly, but the inevitability of the opposing teenager’s speed leaves no doubt.

    An overtime breakaway for all the bananas.

    The shared intake has paused in the lungs of every fan: ready for an explosive, exulting expulsion, or a caustic chain of curse-word. The decider flashes towards a waiting Jaroslav Halák, a Slovakian stand-out, perhaps the best goalie their country has ever seen. Halák’s already churning partial C’s in the ice, treading water in a physical and metaphorical sense: the incoming cruise missile has taken away his time and his options.

    The jersey ripples behind the forward as he knifes towards the red-box that will potentially define the rest of his human life. Not even pausing a moment to wax melodramatic at perhaps lonely and focused existence of a super-athlete, two quick dekes later he has opened his grip to allow the puck to be shot from the all-reaching open forehand. All thirteen holes of daylight between the goalie and the white mesh are quickly dissected by the turbo-charged spatial centers of the young forward, and shuttled down his spine into the fast-twitchers in his arms.

    Mere milliseconds have passed, and it’s too soon for any reaction by Halák. The goalie needs more time. The rubber rockets of the synthetic swoop of stick. The few perfect moments of the puck eluding Halák’s butterfly reaction are lost to all but the lens of a high speed camera. There is time perhaps for the silent absence of one note –

    And then the crowd roar dwarfs the subtle soundwaves of knotless nylon rippling triumphantly.

    The goal scorer curls away from the goal, the fierce happiness writ on his slender face – crowd sound slams into him as he makes his turn, the air vibrations physical and gut-felt. Victory instincts kick in: arms are raised, fists pumped, flourishes flourished. The united, communal fan-brain goes pleasure center nova. Dopamine highs slam banging fists into the slender Plexiglas dividers: the inner ring’s reaction is barely removed from caged monkeys whipped into a frenzy by the arrival of the feed bucket.

    That-good-music-feeling surges through the fan base as every mind and minds-eye catches up the firm realization of a vanquished enemy, and more importantly, the arrival.

    He who shall not be named.