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.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 33: Experience Trumps Youth

Here we have Lidstrom after the
2037-2038 season
The Oilers are officially in a tailspin; paid scribes covering the team can do nothing by sludge through regurgitated 'aww shucks' quotes from the faithful leadership brigade. I usually write the opening sections of a post-game wrap untainted by Renney's recently floundering press conferences - how many creative ways can he frame a loss? The Oilers are falling out of the sky with huge tendrils of flame streaming behind, and any resulting impact with rock bottom will surely shitcan the entire management superstructure and the ancillary coaching tendrils. It's inevitable that as a group our anger will increase, our judgments become clouded with rage, and it's likely we will lose some of the early season perspective that had some of our most stalwart supporters expecting a bottom 10 finish.

The Detroit Red Wings are a team that will probably mummify before they fall out of the truly elite ranks. The eventual loss of cybernetic Lidstrom -- who to my eye is clearly declining on the ice these days -- will leave a hole that it's doubtful any winged wheel will be able to fill. Don't take my mild slam of Lidstrom too seriously though, he was still integral in the Detroit victory tonight (lethal shot pass on the GWG), and even a depleted uranium version of Niklas is still a solid #1 guy.

So, why did the Oilers lose? They lost because like usual they didn't spend enough time in the opposition zone, or maybe more importantly, they can't seem to chomp down on the bit when the games are at crucial inflection points. We had 5 shots in the third period, and 23 overall, which flat-out is unacceptable. Belanger got a point tonight but is going to remain tied to my whipping post because of his basic lack of ability to make anything happen in the offensive zone. He had two shots, and coach Renney has finally woke up to the fact that Belanger belongs on the powerplay like a pickle belongs in icecream.

Horcoff, Hemsky, and Smyth have gone ice cold. If they were beer cans their mountains would have turned a shade of blue, and whatever infectious disease has infiltrated formerely known as Hemsky seemingly has taken root in Smyth. To be fair from day one his surprising production was almost assuredly heavily bolstered by riding side-saddle with our young gun-slingers, but to go from white-hot to coors-can-cold in the space of 10 games or so is a bit more then that. The bounces that were seemingly in the right place at the right time early in the season are now skipping out the wrong way -- Horcoff's near goal for instance. Hemsky, don't get me started with Hemsky. His game was a bit better tonight; I think he was emotionally engaged and that is something that I want to see from him every night. It's kind of like we've seen with Taylor Hall, once you put a burr in his saddle, Hemsky has a bit of pick-me-up in his game that is refreshing and more importantly productive.

I don't have much to say about the kids except that they bring it most every game these days and while Gagner/Nilsson/Cogliano perhaps had as much success as this kid line, they did it playing against lesser D-pairings and weaker line match-ups. With the kids together, they seem to get the bulk of the top defensive pairings and often times the opposing top trio. What opposing teams quickly find out is that the kids, while prone to some what the fuck moments, are voracious fore-checkers and capable puck cyclers. Their dog on a bloody steak attitude is the primary offensive catalyst on most every night, and like I've said a billion times, they would be exponentially more effective if our veteran line could actually draw some heat to themselves. They've been so inept, however, that I sense most coaches are simply line matching the kids and rolling with the rest of our lineup. Perhaps the odd extra attention because of Hemsky's reputation, but even that is falling by the wayside.

As far as the defence, Whitney wasn't total garbage, and Petry continues to have possibly the best stick in the league. I watch plenty of hockey, and I don't think I've seen a single Dman in the league who uses the poke and sweep check more effectively than Jeff Petry. He literally has the best stick in the league for Dmen, and even if our entire D-core was dressed in monkey suits, I'm convinced I could recognize him simply based on how he handled his stick. He still has his gaffes and is not physical enough yet, but look at how long it took Gilbert to settle into the top pairing guy he is today. Speaking of Tom Gilbert, he remains one of our best players by a country mile. He played 21:54, and aside from Eberle/Hall was probably the best Oiler on the ice. I also think that the return of Potter has been positive, and I actually didn't think the Oilers were particularly outchanced. They may still have some of the defensively sound DNA that brought them such success early in the season.

Onwards to some one-offs and a bow.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 32: Merry Christmas, We Suck

All I want for Christmas is a capable D-core
Unfortunately my post-game heading is spiked with some vitriol as I'm again forced to spin another yarn about how the Oilers couldn't get the job done. We are 2-7-1 in our last 10, and we are losing traction on yet another season. Granted there were a lot of moron 'analysts' who pegged the Oilers at 29th overall or so, but it especially stings after the stingy strong hockey we opened the season with. I could still rue calling them morons I suppose, but at least we will have a shot at Yakupov then -- high draft picks are like hemorrhoid cream on the ass of a team taking a burning shit.

On the flipside was a team that does not look especially like a team that is a western conference heavyweight. CBC had a graphic that showed some ridiculously daunting goal-drought statistics. Over the last month, Havlat, Thornton, and Marleau had combined for something like 3 goals before coming into tonight (they each potted one). Thornton has never been a huge goal scorer -- pass first mentality if there ever was one -- but he's on pace for 14 goals this year. That would be his lowest total in the NHL since he was a rookie and potted 3 in 55 (clearly playing a player at 18 who is not ready for the NHL does not 'ruin' him -- wheres the evidence?).

As far as the outing tonight, the Oilers basically played the Sharks even aside from a few lulls where our 4th line got totally outclassed (Hordichuk is not going to help Renney stay employed). The kid line had a number of dangerous shifts and Eberle's goal was absolutely magical. That was a world class goal and unfortunately it was wasted in an Oilers effort that basically had three major defensive gaffes. Each gaffe gave up a premium scoring chance: 2 goals that had a 1000% chance of going in, and another where Khabi went against Jumbo Joe 1v1 and lost. The first goal would have made me mad during one of my division 8 ball hockey games. Any time there is a clear cut 2v0, someone has to have really fucked up.

I thought Khabibulin basically played a solid game, with only the Thornton goal being stoppable, and it was still a bang bang play with Khabi left out to dry. He maintains a top-level save percentage, and I still think he actually has played his best hockey since coming to us as a dubious ST signing. Gagner and Hemsky both looked like lost sheeples out there, and Hemsky especially is seemingly melting before our very eyes. His best asset is passing and I can't be the only one that has noticed how poorly he has been passing the puck recently. He rarely seems to be making saucer passes, and while he's normally good for 10 tap in helpers a season (pro-rated, he's not exactly made of stainless steel here), I think we've seen maybe one this year. Rumours of him being on the block are heating up and I can't help but wonder if maybe the time to trade him is now, while he still has much of his value (a tad less because of a slow start to his season). It would break my heart, but at the end of the day it's a business, and Hemsky remains a commodity that you know some teams will be very interested in (Kaberle got traded to Montreal, typical shit move by their shitty GM, and yet Jacques Martin gets fired). On a mildly smile-inducing side-note, PRV went pointless and scored a shootout winner in the Barons 3-2 shoot-out win in his AHL debut. Pony power.

So now we really need to ask ourselves, is this Oilers team awful again? Well I'll give you one statistic that should at least give you a tiny bit of Christmas-miracle hope. The Oilers are currently 24th in the league by points (it's still pretty bunched up though), and yet they are 13th by goal differential. Granted they have earned much of that positive differential when they climbed to as high as second in the league, but regardless, there are plenty of teams in the playoff picture that are at least on a level field with the Oil drop when it comes to GD. In the East, for instance, there are three teams currently above the playoff cut with negative goal differentials. While goal differential isn't exactly the same as team performance, it is pretty close, and by the end of the season sorting by goal differential or points invariably leads to two very similarly ordered lists. I think the correlation between GD and Points is something like 0.85 -- but don't quote me, look it up.

The primary weakness this current batch-load of blue has is the basic inability to dominate stretches of hockey offensively, and the bottom 4 defenders. Until Tambo gets serious about bringing in some elite defensive help (Ryan Suter would sure look good in Oilers silks), and figures out a way to pick FA players that won't rob Katz blind, I suspect we will have plenty of more downs before we have an ascent into the stratosphere of the league.

A few individuals after the hop, and then quotes from Oilers as they try to explain why this team can't buy a fucking win.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Predictive Quality of Early Season Results: The Holland Date

Yes, calling ToArray() in a for loop is inefficient -- thankfully
the calculations happen faster than I can perform a GET on the page
About a month ago I was struck with the idea that the Oilers were probably not going to be a top 5 team in the NHL this season. The real question I had was regarding how predictive the early results would be in determining the eventual finish of the club. I had heard a quote from an NHL GM, Ken Holland, put forth in an Eric Duhatscheck story. The thought mirrored my own when I was teasing an answer from the 'common sense' department of my brain regarding predictability of final results from early ones: teams generally show their mettle fairly early in a season. Certainly enough that we can have a rough idea of the top and bottom of the league. I just wanted to see when that date was, and how predictive it ended up being. Here is the top part of that story:
Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has a theory about the NHL playoff race that makes a lot of sense. He believes that after Thanksgiving weekend, NHL teams move in a pack.
If they were good early, chances are they'll be good the rest of the way, or at least good enough to make the playoffs.
He also believes that if a team struggles in the early going, it'll probably struggle the rest of the way to make the playoffs.
Once in a great while, a team rallies all the way back to make the playoffs. The San Jose Sharks did it the season they acquired Joe Thornton on Nov. 30, when they were mired in 10th place.
Mostly, though, teams that get out of the gate well are usually the ones left standing as May turns into June and the Stanley Cup playoffs get down to the final four. - Erik Duhatscheck, ,
Basically I wondered if I took a look at standings data in a step-by-step process, at which point would the point pace/win percentage became valuable for early prediction. Thankfully my day job is programming the infernal machine, and as you can see from the code snippet above, I wrote a quickie web-spider/data processor to scour standing data from and this gave me a nice set of data points for every day within a given season.

Charts and methodology after the hop.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 28: Time Bandits

I would have titled this post Ass Bandits in closer relation to how the Oilers played but this is a family site.
Time Bandits was a movie from 1981 featuring Sean Connery, and was a surprisingly awesome film in a schlocky, midget-exploiting kind of way. It featured a cadre of thieves that stealth through time and steal treasure. Not so much different from the three hours that the Oilers stole from me tonight. It was the kind of awful effort that makes me want to invent new swear words. How about about, the Oilers played like a bunch of cumsterfucks. Except they played worse then that, considering the ugly white and red uniforms pitted against them. The bodies inhabiting those happened to sport the worst defence in the league, the worst winning percentage in the league, and a starting goaltender with a sub .900 save percentage. They were playing an Oilers team that needed to start winning some games, and had recently been treading water with sub-par effort after sub-par effort. The Hurricanes were a team playing back-to-back games, whereas the Oilers had just enjoyed a nice rest at home with plenty of practice.

And folks, they laid a dinosaur egg tonight. Not the normal kind of egg you might see coming from underneath a Jewish caricature in the Borat movie either. We are talking Brontosaurus sized, brown and blue speckled, feed-the-village-for-a-month egg. It was reverse night, as Gilbert made a number of critical mistakes, and the top-two lines sucked more knob than Monica Lewinsky circa 1997. This has been a trend recently, as the Smyth, RNH, and Eberle line have managed a goal here and there, but no consistent 5v5 offence or momentum generation. Of course there will be lulls in the season, and no doubt they have been the Oilers best line by a Siberian mile, but you just hope for a bit more consistency at this critical juncture of the season.

Here are three primary junknozzles I want to point out that I think are harming the Oilers immensely (after the hop).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 26: Counter Flow

You can't stop the flow... But why would you want to?
After getting cream-pied in the first period by the lowly BJ's, there was a palpable sense that losing a game like this could be the lynchpin on a downward spiral into shitty season. The Oiler fan ego is a fragile one, and we are possibly the worst fan base for turning into debbie downers the moment a few rainclouds appear. Recently there were a few rainclouds, as the Oilers started off a crucial 6 game home stand with two losses (3 in a row overall), and did not look particularly sharp in any recent game.

Fortunately we slowly stepped back from the ledge with a fantastic effort in the third, and with some decent goaltending by the big guy throughout, there was enough gas in the Oilers tank by the end of the game to prevent any late charge by Columbus. It didn't hurt that we got 4 goals from sources outside of the top-6; the top 6 group has been responsible for virtually all of the early season offence, and balanced scoring is going to be key for any future success by the copper and blue.

Of course I can't prattle on too much longer without mentioning his Royal Flowness, a.k.a. Jones, a.k.a. 'The guy that all the stat-letes thought was lousy last year and would continue to be lousy'. My words regarding Jonesy have been immortalized in digital ink, and I have nothing to hide. I said Jonesy had a chance to be a solid spot duty third liner if he could improve his defensive game. He's done that, and in spades, and I still feel quite confident we got it right as bloggers last year. Last year he wasn't that great defensively (or at all), but no one could deny his opportunistic nature offensively. For that reason alone, virtually all bloggers and hardcore math-nerds were willing to give RJ another chance. That all said, he had another typical Jonesy game, and scored what I can only term a Ryan Jones hat-trick: one garbage goal, one bang-bang goal, and an empty netter. For a guy who drives a lot of his offence with hustle, sweat, and grease, it makes sense that each of the three goals had a bit of each.

Lost in the shuffle of the game was a couple other nice to see things.
  1. Smid potting another in the same calendar year is either amazing or incredible, I'm not sure, but you love to see grit guys like Smid getting rewarded for getting pucks pumped off their shins and fleshy bits. I'm almost tempted to suggest that maybe Smid still has some untapped offensive upside, but really I think that ship has sailed.
  2. Devan Dubnyk really kept the Oil drop in it early, and while he only had a couple 5-bellers to stop, there was plenty of tough shots to stop and he handled himself very well. Any one of those tough-but-saveable pucks gets by him and there is a good chance that the Blue Jackets curl up into a defensive shell and wait it out. He made 36 of 39 saves, and was the Oilers best player for the first two periods.
  3. Ales Hemsky is the kind of player that when he's only scoring at about 0.6 points a game, people start questioning if 'his heart is in it' or wonder if his 'surgically repaired shoulder is OK?'. We've seen Hemsky go soft for stretches, but invariably he opens up the playboy and gets limbered up again. His goal was a thing of beauty, and after he crushed a couple BJ's with hits in the third, it was funny how much of the MSM and blogger crowd was convinced he was going to be due for something. I guess they were right this time...
We have to be cautious with optimism though. Peckham still is stuck in defensive quicksand, and it was another goalless game for the usual suspects. There's no question, for instance, that Gagner is playing mucho burrito better than a half dozen ago, but strong play isn't enough to win games, you need results at the end of day.

Anyways, whatever malaisonnaise that coated the Oilers in the first was, let's hope we don't see much more then that, as most teams will have a more potent lineup than Derek Dorsett and Pantywaist Huselius.


Beating the worst team in the league at home that had just slid into town on a back-to-back is nothing to send flowers to Jesus about. We were actually somewhat lucky that Renney found the sniffing salts in between the 2nd and 3rd periods or else there might have been that plaintive moaning from our fickle fanbase demanding changes or proclaiming armageddon.

Now, lets beat the pants of the Flames and hopefully we can cause calgarypuck to melt in a deluge of blood-colored tears.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 25: Grime Time

Looking over the Wild roster I can't help but think that there is zero chance in any universe the Wild finish anywhere close to number 1 in the west. For starters, this is a team that sports a +5 goal differential, of which I'm sure at 3 least 3 of the +'s are SO goals versus the Oilers (unless I'm not mistaken those are counted). It's been fairly well established that goal differential is a solid indicator of actual team ability, and their 12th ranked goal differential is probably a hell of a lot closer to the their ability than what the standings indicate.

The list of how lousy Minnesota is in their underlying numbers is a long one:
  • 1.0 5v5 GF/GA, 13th
  • 14.4% PP, 23rd
  • 83.9% PK, 14th
  • 26.2 shots for a game, 27th
  • 31.3 shots against a game, 24th
  • 33 Points, 1st*
*one of these things is not like the other

Does that look like the number one team in the league? Not a chance. This is a mediocre team which almost assuredly will crash back to earth. They have 22 of 27 players who sport an on-ice 5v5 save percentage of over 930.

Really at the end of the day I'm only pointing out how overachiever the Wild are to frame my disappointment for this loss. This is not a team that should be beating the Oilers in our own barn after we built a 2 goal lead on consistently superior play. Their defence is mostly a whiskered, low-cost, lunch-pail brigade, and their offence is mostly cast-aways and checking forwards. It frustrates me to no end that teams like that are reaching such success by grinding out every last little bit of free-flowing joy from the game (perhaps I'm being a bit sensational, but no one is ever going to mistake the Wild for an exciting team).

Some other notes from the game:

  • The reffing was a cross between ringette and beer league reffing. Soft calls all over the place and a complete lack of consistency. I'd say Jackson and Hebert need some remedial reffing lessons.
  • Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, and Smyth are magical wood fairies in the offensive zone. Nuge is a lubricated trojan out there, screwing everyone with his slippery moves. Eberle is an incredible cycler and soft-spot deliverer. Smytty is Smytty
  • Peckham continues to struggle to find a balance between sucking and not sucking that much. Still too much suck in his game.
  • Whitney still is nowhere near his old ability level. His defence has become something of a liability, and I'm getting more concerned as he plays more games and his level does not seem to rise.
  • Sam Gagner is coming on strong after a bell-end first quarter, and he was snake-bit this game on a couple of close chances. If he keeps this up, he may still have a shot at 40 P's.
  • Nikolai Khabibulin is a lousy shootout goalie. Stop. The indians are in the gorge. Full stop.
  • Belanger seems like he should be an effective player with his wheels and puck smarts, but when is the last time you remember him making a great offensive play? How many great offensive plays has he made all season? How much more power play time can he possibly fucking receive until Renney realizes Belanger is raping my eyes with his suck. This is a guy on pace for 20 points. Stop the madness already.
Some singletons after the gap and then a denouement.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 22: Afternoon Delight

This is Amber Heard. She is both proof for and against a god.
For: She's into girls.
Against: She's into girls.
Much ballyhooing was made of the 'since time immemorial' curse of the Minnesota Wild. We had not escaped from St. Paul with a victory in the last 17 attempts (0-14-3), and they showed a remarkable statistic that the Oilers had held a lead for something short of 90 minutes out of a possible 1000 or so. That tells you how badly the Oilers had been put on the rack and stretched by the suffocating no-budget defence-first system.

Thankfully, relief came early for the Oilers, as Jebbers crafted a cute little goal by button-hooking off an outside drive and sliding the puck into the blue that Smyth jam-jobbed behind Harding. It was exactly the kind of mixture of skill and sweat that a dynamic duo of Eberle and Smyth can bring to the table on a nightly basis. Smyth creates havoc, and Eberle distributes and occasionally snipes.

Ever since the kid line has been broken up, there seems to be a slightly better mixture of attributes between the top 6 -- not that there was anything glaring before -- but each line has a responsible centerman (RNH/Horcs), a guy who can distribute (Hemsky/Eberle), and a wrecking ball/garbage man (Smyth/Hall). It has also meant that, generally speaking, Hall is forced to face tougher competition. A quick check shows that this is true, as Hall's Corsi Rel QoC (Relative Corsi Quality of Competition: a measure of how often the player faces opponents who are outshooters), is splitting away from his former linemates (becoming a larger positive, indicating he's facing tougher opposition). This isn't really a bad thing, as Hall has been one of the toughest defensive forwards on the team, something that generally is overlooked when talking about the Kingston Cannonball.

Moving down the lines, in lazy fashion, we arrive at the potpourri line, which features The Frenchman, The Hair, and The Hobbit, and once again there wasn't a lot of offence to speak about in their game this afternoon. Gagner and Belanger picked up their 4th and 5th assists of the season, which coincidentally is their point total, and it was as mucky a pair of assists as you'd ever see. The team would probably be performing at nearly an elite level right now if Gagner, Belanger, and perhaps Pajaarvi were performing any where near their previous expectations. Of the 15 points handed out this afternoon, 2 went to defenders (Pecks and Gilby), and 11 went to the top 6. Of course you're not going to see big numbers from your third line every game, but until Jones was bumped down, the bottom 6 had a combined one goal. That's not a lot of offensive depth, folks, and it will have to change if we will succeed this year in the unspoken about place where a silver cup is won.

Winding back to the back-end, we immediately see what a glorious, beautiful thing it is for Whitney to push Peckham into the bottom pairing, and while Whitney was actually kind of a bag of suck (compared to pre-injury Whitney), Whitney with his knob turned to suck is still a sight better than the coarse, simple game that Peckham is turning out these days. I was a huge fan, but I'm coming to think there is some kind of brain parasite living in my buildings water supply, a parasite that gives me bad optics for bottom pairing blueliners. I can't figure out where all my praise for Peckham went, but his ability to escape the zone while maintaining Oiler puck possession is almost non-existent at this point. Whitney played 16, and Peckham 18, but as Whitney eases back into a healthy state of mind (if this is possible), I would expect that see-saw of time-on-ice to reverse dramatically.

Finally, the Russian bear continues his strong play, giving the Oilers exactly what we need. A .938 effort keeps him firmly in the 3rd spot overall for save percentage, and now it just remains to be seen what kind of endurance we can expect out of the grizzled vet. Making the unspoken-of-place will be determined heavily by how well our goaltenders can maintain this level of play.

Solo selections and a curtain call after the dashed line.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 21: Dr Jekyll, meet Mr Hyde

"'O God!' I screamed, and 'O God!' again and again; for there before my eyes--pale and shaken, and half fainting, and groping before him with his hands, like a man restored from death--there stood Henry Jekyll!"
- Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Chapter 9

Like the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the Oilers can't seem to split the monster from the man. One night they can be a rain of quicksilver skill and youthful exuberance, and others, a ragtag bunch of of hairless weasels. Their offence has oscillated from lizards-asshole dry to jungle abundant, and the teleporter room has been busy on the back-end as we zap fresh faces in and out of existence on our blue line. Through it all the Oilers have managed a respectable 11-8-2 record - 13 overall in the league, with a 13th ranked offence and a 13th ranked defence*.

*cover your eyes if you are superstitious

On this night, they were more beast than doctor, and while the distinction is arbitrary, this writer has decided the beast nature is scoring goals. For the second time in three games, the Oilers offence and scintillating skill dismantled the opposing team for a solid 2/3rds of the game. The shots after the first period were 13 to 3, and remove the arena, you would have thought the Oilers were playing at home. Rinne let out some so-so rebounds and maybe could have thwarted the Oilers with a couple of highlight reel stops, but it wasn't so much a product of his underwhelming work, it was more a product of the team around him not being ready to play.

When Lindback came out to start the second you knew the Predators would probably make a concerted effort to push back -- see if we were as tough as we showed in the first period. Their counter-attack was consistent in the middle frame and there seemed to be small eddies of mustard yellow oozing into the Oilers zone on a regular basis. Even though the Oilers got trounced on the shot clock 18-7 in the middle frame, Dubnyk was calm and capable in net, and gave the Preds no reason to think they were going to get back into it. It was a bamboo middle frame for the Oilers, and when the third rolled around, the 4th goal of the game by the pocket playboy officially sucked the rest of the blood out of the SabreCat veins.

Speaking of the pocket playboy, Jordan Eberle showed you why he's going to be a premiere offensive player in the league for a long time. What can't the kid do? He passes, shoots, and dekes at an elite level, and actually wins his fair share of board battles, all packed into a 5'10 frame. His two goals tonight were something I expected to see a bit more of from Jordan, basic snipe jobs enabled with some slick-stick puck sickness. I think both his goals were under the blocker, and while they don't have the same pop as bottle-blasting ceiling jobs, it is a perfect example of Jordan's game. He gets the job done.

Aside from Jebbers, the usual suspects were doing the damage for the Oilers. The top six has been the top six, and once again Horcoff has been Scorecoff, Hemmer has had two breakaway goals in two games, and Ryan Smyth -- 10th in league scoring -- was traded for Colin Freaking Fraser. Oh yea, and the Hopkins kid? He's 11th in league scoring.

The defence was really the only sore spot in the game, and by defence I specifically mean the bottom three defenders. Alex Plante, I'm afraid to say, looks like he has a zero percent chance of becoming anything but a bottom pairing defender. For a supposedly big-bodied, physical guy, he was getting rag-dolled by much smaller players, and that's ignoring the fact that he moves at the pace of a segway out there. Tuebert to my eyes was marginally better (he actually had 1:15 on the PK), but that's like saying Ouzo is better than Sambuca - they are both pretty awful in my books. Just constant running around, bad passing, and generally being turned into giant, bumbling pretzels under the mildest third line pressure imaginable.

Peckham to my eyes also continues to struggle, and is actually the reason I advocate a trade from Tambellini that goes further than a stop-gap style depth defender. Peckham might do as bottom pairing for a borderline playoff team, but I'm not sure he's shown me I want him in the #5 slot for a game in the Stanley cup final. I almost wanted to go back in time to last season where I was mildly impressed with him. Did I imagine Teddy Peckman as a competent defender? Was I viewing him through a fractal haze of purple-blotter acid? How long could we maintain? I wondered. How long until one of us starts raving and jabbering at this boy? What will he think then?

Some singletons and a denouement after the click.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 19: Weapons of Mass Destruction

Yea I went for the *really* big photo today, to represent the amount of ass kicking the Oilers dished out
It's not every day the NHL's top team comes waltzing into our barn with their fannies still red from getting bottom-blasted 300 clicks south. You'd expect a certain amount of beast nature to be exhibited by the road team, especially one that beat the stuffing out of us recently, and is playing against our severely injury ravaged blue line. You had Hall on a 9 game goalless drought, and some recent practices with the kid line broken up. The Oilers had sucked plenty of hind-banana over the last 4 games -- all losses -- and I'm sure the pessimists were prognosticating a crossed-t-and-dotted-i type performance out of the once removed cup champs.

Of course,the hockey gods like to play dice once and a while. On this night, for whatever reason, they were rolling a stream of 7's for the Oilers, and the results were staggering:

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins0-5-5 +3
Tom Gilbert1-3-4 +0
Jordan Eberle1-3-4 +2
Taylor Hall3-0-3 +2
Shawn Horcoff1-2-3 +1
Jeff Petry0-3-3 +5

At some point you could do nothing but lean back on your couch with a toothy grin on your face and enjoy the ride. I mean the Oilers were speed-bagging Chicago in the johnson from puck drop, and were a pack of baying wolves right up until the last second of the game. Hemsky's sexy partial-break goal a minute in eventually got buried under an avalanche of future Oilers offence, but Hall was smart to key on the goal as being a big part of the eventually W. They had been handled easily in the first period by their last 4 opponents, and getting ahead seemed to allow them to breathe properly.

Also contributing was the shaky goaltending of Emery, who probably signalled the start of the stampede when he let in an absolutely ghastly bad angle backhander from Ryan Flow. Once the team has to start worrying about the stay-puff marshmallow man minding their net, the tightness and lack of confidence seems to permeate all aspects of that teams game. And let's be honest, with some of the three-headed monsters we've had carouselling through the Oilers goal in the past, we know a thing or two about how bad goaltending can affect team performance. Khabibulin played an OK game opposite of the hipless wonder, but he also let in a softie so it's hard to say he was really dominant. By the time he was making most of his saves, the team in front of him was playing with a lead that varied between 4 and 7 goals.

You can't blame just Emery, however. Chicago was playing a pretty deep, soft stance in their own zone, and when you don't stand up the Oilers speedier players, they get to that scoring horseshoe (that I always blab about) and start doing damage. The offence was also heavily bolstered by a 4 for 7 power-play, and it was one of those nights where all the bounces just seemed to end up in the back of the oppositions net.

There were a couple of footnotes to the game that still will twitch a few whiskers. For all the explosion of offence, once again virtually all of it came from the top 6. In a 9 goal game, Gagner, Belanger, and Pajaarvi all went pointless. This is considering they all got a decent amount of 5 on 5 and PP time -- the coach wisely started boosting their shifts when the game was out of reach for CHI. I do think that we saw some flashes of a better version of all three tonight, but its hard to say when the other team was bent over the pommel horse and getting the wrong end of a rawhide belt. If the Oilers are going to have any shot of making the playoffs, we can't have Pajaarvi on pace for 4 points.

Individuals after the hop, and then a final word.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 18: Eye Raped

I don't know who this is, but this was my exact face
after period one
I imagine there is a moment in every rape victims life when a some small, innocuous happening brings all the feelings of revulsion and helplessness bubbling back to the surface even against all efforts to the contrary. Well the Oilers raped me for two seasons, and tonight's game was the brush of stranger's fingers across the back of my neck. It was the part of the movie where I curl up in the fetal position in my shower, fully-clothed, and mix my warm tears into a cold shower. It was my fault. No one was making me watch the Oilers. I was asking for it, considering they had been so bad for so long. I deserved it!

I don't even really want to get into the details - I mean, I will, but it's just going to be a big rant, so screw you and read it. This was a turd-cake with shit frosting, sprinkled with crap nuggets. We managed a pathetic 24 shots, against a team that has the 4th worst defence in the league. Our goalies couldn't stop a three-legged turtle, and the official I-want-to-wear-Khabibulin's-jock-on-my-face fan club has disbanded. More Dmen down to injury, slumps spiraling into infinity, and finally, all of the bad mojo that pustulated on the flesh of the former franchise is forming red bumps underneath the skin once again.

For a moment, the Oilers played the game as I expected them to: a team that had lost 3 in a row on the road coming into their home barn with a throaty, anxious crowd awaiting them. For the first 7 minutes they ran the Senators ragged, like the eventual lottery team should look like. And then a couple fuck-ups, and the Oilers lay a couple eggs in their own zone and voila it's 2-0 after 9 seconds of giving it to the neighbour's dog. I'm not sure what the game plan was, but if it was 'play like pantywaists and allow AHL talent to walk all over you', then mission accomplished on this night. Because that's what they did. All of that jump and fire immediately vanished from the Oilers game, and aside from Nugent-Hopkins, the rest of the team folded up shop and boarded up the windows for the hurricane known only as Zenon Konopka.

Zenon fucking Kenopka scored against the Oilers tonight. His career high in the NHL is 4 goals, and over his last 208 games, he's scored 9 goals. Dubnyk looked like a downs-syndrome breakdancer on the goal, but really the game was long over at that point. I was already beyond frustrated at Debrusk who was making fucktarded statements like 'they have really put the pressure on the Oilers tonight'. Oh you mean their MONSTER 3 shot second period? No, no, wait you mean their POWERHOUSE 6 shot third period? Perhaps it was their relentless physical game led by Michalek, Spezza, and Da Costa? Give it a rest Debrusk - I give Ottawa no credit. We sucked hard enough that we might have lost to a WHL team tonight.

After the game Renney had a couple of quotes that further pissed me off:

"We had a good first period going and then they got their 2-on-1 goal and we didn't do a good job recovering." - Coach Renney
Gee you think? He also mentioned that Jeff Petry's hurt hand is getting x-rays, but he thinks it will be fine. The last time he said someone was going to be fine, it was Whitney, and he missed a month. I'll take my medical information from Renney like I'll take my Rhinoceros cock, none at all please.

Not much point in doing a write up on individuals tonight: everyone sucked.


Zenon fucking Kenopka.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 16: Dose of Reality

Oilers fans just got a little more Red Pill tonight
It was inevitable that at some point the clock would strike 12, the glass slipper would not fit, and the carriage would become a goopy, gut-filled pumpkin. The Oilers should not be cowed by the declining-but-still-good Detroit Red Wings, and certainly should not be backing down physically to their slight -- and mostly soft -- Euro-flavoured team.

There was only one player who I actually really liked in the game tonight, and it's probably somewhat predictable considering we lost the game because of inferior battle and physicality. I doubt they gave him a star, nor will he be praised much in print, but I thought Ryan Jones quietly displayed the kind of fight and I've-got-the-crazy-eyes that the team needed right from the disc dropping to the H20.

Aside from that, we simply did not flex any of our supposed team traits: air-tight D, tenacious back-pressure and checking, and rock-solid goaltending. Not to say Khabibulin was bad, but he struggled with rebounds and was beat cleanly by a Kronwall piledriver from 50 out. Not like .964 was ever going to be sustainable, and really we should expect the Oilers to show a little more offensively with the lineup they have -- i.e. provide more run support.

Belanger is starting to piss me off more than a Scotiabank commercial. Some of the worst, dumbest, most asinine commercials on TV, and that's how much Belanger has been sucking. He's made one nice play on Smytty's PP goal last game, and his staggering stat-line of 16gp 0-2-2 with 20sog is leaving much to be desired... Like for instance a competent NHL centerman. I rag on Stajan for making 3.5M for the next 3 years, but Belanger is in basically the same boat. Thankfully he's making almost half the amount of Stajan (god that was a bass-ackwards signing). He's still -- somehow -- averaging about 1.5 minutes of PP per game. If I was the coach I would plant his ass on the pine during the PP until he can show me some 5v5 offence.

*And let me tell you, those Scotiabank commercials really fucking piss me off. "You're richer than you think" -- well gee, if I'm a fucking moron who can't handle my own money than yea, maybe I'm surprised to find that crumpled up 5 dollar bill trapped underneath a couch cushion -- while I drool on myself

 The veteran line wasn't particularly effective tonight, which is forgivable since they have had a run of a lot of strong, two-way games. Sometimes the god of bouncy black rubber puck decides to bounce it just a few inches to the left and turn a potentially heroic night into a humdrum effort. Hemsky still seems to be rounding his game out, and while he can still put it on a string and huff catnip, his cat-like abilities aren't generating a lot of in zone chances quite yet. He's 5gp 0-4-4, and you'd expect that if he's going to have anything resembling a big year, he's going to need to shoot and score a bit more.

The kids had a few shifts with some heavy forechecking, but were scoring as much as they would during their grade 10 Halloween mixers (although wow is that ever changing in the age streaming porn and chat roulette). The kids really can look brilliant at times, but really I'm just concerned they are not doing much more than maintaining possession and buzzing around the ice. It's positive they can have a couple monster shifts a game, but for the love of god, shoot the puck more. The line only had 4 shots combined, even though they averaged about 14 minutes of time at evens.

The D-core is looking a lot shakier against better opponents right now, and much of the early season mysticism surrounding Potter is now starting to resolve into a more even keel picture of the big guy. He stays cool still, but when pressured he can have a tendency to make a bad pass or give-away (to be fair this is generally universal amongst Dmen to some extent - except Lidstrom, who is a cyborg). I'm not really down on him (yet), but he's played his two worst games in a row here.

Theo Peckham is starting to firmly establish his game now. Which is to say he's showing his cement block feet and general lack of finesse when moving the puck out of the D zone. I was one of his boosters last year as a guy who was playing dependable, simple hockey, but perhaps with a bigger engine on the car we need a more agile suspension -- or some other weird not-exactly-well-thought-out analogy indicating we need better pucks out the back to help the forwards generate. Peckham isn't even really bringing the wrecking ball to his game recently, and he's only credited for 13 hits this year, something like a hit per game. That's simply not enough, and I'm seriously tempted to drop the Mulatto Mauler moniker. I hope this stagnation is not permanent, but I'm definitely craving a more dynamic option in the #4-5 hole.

Long story short, Detroit looked like the better team, played like the better team, and won the game without giving up a lot to the Oilers even when we pushed a little bit.
"We had small successes along the way, but that's a good team that took advantage. Our battle level weaned as time went on." -Renney
Some individuals and a curtain call at the conclusion.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 14: Blue Collar Boys

Yes, it's Toews with the cup. Right before two girls show up.
The Oilers have been a bit like a sports-fan gloryhole recently, providing the same basic pleasures, but without the visual excitement. If the word gloryhole conjures up greasy, dim, piss-yellow-lit backrooms, well it's sort of an analogy of the Oilers play recently. It's grimy, it's a bit ugly, and its delivering results. The Habs sawed off the first period with the Oilers -- perhaps out of respect for their record or speed --  but once they realized the Oilers could be roughed up and outskated a little bit, they cranked it up and took it to us fairly firmly for the last 30 or so of the game. If you want a stat that paints the picture of pablum the Oilers produced offensively, consider this: the Oilers had 8 shots at EV total.

Thankfully for the baying stats wolves -- they can't wait to jump on the Oilers shot differential which is starting to devolve into ugly -- we have a certain goaltender who is sporting nanoscopic 0.98 GAA and an unfathomable 0.964 save percentage. He's played so well that I can't even bend my fingers to type out the usual Khabibulin slam or slander referring to his veins running clear or something of that nature. He's simply played too well. It's not like he's been a product of a Lemaire-built steel trap; he's had to make some legitimate hammer-time stops. The guy is confident, battling hard, and making virtually every stop that is expected of him. At the end of the day, all you can say is молодец.

To be honest, I wasn't totally displeased with the Oilers defensive effort on the night. We saw a lot of good things. Typical Petry, for instance, who can play huge swathes of games with nothing but his impeccable poke-check on display, and a basic, smooth performance, only to watch him make a soft give away with about 80 seconds to go in a game the Oilers lead by a single goal. He really looks like a stud oftentimes but it's clear he's going to need some seasoning before he can play top opposition. As far as out top pairing, Smid and Gilbert continue to look like top pairing guys for the most part, and aside from one shaky play in the third, they had another big minute (Smid 22:13, Gilbert 24:08) hard-nosed (surprising from Tommy boy) game.

The forward equation was a bit uglier. I have to give it to Debrusk, once and a while he actually shows some pointed observational skills and frames in a way that doesn't make me cringe (see: every time Principe opens his mouth -- yes he's a love or hate kind of guy, I'm in the hate group). He said that the Oilers were not being urgent enough in the neutral zone. I agree with you 100%, big guy. I saw Lander, RNH, Belanger, and Gagner all get back checked, pick-pocketed and generally owned in the neutral zone by CH forwards and they simply were simply going rape-victim when they felt a little pressure on their backside. The kids pulled off one of their shifts of pocket-sized, phone-booth wizardry in the third, but besides that it was easily RNH's worst game of his young career.

One trio that was playing the neutral zone game the right way, the veteran line, is actually a microcosm of the Oilers success this season: for every time that one part of the team sea-saws back to the ground, the other half takes off. Except that for most nights the threesome playing the game from above is whoever is paired with Horcoff and Smyth. Smyth has been absolutely full value this season, and whatever karma/zen/spiritual happiness he acquired by returning to his roots, it has spilled full force into his game. Smyth has been making almost no mistakes and providing a brand of offence that really no one else on the team seems to have figured out. There was even a little bit of magic fairy dust sprinkled on Ryan Jones as he scored a nice shortie tonight that was basically the reason the Oilers won.

I have a feeling that Renney was pretty grumpy in between the second-third and postgame as well. I figure he marched into the room and gave them about as firm a scolding a young team can handle after a gritty 3-1 win on the road. If you need evidence of this, look no further than this gem of a quote from him post game:
"I’m glad Khabby found the rink tonight. It took the other guys a little while to get here." - Tom Renney
Individuals and a bow on it after the leap.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 13: Guts, No Glory

Vampire Smyth does not sparkle in sunlight
Dave Tippett is a guy who has managed to produce some remarkable results with a lunch-pail brigade, a couple of sound defensive mantras, and a basic lack of empathy for anything resembling exciting hockey. He's had 40 or more wins 7 of his 8 NHL head coaching seasons, and is another in a long line of coaches that really has zero option except to employ a basic sandpaper strategy to win games because miserly scrooges run the front-office finances. I suppose you can't really blame the dude, defensively sound hockey has proven time and time again that it can trump virtually all offensive strategies, and it's been a rare team in the modern era that has scored its way to hoisting the silver mug of Stanley.

Strangely enough, the Oilers have become something of a carbon copy of such a team: a defensive juggernaut with modest offensive output. In constrast to the desert dogs, however,  we have a rich owner (they have none), a fanatical mouth-foaming fanbase (they have none), and we are stocked to the johnson in offensive talent (who? Doan? Kyle Turris? Vrbata?).

On this night, in the mirror match extravaganza, the 'Yotes made a few more good plays, blocked a few more key shots, and generally were slighty stingier overall. The Smid call that led to the Aucoin PP blast was total bullshit - at least based on the replay CBC showed me. The game was tight enough, in a feudal warfare kind of sense, that one lousy reffing call was enough of sand-bag on the scale to tip the final result. The Jones cross-check in the dying moments was also conveniently missed, even though he had just handled the puck, and surely both refs had a clear line of sight to the infraction. Maybe if the Oilers get that PP, the game gets tied up, and then we'd need Nostradamus to sort out the result.

Alas, it was not meant to be, and like we all suspected but could not prove, the Oilers will not finish with 158 points - it is now a mathematical impossibility. Honestly, this writer might be concerned if it looked like we didn't deserve to be in the same building as the Yotes, but we played well enough to maybe sneak out a point or a W. After being stifled in grubby Tippett tactics in the second, we found our walnuts in the third and managed a pushback that got us within a shot of a different result. The shots ended up 30-26 for the desert dogs and Dennis had the scoring chances 14-13 for them as well. In reality, a close game decided by a PP and a softie by our big guy and a slightly bigger, more experienced, and more determined Coyotes team. All in all, I felt like the Oilers basically played the same game they won them 6 in a row, and it gives me a modicum of belief they might be more successful and longer lived than a Kim Kardashian wedding.

One thing I didn't like, was the incessant fellating the CBC guys provided for the Coyotes at basically every turn. Every time an Oilers player would get hit, suddenly PHX is a team full of wrecking balls 'pushing us around' and 'making us pay the price'. They would make one simple back-check, and then it was 'expert defensive play' and we had to listen while they rattled off how incredibly dominated the Oilers were getting. It was like those two chodes were watching a completely different game. For all the lack of Edmonton offence, it wasn't like Pheonix was cycling in our zone for 16 hours and going globe-trotter on the Oilers D-core. And just when you thought those clowns were done with spewing the exact same observations about the exact same topic, they'd start up again like a first-generation Daewoo CD player skipping back to the beginning of a track. Thankfully we don't get the CBC goon-squad that often, or I might be tempted to go with radio delay and a muted TV.

Individuals and a wrap after the dashed line.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 11: Phoenix Rising

From the ashes of our dark, injury plagued failures of past, a bright future has surged forth. Most of the naysayers - including myself in some part - have been predicting an outcome for this seasons team that ranged somewhere from ****-gargling bottom dweller to a team with a sliver of a outside shot at the playoffs. There was the expectation that out goaltending was going to have question marks, that our defence might be swiss-cheese like in consistency, and perhaps the hints of an offensive juggernaut would make mewling newborn sounds.

This all has come out of the wash, 11 games in, precisely opposite to how nearly everyone has predicted. Our goaltending has been league leading, our defence downright dominating, and our offence has been merely adequate at best. Take a look at some of these mind boggling early season figures:
  • Goals against/Game: 1.46 - Number 1 in the league
  • Goals for/Game: 2.18 - Number 25 in the league
  • Team Save Percentage: 95.1% - Number 1 in the league
  • Power Play: 20.8% - Number 12 in the league
  • Penalty Kill: 89.1% - Number 4 in the league
  • Points: 16 - Number 2 in the league
Let's not start hatching plans for world domination just yet, though. We still have played the majority of our games at home (8 of 11) and all of the favourable line matching that has been occurring early in the season will quickly be tested as the Oilers embark on a 6 game road trip that will take them into the 3rd week of Movember.

This recent 4-2 swashbuckling of the St Louis Blues was another game where the Oilers demonstrated strengths on special teams and featured plenty of razzle-dazzle from the lolipop line (yea that's right, I can make up shitty nicknames for the kid line too). Smyth continued his surprising offensive contribution with a couple of G's; he's an unexpected early offensive leader, clocking in at 11gp, 5-5-10, +2. Eberle, Hall, and Hopkins are still flirting with the PPG barrier deeper into the season, and a .933 effort from Khabibulin actually dropped his save percentage.

I was especially impressed with the defensive core tonight, as they lost Sutton and Barker, but plugged the holes more than adequately with Petry and Plante. In this writers humble opinion, Jeff Petry is a better player than Cam Barker right now, and the fact that Barker is getting a look over the U.S. kid still surprises me. Petry was moving the puck out of the Oilers zone with ease and made a couple of offensive forays that really underscore his fantastic set of winged sandals and general competence for playing on both sides of center. Plante had a much smaller role (12:05 with 1 second of PK), but actually didn't look much worse than anything I would have expected out of Sutton. Perhaps it's not saying much, but for all those writing him off, it's not too late he might turn out to be a serviceable bottom pairing guy.

I think Ladislav Smid deserves his own paragraph at this point, plus he should promptly be sent a cupcake, for becoming the NHL league leader in blocked shots (make the icing black and blue). It's one of those categories that isn't surfaced on many statistical reports or on screen TV graphics, but nonetheless, for a defensive defenceman, it's a very telling stat. Let's not forget, Smid was drafted in the top 10 (9th overall in '04), and I think the expectations have oscillated from a smooth skating, 2-way defenceman, to a defensive tweener, to a top level shutdown guy. Based on the game he played tonight, where virtually all of his zone escapes and breakout passes were perfect, the needle has been firmly placed on a elite defensive defenceman. No guarantees it will last, but through the first 11 games this year, he has not wavered at all. There's no question GIlberts stellar play is also a big factor, but right now Smid is a beauty and he's all ours.

Khabibulin had a couple of monster saves at various parts of the game, and aside from that .50 caliber shot from Backes, his game was excellent, and the few times he gave out softer rebounds, the Oilers were in a solid defensive posture to ensure garbage collection was on schedule. It's probably debateable is Backes cannon was even stoppable. That puppy had heat like an Austin Powers crotch dance.

Individuals and a wrap after the cut.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 10: Pick Your Poison

I choose nun-chucks. Wait a second, is the woman considered
poison too? Hrm, still gonna go with nun-chucks.
It's a little known fact that on a yearly basis, pop machines kill more people than Sharks do. What does this have to do with the Oilers 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche? Not a lot actually unless I use some witticism like allowing 40 shots a game is as dangerous as playing with a pop machine. More likely I'm running out of ways to describe the Oilers efforts, which seem to be facsimiles of copies of clones of previous efforts.

The script goes something like:

  • Score a few goals (preferably no more than 3)
  • Allow between 0 and 2 goals (preferably 1)
  • Win the special teams battle
  • Play with grit and intensity
 The Oilers followed that formula to a tee, more or less, with the sawed off special teams result the only blemish to that game-plan.

It's hard to analyze the game without immediately pointing out the exceptional performance again by an Oilers goaltender. Devan Dubnyk had a swarm of maroon and blue bastards streaming into and around his crease all night and managed to keep his head in the game and body square regardless. He made one particularly brilliant save that actually wasn't even considered a shot. If I'm not mistaken there was a puck blown down from a Hejduk high stick, which Dubnyk got a toe on, and moments later, another Av attempted to swipe the puck in, and Dubnyk managed to get the back of his paddle on the shot and steer it away from the net. Note, this all took place after the whistle had blown. Regardless, Dubnyk played a great, tough game, and his big body was a memory-foam mattress back there. Now, who do you play next game?

It was necessary too, as the Avs completely trounced the Oilers on the shot clock, ringing up an impressive 41 to the Oilers piddly, pathetic 19. It is still clear that the Oilers have a lot of trouble generating offence off the rush, and the team speed has not really lead to a lot of odd-man situations either. As impressive as the Oilers defensive posture has been early in the season, the offence has remained relatively stagnant. The kids did not have their best night - Hallsie had a couple solo dashes and Eberle had plenty of PP touches - but the obvious decision to keep RNH remains the correct move in this authors eyes. His defensive awareness is already at an NHL level, and aside from his McLovin' type body shape, he can still skate with anyone and uses his stick well to prevent his check from doiing much.

And look at that, I was in the flow writing about the lackluster punch of the cannons aboard the Oiler ship and I started gushing about defensive game. Jesus, what has become of the vaunted run and gun Oilers, with their dynamic offence? It is like we have made a pact with a devil: we will sacrifice our dynamic offensive game and become the best defensive team in the league. Granted, we were already bags of shit at producing EV offence last year (29th if you remember), so I guess seeing more of the same is not necessarily surprising.

Speaking of offence drier than badger breath, Magnus Pony continues to be stuck in a swampland of slim production. He had one great chance off a Gagner pass, and I think we are finally seeing some storm clouds living behind the eyes of Pony. He's starting to get a little frustrated, and so are his fans, who can't help but love the huge, athletic, skilled Swede who just hasn't been able to biscuit deposit or deliver yet. I'm rooting for Pony, I really am, but I think it's time Omark got back in the lineup. Give him a game from above and some time to munch stale Skywalk popcorn and lukewarm orange drink to refresh mentally. It's not time to roll out the sophomore slump card yet, but we are getting into a red zone with Maggie.

All told, it was another gritty effort where the Oilers were basically out played, but got exceptional goaltending and timely scoring and special teams play. I'm feeling less comfortable about these defensive efforts, as we are simply giving up too much ice and allowing too many shots. The bounces are just bound to start going in against us unless we lower those shot totals against.

Individuals and conclusion, etc below.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 9: Khabi vs. Goliath

Left to right: Backstrom, Semin, Ovechkin, Chimera, and Khabibulin
On a night that featured a 17 goal game, an improbable come from behind Cardinals victory in game 6 of the world series, and an early stab at scrap of the year, it was only fitting the Oilers victory had a bit of weirdness going as well. Khabibulin was was not just a wall, he was a cliff-face of granite, and with his 34 of 35 save performance (.971), Khabibulin shot to the top of the goaltending list. Numero uno is our new savior-Russian in GAA and save percentage. By the end of the game, the former villain (and butt of every save-percentage-vs.-blood-alcohol-content joke in the league), Khabibulin, has emerged as an early - gasp, cough - MVP.

We are not even past an eighth of the season yet - grains of salt for everyone - but you can't deny he's playing as solid as anything China or Berlin could erect. It's his calmness in net, and consistency that are really striking, and while it's impossible that Khabibulin can maintain anything near his 0.964 save percentage, we might as well wring every last point out of the soggy teams on the schedule.

Once again, in a complete 180 in comparison to last year, the special teams provided the rest of the work in the victory. Two power play goals in 8 attempts was all the Oilers needed when combined with perfect 4 for 4 penalty killing. The Oilers PP crept up a spot to lucky 13th (17.5%), and the PK is firmly entrenched at the #3 spot, at 92.3%. Considering the special teams last year were more special ed, this drastic turn around still seems a little too good to be true. The personnel isn't drastically different, but Potter, Hallsie, Ebs, and The Nuge all seem to be primary reasons for early improvement. The Tic-Tac-Toe for Hall's point-blanker was the product of another divine disc delivery off the stick of the baby-faced assassin, and Eberle's goal was the product of another great Potter lightning bolt.

Fortunately the Oilers only needed two on the night, as for the most part, the Capitals played a far superior game and were basically hosed by the moronic interference by the zebras. As much as I can't really complain about the Oilers getting a gift basket of bad calls to put them on non-stop powerplays, you knew eventually some of those chump calls would come back on us. Some of the calls were correct, but stuff like the Carlson delay of game and a couple of those softer than sun-burned butter hooking calls left a lot to be desired from the jailers. We very well might have lost that game had the Capitals not been smothered under an avalanche of second period calls, but let them play hockey for gods sake.

After the second period the Capitals started flexing their well-oiled offensive biceps, and a relentless wave of red on white started pounding the puck deep and generating plenty of sizzle in the Oilers zone. There were a lot of scrappy, by-the-skin-of-their-teeth clears for the boys in blue, and the third period shot clock reflected how grim actually looked for a while there: 19 to 6. Thankfully the backchecks were basically there all night to prevent the actual breaking of the goal barrier, and Smid sopped up another 6 or 7 pucks with his shins for vacuum cleaners.

Individuals and a wrap after the break.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 8: The Kids Are Alright

A 'The Who' song, a 'The Who' documentary, and now a Academy nominated major motion picture.
Sometimes we forget the flesh and blood aspect of hockey. We become fixated on numbers and strategy, we lament cap costs and dealt picks, and the hockey player takes on the aspect of a mystical number generator. There is a disconnect between the average fan and the living, breathing pro-athlete that sometimes is hard to bridge. They live in a different stratosphere of cash, status, and fame, and every time you spot Smid shopping in Edmonton Center, sometimes you have to remind yourself he's just a likeable Czech dude with a goofy smile.

I bring this up because of some of the treatment we've seen recently towards our much vaunted prospect. Arguments are made for cap reasons mostly; RNH staying up past game 9 ensures his entry level contract starts this season, which would grant him UFA eligibility by 25, and perhaps more importantly, his first pay raise before the '14-'15 season. I have a major beef with this line of thinking that goes beyond the typical 'it may stagnate his growth' argument. The Nuge is a human being first and foremost, and what do you think it says to the kid if he scores a point per game in his first NHL stint and he still gets sent down. How could Nugent-Hopkins possibly have performed any better during his first 8 games? He's 22nd in the league for points, and leads rookies in goals and points as well. If the Oilers sent him down now, it would mean that there was basically no real chance for him staying with the big club, and in fact are more or less liars for even indicating there was a chance he could stick.

Honestly I thought the Oilogopshere was done with all this talk, but then I see an opinion piece like this: Why Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Should Go Back To Red Deer. An opinion I doubt the management staff of the Oilers share at this point, and an opinion that doesn't seem well grounded in any likely reality.

Of course there was a hockey game played tonight, and unlike some of the snoozers we have witnessed the Oilers grind out early, this had plenty of excitement and hitting. Vancouver seemed to still expect the Oilers to play as some manifestation of last seasons, deep-diving, bottom of the barrel Oilers squad, and was not ready to meet the Oilers level of intensity. As the physical intensity amped up, the Oilers didn't back down, but were definitely getting the spike-end of the nail-through-a-board. Our lineup isn't particularly big up front, with a couple of smurfs, and the rest average sized at best. Petrell is one of the lone big bodies, and it shows when he collides with people. Petrell's physical contributions have definitely not been lost on the coaching staff either, as he's seeing a more regular shift, and a shift in the dying moments as well.

Speaking of Petrell's contributions, another sure-fire formula for successful Oilers hockey is the continuation of the strong special teams play. The Oilers PK was lights out, and for all the Sedin sisters fancy cross-box and cross-seam passing, the D core and forwards sold out constantly, throwing guts and shoulders and butts into bruise-shaping slapshots. The Canuckleheads managed a meager 1 shot in 3 power play attempts, and entering the game the Canuck PP was ranked 5th in the league. The Oilers, in retrospect, are now ranked 4th in the league on the PK (91.4%). This is in stark contrast to last years prison guards, who were an abysmal 77%, good for 29th in the league. Even if the Oilers fell back to middle of the pack, this kind of improvement should mean a substantially better point total when the dust settles.

Aside from the special teams, the reason we won the game was because our kids outplayed everyone they were matched against. They probably would have had another 3 points split evenly if Cory Schneider hadn't blind-and-retarded robbed Eberle's point blank slamjob that was orchestrated by The Nuge's composite conductors baton. As it stood, they finished +2 across the board, and had 5 points as a unit, including Hall's GWG. Perhaps even a little sweeter that their quick strike offence was the straw that sent the Luuuu to the showers. Tough times for the franchise goalie signed until the rapture.

Khabibulin is playing a brand of hockey that even his most jaded enemy (see Tyler Dellow) must admit is at a very high level. He made 35 stops on 37 shots (.946), and for long stretches near the end of the game seemed to be the only calm Oiler left on the ice. Doesn't hurt that the Oilers blocked an astounding 31 shots on the night, either. I suppose once and a while that extra experience counts for something other than decaying reflexes. When the opposing goalie lets in 3 in 4 shots (Luuu's performance in the second period), it looks like sometimes that's going to be enough. Now how long can it last? Till the post season? One can dream...

Finally, a couple of scares. When I saw Whitney go down, I'm sure I wasn't the only Oiler fan to make asinine, knee-jerk statements like 'He's finished' or 'his career is over' after watching the replay of him breakdancing on ice. I guess we've just been pounded by injuries so often that it just seems inevitable every on-ice mishap is actually an exploded ACL or a bruised brain. In actuality, Whitney's career is not over:
"Bit of a sprained knee, I think he's going to be fine." - Renney on Whitney whose status is day-to-day
Samwise Gagner also hobbled off the ice at one point, and there was still no word on Whitney, so it was a 'throw your hands up in the air' moment, as if the hockey gods had once again deserted us. Sure enough the black storm clouds pulled away to reveal a light rain and some clouds. Gagner tweaked his ankle, and is fine. Not expected to miss any time.

Individuals and a conclusion after the hop.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 7: The Doughnut Brigade

Bagel, Doughnut, Gooseegg, Blankjob, clean-sheet. Now with 100% more Khabibulin.
Last year the Canucks finished their '10-'11 campaign with a goals against per game of 2.20. It was the lowest total in 4 seasons, and it underscored how powerful the Canucks really were last season. Right now the Oilers are a mind-bottling 1.42 - but incredibly, with Quick's third straight shut out, we are actually second behind the LA Kings incredible 1.29 GA/Game. Going back to the lockout, the best defensive team was the '07-'08 Detroit, with 2.18 GA/Game. In other words: this cannot possibly last, and secondly (and more importantly), the Oilers are playing fantastic defence. It's a testament to their cap-gun offence that they have parleyed a fairly mediocre record of 3-2-2 out of the first seven games.

Tortellini had this beaut of a quote to serve up after the game:
"Listen, this is gonna be really quick. I'm not taking any questions. We sucked from head to toe, and we need to move by it. So I'm not going to dissect with you guys. I know you have to do your job, but I'm not answering any questions. OK?"
Emphasis mine, as it's a typical Tortorella quote, and accurate in my estimation. The Oilers were a wet-blanket in all three zones, and our team speed was putting relentless pressure on the Rangers regardless of which zone they were in. For the first time, out team speed is actually translating into something tangible: the best backcheck in the league. It's more then just that though. The Oilers forwards and defenders are making a concerted effort to maintain puck possession in their own zone. I can't remember the last time I saw the Oilers make 5 passes *in their own defensive zone* just to maintain possession against an aggressive New York fore-check. It happened more than once, and not that I want to stick a knife in a guy who has had a slow start to his season, but Peckham can sometimes make the 'safe play' one time too often.

One of the defenders who pushed Peckham into a pleated skirt, Corey Potter, also had (most likely) his best game as an NHL defender. Aside from the lightning bolt Potter shot from his wooden wand, he also was using his reach and size quite effectively, and was a big part of all of the jibber-jabber laid out in the paragraph above (ya know, making extra passes in the Dzone to maintain possession in the face of pressure forechecking). If Potter keeps this up, he might just buy that 5-series Beamer he always wanted.

Following up the defence was an awesome effort by the Geezer line - who aside from a few sexual-chocolate stretch passes that got Gaborik sprung - were smothering the Rangers top guns in a thick, defensive gravy. Even Jones, Mr. Mediocrity himself, has managed to really take his defensive play to the next level. If Horcoff can keep winning faceoffs and Smytty keeps his flow flowing, we might be able to run the kids out against some seriously under achieving competition. The more attention the Geezers draw, the more out kids can run wild like firm, muscled, sweaty stallions galloping across the fen. And I mean that in the most heterosexual way possible.

The offence still seems to be a bit timid, but we managed to angry-hornets-nest the Rangers zone on a couple of shifts, each line probably having at least 2 grade A scoring chances. Gagner actually looked surprisingly in form. Renney said the following:
"It looked like he hadn't missed a game, quite honestly." - Coach Renney on Gagner's performance in his first game back in the lineup
Couldn't agree more, Tommy boy. The CBC broadcast also mentioned that in his rookie season that he put up his highest point total on the wing. Not totally true, I don't think. He played most of the end of the season on the wing and put up something like 28 points over the last 28 games - previous to that he played center. As for the game, his touches were good, and he actually out muscled some NYR guys for loose pucks, a sign perhaps that he's entering into his physical prime.

The Nuge undoubtedly played a great game, and once again I'm talking all three zones. He still gets buffeted around by a stray breeze once and a while, but his defensive game is based on his stick and positioning right now, which works fine as long as he's not the one covering Brian "The Man Mountain" Boyle. His snipe was also a thing is beauty, blocker side off the fire-engine red. I said it all along, he wasn't going to get benched for the last game, and his WHL days fade further and further away.

Last but not least: Khabibulin. Second in the league for save percentage, and as many have pointed out, his 0.969 save percentage is TOTALLY sustainable. I expect he will finish the season with 20 to 25 shutouts, and probably turn into a being of light when the Oilers hoist the cup this season, and float up into the heavens. He faced 19 shots on the night, and there were no 10 bell saves in sight. Mostly just 3 moon saves. You gotta give the Russian credit though, because early he looks very poised and capable. If the team continues to play like this in front of him, there's no reason him and the Giraffe might not turn up some excellent numbers this year.

Individuals and conclusion after the hop.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 6: You Tossers

One pupil is bigger than the other to fit all of the Evil.
There was a moment I'm sure, a perfect moment, where something like two-hundred and fourty-three thousand people simultaneously proffered utterances that would make your respective nanas, nonas, and grandmas blush. I imagine if you combined that specific moment of Oilers nation output into a single sound, it would sound something like a Humpback whale-call being crossed with an Andrew Dice Clay comedy routine. Personally, I went with a British colloquialism, tosser - which in slang means to flog the flagon, grip the gipper, wank the walleye - and I uttered it with a heavy snarl of disdain, disappointment, and dourness. After leading me on this adventure into left-wing-lock land, I expected at least 2 shiny shekels for my engaged viewing.

Of course, such is the life of a sports fan: all of our joy revolves around, on a game to game basis, the most random, chaotic things that we have absolutely no control over. For instance, the smallest rut in the ice deflecting the back pass to Heater with 3 seconds to go would have invariably led to a lot less burnt offerings for swear jars across Alberta. 98% less remotes would be thrown, 39% less sorrows to be drowned (women have to count for something -- I kid, I kid ;), and I wouldn't have to introduce my small but fervent fan-base to mildly inappropriate British slang. And more importantly, a universal Oiler villain wouldn't have his second goal of his already-looking-to-be-sub-par season.

I mean, the Oilers can play defence folks. In a classic case of 'no one is really a fucking expert', the Oilers are one of the most prolific defensive teams in the league, and one of the most iron-deficient offences as well. You look at our D-core, and our goaltending tandem of Khabiboozin' & the Ginger Giant, and you probably see the glitz and glamour of a restaurant attached to a Walmart. Sure, it gets food (pucks) into your stomach (out of the net -- OK so the analogy isn't great, but I'm rolling with it), but it's not like you are going to tell your friends it's the best restaurant in town. In other words, it still might not be good. Six games simply isn't enough time to evaluate much of anything.

So we've established that the current version of the Oilers can prevent goals. What they are struggling mightily at, however, is rewarding their fans for year after year of complete and utter ineptitude and gross abuse of our audio-visual faculties. I can't be the only one who can't help but wonder where the fucking dynamic part of 'young Oilers team' is coming from except lip service from jackwagon Sportsnet announcers (1/10 the prescience of the worst TSN guys). They are about as dynamic right now as a bread and mayonnaise sandwich. And I have no idea how dynamic that is, but I'm rolling with the bad analogies now.

To be fair, the Oilers had plenty of moments to go cash-money on this shitty Minnesota Wild team, a team that will be lucky to make the playoffs this year in my biased, non-expert opinion. Eberle, Lander, and Belanger all had incredible chances to score, and on a night when the Minnesota Wild have Clayton Stoner on the ice for their desperate push to equalize on a 6v5, 2 goals will certainly do it. Last season, Theo Peckham scored 0.16 goals per 60 minutes of ice. Stoner was 0.15. I love his defensive game, but the kid has 15 goals in SIX seasons of pro hockey. Yes, that's 354 games worth. 1 goal every 24 games. It would be like the Oilers putting Andy Sutton on the ice to get a last second goal.

And that is it really. The Oilers are doing all of the right things except extending their timid little fins above the choppy water.

My forward evaluations will specifically cover offensive failings, and then I shall conclude with gusto and perhaps gazpacho (that's right, making even less sense now).