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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 49: The Beat Goes On

Fistric: Shhh, lets use our library voice to resolve our difficulties.
On the right here is Mark "Meathead" Fistric. Our fates were forever interwoven when my ball hockey team, The Snipes, faced off against the Mark Fistric led Dirty Danglers, in a summer league division 8 ball hockey game. I vaguely recognized him even before the ball had dropped, being someone who had some kind of murky mnemonic facial recall combined with a deep passion for hockey. For whatever reason, an NHL hockey player had decided to drop into our ball hockey league and as you can see by the 8-0 scoreline, we got our asses handed to us.

I especially remember one play against Fistric, when I was the lone defender back on a one on one. First off, let me tell you, he's listed at 6'2, 232 pounds of pure meathead, and for a big guy he moves very fast on his feet. Even though he was the largest guy on either team, he was likely one of the three fastest players on either side (we did have a couple of midget, sonic-the-hedgehog types on our bench). The combination of his speed and power made him something of a freight train by Div 8 standards.

He picked up a loose ball around the blue line and powered into our zone on his backhand, driving me backwards towards my own goalie. I think both teams were changing, so it was a strangely calm moment: the players on both sides were situation-stunned by the knowledge that no matter how fast they moved, whatever happened on the one on one they could not affect. It was man on man, one on one, two players on a stage - bright lights, big crowd.

It was John, the 5'11, 205 pound software developer versus Mark "Motherfucking" Fistric, part ballistic missile, part steel-bound wagon filled with the entrails and limbs of hockey players he had dismembered during his tough-as-nails warpath to the NHL. Part of my mental makeup is a healthy dose of competitive fire, so shit like that really doesn't intimidate me. I'm the kind of guy that really revels in being put out of my depth so that I can see where I match up. Like a small buck, I want to lock horns with the big buck to see where I am in the overall hierarchy of... bucks.

So there he was, this professional hockey player, cutting in on his backhand, goggles down as he prepared to stick-handle around me. I planted both my feet, and while saying a prayer (I'm not religious) I delivered the most thunderous, Earth-rattling shoulder check of my entire life directly to the center of his muscled mass.

I laid out Mark Fistric; laid him out on his ass, a meaty thump of bone on sternum. It was like a huge gong rung in a deep place, signalling a period of mourning.  I was one with god; an exalted warrior, a destroyer, a clenched fist of victory.

And then I woke up in front of the gates of heaven, God looking down on me:
God: Welcome to heaven, my son.
Me: God... How did I die?
God: You attempted to body check Mark Fistric on a one on one during a division 8 ball hockey game. You died four times before you hit the ground.

Back in the real world, Fistric had scored, the goalie was his ass, and I was slumped over, half in the goal. I think I apologized to my goalie for getting owned on the one-on-one.

So, No, I really didn't lay out Fistric. It would have been cool, that's for sure; what actually happened is he used his huge fucking zepplin mass to push me almost on top of my goalie, and the with me draped all over him, Fistric executed a spin-o-rama in the crease (essentially walking through me) and used his reach to hook the ball around the goalies outstretched right leg. Normally guys that big in ball hockey can't execute 360's on the move with a defender draped on their back.

Before the game was over both teams had amassed 160 penalty minutes, Including nine 10 minute misconducts. We got shelled 8-0, but we didn't go down without a fight. At one point one of our guys challenged Fistric to a fight. Fistric replied with something like (and I'm paraphrasing): "Sure, I'll fight you. But I do this for a living, and I'm going to put you in the hospital."

Ah, good old Canada. They only place where you can get death threats from a professional hockey player in the middle of your division 8 ball hockey game.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 47: Mediocrity

He's Grrr-eat
On the left is Gnash, a mediocre mascot for a mediocre team. Before you accuse me of being the pot calling the kettle black (trust me, all Oilers fans are acquainted with mediocrity), lets take a look at the predators post-season success, shall we? They've been in the league for 11 seasons (12 including this one), and have made the playoffs 5 times. They are zero for five in the playoffs. They have won a total of 8 playoff games in their franchise history, for a record of 8 wins, 20 losses total.

Forget about the fact that since the lockout the Oilers actually have almost twice as many post-season wins as the predators do in their franchise history. This is a Nashville team that has reached the 100 point mark in three of its last five seasons, including an 110 point season ('06-'07), when they had a +60 goal differential. These were some pretty impressive teams that have never really done anything.

Of course, this is an Oilers blog, and their mediocrity is on a far different scale than the Oilers current suckitude. In the game tonight a couple things were clear: the Oilers are playing a more consistently competitive game, and the Nashville Predators are still one of the most boring franchises out there.

Why exactly does the Nashville franchise exist? Once again, they are a virtual lock to make the playoffs (sportsclubstats has them at 95%), and they have a solid +18 goal differential, on par with Chicago and Detroit. Maybe the playoffs will come, and the Predators will make a deep run and finally show that hockey can succeed in the dirty south. On the other hand, maybe it will just be another failed season for a team that looks cobbled together and lacks serious star power. I just do not see how Nashville can win a Stanley Cup. Full marks for continuing to be competitive, but unless they find some crazy Lithuanian Zetterberg or a Bulgarian Datysuk, they are locked into a cycle of mediocrity that seems to have no end. They are going to continue to have a restricted pay roll, continue to run a left wing lock, and continue to draft, develop and trade top defensive talent.

Speaking of mediocrity, the game tonight started out with some of the most mediocre action I've seen all year. Both teams seemed to be terrible tentative, and with 3 combined shots 10.5 minutes in, for the first time since last years disastrous fall for Hall, I was tempted to just turn it off. Thankfully the game got a bit more interesting as the emotions started running a little hotter, and the Oiler rooks started gnashing their teeth a little more.

Hall and Paajarvi both had decent nights, and I will say that I feel like from what we've seen from Magnus recently, I feel more and more confident he can be an impact NHLer. He needs to improve his ability to cash opportunities generated from his winged-heels but I'm a really big booster of his defensive game right now. He's very sticky on his assignments and his quicksilver strides allow him to quickly establish a defensive posture when the puck gets turned over. I would say PRV has the greatest potential of the current young Oilers crop to have a chance at one day securing a Selke. A long way to go before we start buffing silver cups but still, I'm liking his game on most every night.

Dubnyk, Reddox, and Petry continued their strong play: Dubnyk went .929 (26-28), Reddox had a helper and 6 strong SH minutes, and Petry had 4 shots to lead the team along with the second most ice at 27:22. He is number 3 on average time on ice for rookies (behind Cam Fowler and John Carlson), and I would suspect that he will soon be number 1 and perhaps finish the season in that spot. He made a few mistakes tonight, there is no question, but I just love that he plays the game on his toes. He like to challenge offensive players before they even hit the blueline and he makes fearless but not foolhardy pinches in the offensive zone. If you are an Oilers fan right now I'm just not sure how you can't love this guys game.

Kurtis Foster played 11:56 at EVs, ahead of only Jacques, Fraser, and Zorg. You know when he's playing those 5-6th Dman minutes, I really don't mind him as much. Hopefully this will be a trend. The only other real note from the game was the Oilers continued total suckage on the shootout. Horcoff is sitting there, an almost 50% guy career (57% last year), and yet he throws out Gagner, who is 0-5 this year and went 0-7 last year. The peachfuzz days are over for Sam. He's not a good shootout guy, period.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Evaluating HOPE: Offence


So the Oilers lost another game where they out shot their opponent, and played well enough to deserve perhaps a different fate. Regardless, I don't know how many ways I can say 'losing is good and bad' so instead of focusing on the postgame, I decided to take a statistical look at the offence of our four promising forwards. I am of course referring to Hall, Omark, Paajarvi, and Eberle. Granted two of these guys have missed significant chunks of time because of injury (Ebs) or playing in the AHL (Omzies), but I will be looking at rate statistics mostly anyways.

Scoring Rates

The razzle dazzle factor for any forward is his ability to put pucks into the net or send sexy sauce-passes over to a cocked one-timer for an easy cash. There is a couple ways you can break a forwards offence down, but considering the discrepancies in total amounts of games, I will use rate statistics (so get out your secret decoder rings kiddies).

The first chart contains the even strength boxcar rates, in other words, based on ice time (TOI/60) how many goals (G/60), first assists (A1/60), second assists (A2/60), and points (P/60) these players have gotten, along with the team shooting percentage (Sh%), and their rank on the team (among forwards with at least 10 games):

Name TOI/60 G/60G/60 RankA1/60A1/60 RankA2/60A2/60 RankP/60P/60 Rank Sh%
HALL 15.24 0.894th 0.36 10th 0.544th 1.79 6th 8.04
OMARK 11.85 0.63 9th 0.63 6th 0.63 2nd 1.90 4th 7.95
PAAJARVI 12.97 0.55 12th 0.55 9th 0.33 9th 1.43 9th 10.27
EBERLE 14.16 0.71 7th 0.71 5th 0.35 8th 1.77 7th 8.75

Now nothing really stands out at first glance. Some stuff you already knew:
  • Hall, Eberle, and Omark have been playing at a top 6 forward level in comparison to their team. 
  • Paajarvi is scoring at the lowest rate, a bit underwhelming especially considering he's got the highest team shooting percentage. 
  • Hall is already the best goal scorer and that should improve.
  • Hall is playing a ton of EV minutes - number 1 on the team! Eberle was right up there with him until he went down.
  • Eberle generates the highest rate of first assists, indicating perhaps (I think it's true) that he is a high quality passer.
  • Linus Omark in his short stint tends to generate the most offence per ice time. 
  • The shooting percentages are team shooting percentages, so it just gives you an idea if they might have been getting some bounces. Everything is about par there, although PRV's is a tad high.
The powerplay is a smaller sample set so it is a little less reliable for determining hard facts (but still interesting):

Name TOI/60 G/60G/60 RankA1/60A1/60 RankA2/60A2/60 RankP/60P/60 Rank Sh%
HALL 2.45 1.11 5th 0.00 9th 1.11 2nd 2.22 8th 10.77
OMARK 2.41 0.00 8th 3.11 1st 0.00 5th 3.11 4th 8.11
PAAJARVI 1.28 1.12 4th 1.12 6th 2.24 1st 4.48 2nd 13.64
EBERLE 2.33 0.72 6th 2.87 2nd 0.00 5th 3.58 3rd 15.00

There are a couple more interesting things here:
  • PRV is scoring at a decent rate in comparison to the other young guns, but there is one thing to keep in mind: this is a small sample, especially for him. He gets roughly half the PP time per game as the rest, something like two short PP shifts per game on average so a couple bounces here and there would really skew his numbers. It's also interesting to note that while PRV was on the ice the Oilers were shooting at a fairly high percentage, and a bunch of his points were second assists. Still, based on pure math he looks to be more valuable than Taylor Hall at this point. 
  • Aside from Hall's ability to score goals on the PP, his touches with the puck are really not generating much at all, but the team shooting percentage is pretty low in comparison to the bottom two as well. Definitely a weak part of his game right now,but probably hasn't been getting many bounces.
  • Omark looks to be snake bitten. The team has a shooting percentage that is almost the same as his 5v5 number and he still leads the primary assists rate by a mile. Of course he came up right when the PP went sub-artic. On a more typical PP stretch you would expect Omark's PP numbers to rocket.
  • Eberle was racking up primary assists on the PP. This jives perfectly what my eyeballs have seen: he is a sublime PP passer. His team shooting percentage number is really quite high, but I see this more of a fact that with Eberle on the PP (or at least while he was on it) the Oilers scored at a more regular clip (i.e. unlike recently when we were zero for infinity).
Now for some real stats after the jump.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 45: The Glass Is Both Half Full and Half Empty

Technically the Oilers glass is completely full: half is hot air
The experts said expect clouds with frequent dog-shit. The management concocted carefully worded, forward-looking messages that made it clear that the expectations were about where you'd expect for a team that finished dead last in the league. The players even had a go at 'rebuilding' and 'young team'.

Back in the real world I'd say this team is about as bad as to be expected with the current roster and the calamitous run of injuries that seems to be a sort of running joke with the god-who-plays-dice. Like anyone, I'm not happy about being the leagues youngster speedbump. I don't like have an aging goalie who turns in sub-standard goaltending. Least of all I don't like slogging through 60 minutes of hockey where it's pretty clear your favorite team is not going to win. Yet, I do it. Yet, we all do it. It's tough sometimes, being a sports fan. It's like having a girlfriend who will break your heart without a moments notice, but for some reason, you take her back every time. I guess they call it love.

On this night it was pretty clear our second favorite (debateable for some) girlfriend was going to act a bitch right from about 4 minutes in; Cullen made our Russian Bear look stupid, and Gilbert's magical twinkle toes tinkled a point shot into the twine. There were still reasons to watch I suppose, the continuing Hall, Omark, PRV progression (there's no hope in HOP). The just-about-finished-ELC kids (Cogliano, now with less facial cysts, and Gagner, now with more ugly facial hair). Petry's growth (he's playing more minutes now than everyone except Gilbert). I'd say in general all those things were still on track, and regardless of a couple of goals that were as pretty as hammered prairie-oysters, the Oilers actually didn't play that poorly.

If you are a glass is half full guy, you might point out they outshot the opposition 32-26 (something of a trend recently), broke a lengthy PP drought, and moved another notch towards the bottom rung and a wham-bang draft position. Some players looked pretty good: Paajarvi played another great game, and Reddox looked like a bonafide NHLer. The PP's were earned, the kids looked alright, and a couple bounces went the wrong way. What are you gonna do?

Of course, you might also see the glass is half empty. Hemsky might have been playing the game with concussion symptoms, an absolutely ridiculous decision if management was aware of this. Penner was a pot of piss. Hall was not creating (and maybe he should take a look at the game from the press-box). Khabibulin performed equally as well as any backup in the league could have (22-26, .846). Our PP, even with the goal, did not look especially good (1-7). We are still 29th in the league (35pts in 45 games). HEMSKY GOT INJURED AGAIN.

The funny thing is, the glass is both half full and half empty, and really that is the most powerful, prescient viewpoint anyone can have. The GIHE guys are really good at pointing out what went wrong, who sucks, and inviting everyone to take up the pitchfork and torch and storm Castle Tambellini. The GIHF guys are really good at pointing out what is going right, who is playing well, and are linking hands outside Castle Tambellini and singing positive hymns.

The team does suck, but there ARE positives. And quite frankly, your whining, or my realism, or Dellow's rage, or Zona's sarcasm, or Lowetide's aww-shucks aren't going to make a lick of difference. The team is what it is, so either you take it like a champ, or you go find a new hobby. Being an Edmonton Oilers fan isn't for fucking pussies, ya dig?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 44: In My Mind I'm Clapping

And it's true, in my mind, there is a palpable excitement as the Oilers continue to free-fall towards a shot at two dynamic swedes, a Burnaby-Joe clone, and a gangly francophone center. The problem is, my heart is along for the ride, and in pain - it's painful to watch your team continue to work hard and lose another winnable game. Separating your heart from your head, well... Let's just say matters of the heart usually don't make sense.

You could not help be a little heart-broken as the Oilers miffed another game where all that was really required was a single power play goal to consolidate a fairly strong effort. It was dangled in front of our noses: down a goal, a 6 on 3 with a good half minute. Exciting, yes, but when the dust settled the Ducks were off to the nearest Chucky Cheese for soda pops and laughs, and the Oilers, heading nowhere, were a slumped over, dull-eyed lot.

It was an evenly played game, both teams looked like NHL squads for the most part, and the even shot totals (28 each) reflected the balanced opportunities and power play time (Ducks had an extra minor). Of course all of tomorrows main-stream media, e-ink, and blood-painted walls will point towards the 2 to 0 PPG advantage the Ducks enjoyed and they would be right. It was a big factor in the final outcome, there is no denying it. But when the Oilers PP goes 0 for 38 - 11 games in a row, it's not just the elephant in the room, the room is made of elephants. In other words, shit is simply getting statistically weird for it to be so bad for so long. The Oilers have been playing much more solid hockey of late, and yet the PP just continues to look worse and worse.

I guess I would be remiss if I simply pointed out the problem and didn't offer some thoughts on a solution. I can tell you one thing, I was happy to see Foster off the #1 PP. Since it's so abysmal, I suggest a couple things:
  • Hall on the point. Kid's got a great shot, and seems to have trouble handling it on the half wall currently.
  • Use four forwards and overload PP #1: Hall, Hemsky, Omark, Penner, Gilbert
  • Do not use Smid on the PP #2: PRV, Gagner, Jones/Cogs, Petry, Foster/Chorney
Nothing too earth shattering, but a little mix up can't hurt right?

In terms of positives, well there was zero question in my mind, this was Paajarvi's best NHL game, bar none. Magnus was magnificent, and using his powerful skating stride to take the puck pretty much wherever he pleased. You know that moment when something finally just clicks in? Like when you were 11 in the shower and then after applying the soap... Wait, bad example. OK, you know when you were with Sally in the back of your parents four door and she... Let's just say that for whatever reason Paajarvi moved with great purpose tonight, and he just oozed the nonchalance of a skill forward who had the game spread out before him like a lusty maiden.

Continuing in the positive vibe was the Swedish Swashbuckler and Samwise. All three linemates were supporting each other with excellent fore-checking, passing, and off-the-puck movement. They all played approcimately 18 to 19 minutes, and combined had 4 points (both goals), and were +6 as a group. On a night were the entire top line looked flat, and Hemsky couldn't buy a pass from an ETS vendor, it was a good thing too. You simply can't have successful one line teams in the NHL anymore, if you want to be elite, you need secondary scoring. God knows the Oilers have a long way to go until they have Kesler-like results on their second line, but at least nights like this stave off the 40 of rye and deep-throating a .357.

There is really only one other thing to mention before getting to individuals. Before looking I was pretty sure that MacIntyre had one of the highest penalties taken per 60 in the league. Sure enough, for players who have played at least ten games, MacIntyre is #2 league wide (4.6 Penalties taken per 60 minutes of play), behind only Trevor Gilles (5.6) a similarly useless bag of shit and sandpaper that is helping the NYI dial up another season of suck. If he's not Karate Chopping the assholes who are knee-bombing our kids, I ask you, what use does he have? To help us practice our PK more often? Thankfully he only got 2 minutes of icetime tonight - which would have mirrored the time he spent in the sin bin if Luca Sbisa hadn't scored the first Anaheim goal during Smak's dunce-time. They might as well have let him out early for good behavior since he's not beating up anybody.

Individuals and a wrap after the jump.

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 43: Butterfinger Butterflies

Hey look it's Handzus' spirit totem
Above is the majestic Chaos Butterfly, the wing beats of which can topple whole cities. That is if you believe in the basic principles of chaos theory, the premise that a complex system that is sensitive to the inputs of its manipulators can have a plethora of different results when they vary even slightly. In terms of hockey, it is the 'every inch counts' theory or the 'don't miss that rebound with a gaping net in front of you Gilbert oh no they are going back the other w-- damnit' theory. I can specifically point out four of the LA goals that were a result of bad luck, bad bounces, or plain old Edmonton Oiler chaos.

LA Goal #1: Foster swipes at the puck on a 2v4, and nicks it slightly, sending it directly onto the stick of Marco Sturm who promptly pots it from a bad angle. Foster misses that puck, or gets it more full, there is basically zero chance the puck goes in. Kevin Weekes, one of the worst analysts to ever grace the CBC broadcast, determines it is a 'perfectly executed 4 on 2'.

LA Goal #2: Williams and Kopitar are on a two on one with Peckham defending and Gagner applying back pressure on Kopitar. Williams makes a lousy move to the center and his stick and Peckhams have a french kiss session at the top of the slot. After the sloppy kiss is parted the puck is back in Williams possesion, and almost as a motion of fighting off Peckham's stick, he sends it over to Kopitar, who is now almost behind the goal line. Kopitar attempts a tap in, but instead fires it into the back of Dubnyk's leg where it promptly ricochets into the net. To have it told by Kevin Weekes, it was a perfectly executed 2 on 1.

LA Goal #3: As described in the impromptu manner above, this was a puck that squirted out to Gilbert in the low left slot, and he promptly whiffed it. Dustin Brown then takes a chip pass to the races and sifts one over to a streaking Stoll, who has ragamuffin Omark attempting one of the more futile looking back checks I've ever seen. Stoll promptly pots the puck in a mano-eh-mano situation. If Gilbert even catches a little piece of that puck, the Oilers likely go up 3-2 versus the other way around.

LA Goal #4: Paajarvi chops a dump attempt out of the air which sends it directly onto Gilbert's stick. He makes a reactionary clear up the middle which is picked off by Doughty. With Gilbert so deep and flat-footed, Doughty walks top slot and rifles a glove side laser beam for a goal. Paajarvi gets more puck, or none at all and its again a totally different outcome.

Of course such is the game of hockey, tiny bounces here and there can have dramatic effects on the outcome of the game. This was one of those games where Penner stepped on a puck, Foster lost an edge as the Oilers last man, and Hall's pass to get the puck down low in the last minute ricocheted into a waiting LA King to ice the game. Not to say the Oilers couldn't change their luck. One might note, for instance, that 3 of those 4 goals occurred on odd-man rushes. Or they might look at the abysmal Power play, 0-5 tonight.

The power play is now entering the conversation that had previously been dominated by the PK. It's running at a carbonite-cool 0% over the last 10 games, a total of 0 for 32. They had roughly 4 powerplays worth of extra man time and managed a measly 4 shots during it. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Foster is not the answer on the PP. I don't like him shooting the puck, I don't like him passing the puck, I don't like him touching the puck. I will bet you my boxed cuticle collection that Petry would be a better option right now on the PP. If I see that ham-fist hand-grenade the puck one more time...

Weirdest thing? The Oilers actually outshot the Kings. What is that like 4 times the whole season?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 42: Pushback


You could see right from the moment the puck kissed ice that the Oilers were not going to go easy in this one. Laddy and Pecks got the flippers off awful quick when one of the opposing fishies swam into the home crease. I like this kind of stuff, not only does it send a message to the whole team that there's going to be pushback in the game, it also gets a lot of them emotionally involved. The earlier that emotion finds its way into the Oilers game, the more success they tend to typically have. Peckham remains a Hammer out there, taking shit from no one and nailing anyone who gets too close. One particularly sweet play was Peckham crashing the Jumbo Jet to the ice behind the net and feeding him a healthy diet of cross-check sandwiches to his lower ribcage. It positively warmed my heart.

In terms of why the Oilers handily beat the Sharks, it was a consistent back-check from our forward group, amazing goaltending from Dubnyk, and finally, timely scoring from our most skilled forwards. On a night where Hemsky nets 4 apples, and Hall scores a pair, the back check and overall defensive presence of the forward group will definitely be overlooked, but they covered for any mistakes our Dmen made and were full marks for keeping the Oilers on the rails towards a win.

Dubnyk was absolutely outstanding tonight, making 41 of 43 saves (.953), and only allowing a triple-X goal by Jumbo Joe and then a junk time 6 on 4 tap in. The rest of the game the Jolly Giant was a mausoleum door in net. Unshakable, cool, and most of all, big. To my eye his angles were spot on, and I honestly think that some teams are actually paying attention to his burgeoning ability - drawing up strategies designed to thwart big, good goalies (anti-Luongo tactics). His 0.922 save percentage currently has him ranked 9th in the league, and I tell you what, as good as Khabibulin has looked at times, he never made it look as natural as the Doobatron does. In the beginning I wasn't sure about the decision to keep Dubnyk, but the coaching staff clearly knew what was up, and Dubnyk is playing a sensational brand of hockey.

Hemsky finally reached top gear and his freewheeling play was the primary catalyst for much of the nights offence.Sometimes he just has that glint in his eye, and nothing short of the hand of god will be able to stop him it seems. He finished 0-4-4 +4 with two shots in 16:24 of icetime. He also nearly had two other in-close chances that he could have passed into the net but he missed both by a couple inches. We've seen Hemmer go on streaks playing at this high level before, so lets hope the Pardubice Prince is primed and ready to go. Maybe he's just juiced he's on the Allstar team...

Taylor Hall has a 3 point night (2-1-3 +3) over 17:21 TOI, and his 5 shots were tied for most on the team. It was his second game in the C spot, and he upped his FO% from 38% to 40%. At least it's moving in the right direction, but clearly he's going to need some time to work the kinks out. Otherwise I was happy with his game, but his first goal was a near thing (I, like Hall, actually didn't think it was in at first), and his success was more a product of his tenacity and line-mates than his natural gifts. Not that it's bad for him to get a little boost now and then, but we've seen Taylor play more inspired hockey and get worse results. Such is the game I guess.

In terms of the opposition, I thought they played us fairly evenly, even though they out shot us every period by 5, 5, and 4 shots. It's hard to envision a team like theirs dominating even one playoff series, and considering they have been WAY better on paper in the past, it might just be another disappointing season in the ol' Tank. Teams that can match up with Thornton in the center position defensively (see: NOT the Edmonton Oilers) are going to make life very difficult for the Sharks who have a 16th ranked offence in GF/G. Their Dcore seems to have no real anchor, and as much as I like Boyle he's not my ideal #1 all-situations Dman. He's -13 this year and is a minus player over his career. In other words, some of the Oilers looking good in the offensive zone is due to the Sharks mediocre defence and even more so, suspect goaltending (Niemi is .907 and Nittymaki is .901). Nittymaki looked like he was doing an epileptic break dance on Penner's goal, for instance.

Thoughts on some individuals and a conclusion after the hop.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Minnesota Wild Penalty-Kill

Above: Dellow sending his minions (I kid :)
There is a bit of a debate going on over at mc79hockey with basically me on one side and a bunch of Dellow's Flying Monkeys on the other. The basic premise is that Dan Tencer wrote an article that attributed the Oilers recent success on the penalty kill to an improved coaching strategy. Tyler Dellow, Robin to my Batman, took issue with that idea, pointing out the Oilers 4v5 save percentage was a staggering .930 over that period. In his mind:
Without getting too technical, the Oilers continue to take a hellacious beating while they’re on the penalty kill. It’s baffling to me that the response to the alterations and well timed aggression has been to bleed shots against more quickly, but so it goes. The goaltending “improvement” is nothing more than 15 games of bounces. The analysis of the penalty kill and why it’s doing better is complete gibberish.
I suggested that perhaps the entire story is not being told in his snap judgment of "15 games of bounces". To my eye the PK had been better in two primary things: reducing the extra high quality shots against and the goaltending. As Tyler pointed out in the start of the article, it certainly wasn't the shot rate that had changed (64.5, actually up from the Oilers average this season). I responded with:
By your own numbers, then, the Oilers were a team that was far BELOW average to start the season. If you consider they are .852 on 4v5 for the season, even if they are playing way above that recently, this indicates they were even farther below their season average earlier.
Considering both of our goalies are playing better recently, it stands to reason that a lot of the improvement is a correction of Sv pct towards average, rather than woe-is-us “15 games of bounces”.
So your analysis, I think, also fails.
I probably shouldn't have used the word fails. It has such a negative connotation these days, and in fairness I don't think his analysis really failed as more was incomplete. This sparked off a debate that attacked my estimation that the shot quality against had gone down, my understanding of regression, I'm a big fat stupid, etc. All fine and dandy, it is his home turf. Tyler, to his credit, conceded the point that surely some of the recent improvement was goaltending, but maintaining it was not the only piece of the overall puzzle:
I’m happy to concede that a big part of their correction is regression towards the mean in save percentage. I don’t dispute that. There’s a reason I explicitly referenced league average and not the Oilers save percentage overall or prior to the hot streak.
I’m not entirely sure how that means my analysis fails. They’re the worst team in the league at preventing shots at 5v4 and have gotten worse during their hot streak. The expectation is that they’ll have the worst penalty killing in the league
In general, since hockey is a fast-paced sport with a bouncy puck played on a slippery surface, every shot against is 'bad', so to speak. So ultimately I'd think the best strategies are generally the strategies that yield the fewest shots against. With that said, there are definitely examples of team strategies that allow shots at a decent rate while attempting to minimize the damage each shot does.

Eventually a user named Schitzo posted the following:
Right, but why isn’t [the inflated save percentage] sustainable? If the entire premise is “keeps shots to the outside, let the other team fire away”, that should be reproducible. Design the entire system around that strategy. Spend 82 games on it.

But if the result isn’t a 0.930 save percentage at the end of the year, I would suggest that “quality of chances” is not actually the relevant factor.

So I decided to take a look. I immediately thought of the Minnesota Wild, a team I knew that through the Lemaire years had not actually been a great team at preventing shots against, but I was pretty sure they were up there defensively. I have listed some of their 4v5 stats available on behindthenet.ca (change the year in the URL to look at different seasons):

YearSA/60SA/60 RankSvPctSvPct RankGA/60 GA/60 Rank
2007-200850.223rd8943rd5.35th
2008-200952.316th9331st3.51st
2009-201044.94th86223rd6.215th

The First two teams were coached by Jacques Lemaire, and the 09-10 version by Todd Richards (indicating a likely change in overall strategy in 09-10). All of the teams were backed by Niklas Backstrom (playing 58, 71, 60 games respectively). What is interesting to note is that under Richards direction, they were one of the best teams in the league against preventing shots against, yet dropped from the best PKing team in the league to right in the middle of the pack (almost double the goals against per 60). Now it's possible that Backstrom had an off... season (his SvPct dropped 23 places on the PK), but what is clear is that at least in some cases the shots against indicator does not provide ample information to determine whether a PK was good or not (indicated by the GA/60 rank).

In terms of the overall team, the 08-09 Wild were 89 points 40 wins, and the 09-10 Wild were 84 points with 38 wins. In other words the difference on the PK was likely a factor in the point discrepancy, but otherwise they were similar performing teams overall.

So what do we take from this? First .930 is a sustainable number over a single season (since it has happened at least once), but as far as I can tell it is the absolute top of the mountain over the last three seasons (some teams can maintain over 910). In other words it's highly unlikely to be sustained. Second, shots against per 60 minutes clearly do not tell the whole story, at least not in the Minnesota Wild's case.

There are others that are similar. The 2008-2009 Calgary Flames for instance, who were 25th overall in SA/60 4v5 at 55.9 but sported the 7th overall GA/60 4v5 at 5.8. They had the third best SvPct at .897. The following year Ottawa had the 25th overall SA/60 4v5 and the 10th best GA/60 4v5. A .900 Sv Pct in this case was 5th best in the league.

It seems like at least in some cases it is possible to have higher shot rates and still maintain a good 4v5 Sv Pct and therefore a good GA/60 4v5. Whether or not this is team strategy or simply good goaltending, I'm not sure. That would probably be a topic for a longer, more statistically intense post.

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 41: Win Some, Win Some

He'll also do Dumbledore impressions for a nickel
On the left is an example of a win-win situation: a humorous homeless sign. At some point in their existence, homeless took to laying out cardboard signs that made simple demands of the passing traveler. Generally the formula worked something like, 'Will do work for money' or perhaps 'Please give money, I'm poor/sick/pregnant'. This was not a win-win situation, because it usually fostered resentment or distaste from a distance - this would allow a passer-by to steel themselves against aggressive panhandling, or simply walk around it.

Then, as the world is wont to, the cardboard sign evolved. One of these groovy homeless lads had an epiphany that it might be beneficial to include humor in the sign contents. This might seem profitable (it is a business) for a number of reasons: people that are amused are more willing to pay for it, and they also pass on amusing stories to others, potentially funneling a few office workers or friends in the same direction. Dumbledore over here is probably not the originator, but at some point the idea spread to homeless everywhere, and if you google it, you will even find copy-cat artists. If you want to look at it even deeper, the sign works great for both parties: we get amusement, they increase profitability.

The Oilers win tonight was an example of a similar idea: even when the homeless man doesn't get the money, he still increases his profitability. Of course, the Oilers didn't actually win in the sense of putting up more goals than their opponent, that score was 3-2 for the Dallas Stars. But in the grand scheme of things, this was a positive step for the Oilers (and in keeping with the same analogy, was one for the Stars).

It's win-win for the Oilers since they have 0% chance of making the playoffs, and this moves them up the only standings that matter otherwise: the draft standings. Not only that, a win like this where we actually deserved to win is a positive mental step for the team. I've played enough team sports to know losses like that are nowhere near as disheartening.

In terms of the actual game I think the obvious place to start would be the shot clock, as it often shows, at a glance, the territorial edge. The final shot count was 41-20, and I think it accurately indicated both the quality of chances, puck possession, and territorial advantages the Oilers enjoyed in this game. At this point it would be tough to give the Oilers total credit considering they came into the game with the worst shot differential in the league at -7.4, but they did fore-check tenaciously and generally were full value for the 2:1 shot ratio.

As far as why the team received zero points after 60 minutes, well there are a couple of reasons. Shitty reffing was definitely at the top at my list until the Oilers tied it at two. It was fallacy for me to remove it from the list automatically like it seems like all fans do. Once the game reaches a deadlocked state its almost like all previous mis-steps by officiating etc is moot. This is of course not really the case, since a goal in the second by the Oilers likely would have changed the whole complexion of the game. The Omark bump of old rubber-band-groin Lehtonen was absolutely comical. VanMassenhoven had to make a snap judgment I suppose, but that was a brutal judgment. At least have the balls to call the interference then, not some ridiculous 'incidental contact' crap. Either Omark interfered with the goalie, or he didn't. The Smak penalty was also pretty farcical. Big Diesel barely bumped into whichever pussy-willow Dman that was standing their and it was like a rape-whistle went off and Smak was the only Mexican in the area. Finally, even the interference call against us was nothing but a botched make-up job for the earlier fumbling by VanMassenhoven. Its pretty clear, the guy doesn't bring much to the table except a lot of syllables and an 80's porno mustache.

Dallas also was very opportunistic with their opportunities - they shot 15% for the game, 3 goals on 20 shots. For whatever reason, it seems like a lot of the teams the Oilers play have both the time and presence of mind to make the extra touch that leads to truly five-star scoring chances. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced this is due to the Oilers always offering the contrasting methodology: dirty grimy goals and a lot of crappy, plugger stuff in between. How many players on the Oilers would have the wherewithal to pass up the close jam play like Ott did and pass back to the streaking give-and-go'er for the tap in goal? Gagner, Eberle, Hemsky maybe. To my mind we have been scoring a lot of plugger goals recently, which is fine, but there is a place for the extra pass in the game. Not everything has to be jammed on net with the hope that the goalie lays an egg.

In terms of raw performances, it was of course Taylor's turn up the pipe, and based on his 5 shots, 21:32 TOI, and a steady improvement as the game wore on, definitely something that is going to be worth following. He didn't have a great night in the dot (38.1%) but that's not an immediate concern. He's had all of 15 faceoffs previous to this game in the NHL, and I think he's allowed a few sub-par efforts in that part of his game while he learns the raptor-movements of the big boy faceoff. Debrusk commented on it several times, but I will re-iterate here: the kid has a L A S E R beam for a wrister. He of moth-eaten groins had a tough time handling Hall's hummers even from off-angles. I'd like to see that trend continue, and as he works towards hero (NHL) forearms, there is still probably a few more clicks of velocity yet to be gained on his wrister.

Thoughts on individuals after the jump.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 40: Straw, Thy Name Was Strudwick

From top to bottom: Daniel Sedin, Jason Strudwick
I'm of course referring to the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, pictured on the left here. With the game still in reach at 0-2, Strudwick decides the world is ready for his best Nick Lidstrom impression. With the play in the Casux zone he surveys the situation: No Oiler covering his pinch, check. Sedins on the ice behind him, check. Puck about to enter Canucks possession, check. Outcome: Pinch at the blueline! Cowabunga! as the Ninja Turtles used to say. Unfortunately we are dealing with a multi-billion dollar professional sports league, flying the zone when you are the last line of defence against the second most dangerous duo in the league is not a great idea (sorry Canucks fans, St. Louis + Stamkos = 107 pts, Sedins = 105 pts). You could just see the realization dawning on Strudwick's face as he valiantly katana-slashed his stick at the puck flopping over his head towards the Oilers zone. Then the tiny thread that the Oilers had been hanging by from the start of the game snapped when Daniel dangled backhand and deposited. We were once again shown how far it really is they have to go to be a day-to-day competitive team in the league.

Khabibulin seems to be making a habit of letting in clearly stoppable goals at critical times. I don't care if Kesler's packing a T1000 arm under the Canucks stripes, that shot HAS to be stopped. The Oilers were only down a goal at the time, and who knows how much momentum would have built is Khabibulin stays up and gloves that puck. I highly doubt Dubnyk would have made a lick of difference in the outcome, but I think he's been the Oilers best tender this year and I think it's time to squeeze Khabibulin into the passengers seat and see if our stud camel can gallop a bit. Probably a good idea with his DUI history anyways.

But, to beat a quadriplegic camel (they were out of dead horses), the real problem with the Oilers squad is defence, defence, defence. Forget about Strudwick for a moment, he's a stop-gap doing the best with the cement-blocks-for-feet that he has. I want to talk about what happens when Gilbert has to play 29:00 minutes of ice against one of the best offensive teams in the league. That story ends about as well as the Matrix Reloaded (I can't be the only one who thought that ending sucked). He's not a number one guy, not really a number 3 guy, but when he's forced to play half the game, results like these are inevitable. He ended -1 and he was definitely on for the Edler goal on the PK. He managed to show off his prettiest pirouette on that play as he fished for the puck sitting right in the most critical of erogenous scoring zones.The Russian judge gave him a 9 at least.

I end the preliminary part of the report with this fucking beauty:
"C'mon, be serious here, let's go," Vigneault shot back. "Toews and Kane, it's 6-0 going into the third. What do you think? Let's be serious."
Vigneault was referring to Quenneville's decision to run a 5 on 3 with his big guns; there was 11 minutes left and the Hawks had a 6 goal lead. Well, up nearly an identical score of 5-1 with 7 minutes left in the game, guess which favorite frog heads were out on the ice at Doctor Greasy's request:

13:02 VAN PPG - Alexander Edler (4) Wrist Shot - Assists: D. Sedin (29) & H. Sedin (44)

Yea Vigneault, let's be serious.

Thoughts on individuals after the hop.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 39: Doldrums

I think coach Renney has the toughest time getting his message across after a game like this. He's driving into their heads that they need results, but efforts like this versus the scum at the bottom of the NHL pond are not satisfactory for anyone really. The fans were treated to half of a period of inspired offence and some great PKing, but long stretches of garbage whirling across the ice surface. Coaches got the two points but in a fashion that doesn't inspire confidence against better competition. Players are basically satisfied but that's mostly a by-product of being winless in 7.

Not to say there were no positives in this victory. Dustin Penner looked fairly engaged for most of the game (1-1-2 +2 16:11), and once again shows the kind of game-breaker he can be when the mystical, unknowable stirrups are dug into his side. The PK continued its strong play (7 for 7, SHG), in fact gutting out the effort right when it would have been easy to give it away. Dubnyk continued his strong play (.968 30-31), and is starting to fulfill some of his first round promise for real.

Of course some of the areas that both the statistical wizards and casual fans would like to see improved continue to struggle mightily. Mainly sustained offence, effort, and intensity. The Islanders are a team that came into the building being outshot by ~50% over the last 10 games (they were 7-1-1 in their last 9), and in fact offer up one of the worst shot ratios in the league (-3.8). They are 27th overall in shots per game (28.0) and 22nd overall in shots against per game (31.8). While the Oilers are the worst (25.6/33.8 for -8.2), you'd expect at least a decent output for a team winless in 7, at home, versus one of the leagues worst defensive teams with a rookie goalie, and a 5th string backup. In the end, we got outshot 31 to 22. If you can't outshoot the Islanders with a deck stacked like that, there are issues with something in the offensive gearshaft.

As far as why we won, it was a combination of:
  • Strong play by Devan Dubnyk
  • A good opening period
  • A surprisingly competent PK (bonus points to Dubnyk)
  • The utter lack of offensive depth on the Islanders team (28th overall Goals/Game)
Some thoughts on individuals after the hop.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hockeyzen First Half Awards

First place was doggy style
The new year will just about mark the mid-point for the NHL 2010-11 campaign. I figured it would be a good time to do some mid-point analysis in the form of Awards With Silly Names (I saw sportnet did something like this in their xmas special but they have some kind of brilliant writing team to come up with the Grinch Award or the Santa Award).

Our first trophy winner after the hop.

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 38: Growing Pains

I like Linus' icy eyes; he means business. Peckham is just a beauty
It was one of those games where the commentators finally tipped the 'growing pains' usage counter over 10k, and sure enough the old TV show was a fine backing for my latest photoshop endeavour. The Oilers played pretty much the same they have against all of the good NHL teams this season: poor first, strong third, a comeback and some kind of heartbreak.

When Ferraro fired up the replay in the first period of the Wings making 6 micro passes to escape the Oilers forecheck I immediately thought: 'wow, so that's what a breakout looks like'. To be fair, the Red Wings are more grizzled than Sean Connery in The Rock and that kind of coordinated, calm puck movement is born of a lot of experience and pressure situations. You can't expect that kind of movement involving anyone except for our most cereberal players (Eberle, Gagner, etc) or the better D-men (Whitney, Gilbert). Regardless, it is those kinds of observations that really make me miss Ferraro on the sidecar during Oilers broadcasts. Debrusk is alright, but he'll never have the same critical eye that Ferraro has - or his knack to point out playerism's that your game-flow hyptonized eyeballs discard arbitraily.

There were a couple reasons for the loss, all of which seemed to contribute equally: Khabibulin letting in a weak goal and/or not making one spectacular save, the pairing of Vandermeer and Foster (aka Chinese and Fire-Drill), and finally Cogliano and his representation as a second line center in the Oilers center depth (and I mean lack of).

Khabibulin is an easy case, as he once again let in a softie by Bertuzzi, and otherwise was fairly solid. Any soft goal by one of our goaltenders is usually the salt on the slug. We simply don't score enough to allow softies (see: Tampa Bays abysmal defensive numbers versus their point totals for the opposite of that although Rollie might have something to say). It's also a case of maybe if Khabi can make of of those unreal 5-bell 4-moon 3-dog saves, we make a different game of it. Not saying that it's good for a team to rely on those, but it certainly might have changed the outcome tonight.

Foster is quickly working his way up my shitlist and at the peak of excremement mountain soon I predict a legendary dookie battle with the Crappy Train himself. Who would win? He was -2 in 18:50 of ice time, and amazingly when they kept the puck away from Foster our PP actually looked momentarily dangerous. Vandermeer gets more of a free pass since he's been heating the mahogany lately. I'll say this though: he looked pretty brutal tonight, and you gotta wonder if Vandermeer will be right back in the Oilogosphere doghouse without Ryan Whitney as his partner.

Cogliano used to have a special place in the collective heart of the Oilers fanbase but I think the last rays of sunshine from that are quickly being transformed into vaporous whirls of acrid, greasy hate. He seems like a good kid but his mojo is gone, vanished, disappeared, dissipated. That three on one play where he passed to Penner who was the one guy that the defender was clearly engaging, well I'll admit I used a bad swear word out loud. It was something like 'Gosh darn Cogliano, you are a fine gentleman but I was petitioning god through my prayers that you would flex your testicular prowess and shoot the vulcanized rubber.' Shoot f--ker! would be the paraphrased version. Of all the guys on the team, he's definitely a guy that just needs to rip it. Crash it, rip it, bang it. Cogliano seems to be the fastest way to disrupt any chemistry between any random two wingers. Andrew "Circuit Breaker" Cogliano. 17:51, -2, and OFFICIALLY open for trade to anywhere. I expect the Oilogosphere feels the same way at this point.

I would kill for a Horcoff right about now.

Thoughts on individuals after the hop.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 37: The Paris Hilton Story

Yes, I made this extra large to help assuage some pain;
admit it, it works
Sometimes the Oilers are like Paris Hilton: They look pretty good on paper but really don't do much in real life. It just so happened that Paparazzi Princess: The Paris Hilton Story was on Global Edmonton concurrently with the second period onwards, and I was trying to figure out what was worse: the quality of that absolute turd-brick of a movie or the Oilers offensive attack. It's one of those Special Olympics situations: even when you win, you're still retarded*.

*tasteless joke warning

I have to admit, I was fairly sure this is exactly what we would see a game after Whitney got sidelined with some by-product of his below-the-knees mutant-tendon physiology. You take away 25% of our creamy peanut-butter puck movement from the backend and ask the same of the Strudwicks and Fosters of the hockey world, guess what, there is going to be more rimming than a Max Hardcore video (and no, I'm not linking it - if you know what that is, GRYS).

The final shot count was 30-17 (but mostly from the 19-3 first period) and I even felt that was a bit generous to the Oilers. To my eyes we were second best at everything tonight. I'd be surprised if Flames writers are lauding their success tonight, however. They were one notch of suck better than the Oilers, indicated by their measly 11 shots through the remaining two periods and their total lack of offensive creativity in the Oilers zone. In reality ONE lucky bounce was all the extra offence they could muster, and shutting down the Oilers offence got progressively easier with Eberle out and our blueline inept at moving the puck out of our own zone. I will eat my own f--king dirty sock if the Flames make the playoffs.

As if to spit on us the #HockeyGods decided to bequeath Eberle with some sort of slippery knee ankle injury. Kotalik is a major league plug, and absolute non-entity in North American hockey at this point in his career, and he has to reach his grubby little hands out and trap Eberle against the boards right when he's in a compromised position - I didn't get a great look at the replay but it almost looked like there was some foul play on the hit. How is Kotalik still receiving a multi-million dollar salary?

In reality the Flames are a poor enough team that the Oilers had an adequate chance to win the game and completely saw off their typical trifecta of suck (outshot, no PP goals, scored on first), by potting a PP goal with 60 ticks on the clock. Inexplicably we overpass the puck, force it into bad areas, and barely manage one good chance that Hall misfires on. And then the real cream in the jeans moment comes when the multi-million dollar engine of discombobulation manages to get a too-many-boys penalty and bring the draw back into the Oilers zone. Where is Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann when you need him?

Alas, I didn't even have the anger to smash my crappy CRT tube TV with a well placed remote control fastball. Who are we paying to organize special teams, and why do they still have a job?

Individuals and a wrap-up after the jump.