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.

Linus Omark - He rang one off the crossbar and had a sweet feed to PRV that gave him a partial break. He also finished -1, and the first goal was scored by the guy that was his backcheck. The more I love Omark in the offensive zone the more I'm beginning to fear him in the defensive zone. He had the second worst +/- on Moscow Dynamo last year, and from what I've seen Linus Omark does not have the defensive game to be an outscorer when the puck is not going in the net. I do believe he can be an outscorer at the NHL level, but I doubt he will be doing that in anything but a top 6 role. I think that's the problem with Linus, they can't seem to figure out if he's a second liner or third liner. In my estimation he is the force multiplier on a line. You give him big guns, he gives them more pop. You give him little guns, and they are not going to crack the goal-scoring threshold enough. Zero shots along with some puck creativity in about 18 minutes; he played a typical good/bad Omark game.

Magnus Paajarvi - I think it's clear that his time playing with men has given him a defensive game that is a clear cut above what Taylor Hall brings to the table. That's not to knock Hall's defensive abilities totally, as he makes up for his lack of grey-matter-powered defending with sheer athleticism and determination. The thing is, Paajarvi has at least as good skating legs (if not better), and if you read my previous post you would know that PRV is facing the second toughest competition (generally speaking) on the team for forwards. He's still only 19 - bright future for this kid.

Devan Dubnyk - Doobatron his started churning out his consistent stick-man game on the regular now. He looks big, he plays big, and I imagine if you stick him in Rinne's situation he would have shockingly similar numbers (Rinne has a scintillating .929 sv%, #2 league-wide). I almost don't even feel like commenting on his game any more because he's been so consistent. Had a beauty glove snatch off of a Shea shooting-star.

Shawn Horcoff - His game is not there yet, this is clear to me. The classic 'timing' excuse is something that I tend to believe in, and I think his timing is still a little off. Most of his touches were good in the offensive zone but he still murdered a few pucks and played some D situations surprisingly soft. They are keeping him off the PK right now (0 mins tonight), so that's another sign that maybe the coaches aren't seeing the sharp defensive game out of Horcoff we've come to expect.

Zack Stortini - I really dig his new beard. Seriously. I call it the Zorg Special.

Taylor Hall - Played about 20 with a goal, 3 shots, and a plus. One thing I really like about Taylor's game is he makes you work by bringing the puck into danger areas and trying stuff. He's always going to pot his dozen or so from outside rushes, but where he will make his true paper will be from his ability to get the puck into the scoring horseshoe and use his particle accelerator to beam pucks into the net. He's got stones son, and it will behoove him to continue to swing them around (like that jam play in the first).


As an Oilers fan there really no good reason for you to cheer on a shootout victory. An OT victory at least gives players a real boxcar boost plus it's during regular playand therefore unexpected. All a shootout win does at this point is remove some of Stu's ability to have first pick at the entry draft. I would never actually cheer against the Oilers but I definitely am not heart broken when the SO goes the other way.

The way I see it, the Oilers are probably a little bit worse than expected, but not by a lot. This means that Tambellini probably has about 80 to a 100 more total games to turn the ship around - with a draft in between. Early returns for his abilities as a GM are not great, but they are not Mike Milbury level yet. To be honest, the natural progression of the rookies all but guarantees the Oilers won't have a shot at a lottery pick next year, so the haters may have to wait a bit longer yet.


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