Friday, February 4, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 51: Tough Luck

This is what 4 wins in the last 23 games looks like
As the saying goes, you make your own luck. Poker is a perfect example of this, as anyone who plays will know. Given an individual hand (or play in hockey), just about anything can happen that will lead to ultimate glory, or gory ruin. What all the good players instinctively understand is that you cannot always get the coin flips and die rolls and free throws to go your way, no matter how good you are. What separates the good poker player from the bad, and the good hockey teams from the bad is the concept of making your own luck.

My interpretation is that means placing yourself in favourable positions by control of your own actions so that even though you lose some of the coin flips, you often win in the long run as good and bad luck evens out but good and bad positions do not. This is something that is more or less represented by shots on goal in hockey, and this is something that the Oilers have been doing a lot better recently: out-shooting opponents.

Take the game tonight against the Blues, for example. It was a game that the Oilers had the majority of the puck possession, out-shot (32-26) and out-chanced the Blues, yet lost by 2. In fact, the Oilers have outshot 6 of their last 8 opponents, and tied another in shots. This is a team that is starting to drive 5v5 offence more consistently than they have at any time during the whole season. Of course outshooting your opponent is a lot like being a good poker player. All it does is put you in a good position to win. It doesn't mean that the bounces will go your way. In the Oilers case, in that same stretch of having as many or more shots as their opponent 7 times, they have lost 7 times.

I think in general the Oilers played a decent game against St. Louis. They carried most of the play 5v5, and had predictably useless special teams efforts. There was plenty of solid, gritty play, and for a desperate team like St. Louis to look equal (or worse) to the NHL bottom dwelling Oilers is a testament to the Oilers recent improvements or a grim epitaph for the St Louis season. Can you imagine a team like St. Louis winning a Stanley Cup this season? In what strange galaxy could that ever happen? They should probably worry about all of that season ticket money they will have to give back if they miss the playoffs (some marketing genius is going to get fired - out of a cannon).

If you are the poker player, or the Oilers, you cannot get frustrated. Everybody swallows a spider while sleeping once and a while (or insert your own non-traditional 'everyone has bad luck sometimes' analogy). Control what you can control, and realistically the Oilers should start winning a few games here and there. Just as an aside, you will notice that of the top ten teams in the league, 8 of them are outshooters (only Dallas, 8th, and the Rangers, 10th, do not outshoot their opponents). On the other side of the spectrum, 4 of the bottom 5 teams and 6 of the bottom 10 teams get outshot on average.

Of course most of the walking bean-counters already knew that, but the point is the Oilers keep on playing like this and we might make the race for dead last a little more interesting.

Thoughts on individuals after the hop.

Sam Gagner - I thought Gagner looked good. He was decisive and tenacious, and in fact if I didn't know better, some of Linus' style has been rubbing off on the 21 year old. I loved his play in the third when he used his middling speed to cut past a defender and get a solid scoring chance off in tight. He used that fancy reverse drag move that seems to be last years toe drag move. Kind of like 30 is the new 20 and all that. Four shots and a goal in about 20 minutes of TOI. Now if only there was a secret method to determine if he will be a number one center ever in his career.

Theo Peckham - Another positive was Peckham, who had dipped recently in his play but was his solid simple self - 4 blocked shots, a goal, and 21+ minutes, almost 4 of which were short-handed. I'll be the first to admit that at least half of his Dzone touches were off the boards and out, but St Louis was effective in preventing easy movement to the neutral zone, and this made guys like Petry look a little out of sorts at times. Peckham will never be the guy to make 9 out of 10 zone escapes with a solo flight and then sauce it to a streaking winger. That's for the Visnovskys and Keiths of the league. Peckham just needs to Hulk-Smash shit, drop his flippers occasionally, and block a few with his tree-trunks. Oh yea, and every once and a while, move in zone like a god-damned stealth fighter and deposit a puck with a decent play.

Jordan Eberle - He picked up a pair of pomegranates but I felt like they were not full value. The Eberle we've come to know and make mouth-holes in posters for was not really present at tonight's game. I'm not sure I can think of more than maybe one magical touch that Eberle had all game, but of course he's rustier than the titanic and will take some time to get his shit in gear.

Devan Dubnyk - He really had no chance on any goal. You might point to the Winchester tally, but he seriously made a 3-bell, a 4-bell, and than a 5-bell save one after another and his teammates still could not clear the fucking puck. There were 3 other tips, and a clear 2 on 1. Even though his .808 save percentage looks Pearl-Harbour-the-Michael-Bay-movie brutal, I'm not sure it would have mattered who you put in net tonight, even a 28 year old Dominik Hasek. We've seen Dubnyk have bad games before, and one of his best traits is he seemingly brings the same consistency to his game, night after night. A couple of those bounces go the other way and maybe it's a 3-3 game going into OT.

Jeff Petry - Struggled a bit, and finished -2 in about 20 minutes of ice. For whatever reason he was making passes a bit more quickly and frantically than we have seen in the past, and it seemed to hurt his accuracy and the ability of the forward to pick it up in flight. He played OK overall, but there are bound to be a few dips in his game as he gets his feet wet on the Hollywood ice.

Ladislav Smid - Was not a huge fan of his game tonight. He really seemed to struggle with the puck tonight, and I think Renney sensed his Niinimaa-funk because he got 10 total seconds on the PK (he normally averages fourth most on the team at 2 minutes per game on the PK). You know I really want to like the kid, but he just never can break out of that simplistic level of play. Every once and a while he pulls a rush out of his ass and you are like, wow he looks like a puck rushing Dman. After which he will follow it up with 25 straight chip-off-the-boards plays. He has the skill and athleticism to do more with the puck, but never seemingly the confidence. If he ever just let his baby-maker swing around a bit I bet you would not only find a much better Smid, you'd also see the player that the scouts always had forseen. I'm worried that it's simply too late for Smid to process a change like this. He feels like, hey, this is what got me to the NHL and kept me there. Well Laddi, it's time to go Galapagos Islands on the leagues ass and evolve. OK I've said my bit. Hopefully after he reads my blog it will all click into place like baby-rearing and Britney Spears.

Shawn Horcoff - :36 seconds on the PK, rejoice! They sure are easing him back into that role for whatever reason. He used to be the go to guy when the Oilers were 3v5 for a buck and change. One shift is a start at least. Other then that, I don't think Horcoff had a particularly brilliant game. There were a few moments this year when maybe we would see Horcoff return to the '07-'08 form, but his peaks seem to dissipate quickly and level off into long stretches of plateau. It would be enough, I guess for the odd offensive chip-in coupled with rock-solid defensive play, but an above-and-beyond push by the captain would go a long way towards restarting Hemsky's game and giving the Oilers rookies a bit more breathing room.

Taylor Hall - He's been getting it a bit raw recently, both from the referees and the opposing Dmen. I like the fact that Hall rarely takes one of these knocks without fighting back. He flies right back into the fray and attempts to get retribution with a rush and a rocket. Revenge is a dish best served on the scoresheet. He had 6 shots to lead both sides, along with a G-unit in about 21.5 in TOI.

Linus Omark - That stick move was not quite executed right, but that kind of creativity warms the cockles of my heart. For those who didn't see it, Omark was behind the net and attempted to get Conklin's attention by one handing his stick around one side of the net to presumably wrap it around the other side. How have we never seen beauty plays like this ever attempted before? I have watched hundreds of hockey games in my life (a couple thousand perhaps), and I've never seen a visual trick like that attempted. It's that kind of stuff that makes me forget he's a constant minus factory. Another red digit for Linus the Minus today (rhymes for those who continue to pronounce his name the North-American-sissified way). He's -5 in his last 10 games, and -8 overall. Hopefully his small body defending can be overcome through the sheer force of his offence. I'm hoping so, anyways, or we will miss the chance to see one of the most creative players in the NHL today.


The Oilers are flat out playing better recently, and if they continue to play that way, I would expect a somewhat better third and fourth quarter for the team. It's just not very likely for a team that has been outshooting to continue at a 20% win rate like they have been recently (in the last 20 games). Teemu Hartikainen anyone?


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