Friday, February 25, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 62: Battle Of The Bigs

Meet the newest NHL goaltender, 309'8" Cthulhu
In what was likely the tallest combined goaltending height in an NHL game ever (157 inches of raw, sexual goaltender), an unlikely hero emerged. Ben Bishop, the Denver, CO goaltender, shut down the Oilers offence all night - all 39 shots worth - for his first career shutout. There wasn't a tremendous amount of high-quality rubber that Bishop had to stop, but there was a good volume of C+ and B- chances. On the other end of the ice, it seemed like every chance the Blues were getting were in tight and dangerous, and that was combined with a decidedly sub-par effort by our own local Godzilla, Devan Dubnyk. That calmness in net and the quiet mechanics were still on good display here but his rebound control was a little off, and his reflexes a few milliseconds too slow. It's not like he had a lot of help on the night, though.

Coach Tom Renney in his presser said:
We needed to get emotionally attached to the game.
I couldn't agree more, Tommy boy. I have been harping on the fact that the Oilers play a more up-tempo, inspired game when a bit of crimson spray has painted the frozen sheet. They seem to press a little more vigorously when a little old-school Batman onomatopoeia enters the color-guys vocabulary. That didn't really happen until Strudwick sent Cam Janssen some knuckle-grams. Janssen is a noted fist-bopper, but Strudwick actually beaned him pretty good. Considering Strudwick's a washed up 7th Dman, and Janssen is known for his powerful fisticuffs, it was a good result for Struds, and I gave him the edge. Unfortunately it was way too little, way too late.

The CHE line was buzzing again tonight, and I felt like they were probably the most consistent line on the ice. I definitely notice Cogliano being put in a lot of situations where if he makes that one high-skill touch in the offensive zone, Eberle or Hall are going to get a real 5-bell offensive opportunity. This is exactly my fear with Cogliano: he's got good mid-level offensive skill, but when you need to break that mystical goal threshold, he's got to be making touches on the puck at least as good as Hall and Eberle. I don't think he really brings that to the table anywhere nearly as consistently as the other two rookies. Considering Tambo has almost traded him twice, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he was the necessary sweetener included in a deal to land a high level prospect. Or perhaps someone wants to do a young Dman with upside for a young forward with upside? He finished the night -2 with 2 shots, and the line as a whole was -6 with 10 shots.

Our top line finished a combined -2 with 10 shots as well, so it wasn't like they weren't creating tonight. It just seemed like everything was just a not quite enough to break that goal threshold. Renney had a strange quote about Penner's play, where he basically said that aside from one game, he could not have asked more from Penner's effort over the last half dozen games. Although I think he's played a couple decent games back-to-back now, he had been bouncing on my shit-list trampoline for a while before that. Previous to his last two, as I had pointed out, he was 0-1-1 -2 with 4 shots in his last 5 games - it was a JFJ'esque stretch. The thing is, when he has been on the last two years, he might as well been created in a Japanese lab with Lindros DNA, that's how good he has looked at times. Whether it was smashing medium sized D down low, and taking it to the net hard or threading it through legs-like-clockwork to a waiting teammate, D-train can be an absolute force when he wants to be. I just can't imagine a universe where he was on all the time. He would seriously have Lindros like numbers, how's that for a magniloquent statement.

Magnus Paajarvi had another decent game, with 5 shots and a -1 in 14:34 of ice, and it seems like every time I watch him I just can't seem to find any possible way he won't be a great NHLer. His stride is effortless, and while he definitely needs some time to self-tweak his offensive instincts, he cycles the puck fairly well and will be a real Cthulhu to handle after he fills his frame out a little more. He's been fairly cold recently (1-1-2 -2 in his last 10), but Gagner/Omark have also struggled recently, and his small-rink game isn't refined enough right now to create a lot of solo-offence.

All in all, Renney's branding of the Oilers effort as vanilla was a fairly astute judgment, and when you don't play with much gusto versus a team desperate for points AND your goalie has an off night (a lot of junk through the wickets), it's a recipe for a thorough drubbing.

Devan Dubnyk - Just didn't get into a groove, as the Oilers allowed less than 10 each period, and especially in the final frame where they scored two gimmes on 5 shots. If I had to bet on who would have a more successful career, I would definitely have to say Dubnyk, as he's posted better AHL/NHL numbers (small sample, of course) and has taken a big step forward this year. We've seen Dubnyk have off games before (as every goalie does), and one of the impressive things about him this year is that he has usually played great right after having a soft one. He might not be able to fight like Ben Bishop, but my money is on Dubnyk to be the better of the two bigs.

Shawn Horcoff - On the slow-mo replay of Horcoff getting ball-smashed by a Foster fireball, I was pretty sure that puck had a good chance of going it. Unfortunately our captain's balls-of-steel decided to get in the way. The good news is that Renney had a good laugh about it in the post-game presser, indicating to me it's about as serious as Jim Carrey on laughing gas. In terms of his night, it was fairly workmanlike, and I had a similar impression to Horcoff's game as I do to Cogliano. He simply doesn't really help his two wingers break that critical mass to actually get the disc over the line. To be honest I'm surprised some people are even considering Landeskog - almost no one has him in the top two, and our center depth has been pretty hurting for years now.

Sam Gagner - Ruh-roh, Gagger has been off his game recently. He's 1-3-4 -2 in his last 10. His play has also been a touch inconsistent, even outside the numbers. Perhaps moving Jonesy onto his line has hurt his ability to get offence off the rush (he's more of a guy who cycles than say Omark who can generate on the fly). Perhaps Gagner simply doesn't have enough raw athleticism to perform at a high level without a linemate who can provide some of the physicality and speed he's missing. I'm not really sure. What I am sure of, is if Gagner is not going to establish himself as a legit #2 C in the league, we need to address the position at some point. He's only 21, of course, and most forwards tend to peak from 25 to 27. In other words, we can give him a bit more time, but really what is going to change about his game? I'm not sure he will get much bigger or stronger. In reality, he already plays a fairly intellectual brand of hockey, so aside from maybe an improvement to his wrister (or his slapper, which is telegraphed like a tiger woods golf swing), I don't see any huge leaps in Gagner's future. Here's hoping he proves me wrong.

Ladislav Smid - He was one of the better defenders on the ice, and aside from a few Smid-special passes (see: bricks), he played the second most ice (shade under 23) and finished the game with a scoring chance count of 7 for, 1 against. The +6 in scoring chances was the same as Gilbert, which led both sides. He has also really had an up and down season, and I really haven't internally decided if I'd want to move Smid for some middling package. He's still young and cheap and fills a role the Oilers desperately need filled. Maybe he will never be better than a 3rd pairing guy, but you need those hard-nosed 3rd pairing guys, especially when they can skate and make a decent first pass. Like I've stated in the past, he's got the toolbox to have lots of untapped offensive potential, but his chances of hitting that now are really slim to none. He's settled down into the solid defense-first style, and to be honest I don't even mind.


While St. Louis did not really out play the Oilers in any stretch of the game, they were very opportunistic and managed to prevent any true A+ offence on their big back-stopper. McDonald's diving stick check on the Crappy Train was actually a perfect analogy for the game: a desperate team made the right split-second plays to win it all.

P.S. I totally called the St. Louis trade win (I know, I know, it's still early)


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