Friday, March 4, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 65: The Spirit of The Moose

Once again the boys in blue were thrown into the arena versus another desperate Western team clawing for the handful of points they need to get back into the race. The Blue Jackets began the game with a cohesive attack, jumping out to a fairly quick 9-0 shot advantage and I'm sure I was not the only one who wondered if we'd finally see a team walk into our barn and punish us with their playoff-level determination.

Fortunately for the Oilers, they bent but did not break, and the flow of play reversed. Mason decided to put in another effort that seemed to channel the ghosts of Jim Carey, the one time Vezina winning goaltender who quickly crashed and burned out the NHL after a strong first 100 or so games.

There was also another spirit channeled on the night, as the Oilers future star, Taylor Hall, had phantasmal skeins of Messier-like presence dripping off his frame. His first goal was a complete muff-job by Mason, but it still does not go in unless Taylor Hall absolutely scorches the puck into Mason's 14 hole. Shades of Messier, except Messier liked to snipe from his off wing. Taylor Hall's shot velocity might be the best on the Oilers (although Brule has a heavy shot as well), and in a surprisingly lucid moment, Debrusk pointed out that Hall probably doesn't even fully utilize the strength of his own shot (yea, I paraphrased his gobbledygook). He shoots quite a bit already, but I imagine there is nothing mechanically or athletically speaking that should prevent him from hitting 40 with a competent pass-first center.

In terms of the Hall fight, I love it. He decided enough of Dorsett's smurfy crap, and Hall launched a little preemptive strike on Dorsett's face after the pair had exchanged a few hacks and chops. Of course the ankle twist as he went down was a total bummer (somehow we've lost our top three scorers in the space of like two games), but like Renney says, good for him. When Hall shows the league that he's going to be no ones bitch, he will certainly clear a little extra space for himself. This will especially be true as he invariably bulks up and starts swapping baby lipids for adult muscle. If he continues to ramp up the physical game I really feel like he could become a true top 10 forward in the league.

One more thing about fighting though: if Taylor Hall has to throw down more than a couple of times a season, there is something wrong with the makeup of the hockey team. For the record, Messier recorded 10 fights (almost universally against bigger opponents) in his rookie year, but for the vast majority of his career, he engaged fisticuffs only once or twice a season. He was definitely a decent fighter, though.

Rounding out the winning cast on the night is my favorite 6'6 goaltender Devan Dubnyk. He faced 15 scoring chances in the game including a couple of tough, point blank chances, and was calm and cool as he seems to always be these days. I think a lot has to do with Dubnyk feeling confident; I really don't think he questions whether or not he is an NHL caliber goaltender any more. The Upshall goal was perhaps one that Dubbie wanted back, but it was an in tight 5-hole shot with decent velocity. Simple physics dictates that taller goalies will take longer to get both knees down to the ice, as I've noticed guys like Pekka Rinne giving up similar goals. I'm not really sure if an ultra tall goalie is really at a disadvantage on five hole shots, but it's an interesting concept at least. He finished 26-28, or .929, and his .911 overall save percentage is 29th in the league. Barely a starter, but let's not forget he's had a few nights of Strudwick ass in his face.

Thoughts on some individuals after the hop.

Taylor "F-----g" Hall - He always get's the TFH tag when he decides to play with a little more cannonball in his game. This is the Taylor Hall I love: a fast, agressive, fearless finisher. There's no question his goal was a bit on the lucky side, but he certainly shoots enough pucks (186, about 3 per game, ranked 38th league wide) that he's just going to get a half dozen weaker angle goals every year based on pure shot velocity and volume alone. We haven't seen a lot of Hall's full-on heroic hands yet, but make no mistake, his dangle on Tyutin was something that I expect we will see more of as he gets a better grip of what does and does not work on NHL-level defencemen. His fight was not going to make Dana White stand up and pay attention, but he got a few good haymakers in, and aside from the ankle twist, it was a nearly perfect game from the Oilers future captain. I don't expect that will happen until Horcoff's extension ends or his usefulness does (whichever comes first, lets hope contract). That 'C' is going to look awful good on him.

Jordan "Babymaker" Eberle - Pretty vintage Eberle game (vintage Eberle, after 52 games?), which consisted on some crafty puck work in tight as well as a cashed scoring chance, and at least one chance for another. He finished 1-0-1 +1 with 4 shots in 15:06 of ice - a pretty efficient game. His backhand snipe goal was a true goal scorers goal, and I think a lot of Mason staying so open-stanced (he did not square to Eberle) on the rush was the threat of Eberle's pass, which he has proven can be a top-notch weapon. These dual threats will always have tons of success in the NHL because if you focus too much on them they send cross-ice beams for tap-ins, and if you focus to little, they go roof on the backhand off the rush. In the words of Don Cherry, he's a Beauty. 1-1-2 +2 with 2 shots in 9:41.

Magnus Paajarvi - He's only had 3 points (1-2-3) in the last 13 games, but he still plays really solid defence most of the time, and when he makes 5-star cross seam passes after making the goalie bite on his incoming presence, that's high level stuff. I didn't really love his game tonight, however. I find in general PRV will sometimes settle for lowest-common-denominator type chances a bit too often, and I'm hoping with a bit of maturity he learns to make the extra pass or wait the extra second it takes for lanes to open or for teammates to get free. Of the three uber-rooks, he probably has the most projectable frame and athleticism (although Hall will certainly have a say), so I think it's just a matter if seeing if Magnus' North American hockey brain can take him the rest of the way to planet allstar. I'm going to guess we will see at least a minor step forward over the rest of this season as his time and responsbilities increase. He's yet to really stand up and dominate for any real stretch - here's hoping he can start doing that in the near future.

Devan Dubnyk - I hate doing these blurbs because they are always the same for Doobie. He simply does not seem to be doing anything be chilling in his own little zone back there. It's almost like how Penners big body seemed like it wasn't doing much work ever but still beating defenceman wide and making in tight dekes before slamming the puck in the back of the net. It seems like in general big men sometimes look a little lazy and lackadaisical even when they are delivering. So to recap, Dubnyk was calm and composed, like usual - when he stopped the penalty shot it looked like he was bored by the attempt. If he can carry the 29th in the league save percentage on a team with one of the very worst D cores, I just have to lay a bet that Dubnyk will improve next year if our D core improves. Of course prognosticating goalie performance is like Tom Cruise sliding across a waxed floor in his briefs...

Richard Petiot - He pkayed the kind of game that will send you screaming for the minor league buses like you were shot out of a cannon. He made a ton of 50/50 gambles that a 28 year old AHL veteran just cannot make, especially when paired with an Artemis-winged partner, Jim "Turbo-slice" Vandermeer. He played a solid simple game previously, and then suddenly he thinks he's Lidstrom or something. Maybe I exaggerate a little, but I guarantee if you asked Petiot himself, he'd agree that his game contained too much risk on the night. Tencer tweeted that he saw Petiot with all his gear, so I think the 'Petiot Era' is over (Joe Rogan reference there for MMA fans).

Kurtis Foster - Kurtis Foster had 8 shots and played 17+ minutes of even hockey. Even coming from one of the biggest Foster bashers in the Oilogosphere, that's a pretty solid performance. To be fair, the underlying numbers don't absolutely hate him. He's playing the absolute dregs in opposition, with a 54% zone start and managing the third best +-ON/60 and a 4.8 Corsi Rel. If that was a bucket of greek-fried-greek to you, don't worry. Suffice to say he's playing against shit, and coming out with a couple of stains. Next year there can only be peace if he's #6 on the depth chart and not a stitch higher.


Once again I'm mystified how a team that is supposedly so desperate for points basically flops over on it's back and lolls it's tongue out. The Columbus Blue Puppies. After a spirited push at the games start, the Oilers began limiting chances against and cashed plenty on the shaky goaltending that is Steve Mason. I'm not sure that it's totally lights out for CBJ, but they are 6 back and have 3 teams in between with less than 20 games to go. The 21 gun salute isn't far off.


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