Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 64: Unsung Heroes

He also destabilizes world economies and kills
ducks in tailing ponds
Like the superhero on the right, sometimes the Oilers just have to win greasy. We have really floppy center depth, and when Strudwick is getting top 6 minutes, there is very little chance of outshooting any opponent in the league. So the Oil had to get a little greasy and tough one out against a surpisingly complacent Nashville Predators team that is fighting for its playoff life. I say that because even though the Oilers got boondocked on the shot clock, the chances actually weren't that disparate: 17-15 for the Preds, while the shot clock was 35-26 for the Preds.

Considering Nashville is in a jam worse than Wesley Snipes' accountant, I was surprised that their level fell considerably in the third period. Not even a pep-talk rally from ol' Trotz seemed to shake the funk out of the Preds game, as the Oilers handily out-shot and -chanced the Predators from the third period onward.

A couple of disappointing notes from the postgame:
  •  Hemsky left in the third with a shoulder injury; luckily Renney has stated that He believes it is a minor injury
  • Ottawa lost one-zip to the Bruins, meaning the Oilers gained ground on Ottawa
  • Gerber continues to look better, cheaper, and younger than Khabibulin
In terms of individuals, I would probably single out 4 players for positive contributions: Gerber, Petiot, Brule, and Vandermeer. Vandermeer was most definitely my Oilers MVP for the night, and not just for his rubber-rocket goal. Vandermeer was asserting himself all over the ice and every once and a while I even consider the strange and unnatural thought of bringing him back to fill Strudwick's spot for next season. Petiot, on the other hand, looked like he had been in the lineup since season start, and from his very first touch on the puck you could see he was a more effective passer and defender than Strudwick has been for years. Gerber was strong, and while he sometimes looks very unorthodox both in his positioning and in actually making saves, that 'just stop it' style was working wonders for him versus the uninspired counter-punch strategy the Preds employ.

There was plenty wrong with the Oilers effort tonight, though. The wee ones were off until the end of the game, and especially Hall did not seem to have any cohesive touches on the puck. Eberle was a bit better, but the line as a whole finished -2 with 3 shots. Renney said specifically after the game:
Collectively they haven't been what they need to be. As a trio they need to be better.
They've had some off games before, and it seems teams with powerful backends and grinding styles are effective in shutting the trio down. Shea Weber was all over Hall tonight, and it really takes strong, close puck-support to get results against powerful defenders like Weber. Normally that's exactly what the diminutive trio is excellent at: close puck support. They're still learning I guess.

It was a big of an ugly win, but a more up-tempo 3rd and OT combined with a slick Omark special in the shootout at least gave the average watcher some small pleasure by games end.

Individuals after the hop.

Jim Vandermeer - Some nights he's a surly, solid warrior back there, and when he throws in a thunder clapper goal in, he becomes an easy choice for first star of the night. I really can't say if he'd be a good sign to fill in the bottom pair, but the micro stats actually like him. He's second on the Oilers in +-ON/60 at +0.10, faces medium competiton (tied for 4th), and actually has a better EV scoring rate than Gilbert does (P/60 of 0.87 vs. 0.76). Tonight he finished with 24:05 (tops on the team) with a G and a +1. The fact that he gives every opponent the crazy-eyes is just a bonus at this point.

Martin Gerber - Imagine if Gerber was our guy instead of Khabibulin. It's such a small sample size, but his .958 sv% and 3-0 record are definitely a huge bonus for a league minimum tender. I almost wonder if maybe he was forgotten during the trade deadline, as I figure he's a huge upgrade over a guy like Curtis McElhinney. Regardless, no point on wishing on a star here - I imagine his stay on the big club will be short, but props to the guy for coming up and playing so well after toiling in the lower ranks. He finished 34-35 for .971.

Gilbert Brule - His game seems to have been elevated somewhat from what we were seeing earlier this season; it much more closely resembles the form that got him the 2x1.85M deal, and since we've got him for another year (and he's probably unmovable at this point), best case scenario involves him figuring things out again. He had 3 shots and was +1 in almost 19 minutes of ice time. The kid still has stinging shot velocity, and is willing to throw down with almost anyone (as evidenced by the Chara run in last game). There is a lot to like, but if you are hoping for much more than 10-20-30 in a full season for this kid you will likely be dissapointed.

Richard Petiot - You just have to wonder what management was thinking placing guys like Strudwick in the lineup over dudes who clearly still have the raw physical ability and foot-speed to play defence at the NHL level - something that Strudwick does not possess. He was quite impressive tonight, looking like a wily vet back there and managed a shot and a +1 in 17:44 of ice. There was no panic in his game and we might get a slightly extended look at him if Peckham is down for any length of time.

Taylor Hall - It just was not his night tonight. He was fighting the puck, and even when he did manage to get the biscuit into a good location, invariably some defenders octopus arm would escape the zebra's notice and unceremoniously dump Hall to the ice. I can't be the only person who thinks that refs really do  let other teams defenders get away with a bit more on Hallsie. I can't help but wonder if that will vastly improve once he becomes an established star in the league. His PDRAW vs PTAKE differential is tops on the team at +1.9 meaning he draws two net penalties for every 60 minutes of ice time. Considering there is a observational gap that tells me it should be better right now I can only imagine he will be one of the top penalty drawers in the league in the upcoming seasons. It's an undervalued ability that often time a lot of people forget about it.

Linus Omark - Beauty SO move, but otherwise it was a poor showing for Omark. It's not really his fault in this case as he was almost never paired with anyone who could distribute the puck to him down low, which is exactly what needs to happen to allow the Meatball to be successful. Losing Penner has a side effect of forcing crappier linemates for Omark to work with, and I can't imagine this will flatter his point totals down the stretch. The coaching staff has definitely fallen out of favour with Omark as well, as he only had 8:53 in ice time, which was second least ahead of only JFJ. It's not even really a confidence thing, it's simply there isn't the right talent available to Omark to allow his creative offensive game to be shown off. That, or he's not very good and the coaches have had enough. I'm still rooting for him, as he continues to make creative and exciting plays almost every game.


Linus Omark's move was a thing of subtle beauty, and it seemed like the perfect kind of goal to try on a praying mantis like Pekka Rinne. In his interview with Gene Principe he stated (in broken English mind you) that he didn't actually know what he was going to do until he was down the ice. That kind of speed-processing is exactly the skill that could allow him to be a regular contributor on the team offensively if our offensive depth ever sorts itself out. Other then that the Oilers ground out a victory against a team that seemed very content for a SO result from about the mid-way point of the second period. Backstopped by a solid, if a bit unorthodox Gerber, it was enough for an Oilers victory.


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