Sunday, March 6, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 66: Ragtag Results

An apt description of the Oilers current lineup
After sucking marrow at the bottom of the NHL bone pile, the Oilers have finally (for the moment) climbed out of the 30th spot to the clearly more respectable 29th overall spot. The win also gives the Oilers 7 of their last 10, and not only against jobber teams; they have faced teams battling for their playoff lives and looked good doing it. Explanations as for the Oilers recent success are not easy, especially considering we've recently lost almost all of our high end offence due to injury or trade. You could go with the trusty 'the call-ups are stepping up because of the opportunity afforded them' but I'd say it's just as likely this is a natural fluctuation of both the Oilers execution and the one-ice puckluck.

It's pretty clear that after being basically a 35% win-rate team for most of the season, suddenly doubling that to 70% is as likely to be a function of luck as it is ability, but certainly the Oilers have been upping their RPM's. They have been simplifying their game to match the incoming minor league talent - it's almost like enforcing simplicity in everyone's game has made even the veterans more effective as well.

In terms of the victory vs. the Avs, there were plenty of players who had strong games, from the goaltender on up to Captain Corsi. Dubnyk has just been a ceaseless rock face for something like 127 hours now, and the small pessimist inside me is trying to find chinks in the Dubnyk progression-project to help deflate the notion that he can be a number 1 next year. So far I haven't really figured it out. He's a young, inexperienced goaltender who not only has been playing like a veteran, but also playing well too. His .914 ranks 24th in the league, and I'd say this is also impressive since he's putting that kind of number up on a team that is 29th in goal differential. If the Oilers could receive consistent .910+ goaltending next year, it certainly would go a long way towards fighting for a playoff spot (something unlikely but certainly possible).

On the other end of the ice, Elliot is the picture of inconsistency. His .893 ranks 42nd in the league, and for some unexplainable reason, this is a guy who has gotten 47 starts this year. Budaj is not much better (39th in the league), but riding Elliot is a total mystery to me - sort of like the Anderson trade was. Anderson is a guy with a proven track record of being able to hit a high water mark, at least for a time, and this is something that Elliot has never really done (.909 in 57 gp last year was alright I guess, but not spectacular).

The Oilers two main offensive lines looked pretty good all night, especially he who turns it on when the season is over. Like we've seen countless times before, when Gagner is late in the season, he can seemingly access another gear. This of course begs the obvious question: why not earlier? We're probably entering how to get the caramilk in the caramilk bar territory, so I'll leave it at that for now, but regardless he played a strong game on the night. Gagner, Jones, and Omark were cycling the puck well all night, and combined for 5 shots and 2-4-6 +2. I know that Ryan Jones has been sporting an ugly Corsi Rel (-11.7, 14th among forwards), but his shooting percentage is only 1.5% over his (short) career average, perhaps indicating he can be a high percentage NHL shooter over his travels in the big league. He's also been paired with guys who don't outshoot a lot, so perhaps we'll see this value migrate north as long as he maintains his spot higher in the rotation.

PRV played a strong game, which included a great cross ice pass to Horcoff for his one timer goal. Speaking of Corsi Rel, PRV was at -7.5 on January 21, and he has managed to get that mark to -1.5, indicating he is starting to drive possession a bit more. Surely that's been helped with him playing with better linemates since Jan. 21, but I also think that observationally he has continued to mature as an NHLer, and we are finally seeing a bit less of PRV flubbing pucks in the offensive zone. His ability to move on the ice really reminds me of Hossa, but with a bit lower end technical skill when the puck is on his stick. I'm not sure how much improvement we will see in this regard over his career but at the very least he will be a bigger, stronger Marchant which should allow him to best Marchant's 20-40-60 season in his prime.

Thankfully there is some decent padding between 29th and 28th (5 points), so if the Oilers decide to go on a bit of a winning streak there is still some space before they really start screwing themselves over draft-pick wise.

Sam Gagner - Sam Gagner is the topic for a Winston Churchill speak: He's a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Sometimes he looks so crafty with the puck and it just seems obvious that he can be a top flight second line center with stand-in first line duty. Unfortunately there seems to be a pattern in his game that the best version of Gagger seems to show up near the end of the season only. I wasn't sure if it was a correct impression or not, so I did a bit of research (I made the cutoff oct-jan, feb-apr):

2011: First 49gp - 0.59 pts/g, next 17gp - 0.76 pts/g +0.17
2010: First 52gp - 0.62 pts/g, next 16gp - 0.56 pts/g -0.06
2009: First 43gp - 0.40 pts/g, next 33gp - 0.73 pts/g +0.33
2008: First 50gp - 0.42 pts/g, next 29gp - 0.97 pts/g +0.55

For whatever reason, it seems that generally speaking his performance after January seems to improve. If we were fighting for a playoff spot this might be a big boon. Right now it just like cherry-picking points. He finished 1-2-3 +1 with 3 shots in 14:51. A very solid line.

Ryan Jones - Ryan Jones continues to play an opportunistic game with a lot of hustle, grit, energy, and and most of all an ability to finish chances. His Corsi Rel is really terrible (only Smak is worse for forwards), but he's been a decent penalty killer and I think even those most bitter micro stats guys would be willing to look at him again next season as long as no ridiculous contract numbers are thrown around. Considering the Oilers offered him a bargain basement contract already, it gives you a good idea that their internal number for Ryan Jones isn't much higher than the most hardcore Corsi stats guy. This probably has a lot less to do with Corsi as it does with the fact that this is his first season of results, and the Oilers can easily say, now do it again. I would expect about 1.25 around 2 years, give or take 100k. Another surprising stat from the game, Ryan Jones played the most of any forward at 18:04, and considering his 18+ game versus CBJ, they happen to be his top two TOI totals of his entire NHL career. Fear the power of his flowing locks.

Devan Dubnyk - It's official: I've run out of ways to document Dubnyk's performance. This link will now suffice. In the meantime, I'm still holding out for a Vezina for Jeff Deslauriers. 33-34 for Dubnyk tonight (.971). Yawn.

Jimmy "Bones" Vandermeer - He has been as calm as Liam Neeson when his daughter has been kidnapped and he will have to go kill a lot of Eastern Europeans to rescue her. About as mean as Nesson too, considering the way he pounds people all over the ice if they so much as breathe air in Jimmy's locale. There sis ome debate going on whether or not he is suitable for the #6 spot after Strudwick is taken behind the barn and shot. The micro-stats say yes, and my eyes say yes. My brain still wonders how a guy like him is given up for nothing, however. Is Smid obviously better than him? So many questions, questions that hopefully can be answered as the season draws to a close here. You almost wonder if Vandermeer understanding he's probably auditioning for the bottom pairing job is driving his solid stable performance recently - or if that even matters. He played 22:17 and was +1 with 3 shots. Another dependable, steady night.

Alex Plante - He had a scrap that he lost, and took a couple nose-crinkling penalties. He moves with a bit of a ponderous pivot, somewhat reminiscent of another big man on the team, Strudwick. I think his agility and skating have long been identified as weaker points in his game, and the limited viewing tonight did not do much to change my impression of that. Of course being a bit lumbering does not mean you cannot be an effective NHL defender. Reach, timing, and angles can all overcome cement-block feet and allow a big, strong guy like Plante to play mistake free games even against speedier teams. Tonights audition gets a pass, if only because it's his first time in the Show for a while, and I'm sure he was pretty jacked up off the drop. He will get a few more games to settle in I'm sure, at which point we can make a better observation about his current progress and likely future.

Tom Gilbert - Tommy gun had a couple of apples in 23:56, and has put up 0-9-9 +5 in his last 10gp. It's no coincidence that when Tom Gilbert is going, so are the Edmonton Oilers. Considering he's handling probably a quarter to a third of the transition pucks from the back end, when there is crispness in that area, the forwards tend to look a lot more dangerous. Tonight featured a lot of heads-up breakouts, including a couple of double teams from say a Duchene where Gilbert still got the puck to a streaking Oilers forward. His recent consistency needs to become the unquestionable Tom Gilbert and then perhaps we can take about value for a contract.


The Oilers handily outchanced the Avs 21-14, and in general were the far superior team. The Avs have a lot of injuries certainly, but the Oilers are the last team you can come crying to about injuries. They had no excuses to play this badly at home, but a lot of that was the excellent, simple game the Oilers played. Let's just hope they don't screw themselves out of the top 4 draft spot now.


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