Sunday, October 30, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 11: Phoenix Rising

From the ashes of our dark, injury plagued failures of past, a bright future has surged forth. Most of the naysayers - including myself in some part - have been predicting an outcome for this seasons team that ranged somewhere from ****-gargling bottom dweller to a team with a sliver of a outside shot at the playoffs. There was the expectation that out goaltending was going to have question marks, that our defence might be swiss-cheese like in consistency, and perhaps the hints of an offensive juggernaut would make mewling newborn sounds.

This all has come out of the wash, 11 games in, precisely opposite to how nearly everyone has predicted. Our goaltending has been league leading, our defence downright dominating, and our offence has been merely adequate at best. Take a look at some of these mind boggling early season figures:
  • Goals against/Game: 1.46 - Number 1 in the league
  • Goals for/Game: 2.18 - Number 25 in the league
  • Team Save Percentage: 95.1% - Number 1 in the league
  • Power Play: 20.8% - Number 12 in the league
  • Penalty Kill: 89.1% - Number 4 in the league
  • Points: 16 - Number 2 in the league
Let's not start hatching plans for world domination just yet, though. We still have played the majority of our games at home (8 of 11) and all of the favourable line matching that has been occurring early in the season will quickly be tested as the Oilers embark on a 6 game road trip that will take them into the 3rd week of Movember.

This recent 4-2 swashbuckling of the St Louis Blues was another game where the Oilers demonstrated strengths on special teams and featured plenty of razzle-dazzle from the lolipop line (yea that's right, I can make up shitty nicknames for the kid line too). Smyth continued his surprising offensive contribution with a couple of G's; he's an unexpected early offensive leader, clocking in at 11gp, 5-5-10, +2. Eberle, Hall, and Hopkins are still flirting with the PPG barrier deeper into the season, and a .933 effort from Khabibulin actually dropped his save percentage.

I was especially impressed with the defensive core tonight, as they lost Sutton and Barker, but plugged the holes more than adequately with Petry and Plante. In this writers humble opinion, Jeff Petry is a better player than Cam Barker right now, and the fact that Barker is getting a look over the U.S. kid still surprises me. Petry was moving the puck out of the Oilers zone with ease and made a couple of offensive forays that really underscore his fantastic set of winged sandals and general competence for playing on both sides of center. Plante had a much smaller role (12:05 with 1 second of PK), but actually didn't look much worse than anything I would have expected out of Sutton. Perhaps it's not saying much, but for all those writing him off, it's not too late he might turn out to be a serviceable bottom pairing guy.

I think Ladislav Smid deserves his own paragraph at this point, plus he should promptly be sent a cupcake, for becoming the NHL league leader in blocked shots (make the icing black and blue). It's one of those categories that isn't surfaced on many statistical reports or on screen TV graphics, but nonetheless, for a defensive defenceman, it's a very telling stat. Let's not forget, Smid was drafted in the top 10 (9th overall in '04), and I think the expectations have oscillated from a smooth skating, 2-way defenceman, to a defensive tweener, to a top level shutdown guy. Based on the game he played tonight, where virtually all of his zone escapes and breakout passes were perfect, the needle has been firmly placed on a elite defensive defenceman. No guarantees it will last, but through the first 11 games this year, he has not wavered at all. There's no question GIlberts stellar play is also a big factor, but right now Smid is a beauty and he's all ours.

Khabibulin had a couple of monster saves at various parts of the game, and aside from that .50 caliber shot from Backes, his game was excellent, and the few times he gave out softer rebounds, the Oilers were in a solid defensive posture to ensure garbage collection was on schedule. It's probably debateable is Backes cannon was even stoppable. That puppy had heat like an Austin Powers crotch dance.

Individuals and a wrap after the cut.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 10: Pick Your Poison

I choose nun-chucks. Wait a second, is the woman considered
poison too? Hrm, still gonna go with nun-chucks.
It's a little known fact that on a yearly basis, pop machines kill more people than Sharks do. What does this have to do with the Oilers 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche? Not a lot actually unless I use some witticism like allowing 40 shots a game is as dangerous as playing with a pop machine. More likely I'm running out of ways to describe the Oilers efforts, which seem to be facsimiles of copies of clones of previous efforts.

The script goes something like:

  • Score a few goals (preferably no more than 3)
  • Allow between 0 and 2 goals (preferably 1)
  • Win the special teams battle
  • Play with grit and intensity
 The Oilers followed that formula to a tee, more or less, with the sawed off special teams result the only blemish to that game-plan.

It's hard to analyze the game without immediately pointing out the exceptional performance again by an Oilers goaltender. Devan Dubnyk had a swarm of maroon and blue bastards streaming into and around his crease all night and managed to keep his head in the game and body square regardless. He made one particularly brilliant save that actually wasn't even considered a shot. If I'm not mistaken there was a puck blown down from a Hejduk high stick, which Dubnyk got a toe on, and moments later, another Av attempted to swipe the puck in, and Dubnyk managed to get the back of his paddle on the shot and steer it away from the net. Note, this all took place after the whistle had blown. Regardless, Dubnyk played a great, tough game, and his big body was a memory-foam mattress back there. Now, who do you play next game?

It was necessary too, as the Avs completely trounced the Oilers on the shot clock, ringing up an impressive 41 to the Oilers piddly, pathetic 19. It is still clear that the Oilers have a lot of trouble generating offence off the rush, and the team speed has not really lead to a lot of odd-man situations either. As impressive as the Oilers defensive posture has been early in the season, the offence has remained relatively stagnant. The kids did not have their best night - Hallsie had a couple solo dashes and Eberle had plenty of PP touches - but the obvious decision to keep RNH remains the correct move in this authors eyes. His defensive awareness is already at an NHL level, and aside from his McLovin' type body shape, he can still skate with anyone and uses his stick well to prevent his check from doiing much.

And look at that, I was in the flow writing about the lackluster punch of the cannons aboard the Oiler ship and I started gushing about defensive game. Jesus, what has become of the vaunted run and gun Oilers, with their dynamic offence? It is like we have made a pact with a devil: we will sacrifice our dynamic offensive game and become the best defensive team in the league. Granted, we were already bags of shit at producing EV offence last year (29th if you remember), so I guess seeing more of the same is not necessarily surprising.

Speaking of offence drier than badger breath, Magnus Pony continues to be stuck in a swampland of slim production. He had one great chance off a Gagner pass, and I think we are finally seeing some storm clouds living behind the eyes of Pony. He's starting to get a little frustrated, and so are his fans, who can't help but love the huge, athletic, skilled Swede who just hasn't been able to biscuit deposit or deliver yet. I'm rooting for Pony, I really am, but I think it's time Omark got back in the lineup. Give him a game from above and some time to munch stale Skywalk popcorn and lukewarm orange drink to refresh mentally. It's not time to roll out the sophomore slump card yet, but we are getting into a red zone with Maggie.

All told, it was another gritty effort where the Oilers were basically out played, but got exceptional goaltending and timely scoring and special teams play. I'm feeling less comfortable about these defensive efforts, as we are simply giving up too much ice and allowing too many shots. The bounces are just bound to start going in against us unless we lower those shot totals against.

Individuals and conclusion, etc below.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 9: Khabi vs. Goliath

Left to right: Backstrom, Semin, Ovechkin, Chimera, and Khabibulin
On a night that featured a 17 goal game, an improbable come from behind Cardinals victory in game 6 of the world series, and an early stab at scrap of the year, it was only fitting the Oilers victory had a bit of weirdness going as well. Khabibulin was was not just a wall, he was a cliff-face of granite, and with his 34 of 35 save performance (.971), Khabibulin shot to the top of the goaltending list. Numero uno is our new savior-Russian in GAA and save percentage. By the end of the game, the former villain (and butt of every save-percentage-vs.-blood-alcohol-content joke in the league), Khabibulin, has emerged as an early - gasp, cough - MVP.

We are not even past an eighth of the season yet - grains of salt for everyone - but you can't deny he's playing as solid as anything China or Berlin could erect. It's his calmness in net, and consistency that are really striking, and while it's impossible that Khabibulin can maintain anything near his 0.964 save percentage, we might as well wring every last point out of the soggy teams on the schedule.

Once again, in a complete 180 in comparison to last year, the special teams provided the rest of the work in the victory. Two power play goals in 8 attempts was all the Oilers needed when combined with perfect 4 for 4 penalty killing. The Oilers PP crept up a spot to lucky 13th (17.5%), and the PK is firmly entrenched at the #3 spot, at 92.3%. Considering the special teams last year were more special ed, this drastic turn around still seems a little too good to be true. The personnel isn't drastically different, but Potter, Hallsie, Ebs, and The Nuge all seem to be primary reasons for early improvement. The Tic-Tac-Toe for Hall's point-blanker was the product of another divine disc delivery off the stick of the baby-faced assassin, and Eberle's goal was the product of another great Potter lightning bolt.

Fortunately the Oilers only needed two on the night, as for the most part, the Capitals played a far superior game and were basically hosed by the moronic interference by the zebras. As much as I can't really complain about the Oilers getting a gift basket of bad calls to put them on non-stop powerplays, you knew eventually some of those chump calls would come back on us. Some of the calls were correct, but stuff like the Carlson delay of game and a couple of those softer than sun-burned butter hooking calls left a lot to be desired from the jailers. We very well might have lost that game had the Capitals not been smothered under an avalanche of second period calls, but let them play hockey for gods sake.

After the second period the Capitals started flexing their well-oiled offensive biceps, and a relentless wave of red on white started pounding the puck deep and generating plenty of sizzle in the Oilers zone. There were a lot of scrappy, by-the-skin-of-their-teeth clears for the boys in blue, and the third period shot clock reflected how grim actually looked for a while there: 19 to 6. Thankfully the backchecks were basically there all night to prevent the actual breaking of the goal barrier, and Smid sopped up another 6 or 7 pucks with his shins for vacuum cleaners.

Individuals and a wrap after the break.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 8: The Kids Are Alright

A 'The Who' song, a 'The Who' documentary, and now a Academy nominated major motion picture.
Sometimes we forget the flesh and blood aspect of hockey. We become fixated on numbers and strategy, we lament cap costs and dealt picks, and the hockey player takes on the aspect of a mystical number generator. There is a disconnect between the average fan and the living, breathing pro-athlete that sometimes is hard to bridge. They live in a different stratosphere of cash, status, and fame, and every time you spot Smid shopping in Edmonton Center, sometimes you have to remind yourself he's just a likeable Czech dude with a goofy smile.

I bring this up because of some of the treatment we've seen recently towards our much vaunted prospect. Arguments are made for cap reasons mostly; RNH staying up past game 9 ensures his entry level contract starts this season, which would grant him UFA eligibility by 25, and perhaps more importantly, his first pay raise before the '14-'15 season. I have a major beef with this line of thinking that goes beyond the typical 'it may stagnate his growth' argument. The Nuge is a human being first and foremost, and what do you think it says to the kid if he scores a point per game in his first NHL stint and he still gets sent down. How could Nugent-Hopkins possibly have performed any better during his first 8 games? He's 22nd in the league for points, and leads rookies in goals and points as well. If the Oilers sent him down now, it would mean that there was basically no real chance for him staying with the big club, and in fact are more or less liars for even indicating there was a chance he could stick.

Honestly I thought the Oilogopshere was done with all this talk, but then I see an opinion piece like this: Why Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Should Go Back To Red Deer. An opinion I doubt the management staff of the Oilers share at this point, and an opinion that doesn't seem well grounded in any likely reality.

Of course there was a hockey game played tonight, and unlike some of the snoozers we have witnessed the Oilers grind out early, this had plenty of excitement and hitting. Vancouver seemed to still expect the Oilers to play as some manifestation of last seasons, deep-diving, bottom of the barrel Oilers squad, and was not ready to meet the Oilers level of intensity. As the physical intensity amped up, the Oilers didn't back down, but were definitely getting the spike-end of the nail-through-a-board. Our lineup isn't particularly big up front, with a couple of smurfs, and the rest average sized at best. Petrell is one of the lone big bodies, and it shows when he collides with people. Petrell's physical contributions have definitely not been lost on the coaching staff either, as he's seeing a more regular shift, and a shift in the dying moments as well.

Speaking of Petrell's contributions, another sure-fire formula for successful Oilers hockey is the continuation of the strong special teams play. The Oilers PK was lights out, and for all the Sedin sisters fancy cross-box and cross-seam passing, the D core and forwards sold out constantly, throwing guts and shoulders and butts into bruise-shaping slapshots. The Canuckleheads managed a meager 1 shot in 3 power play attempts, and entering the game the Canuck PP was ranked 5th in the league. The Oilers, in retrospect, are now ranked 4th in the league on the PK (91.4%). This is in stark contrast to last years prison guards, who were an abysmal 77%, good for 29th in the league. Even if the Oilers fell back to middle of the pack, this kind of improvement should mean a substantially better point total when the dust settles.

Aside from the special teams, the reason we won the game was because our kids outplayed everyone they were matched against. They probably would have had another 3 points split evenly if Cory Schneider hadn't blind-and-retarded robbed Eberle's point blank slamjob that was orchestrated by The Nuge's composite conductors baton. As it stood, they finished +2 across the board, and had 5 points as a unit, including Hall's GWG. Perhaps even a little sweeter that their quick strike offence was the straw that sent the Luuuu to the showers. Tough times for the franchise goalie signed until the rapture.

Khabibulin is playing a brand of hockey that even his most jaded enemy (see Tyler Dellow) must admit is at a very high level. He made 35 stops on 37 shots (.946), and for long stretches near the end of the game seemed to be the only calm Oiler left on the ice. Doesn't hurt that the Oilers blocked an astounding 31 shots on the night, either. I suppose once and a while that extra experience counts for something other than decaying reflexes. When the opposing goalie lets in 3 in 4 shots (Luuu's performance in the second period), it looks like sometimes that's going to be enough. Now how long can it last? Till the post season? One can dream...

Finally, a couple of scares. When I saw Whitney go down, I'm sure I wasn't the only Oiler fan to make asinine, knee-jerk statements like 'He's finished' or 'his career is over' after watching the replay of him breakdancing on ice. I guess we've just been pounded by injuries so often that it just seems inevitable every on-ice mishap is actually an exploded ACL or a bruised brain. In actuality, Whitney's career is not over:
"Bit of a sprained knee, I think he's going to be fine." - Renney on Whitney whose status is day-to-day
Samwise Gagner also hobbled off the ice at one point, and there was still no word on Whitney, so it was a 'throw your hands up in the air' moment, as if the hockey gods had once again deserted us. Sure enough the black storm clouds pulled away to reveal a light rain and some clouds. Gagner tweaked his ankle, and is fine. Not expected to miss any time.

Individuals and a conclusion after the hop.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 7: The Doughnut Brigade

Bagel, Doughnut, Gooseegg, Blankjob, clean-sheet. Now with 100% more Khabibulin.
Last year the Canucks finished their '10-'11 campaign with a goals against per game of 2.20. It was the lowest total in 4 seasons, and it underscored how powerful the Canucks really were last season. Right now the Oilers are a mind-bottling 1.42 - but incredibly, with Quick's third straight shut out, we are actually second behind the LA Kings incredible 1.29 GA/Game. Going back to the lockout, the best defensive team was the '07-'08 Detroit, with 2.18 GA/Game. In other words: this cannot possibly last, and secondly (and more importantly), the Oilers are playing fantastic defence. It's a testament to their cap-gun offence that they have parleyed a fairly mediocre record of 3-2-2 out of the first seven games.

Tortellini had this beaut of a quote to serve up after the game:
"Listen, this is gonna be really quick. I'm not taking any questions. We sucked from head to toe, and we need to move by it. So I'm not going to dissect with you guys. I know you have to do your job, but I'm not answering any questions. OK?"
Emphasis mine, as it's a typical Tortorella quote, and accurate in my estimation. The Oilers were a wet-blanket in all three zones, and our team speed was putting relentless pressure on the Rangers regardless of which zone they were in. For the first time, out team speed is actually translating into something tangible: the best backcheck in the league. It's more then just that though. The Oilers forwards and defenders are making a concerted effort to maintain puck possession in their own zone. I can't remember the last time I saw the Oilers make 5 passes *in their own defensive zone* just to maintain possession against an aggressive New York fore-check. It happened more than once, and not that I want to stick a knife in a guy who has had a slow start to his season, but Peckham can sometimes make the 'safe play' one time too often.

One of the defenders who pushed Peckham into a pleated skirt, Corey Potter, also had (most likely) his best game as an NHL defender. Aside from the lightning bolt Potter shot from his wooden wand, he also was using his reach and size quite effectively, and was a big part of all of the jibber-jabber laid out in the paragraph above (ya know, making extra passes in the Dzone to maintain possession in the face of pressure forechecking). If Potter keeps this up, he might just buy that 5-series Beamer he always wanted.

Following up the defence was an awesome effort by the Geezer line - who aside from a few sexual-chocolate stretch passes that got Gaborik sprung - were smothering the Rangers top guns in a thick, defensive gravy. Even Jones, Mr. Mediocrity himself, has managed to really take his defensive play to the next level. If Horcoff can keep winning faceoffs and Smytty keeps his flow flowing, we might be able to run the kids out against some seriously under achieving competition. The more attention the Geezers draw, the more out kids can run wild like firm, muscled, sweaty stallions galloping across the fen. And I mean that in the most heterosexual way possible.

The offence still seems to be a bit timid, but we managed to angry-hornets-nest the Rangers zone on a couple of shifts, each line probably having at least 2 grade A scoring chances. Gagner actually looked surprisingly in form. Renney said the following:
"It looked like he hadn't missed a game, quite honestly." - Coach Renney on Gagner's performance in his first game back in the lineup
Couldn't agree more, Tommy boy. The CBC broadcast also mentioned that in his rookie season that he put up his highest point total on the wing. Not totally true, I don't think. He played most of the end of the season on the wing and put up something like 28 points over the last 28 games - previous to that he played center. As for the game, his touches were good, and he actually out muscled some NYR guys for loose pucks, a sign perhaps that he's entering into his physical prime.

The Nuge undoubtedly played a great game, and once again I'm talking all three zones. He still gets buffeted around by a stray breeze once and a while, but his defensive game is based on his stick and positioning right now, which works fine as long as he's not the one covering Brian "The Man Mountain" Boyle. His snipe was also a thing is beauty, blocker side off the fire-engine red. I said it all along, he wasn't going to get benched for the last game, and his WHL days fade further and further away.

Last but not least: Khabibulin. Second in the league for save percentage, and as many have pointed out, his 0.969 save percentage is TOTALLY sustainable. I expect he will finish the season with 20 to 25 shutouts, and probably turn into a being of light when the Oilers hoist the cup this season, and float up into the heavens. He faced 19 shots on the night, and there were no 10 bell saves in sight. Mostly just 3 moon saves. You gotta give the Russian credit though, because early he looks very poised and capable. If the team continues to play like this in front of him, there's no reason him and the Giraffe might not turn up some excellent numbers this year.

Individuals and conclusion after the hop.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 6: You Tossers

One pupil is bigger than the other to fit all of the Evil.
There was a moment I'm sure, a perfect moment, where something like two-hundred and fourty-three thousand people simultaneously proffered utterances that would make your respective nanas, nonas, and grandmas blush. I imagine if you combined that specific moment of Oilers nation output into a single sound, it would sound something like a Humpback whale-call being crossed with an Andrew Dice Clay comedy routine. Personally, I went with a British colloquialism, tosser - which in slang means to flog the flagon, grip the gipper, wank the walleye - and I uttered it with a heavy snarl of disdain, disappointment, and dourness. After leading me on this adventure into left-wing-lock land, I expected at least 2 shiny shekels for my engaged viewing.

Of course, such is the life of a sports fan: all of our joy revolves around, on a game to game basis, the most random, chaotic things that we have absolutely no control over. For instance, the smallest rut in the ice deflecting the back pass to Heater with 3 seconds to go would have invariably led to a lot less burnt offerings for swear jars across Alberta. 98% less remotes would be thrown, 39% less sorrows to be drowned (women have to count for something -- I kid, I kid ;), and I wouldn't have to introduce my small but fervent fan-base to mildly inappropriate British slang. And more importantly, a universal Oiler villain wouldn't have his second goal of his already-looking-to-be-sub-par season.

I mean, the Oilers can play defence folks. In a classic case of 'no one is really a fucking expert', the Oilers are one of the most prolific defensive teams in the league, and one of the most iron-deficient offences as well. You look at our D-core, and our goaltending tandem of Khabiboozin' & the Ginger Giant, and you probably see the glitz and glamour of a restaurant attached to a Walmart. Sure, it gets food (pucks) into your stomach (out of the net -- OK so the analogy isn't great, but I'm rolling with it), but it's not like you are going to tell your friends it's the best restaurant in town. In other words, it still might not be good. Six games simply isn't enough time to evaluate much of anything.

So we've established that the current version of the Oilers can prevent goals. What they are struggling mightily at, however, is rewarding their fans for year after year of complete and utter ineptitude and gross abuse of our audio-visual faculties. I can't be the only one who can't help but wonder where the fucking dynamic part of 'young Oilers team' is coming from except lip service from jackwagon Sportsnet announcers (1/10 the prescience of the worst TSN guys). They are about as dynamic right now as a bread and mayonnaise sandwich. And I have no idea how dynamic that is, but I'm rolling with the bad analogies now.

To be fair, the Oilers had plenty of moments to go cash-money on this shitty Minnesota Wild team, a team that will be lucky to make the playoffs this year in my biased, non-expert opinion. Eberle, Lander, and Belanger all had incredible chances to score, and on a night when the Minnesota Wild have Clayton Stoner on the ice for their desperate push to equalize on a 6v5, 2 goals will certainly do it. Last season, Theo Peckham scored 0.16 goals per 60 minutes of ice. Stoner was 0.15. I love his defensive game, but the kid has 15 goals in SIX seasons of pro hockey. Yes, that's 354 games worth. 1 goal every 24 games. It would be like the Oilers putting Andy Sutton on the ice to get a last second goal.

And that is it really. The Oilers are doing all of the right things except extending their timid little fins above the choppy water.

My forward evaluations will specifically cover offensive failings, and then I shall conclude with gusto and perhaps gazpacho (that's right, making even less sense now).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 5: The Little Engine That Couldn't

They thought they could, they thought they could -- nope. They can't.
If there is one surprising thing early in the season, it's that the Oilers are playing a Lemaire-esque stingy brand of defence. They have allowed 10 goals over 5 games (tenth best in the league, and only three teams above them have played as many games), and pro-rated over a whole year, the Oilers would have been the best defensive team in the league last year, by almost twenty goals. Which means, of course, this is probably not maintainable. In comparison, Tampa Bay has already given up 26, and Ottawa 30 (Put options all the way for Ottawa).

The bad news is the Oilers offence is also ranked 25th, with ten goals as well. Again it's early, but it's hard to tell if the offence is weak because the defensive focus, or because we don't quite have the offensive juggernaut we are all envisioning. I would guess a bit of both.

Renney usually has a fairly spot on quote summing up the game, and I felt he was once again on point with this one:
"It was sloppy. But we hung around & maybe a year ago we might not have been able to do that." - Coach Renney on his team's performance.
Whitney and Horcoff also chimed in:
"That's a game we've got to win. It's pretty disappointing because we feel like we gave away a couple points." - Ryan Whitney
"We didn't play well enough to win that game. We weren't skating & we made it far too easy on them." - Shawn Horcoff
In the end the play was not so far imbalanced that it felt like the Oilers were desperate (our guys had the chances at 14-15), but when the Flames turned up the gas, Whitney's rust and the teams general fatigue became factors. Whitney looked a little lost at times, but when you have been away from the professional game for 300+ days, you will look a bit like the fat kid picked last for kickball. His reads weren't great, and he was often too advanced up the ice to properly get himself back into the D zone to cover a streaking forward. The usual crispness of passing and smart positioning all just seemed to be on a different wavelength with the rest of the team. Of course it's expected. He's not going to go from zero to Niedermayer in one game.

Sutton continues to lumber around like a... lumberjack, and I question why guys like him and Barker are playing while Petry sits. I still haven't figured out the methodology by which they are scratching defenceman. It seems like the policy is, if Petry plays a decent game, scratch him. The only thing that I'm scratching is my head. Would Petry really give the Oilers worse minutes than Barker? Or Sutton? OH BUT - HIS MUCH VAUNTED OX STRENGTH...

A couple of comments about the Flames broadcast. Sometimes I wonder if we are spoiled to have a pair of guys who aren't total ass-clowns when it comes to bias. Occasionally Louie will question penalty calls in a specific Oilers fan fashion, but Quinn rides even keel, and the color is usually deferential towards other teams stars and abilities. Maybe *I'm* biased, but it's just all Flames all the time with those two dross garden-gnomes in the booth. This is not the first time I spun the bottle with these guys either. I've had to listen to plenty of their broadcasts over the years due to the shared Oilers/Flames broadcasts, and I still think they come across amateurish.

In terms of the Flames game itself, well instead of jumping on an Oilers team playing back-to-back games, they did a trust fall, and rode a half dozen scoring chances late into the third period. At which point the Oilers promptly folded their tents after playing almost 55 minutes of more or less air-tight hockey. I think based on Renney's comments you can see he wasn't truly disappointed, and it seems like he feels like that kind of effort is a step forward for the team. Oh yea, and our special teams are good? Queue up the Twilight Zone theme.

Thoughts on individuals after the hop and a conclusion.

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 4: Ryan's Rubicon

The idiom "Crossing the Rubicon" means to pass
a point of no return, and refers to Julius Caesar's army's
crossing of the river in 49 BC


  1. A stream in northeastern Italy that marked the ancient boundary between Italy and Cisalpine Gaul.
  2. A point of no return: "on the way to political union we are now crossing the Rubicon".
It might be argued that The Nuge had reached his point of no return, Crossed his Rubicon, with his hat trick goal careening into the net. The goal was the birth of chaos theory and confused camera angles, but the mystical three goal barrier was breached, and I stated firmly that he was here to stay.

The kid himself played it coy afterwards:

“This morning I woke up and just kind of forgot about (Saturday) night,” he said. “It was pretty exciting but I’m still disappointed we didn’t get the win,”

It's a typical well-groomed, burnaby-Joe inspired quote: humble, determined, politically-correct. You will have to look elsewhere if you want inflammatory statements or even a hair dislodged from the kids carefully coifed, new-kids-on-the-block hairstyle. I'm sure when he shits, they come out as bricks as gold as well. He might not win a lot of faceoffs right now, but he's more slippery than a butter-basted eel and is passing the puck like Hemsky, pre shoulder injury (sigh).

Of course there was a game played tonight, but don't tell the Nashville Predators that. I recently fingered them as the second least exciting team in the Ligue nationale de hockey, and none of their chopped-liver, euro-mutt forward corps did anything to dissuade me from that position. The scoring chances according to Dennis King were EIGHTEEN to six - approximately one of those six NSH chances came in the third period. The Predators finished the game with twelve shots on goal, and I think Ben Eager could have made his return playing goalie and we might have still had the same result. Some of that is certainly due to a conservtive road game and holding a lead for about 10 minutes, but really, 12 shots is embarrassing, emphasis on bare and ass.

The other Ryan on parade was honored with a (mullet-less? Who do they hire to do these things?) Bobblehead. His deke to the backhand shovel left Rinne like the odd girl out at the prom: legs slightly spread, looking for who had just scored. Well it was the mullet'ed one, and Smyth in fact played a strong game in general, played in all situations, and had 3 shots, 2 points, and over 20 minutes of ice.

Perhaps the best news of the night was the game that Horcoff played. He was the first star, and rightly so. It wasn't just that he made a couple of decent dishes in the game - the Smyth one was slick and sweet like a popsicle - but more it was the way he was penetrating the offensive zone. He was using his way above average foot-speed to gain the zone, and then snapped his periscope up to make drops and cross-seamers as if he were a play-making center *gasp*. You always know Horcoff is going to play an efficient defensive game, and he's wining faceoffs at a plaid rate (beyond ludicrous, he's third in the league according to the stats). When he mixes in a bit of offensive acumen, that stitched on C starts looking like it's on the right chest. If he can find some magic with the old Smyth, Hemsky, Horcoff line, that's going to make Renney's new found power-on-power matching look even more genius.

Not that Nashville had any power to match, that is.

Individuals and a conclusion after the hop.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 3: Sweet & Sour

Left to right: Cody Hodgson, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Linus Omark, and Sami Salo
After gently paddling the Canucklehead bottom for the first two periods, the Oilers promptly lost their gumption and were at the mercy of a ordinary goaltending effort from Dubnyk. The result unfortunately overshadows an exceptional game by The Nuge. I'm almost 100% certain Hall should have received credit for RNH's hat-trick goal, but it looks like the official scorers have made up their mind, and he certainly was the primary force behind the puck crossing the line. To be honest, of all the plays that Nugent-Hopkins made in the game, the one that impressed me the most was the inside cut he made at the blueline with about 90 seconds left in the game. The Canuck defender bit hard on the Nuge going wide, and when RNH cut back inside he had a clear three-on-two opportunity from the blue line in. Eberle missed the puck/got stick-checked, but that kind of play with the game in a critical, pressure situation gives me great hope that he will continue to be a performer through the rest of the season.

Like I highlighted earlier, it was pretty clear that with our offence in a tenuous flux (Hemsky and Gagner out), sub-par goaltending would certainly make sledding tough for our group of young wolves. Dubnyk, to be fair, really didn't have a ton of chance on the first three goals, with a couple bang-bang plays and a Salo ICBM from 25'. The game winner came at Dubie through a wet-rug of screen (and some lackadaisical defending by a stickless Barker), but he's just gotta squeeze that puck. All of the energy Saiyan-Hopkins had generated was quickly dissipated on the Sedin sleight-of-hand that allowed them to escape the second tied, and Dubnyk letting in a softie pretty much killed all chances of a point.

Another entry in the Sour column was the play of Theo Peckham. Watching him closely on a few shifts, he consistently was playing the puck with virgin-defender earnesty; on the stick off the stick, hot-potato hockey. There is a time and a place for clearing the puck with a spade and shovel, but I'm not sure Peckham has shown he can do much else in the early going of the season. I think Renner agrees with me, as Peckham saw the second least amount of time on D, about 14 minutes, and only about a minute more than Sutton. I liked his game for the most part last year, but he's got to keep on taking steps forward or he's going to find himself the 7th wheel on the defence dune-buggy (they have 6 wheels right?).

A surprising addition to the sweet column was the play of Corey "Hairy" Potter, who had three shots and an apple in about 20 minutes of ice. He was on the ice for the Sedin-orchestrated tying goal (thusly ended up -1), but other then that blip, I felt like he played the style of game that Renney requested of him. He's never going to rustle his hair with skating velocity, but his strength and size, and overall game actually reminded me of a villainous ex-Oiler, Sheldon Souray (who scored a goal tonight, BTW, at the NHL level). I don't know how long we will see him on the big club (Petry sat for no good reason IMO), but the Oilers do have a decent history of making AHL callups look good, at least for a limited time.

Individuals and conclusion after the hop.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 2: Moribund in Minnesota

I don't know why I'm using a picture of a dead chicken. I guess it's symbolic of a typical Oilers-Wild game. Except, at least I can cook and eat a chicken after it's dead.
It's been a long time since the flowing locks of Mike Modano electrified an NHL team in the hockey state. It's inevitable that an expansion team will have roots in a motley collection of pluggers, grinders, and muckers, but for whatever reason this mentality has persisted long after the last of its expansion players - and high draft picks - have left the twin cities behind.

Sure, Jacques Lemaire had a lot to do with maintaining an iron grip on the most unexciting team in hockey (sorry Nashville), but it's no secret that a team with Matt Cullen on its second line is going to have some problems scoring goals. Throw in two of the most underrated tough minute defenders (Zanon & Stoner, which sounds like an awesome name for a comic book about two pot-heads transported back into the land of Asgard and immediately engage in hi-jinx), and it's a recipe for sludge hockey.

Not to say that the Oilers aren't also at fault for producing such a lackluster, grinding effort. After the Pardubice Prince left due to 'shoulder soreness', it was like the wind exited the Oilers sails. Fun stat of the night: over the last 45 minues of the game (period 2, 3, and OT), the Oilers managed a cyclopean 9 shots on net. Nine. That means an average of exactly 1 shot every 5 minutes. Team France might be able to have a higher output. Hemsky was no longer stirring the drink and the sediment simply dropped to the bottom.

It wasn't all a splash of antifreeze to the face, though. Khabibulin has seemingly regained his MVP form, and I now expect him to claim the Vezina. Which is to say, I still think Dubnyk should have gotten the start. You have to reward your goaltender for putting in a solid game; what kind of message does it send when you play an almost perfect game and still find yourself on the bench? We've seen Khabibulin play OK for a few games in a row, but Dubnyk needs the starts so we can find out what we have here. We already know the upside of our favorite pile of crumbling masonry.

I have a sneaking - and completely unverifiable - suspicion that Double D's would have turned out a performance almost exactly identical to Khabibulin on this night. Aside from the goal, how many grade A chances did he actually face? Still, there's not much Khabi could have done to have a *better* game.

The defence did it's job defending. The Third period was a disaster (One shot? Really?), and this has to dampen the enthusiasm for any kind of status as a top-ten offensive club this year. Moves like keeping Omark on the side line while Petrell and Jones are still in the lineup continue to baffle me. In what universe is Petrell going to make a bigger difference than a guy like Omark? Even if you want to see him draw in for some wrecking ball in the bottom six, take out Jones. He has no business being on a powerplay or a scoring line. He has the finesse of a drunk uncle at a baby shower.

It's Renney's decision making on Omark and Dubnyk that make me wonder if he even has a plan this year. How are we going to be competitive? Our goaltenders aren't going to stand on their head every night (we better hope they do if we want even the slightest shot at the playoffs), and there seems no rhyme or reason to our defensive zone puck possession. 50% of every defensive touch seems to be shoveled up the boards, and if our 'vaunted' forwards aren't getting clean break-out passes, we are doomed to another season of grim mediocrity.

Some individuals and a conclusion after the hop.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 1: Do the Nuggie

It was one of those nights where the 3 stars told you just about everything you needed to know. They were, for those wondering, The Nuge, Letang, and Dubnyk from third to first. On a night where Pittsburgh was missing it's two headliners (Evgeni "He's going to have a bounceback season" Malkin and Sidney "Hope you didn't take him in a pool" Crosby), the final scoreline makes a lot of sense. Pittsburgh has a much deeper, better, and experienced D core, but missing its top two centers, the Pens are definitely more crackle than snap and pop.

Star three was the man pictured on the left, performing his new hip hop craze the Nuggie. If there was any doubt about him getting his 9 game stint up in the bigs, I'm pretty sure that the doubters have been properly chastised by the Nuge's tight pivots and silky puck distribution. He made some Datsyukian dishes and I'm not sure I can think of a player who I have seen pivot as fast as he does. Sidney Crosby maybe. Perhaps Kane. Regardless, I was expecting he'd play the whole season up with Oil before the puck dropped tonight, and he didn't hurt his chances at all.

Star two was Letang, and while I don't normally spend a lot of time talking about the opposition, Letang was a horse for the Pens tonight. He lead both sides with 29:16 in ice, and had a goal and 6 shots on net. He's a guy in the mold of a Visnovsky, water bug quickness, a great first pass, and a deft touch in the red zone. Debrusk mentioned he thought Letang was undervalued around the league, but I'm not so sure. He was on just about every draft list I looked at, and those poolies don't screw around when it comes to point predictions. He could have a very big year and he's playing all situations.

Star one was Devan Dubnyk. I know I have bromanced him on this blog before, but he's just a giant ice sculpture back in net. He might have the face of a Down's syndrome supermodel, but damnit he can stop a puck. The Letang goal was gettable, there's no doubt, but it was a hard, low comet blocker side that handcuffed Ol' spider limbs. Saveable but most goalies will give up the odd blocker shot that handcuffs them. The rest of his game was completely solid. It's not just that Dubnyk makes saves, he also has been exercising top level rebound control, and perhaps more importantly, he makes his job look easy. The big easy is clearly giving his team a solid sense of confidence when he's in net. I almost wonder if the Oilers have statistically had better shooting ratios for and against with Dubnyk in net versus Khabibulin (the idea that the Oilers 'squeeze their sticks' when Khabibulin is back there). Dubnyk finished with 33 saves on 34 shots (.971), and will probably push Khabibulin firmly into a backup spot if this continues.

As far as the game itself, the Oilers played a strong, scrappy effort, and aside from the definite lull for the first hald of the second period, I was mostly satisfied with the Oilers defensive effort. From the offensive side, Hall, Hemsky, and Hopkins all had great chances are various points, and as of right now I would crown that the #1 line and run with it until the kid breaks down or the offence dries up.

Now if only something rhymed with Dubnyk...

Individuals after the hop and a conclusion.