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.

Taylor Hall - This Dynamite Kid is trying, that's for sure. He's attempting power moves and carrying the puck with aplomb, but unfortunately he just wasn't able to generate a lot of tangible results for all his churning limb and swooping stride. He had three shots and a couple decent chances while Hemsky was around. Maybe next time, kid. I don't know about the Forsberg attempt in the shootout, either. Might want to stick to your Lazer Beam shot.

Jordan Eberle - Didn't get a lot of room to operate, and while he got an apple on Smyth's grease-ball special, wasn't his best game in Oilers silks. Belanger is not carrying that line yet - perhaps never will - and without someone to play off of in the offensive zone (Smyth and Belanger do an OK job I guess), much of his slippery, cerebral game is easily neautralized. Let's be honest, he's not going to frighten too many players on raw athleticism. He needs good situations. He only had one shot in almost 18 minutes of ice. He needs to produce more then that, but his SO goal was nice at least.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - One excellent indicator about his NHL readiness is how well the kid has been playing in his own zone. He had a number of deft stick-checks, pocket-picks, and sneaky stick-lifts throughout the game, and a lot of the time it allowed him to regain possession of a puck in his own defensive zone. I hate to keep on trumpeting the Datsyuk name around like a free blowjob, but he's got a game strangely similar to his minus the shooter threat (as of right now). I really do see a lot of top end potential in the Datsyuk range. He played 15 minutes and I still think he looks pretty good. Didn't get a lot of chances to set people up, but his progress continues.

Nikolai Khabibulin - He played a solid game, there's no denying that. For all the daggers and pitchforks people are wielding these days, he can still block the odd bit of vulcanized rubber now and again. Every time he was out of the crease and passing to teammates, however, it was an adventure akin to Hunter S. Thompson visiting Charlie's Chocolate Factory: nothing made a lot of sense. Here's hoping he can give Dubnyk 15-20 quality backup starts this year.

Magnus Pajaarvi - This kid is a defensive stud, that's for sure. His powerful, long strides constantly shadow the play, and even when he's not carrying the puck, he's like that heavy breathing on the other end of the telephone, you sense his ominous presence. Opposing forwards have to make plays just a little bit faster when he's on the ice, as they know the Magnus train is coming. If he can parlay his speed into a decent 25x2 season, he could eventually find himself in line for a Selke one day. Now we just have to find out what kind of offensive ceiling Maggie has. 3 Shots in about 17.5 minutes.

Ryan Jones - Lead the Oilers in ice time amongst forwards (19:31). Yes, I threw up in my mouth a little too, that wasn't just you. Zero shots, and one almost nice dangle do not a top line player make. Seriously Renney, why is Jones seeing more ice than Taylor Hall? I just can't fathom it. He's not passer, and if last season was any indicator, he has the defensive acumen of Ilya Kovalchuk. Still it's only two games, and I imagine he will live most of the season on the fourth line anyways (cross fingers that injuries don't justify otherwise).

Ryan Smyth - Scored the Oilers only goal the same way he's done for most of his career: a hard hat and his butt in the blue. I remain unconvinced he will remain on the first two lines if Hemsky is healthy (please God let him be healthy), and I'm not actually sold on his generation abilities yet. He hasn't blown me away with his touches in the offensive zone. Then again he *is* captain Canada. Might take him a while to unfurl his cape. Time will tell.

Ladislav Smid - Another game where you didn't really notice Smid. This is typically a good thing for Smid, since he brings very limited offence, and if you don't notice him he is probably making, good, safe decisions in the defensive zone. There is something about his goofy smile too, that as an Oilers fan you can't help having the cockles of your heart warmed. He certainly plays with the right amount of passion, and as long as he plays steady defensively, he will be a valuable part of the team. +1 and second most Dman minutes (22:14) behind only Tom Gilbert.

Tom Gilbert - Another Solid night for 77. He has really settled down into a nice groove, and it seems like the 26 mark is a decent amount of ice for Gilbert to maintain his game. I saw the Wild goal several times, and I'm still trying to figure out if he should have played it any differently. Cullen backed off a little bit, and it looked like Gilbert started playing the pass, but it seemed to me he could have crowded Cullen a bit more while still protecting the pass. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt as it was his D partner's fault for getting into an orgy at the blue line and failing to notice the impending odd man rush.

Jeff Petry - I like his game, for the most part. You still get one glaring mistake a game, basically every game, with Petry, but otherwise he's smooth and stick-savvy in the same way Gilbert is. Give him some polish, and a bit more offensive gumption and we might have a top four defender on our hands. That pass up the middle was completely indicative of a player who needs to take that extra look every once and a while when the situation dictates. Passing from behind your net up the middle is one of them.


  • The Oilers Defence
  • The Oilers Goaltending
  • Nugent's Defence
  • Oilers offence
  • My excitement level
And now for a tight cluster of games over the next two weeks. I figure by the end of  this run/month, we should have a clear picture of whether or not the Oilers will be a) making the playoffs, or b) kicking it with Ottawa in the cellar (geez, they look awful on paper and on the ice).

Until then, for the love of all things holy, space these damn Minnesota games out.


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