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.

Sam Gagner - I alluded to his play earlier, but I will reiterate: he looked like he was also in game 7 of his regular season. In the limited viewing, this definitely looks like the fastest, strongest version of Gagner we've ever seen, and I fully expect he will be able to improve his game over last season. By most accounts (see: the pencil pushing stats nerds) Gagner's game *has* been improving, albeit gradually, and mostly the discussion centers on 'will he explode'? If not now, perhaps never. His chassis is as souped up as it will ever be, and now it's time to open the throttle Samwise. 12 minutes in his debut.

Magnus Pajaarvi - He got his stick bitch slapped by a NYR defender after he had just completely blown past him for a clear cut breakaway, and promptly lost control of the puck. It prevented his second Grade AAA scoring chance of the night, the first coming on a PP where he was mano-a-mano with King Henrik on his doorstop. That point blank chance was not so much a great Lundqvist save as Maggie taking critical split seconds to cradle and aim the puck versus one timing it into the empty cage. It was the kind of play that you expect Ovechkin to put in 95% of the time. He still has a blank scoreline, but the offence has just gotta come, right? Right?! His ice time dropped to under 12 minutes...

Nikolai Khabibulin - Calm as a cucumber facial between the pipes, and his rebound control has been good. To be honest, outside of maybe one game, he hasn't had too work that hard. The Oilers defence has just been that good, and its the kind of good that really brings memories of the Nashville Predators making every yeoman goalie in the league look like a Vezina candidate (although Rinne really is real-deal). Still, what more could you ask from an ex-convict goaltender?

Taylor Hall - Was flying tonight for sure. Sometimes he just seems to have that extra spring in his step and his compete level is already through the roof so it's bound to get results. We'd like more goals though. He is an excellent passer, but I think one goal in 7 games is underwhelming everyone a bit. Safe to say that a Stamkosian sophomore season is probably not coming out of the blind crones mouth. He's going to be so good as he gets even bigger and more experienced. It makes me want to whinny at random strangers. 1 apple, +1, 3 SOG, and 17 minutes.

Eric Belanger - Played an efficient all-zones game, but only had one shot on net and still sports only a single point 7 games in. A quick check at last season had him at 7gp, 2-3-5, -4, 7SOG. It looks likehe averaged about 16.5 minutes a game over the start of last season and he's probably about a minute shy of that early in the season. He's also not going up against the other teams best right now, so I think everyone (Belanger included) is looking for a little more than one assist and a -3.

Corey Potter - It's gotta be strawberry shortbread sweet to score against the club that had you buried in the minors for years. His frozen rope from the point was exactly what the Oilers PP has been lacking a bit of: the presence of a heavy shot to open up seams and space down low. The twine-bulger aside, he played about 20 all-purpose minutes and looked at ease playing them. He doesn't seem to have a lot of panic to his game, and for a D core that used to be the picture for the wikipedia entry on 'Chinese Fire Drill', a lack of panic is a good thing. He's definitely bought himself a nice long look from management at this point, much to the chagrin of Theo Peckham and Jeff Petry.

The Nuge - Classic Burnaby Joe from the slot: quick release wrister off the clanger and in. I remember reading some scouting reports for the kid that said that his shot and overall goal scoring prowess was being underestimated by some because of his meager (31 goals) WHL totals in his draft year. By all accounts he has always had an excellent shot, and for a guy who is supposed to be primarily a passer, he's decided to soul-swap Taylor Hall and reverse roles for now. Seriously though, did anyone expect this kind of scoreline: 7gp, 5-2-7, +2? You wouldn't find one taker for that prediction in the preseason I'm fairly certain. Oh, and in case you didn't notice, I heard the first rumblings of the NUUUUUUUUGE chant in the belly of Rexall.


The Oilers were a far, far superior team, and weathered the Rangers push back in the first half of the second period without breaking stride. They made the lady liberty team look like they belonged in a Lichtenstein league. Now if our offence could flex its muscle a bit more, we might actually have a competitive team on our hands this season. For the love of all things holy, it is about time...


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