Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 14: Blue Collar Boys

Yes, it's Toews with the cup. Right before two girls show up.
The Oilers have been a bit like a sports-fan gloryhole recently, providing the same basic pleasures, but without the visual excitement. If the word gloryhole conjures up greasy, dim, piss-yellow-lit backrooms, well it's sort of an analogy of the Oilers play recently. It's grimy, it's a bit ugly, and its delivering results. The Habs sawed off the first period with the Oilers -- perhaps out of respect for their record or speed --  but once they realized the Oilers could be roughed up and outskated a little bit, they cranked it up and took it to us fairly firmly for the last 30 or so of the game. If you want a stat that paints the picture of pablum the Oilers produced offensively, consider this: the Oilers had 8 shots at EV total.

Thankfully for the baying stats wolves -- they can't wait to jump on the Oilers shot differential which is starting to devolve into ugly -- we have a certain goaltender who is sporting nanoscopic 0.98 GAA and an unfathomable 0.964 save percentage. He's played so well that I can't even bend my fingers to type out the usual Khabibulin slam or slander referring to his veins running clear or something of that nature. He's simply played too well. It's not like he's been a product of a Lemaire-built steel trap; he's had to make some legitimate hammer-time stops. The guy is confident, battling hard, and making virtually every stop that is expected of him. At the end of the day, all you can say is молодец.

To be honest, I wasn't totally displeased with the Oilers defensive effort on the night. We saw a lot of good things. Typical Petry, for instance, who can play huge swathes of games with nothing but his impeccable poke-check on display, and a basic, smooth performance, only to watch him make a soft give away with about 80 seconds to go in a game the Oilers lead by a single goal. He really looks like a stud oftentimes but it's clear he's going to need some seasoning before he can play top opposition. As far as out top pairing, Smid and Gilbert continue to look like top pairing guys for the most part, and aside from one shaky play in the third, they had another big minute (Smid 22:13, Gilbert 24:08) hard-nosed (surprising from Tommy boy) game.

The forward equation was a bit uglier. I have to give it to Debrusk, once and a while he actually shows some pointed observational skills and frames in a way that doesn't make me cringe (see: every time Principe opens his mouth -- yes he's a love or hate kind of guy, I'm in the hate group). He said that the Oilers were not being urgent enough in the neutral zone. I agree with you 100%, big guy. I saw Lander, RNH, Belanger, and Gagner all get back checked, pick-pocketed and generally owned in the neutral zone by CH forwards and they simply were simply going rape-victim when they felt a little pressure on their backside. The kids pulled off one of their shifts of pocket-sized, phone-booth wizardry in the third, but besides that it was easily RNH's worst game of his young career.

One trio that was playing the neutral zone game the right way, the veteran line, is actually a microcosm of the Oilers success this season: for every time that one part of the team sea-saws back to the ground, the other half takes off. Except that for most nights the threesome playing the game from above is whoever is paired with Horcoff and Smyth. Smyth has been absolutely full value this season, and whatever karma/zen/spiritual happiness he acquired by returning to his roots, it has spilled full force into his game. Smyth has been making almost no mistakes and providing a brand of offence that really no one else on the team seems to have figured out. There was even a little bit of magic fairy dust sprinkled on Ryan Jones as he scored a nice shortie tonight that was basically the reason the Oilers won.

I have a feeling that Renney was pretty grumpy in between the second-third and postgame as well. I figure he marched into the room and gave them about as firm a scolding a young team can handle after a gritty 3-1 win on the road. If you need evidence of this, look no further than this gem of a quote from him post game:
"I’m glad Khabby found the rink tonight. It took the other guys a little while to get here." - Tom Renney
Individuals and a bow on it after the leap.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - He had a basic lack of calibration in terms of the speed at which he needed to move the puck off his stick while carrying it out of zone. The back check arrived faster than at any other time he had experienced this year, and while he has amazing spider sense -- he would make immediate dekes and cuts to avoid back pressure -- he was getting double teamed. There aren't many centerman in the league who can escape two speedy back checking NHL caliber forwards, not even our young prodigy. His 14:23 was a low total for him, and he finished -1 with only 1 shot. It's a tough place to learn to play hockey, but I have a lot of faith he's a good student.

Taylor Hall - Had zero shots tonight. He's simply not getting enough pucks on net or in danger zones. He has great legs and is quite competitive defensively, so he rarely hurts his team when he's not producing, but Hall has yet to make the big leap forward that I think some people were expecting based on his 18 year old season. Not that it really matters, but Seguin is definitely taking a step forward, as he's got 5 goals and 6 points in his last 5 games. I want more from Hall right now. I think everyone wants more. Including Hall.

Nikolai Khabibulin - He has great fight in his game right now. Even when play gets a bit scrambly within his blue arc, he's working hard to get his grizzled Russian body in front of pucks no matter what it takes. His rebound control has been pretty damn good (how many rebound goals has he given up this year? One?), and his reflexes KGB-like. I am no longer going to question his level of play with my logical mind, it simply makes no sense. If the season ended now, he'd be a shoo-in for the Vezina. Can you imagine if we are saying this by game 40?

Ryan Smyth - I thought Smyth was the second star this game, as his line and his play anchored the team virtually every shift. Just when it seemed like the Oilers had past their flex point, Renney would throw the old-bones over the boards and the ship would almost immediately right. They have been starting something like 2/3rds of their shifts in the defensive zone, and for playing top opposition, Smyth's CorsiRel of 0.8 is very encouraging (basically meaning he's been sawing off shots for and against as compared to how his teammates do). His stat line of 14gp 7-7-14 +4 isn't looking too shabby either. How's Fraser doing down in Hollywood?

Sam Gagner - Played a bit better than a couple of his other recent efforts. He can make some very nice heads-up cuts towards danger zones of the ice after getting a little separation in the O-zone. If you wanna know why Gagner hasn't been producing, however, you need to look no further than his shot totals. 13. In EIGHT games. To be fair, he's a guy who only tops out at something like 2.5 shots per game (his career average is 2.04/game), but like virtually the entire bottom half of the team, WE NEED MORE! Gagner has 2 points, and this is a guy who should be motivated to make paper as well.

Jeff Petry - I think even the color guys on Sportsnet are starting to feel a little sheepish about the number of times they mention this guys stick. His stick is good, and I say that in the most heterosexual way possible. OK, slightly homosexual too. I admit I have a small man-crush on this guy, as he's like thai-silk of the boxers world: smooth, silky, and comfortable. OK that was weird. Delete the previous three sentences from your mind. He's also got good positioning, and saws off physical battles with a bit more aplomb this year. I think he can still get stronger (he's in a college-filled frame though, so perhaps there wont be much gains), and I wish he'd clean up the hyper-fuck-up a game he seems to pull. Otherwise, Petry looks top pairing, and he's often playing 21+ minutes a night.

Ryan Jones - This is a guy scoring 1.75 P/60, sports a 3.8 CorsiRel, and a +/-ON of +0.35. If that was a line of baby drool to you, suffice to say some of his biggest mathlete critics (myself included) looked at his raw numbers from last year and wondered if we might have a brick-shitting-machine on our hands. Fortunately, early on his behind-the-scenes stats look pretty good and to raw eyeball he's been incredibly stalwart defensively. He actually looks like an NHL regular this year, and his 14gp, 3-3-6, +2 score line is fine too. Nice little back hand slip job in tight on Price tonight to help the Oilers to victory. Full marks for Jonesy.

Tom Gilbert - Hugs. That is all.


The Oilers got outchanced, outshot, out muscled, and out Franshwaed, but two points was the result regardless, and a lot of blue-collar effort and a bit of luck was all the Oilers needed. I know that coach Tom is not going to blow fluff up any oil-drop asses, and hopefully now that Hemsky is back, teams might start spending special attention to the top line -- note: the real top line -- and free up the kids to provide us with a bit more thrill for the kill.


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