Thursday, December 29, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 36: War of Attrition

Rudimentary sieve
As we move ever nearer to the mid-point of the season, all of the early season shine has now been completely knocked off the ass of the 2011-2012 version of the Edmonton Oilers. The team continues to lose games, and the recent 2-8 skid has more or less annihilated any chance the Oilers have at playing playoff impacting hockey into even February. We probably shouldn't be surprised but when you live in the nexus of the hockey universe (sorry Toronto), we tend to get easily worked up for good or for bad. The fans around here are desperate to catch a few glimpses of the future championship caliber team the Oilers management has been subtly promising after bombing to the NHL basement for a couple of seasons.

The game tonight was basically an illustration of the kind of razors edge a team with Edmonton's liabilities has to walk in order to win. Potter's brain-dead mistake on the second goal's two-on-two was the turning point of the game for me. Inexplicably he played it as a straight, uncontested two-on-one, and when he let the Wild nobody walk into the low slot and snipe, it would have been the same result if he hadn't been there at all. The other Oilers backchecker clearly was in range to disrupt all but a perfect pass, and Potter should have recognized it and closed on Palmer immediately. That mistake was then compounded when Khabibulin let in a soft-ass goal from an obtuse angle a dozen seconds later, and I've said it many times: we need our goaltenders to play mistake-free to win hockey games. Period. Khabibulin has an expiry date, and I can't help but wonder every time he lets a cheese wheel in, that maybe we've overshot his best before.

Offensively, I think we probably played an OK game, especially in the third period when the Oilers started handling the tired-on-back-to-back-nights Minnesota Wild, and probably the biggest positive was it was the first time in a few weeks that the veteran line -- which I've identified as being absoulutely key for the Oilers success -- actually had a positive impact on the game. Hockey is a zero-sum game in that you can only put your tough-minutes defenders on the ice for so long, and the more strong offensive minutes you can get from one line simply means weaker defensive assignments for another. On the Oilers we have a couple of decent candidates for soft-minute killers, namely some mixture of Gagner, Hall, Eberle, and RNH. With Belanger playing the role of 5-on-5 boat-anchor (6 ES points in about 385 minutes of ice), and Renney's love affair for icing a fourth line that gets buried by everybody, we can't just have the three wunderkids providing all the offence. They get the toughest assignments and kudos to the kids for still managing a decent output on a nightly basis. Calling Dr. Hemsky.

The only other note I have from the game is that the zebras were typically lousy. Instead of having the guts to make the correct calls and send off the singular infracting player, the refs just fence-sat and carted off everyone in cute couples. I have no idea what RNH said, but if he was complaining about the obvious missed call on the Smytty trip, time to take off the panties ref. How thin must your skin be when a 165-soaking-wet gets under your skin that easily? They capped off their indecisive night with perhaps the worst call: the Falk interference with 1:23 to go. I realize that I'm a biased Oilers fan, and truly I wasn't mad about the call, but I know if the situations were reversed, I would have been livid. If that's an interference call, pack up your bags and go home, because hitting has been removed from hockey.

Post-mortem after the hop.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 33: Experience Trumps Youth

Here we have Lidstrom after the
2037-2038 season
The Oilers are officially in a tailspin; paid scribes covering the team can do nothing by sludge through regurgitated 'aww shucks' quotes from the faithful leadership brigade. I usually write the opening sections of a post-game wrap untainted by Renney's recently floundering press conferences - how many creative ways can he frame a loss? The Oilers are falling out of the sky with huge tendrils of flame streaming behind, and any resulting impact with rock bottom will surely shitcan the entire management superstructure and the ancillary coaching tendrils. It's inevitable that as a group our anger will increase, our judgments become clouded with rage, and it's likely we will lose some of the early season perspective that had some of our most stalwart supporters expecting a bottom 10 finish.

The Detroit Red Wings are a team that will probably mummify before they fall out of the truly elite ranks. The eventual loss of cybernetic Lidstrom -- who to my eye is clearly declining on the ice these days -- will leave a hole that it's doubtful any winged wheel will be able to fill. Don't take my mild slam of Lidstrom too seriously though, he was still integral in the Detroit victory tonight (lethal shot pass on the GWG), and even a depleted uranium version of Niklas is still a solid #1 guy.

So, why did the Oilers lose? They lost because like usual they didn't spend enough time in the opposition zone, or maybe more importantly, they can't seem to chomp down on the bit when the games are at crucial inflection points. We had 5 shots in the third period, and 23 overall, which flat-out is unacceptable. Belanger got a point tonight but is going to remain tied to my whipping post because of his basic lack of ability to make anything happen in the offensive zone. He had two shots, and coach Renney has finally woke up to the fact that Belanger belongs on the powerplay like a pickle belongs in icecream.

Horcoff, Hemsky, and Smyth have gone ice cold. If they were beer cans their mountains would have turned a shade of blue, and whatever infectious disease has infiltrated formerely known as Hemsky seemingly has taken root in Smyth. To be fair from day one his surprising production was almost assuredly heavily bolstered by riding side-saddle with our young gun-slingers, but to go from white-hot to coors-can-cold in the space of 10 games or so is a bit more then that. The bounces that were seemingly in the right place at the right time early in the season are now skipping out the wrong way -- Horcoff's near goal for instance. Hemsky, don't get me started with Hemsky. His game was a bit better tonight; I think he was emotionally engaged and that is something that I want to see from him every night. It's kind of like we've seen with Taylor Hall, once you put a burr in his saddle, Hemsky has a bit of pick-me-up in his game that is refreshing and more importantly productive.

I don't have much to say about the kids except that they bring it most every game these days and while Gagner/Nilsson/Cogliano perhaps had as much success as this kid line, they did it playing against lesser D-pairings and weaker line match-ups. With the kids together, they seem to get the bulk of the top defensive pairings and often times the opposing top trio. What opposing teams quickly find out is that the kids, while prone to some what the fuck moments, are voracious fore-checkers and capable puck cyclers. Their dog on a bloody steak attitude is the primary offensive catalyst on most every night, and like I've said a billion times, they would be exponentially more effective if our veteran line could actually draw some heat to themselves. They've been so inept, however, that I sense most coaches are simply line matching the kids and rolling with the rest of our lineup. Perhaps the odd extra attention because of Hemsky's reputation, but even that is falling by the wayside.

As far as the defence, Whitney wasn't total garbage, and Petry continues to have possibly the best stick in the league. I watch plenty of hockey, and I don't think I've seen a single Dman in the league who uses the poke and sweep check more effectively than Jeff Petry. He literally has the best stick in the league for Dmen, and even if our entire D-core was dressed in monkey suits, I'm convinced I could recognize him simply based on how he handled his stick. He still has his gaffes and is not physical enough yet, but look at how long it took Gilbert to settle into the top pairing guy he is today. Speaking of Tom Gilbert, he remains one of our best players by a country mile. He played 21:54, and aside from Eberle/Hall was probably the best Oiler on the ice. I also think that the return of Potter has been positive, and I actually didn't think the Oilers were particularly outchanced. They may still have some of the defensively sound DNA that brought them such success early in the season.

Onwards to some one-offs and a bow.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 32: Merry Christmas, We Suck

All I want for Christmas is a capable D-core
Unfortunately my post-game heading is spiked with some vitriol as I'm again forced to spin another yarn about how the Oilers couldn't get the job done. We are 2-7-1 in our last 10, and we are losing traction on yet another season. Granted there were a lot of moron 'analysts' who pegged the Oilers at 29th overall or so, but it especially stings after the stingy strong hockey we opened the season with. I could still rue calling them morons I suppose, but at least we will have a shot at Yakupov then -- high draft picks are like hemorrhoid cream on the ass of a team taking a burning shit.

On the flipside was a team that does not look especially like a team that is a western conference heavyweight. CBC had a graphic that showed some ridiculously daunting goal-drought statistics. Over the last month, Havlat, Thornton, and Marleau had combined for something like 3 goals before coming into tonight (they each potted one). Thornton has never been a huge goal scorer -- pass first mentality if there ever was one -- but he's on pace for 14 goals this year. That would be his lowest total in the NHL since he was a rookie and potted 3 in 55 (clearly playing a player at 18 who is not ready for the NHL does not 'ruin' him -- wheres the evidence?).

As far as the outing tonight, the Oilers basically played the Sharks even aside from a few lulls where our 4th line got totally outclassed (Hordichuk is not going to help Renney stay employed). The kid line had a number of dangerous shifts and Eberle's goal was absolutely magical. That was a world class goal and unfortunately it was wasted in an Oilers effort that basically had three major defensive gaffes. Each gaffe gave up a premium scoring chance: 2 goals that had a 1000% chance of going in, and another where Khabi went against Jumbo Joe 1v1 and lost. The first goal would have made me mad during one of my division 8 ball hockey games. Any time there is a clear cut 2v0, someone has to have really fucked up.

I thought Khabibulin basically played a solid game, with only the Thornton goal being stoppable, and it was still a bang bang play with Khabi left out to dry. He maintains a top-level save percentage, and I still think he actually has played his best hockey since coming to us as a dubious ST signing. Gagner and Hemsky both looked like lost sheeples out there, and Hemsky especially is seemingly melting before our very eyes. His best asset is passing and I can't be the only one that has noticed how poorly he has been passing the puck recently. He rarely seems to be making saucer passes, and while he's normally good for 10 tap in helpers a season (pro-rated, he's not exactly made of stainless steel here), I think we've seen maybe one this year. Rumours of him being on the block are heating up and I can't help but wonder if maybe the time to trade him is now, while he still has much of his value (a tad less because of a slow start to his season). It would break my heart, but at the end of the day it's a business, and Hemsky remains a commodity that you know some teams will be very interested in (Kaberle got traded to Montreal, typical shit move by their shitty GM, and yet Jacques Martin gets fired). On a mildly smile-inducing side-note, PRV went pointless and scored a shootout winner in the Barons 3-2 shoot-out win in his AHL debut. Pony power.

So now we really need to ask ourselves, is this Oilers team awful again? Well I'll give you one statistic that should at least give you a tiny bit of Christmas-miracle hope. The Oilers are currently 24th in the league by points (it's still pretty bunched up though), and yet they are 13th by goal differential. Granted they have earned much of that positive differential when they climbed to as high as second in the league, but regardless, there are plenty of teams in the playoff picture that are at least on a level field with the Oil drop when it comes to GD. In the East, for instance, there are three teams currently above the playoff cut with negative goal differentials. While goal differential isn't exactly the same as team performance, it is pretty close, and by the end of the season sorting by goal differential or points invariably leads to two very similarly ordered lists. I think the correlation between GD and Points is something like 0.85 -- but don't quote me, look it up.

The primary weakness this current batch-load of blue has is the basic inability to dominate stretches of hockey offensively, and the bottom 4 defenders. Until Tambo gets serious about bringing in some elite defensive help (Ryan Suter would sure look good in Oilers silks), and figures out a way to pick FA players that won't rob Katz blind, I suspect we will have plenty of more downs before we have an ascent into the stratosphere of the league.

A few individuals after the hop, and then quotes from Oilers as they try to explain why this team can't buy a fucking win.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Predictive Quality of Early Season Results: The Holland Date

Yes, calling ToArray() in a for loop is inefficient -- thankfully
the calculations happen faster than I can perform a GET on the page
About a month ago I was struck with the idea that the Oilers were probably not going to be a top 5 team in the NHL this season. The real question I had was regarding how predictive the early results would be in determining the eventual finish of the club. I had heard a quote from an NHL GM, Ken Holland, put forth in an Eric Duhatscheck story. The thought mirrored my own when I was teasing an answer from the 'common sense' department of my brain regarding predictability of final results from early ones: teams generally show their mettle fairly early in a season. Certainly enough that we can have a rough idea of the top and bottom of the league. I just wanted to see when that date was, and how predictive it ended up being. Here is the top part of that story:
Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has a theory about the NHL playoff race that makes a lot of sense. He believes that after Thanksgiving weekend, NHL teams move in a pack.
If they were good early, chances are they'll be good the rest of the way, or at least good enough to make the playoffs.
He also believes that if a team struggles in the early going, it'll probably struggle the rest of the way to make the playoffs.
Once in a great while, a team rallies all the way back to make the playoffs. The San Jose Sharks did it the season they acquired Joe Thornton on Nov. 30, when they were mired in 10th place.
Mostly, though, teams that get out of the gate well are usually the ones left standing as May turns into June and the Stanley Cup playoffs get down to the final four. - Erik Duhatscheck, ,
Basically I wondered if I took a look at standings data in a step-by-step process, at which point would the point pace/win percentage became valuable for early prediction. Thankfully my day job is programming the infernal machine, and as you can see from the code snippet above, I wrote a quickie web-spider/data processor to scour standing data from and this gave me a nice set of data points for every day within a given season.

Charts and methodology after the hop.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 28: Time Bandits

I would have titled this post Ass Bandits in closer relation to how the Oilers played but this is a family site.
Time Bandits was a movie from 1981 featuring Sean Connery, and was a surprisingly awesome film in a schlocky, midget-exploiting kind of way. It featured a cadre of thieves that stealth through time and steal treasure. Not so much different from the three hours that the Oilers stole from me tonight. It was the kind of awful effort that makes me want to invent new swear words. How about about, the Oilers played like a bunch of cumsterfucks. Except they played worse then that, considering the ugly white and red uniforms pitted against them. The bodies inhabiting those happened to sport the worst defence in the league, the worst winning percentage in the league, and a starting goaltender with a sub .900 save percentage. They were playing an Oilers team that needed to start winning some games, and had recently been treading water with sub-par effort after sub-par effort. The Hurricanes were a team playing back-to-back games, whereas the Oilers had just enjoyed a nice rest at home with plenty of practice.

And folks, they laid a dinosaur egg tonight. Not the normal kind of egg you might see coming from underneath a Jewish caricature in the Borat movie either. We are talking Brontosaurus sized, brown and blue speckled, feed-the-village-for-a-month egg. It was reverse night, as Gilbert made a number of critical mistakes, and the top-two lines sucked more knob than Monica Lewinsky circa 1997. This has been a trend recently, as the Smyth, RNH, and Eberle line have managed a goal here and there, but no consistent 5v5 offence or momentum generation. Of course there will be lulls in the season, and no doubt they have been the Oilers best line by a Siberian mile, but you just hope for a bit more consistency at this critical juncture of the season.

Here are three primary junknozzles I want to point out that I think are harming the Oilers immensely (after the hop).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 26: Counter Flow

You can't stop the flow... But why would you want to?
After getting cream-pied in the first period by the lowly BJ's, there was a palpable sense that losing a game like this could be the lynchpin on a downward spiral into shitty season. The Oiler fan ego is a fragile one, and we are possibly the worst fan base for turning into debbie downers the moment a few rainclouds appear. Recently there were a few rainclouds, as the Oilers started off a crucial 6 game home stand with two losses (3 in a row overall), and did not look particularly sharp in any recent game.

Fortunately we slowly stepped back from the ledge with a fantastic effort in the third, and with some decent goaltending by the big guy throughout, there was enough gas in the Oilers tank by the end of the game to prevent any late charge by Columbus. It didn't hurt that we got 4 goals from sources outside of the top-6; the top 6 group has been responsible for virtually all of the early season offence, and balanced scoring is going to be key for any future success by the copper and blue.

Of course I can't prattle on too much longer without mentioning his Royal Flowness, a.k.a. Jones, a.k.a. 'The guy that all the stat-letes thought was lousy last year and would continue to be lousy'. My words regarding Jonesy have been immortalized in digital ink, and I have nothing to hide. I said Jonesy had a chance to be a solid spot duty third liner if he could improve his defensive game. He's done that, and in spades, and I still feel quite confident we got it right as bloggers last year. Last year he wasn't that great defensively (or at all), but no one could deny his opportunistic nature offensively. For that reason alone, virtually all bloggers and hardcore math-nerds were willing to give RJ another chance. That all said, he had another typical Jonesy game, and scored what I can only term a Ryan Jones hat-trick: one garbage goal, one bang-bang goal, and an empty netter. For a guy who drives a lot of his offence with hustle, sweat, and grease, it makes sense that each of the three goals had a bit of each.

Lost in the shuffle of the game was a couple other nice to see things.
  1. Smid potting another in the same calendar year is either amazing or incredible, I'm not sure, but you love to see grit guys like Smid getting rewarded for getting pucks pumped off their shins and fleshy bits. I'm almost tempted to suggest that maybe Smid still has some untapped offensive upside, but really I think that ship has sailed.
  2. Devan Dubnyk really kept the Oil drop in it early, and while he only had a couple 5-bellers to stop, there was plenty of tough shots to stop and he handled himself very well. Any one of those tough-but-saveable pucks gets by him and there is a good chance that the Blue Jackets curl up into a defensive shell and wait it out. He made 36 of 39 saves, and was the Oilers best player for the first two periods.
  3. Ales Hemsky is the kind of player that when he's only scoring at about 0.6 points a game, people start questioning if 'his heart is in it' or wonder if his 'surgically repaired shoulder is OK?'. We've seen Hemsky go soft for stretches, but invariably he opens up the playboy and gets limbered up again. His goal was a thing of beauty, and after he crushed a couple BJ's with hits in the third, it was funny how much of the MSM and blogger crowd was convinced he was going to be due for something. I guess they were right this time...
We have to be cautious with optimism though. Peckham still is stuck in defensive quicksand, and it was another goalless game for the usual suspects. There's no question, for instance, that Gagner is playing mucho burrito better than a half dozen ago, but strong play isn't enough to win games, you need results at the end of day.

Anyways, whatever malaisonnaise that coated the Oilers in the first was, let's hope we don't see much more then that, as most teams will have a more potent lineup than Derek Dorsett and Pantywaist Huselius.


Beating the worst team in the league at home that had just slid into town on a back-to-back is nothing to send flowers to Jesus about. We were actually somewhat lucky that Renney found the sniffing salts in between the 2nd and 3rd periods or else there might have been that plaintive moaning from our fickle fanbase demanding changes or proclaiming armageddon.

Now, lets beat the pants of the Flames and hopefully we can cause calgarypuck to melt in a deluge of blood-colored tears.