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.

Taylor Hall - A couple of electric rushes from horse-face tonight. Hall's game is rounding into mid-season form, and that absolutely world class dangle on Kronwall at full speed was something maybe 6 or 7 NHLers could perform. He almost pulled off another in the waning second of the game, but alas the referees missed a blatant one (or so my limited memory wants me to believe). He keeps on attacking like he is and we are going to see an offensive explosion from the kid. He played 21:31 with 3 SOG, and aside from shanking some PP passes (like usual), was a dynamo on the ice.

Jordan Eberle - Is probably the best player on the team right now. He is a rare talent in the sense that he shoots and passes with equally electric ability and seems to be flaunting his pillow-soft hands at least a couple of times every game. His goal with a tick left in the 2nd was a gunshot upstairs, and he followed it up later with a solo rush through 3 red and white defenders that was barely thwarted by a desperate Howard. If there was any doubt about your next Oilers jersey, well put that to rest now. The answer is Eberle.

Nikolai Khabibulin - Was solid in net and really had zero chance on any goal; all three goals were tipped, and especially the first one took a nasty hop off the ice. He still has the 6th best save percentage in the league, and to my mind has remained very consistent on a nightly basis. If only w could capitalize on his stellar early season run with a few more victories...

Theo Peckham - His game has settled down a bit too. It seems like he needed to get thrown back into the NHL grind to rediscover the form that earned him a lot of praise from fans and stat-letes last year. That's the thing about Peckham: it's not mystery what his shortcomings are, but when he plays within himself he brings an added edge of iron-fist that every blue line in the league needs a bit (or a bunch) of.  He played 13:56 and had a couple of shifts on the PK. Was a solid, if unspectacular, night for Pecks, and hopefully a sign of things to come. Probably the presence of Potter wasn't hurting that either.

Corey Potter - Not much to comment on his game 5v5 - he played a simple, no-panic game that we've seen in the past. Having a bigger body with at least average mobility (see not Andy Sutton) sis a boon especially when the guy is actually an excellent outlet passer and cool-headed under pressure. One thing I can't quite figure out is why Potter got 3:20 in PP time. I'm a huge advocate of switching the PP to 4 forwards with 1 D, and I think Potter should be getting secondary time if any. Sure, he's got a hard shot, but he doesn't have natural offensive instincts that lend to an effective point-man on a PP.

Tom Gilbert - Is a beauty. Even the haters will admit that now.


A loss is a loss is a loss, regardless of 'we worked hard' or 'didn't get the bounces'. The playoff standings don't care about our bounces or injuries or luck. Just win baby. Eight more games and we hit the mid-point of the season. Nothing short of about 5 victories will leave much hope for a second half that could yield a playoff berth. That, or we enter the draft pick purgatory where losses make your team better but stick daggers in your heart. Now a days, I'm not sure how much more Oil I can bleed...


Post a Comment