Monday, January 2, 2012

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 38: Special Education

Are the Oilers becoming unplugged, or plugging in?
The Hockey Gods, every once and a while, have to turn up some improbable results to keep mortals on their toes. Tonight was such a game. The Oilers, in the midst of a 7 game road losing streak, staggered into the United Center against the best team in the NHL (quantitatively) and improbably came away with two shiny points.

The special teams figured prominently in the game, and while the Oilers have been a sack of Gypsy piss most of the season, their special teams have been surprisingly special. Their PP is #2 ranked, and their PK #11 ranked, and this is in sharp contrast to Chi-town, who is 15 and 27 respectively. On this night, that special teams battle made all the difference as the Oilers finished 2/5 and the Hawks 0/5. For a season filled with negatives so far, you certainly can't say much has gone wrong with special teams execution, especially considering they ended up 27th on the PP and 29th on the PK last year.

Both goaltenders had a hand in the result, with Crawford and Dubnyk letting in some stinky business, but Dubnyk ultimately made that one extra save. In terms of the other five orange and blue lotto engineers on the ice, I felt the Oilers carried play fairly well into the third period, at which point Chicago realized they might lose the game to the lowly oil droppings, and turned their game up to a 11. When they turned it up the ice became a seesaw with the fat kid in the Oilers end. The Hawks beaned Doobers with 23 shots in the third period, and he managed to redeem some of his earlier eau du fromage with a more stable, consistent effort.

In the forward ranks, it was a good news, bad news kind of night. I'm sure anyone reading this blog will be aware of the fact that Nugent took a tumble in the second that caused him to injure his shoulder, and early word is that the injury will prevent him from playing tomorrow. There is even a suggestion floating around that a forward may be called up. If I was a betting man, and I am, I would guess the first selection for call-up will be Magnum Paajarvi, who finally got a pro goal this season. His early OKC numbers are alright: 7gp 1-6-7 +3. I think expectations have been tempered somewhat with Pony, but if he ever figures it out he could be a bigger, faster version of Ryan Jones (yea, I just said that). On the good news front was Hall, and he continues to generate offence on a nightly basis. After watching him for about 100 games now, I have really come to understand the success of Hall's game. He is a relentless player in that he's constantly in attack mode for every second he's on the ice. His hunger and compete level might actually outstrip his skill levels (which are already ridiculously high), and I might suggest this is why he actually posted better numbers in the OHL Playoffs than in the regular season. If RNH is out for any extended stretch (I want that damn Calder trophy), Hall is the guy who will have to take his game to an even higher level (beyond ludicrous, perhaps Plaid).

Defensively, it was also a rainstorm with the sun visible kind of day. I'm starting with the bad news first again, and that is of course the injury to the Oilers number one defenceman, Tom Gilbert. I still see some real fucking looney tunes posting disparaging remarks vis a vis Gilbert's creamy insides or his lacy sock garter, but these are simply lunkheads regurgitating unexamined expectations from a sloppier, younger Tom Gilbert. Make no mistake, the Oilers were a Chinese fire drill in their own end with Tommy-gun playing the best hockey of his career, and it certainly won't get better with him out. He was eating big minutes in all situations, and he is a central figure in any hope the Oilers have of climbing back into a low-seed playoff race. The good news was from a strange source: Andy Sutton. The big man has shown a strange knack for timely offensive plays, and he's a mountain of muscle in the own-zone. If he was our number 6 guy with 2nd unit PK time, I think the that he has shown he wont shoot you in the foot. Playing third or fourth in the lineup, however, illustrates a continuing problem for the Oilers back end: not enough high end talent.

In the end, the Oilers gutted out an improbable victory, but I felt that it was a deserved one. The Hawks dominated the third, but score effects work strongly against the Oilers here, and the first two periods were even or possibly weighted in the Oilers advantage.

Some names and breakdown after the anchor tag.