Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 6: Release (the hounds)

Remind you of our 4th line?
With 6 minutes left in the third, a whacky Perron clearing attempt had bounced off ex-Lightning Purcell, and landed on Johnson's stick, paving the way for an easy slot job by Connelly to tie it at 2. It was the second bit of puck luck that lead to a Tampa goal on the night - Boyle's first went off Jultz from a very sharp angle shot. It could have spelled the end for a less resilient team, and certainly would have whispered "woe is me" in the ears of the copper and blue.

Thus when Ondrej Palat's poorly performed pass clattered off Jordan Eberle's stick high in the Tampa Bay defensive zone, the huddled fan base inhaled deeply. It offered a timely bit of retribution and restitution for the unfathomably awful Oilers season start. Moments later, Hopkins sent the puck zipping inside the post, and the crowd, the bench, and the kids all let out the primal scream of release. Sure, there was another 3 and change to go, but the Oilers slammed the storm shutters closed and the Stamkos-support-structure managed zero shots on goal and a single (corsi) attempt.

I will preach over and over that the win was merely a product of the Oilers playing a much better overall puck possession game. As Eakins said, the results are the only thing that matter, but the best way to generate results is playing a strong puck possession game, which the Oilers - right now- are doing. Moving Marincin into the shutdown role has obviously helped Schultz for obvious reasons: less minutes played against weaker opposition. It was the first time all season, I think, that Jultz didn't have the highest TOI amongst the Dmen. His 19:48 trailed Ference by 3 seconds, and trailed Jeff Petry by 2:43. Ference playing almost 20 minutes I can really do without, but it signals a change from Eakins in that he recognizes that Schultz probably can't be the do-it-all #1 guy.

The first line did a bunch of heavy lifting tonight, with Hall's penalty shot the injection of fire every oil-drop-blue vein needed to give belief. It was his third attempt, and he made it look very easy. Eberle had a bunch of great chances in the game that Bishop stoned him on, but his intercept and pass to Hopkins for the win really cemented the performance for the top line as a whole. Considering the middle part of the lineup-sandwich has been lean-scoring beef so far, our success has been dictated by the top and bottom slices of the sandwich (see below).

Finally, one of the keys to success continues to be the "Release the hounds" (4th) line, being sicced on every opposing teams top lines, buried deep in the bunkers of their own warzone. Not only are they preventing good players getting offence, they are also getting good cycles in the opposition zone and forcing everyone on the ice to play their version of chippy, bang-bus hockey. That energy helps drive the team, and more importantly, allows easier match ups to cycle through the rest of the lineup. It was a statement at the beginning of the year that the Gordon line would perform this duty (shutdown and shit shoveling), and they've been doing it with an impressive intensity and competency. It's been the best fourth line the Oilers have iced since the Brodziak and Glencross days. The three players are splattering mud on the oppositions offensive poetry.

Conclusion after the hop.

Ben Scrivens - Continues his strong play, and to be honest didn't have to be lights out to give the Oilers a chance to win. He made the saves he should have, and looks calm, steady, and ready.

Martin Marincin - Right in the very beginning the game, there was a sequence where Marty doggedly refused to throw the puck away while looking to transition out of his own zone. Many Oilers D would have simply iced the puck, but Marty held on, never got overwhelmed, and the opposing team was forced to change it's forward line, and when the Oilers did likewise, we still had possession behind our own net. It shows the kind of game Marty has, he's excellent at maintaining puck possession under pressure. Oh yea, and he shut down the Stamkos kid half-decently too (he had 4 shots in almost 20 minutes of ice).

Leon Draisaitl - I know a lot of fans are saying that Leon needs to be sent down, but here is my take: he's playing like an NHLer. The problem is, he's not playing like a defensively aware 2C. I don't think the question is any more "is he NHL ready?", but rather, "is he going to improve steadily to properly fill the 2C role?". So far Leon's graph has mostly been a flatline with a couple of offensive blips. I think he will need to put in a couple of outings where he leaves an impression or he will be in danger of getting sent down. Then again, I don't think the Oilers want anything to do with Acton on the full time roster. In other words, MacT may need to fashion a trade to accomplish sending Draisaitl down without actually hurting the team.

The Top Line - Hall-elujah! They matched Stamkos well - out corsi'ed by about 7 - and if Eberle wasn't totally snake-bitten so far, they might have had more than the 4 combined points.

The Bottom Line - Continues to impress, and I think they are really outperforming any possible vision I could have for a Gordon, Jonesuu, and Hendricks trio. The Dubnyk trade really isn't looking that bad any more (I was incensed at the time).


The Oilers played a strong team last night, and played them well. In other words, stake out a spot on Jasper for the Stanley Cup Parade!

...or perhaps wait for more than 1 victory in 6.


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