Sunday, November 23, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 21: Numb


30 SOG
25 SOG

Only by the quirks of the NHL tie breaking system do the Oilers find themselves out of the darkest, deepest pit of NHL hell. On the night after I reaffirmed that I thought the Oilers had shown stronger underlying numbers, they serve up the seasons most lopsided loss. If it was a test of my resolve, I will say that it took a lot of effort from damning the Oilers to the darkest pits of hell and completely abandoning logic to the warm, seductive embrace of hardcore hate. In some twist of irony, the Oilers actually out-corsi'ed the Hawks 5v5. The hockey gods have a sense of humor after all.

Rather than dissect every nuance of the Hawks hammering the hometown heros, here are some bits:

  • The reffing was garbage, for the most part. The call on RNH to put the Hawks up 5v3 made me think the ref had sports select riding on the game. Otherwise, it was uneven, and just non-situational reffing.
  • The Oilers didn't lose the game on goaltending, not when you consider either goalie gave up enough goals to lose. I will say, Scrivens could have stopped the first goal but it would have been a tough save for any goalie, even the leagues elite. When the Oilers have been playing as awful as they have recently, they need the spectacular, goalie-probably-shouldn't-have-saved-it level of stop.
  • Hall looked frustrated, and since return from his injury, he hasn't been able to stand out like the superstar left winger he is. I think it's mostly the product of a team without confidence and with serious problems in defensive execution. If you are afraid that any stray pass will lead to goal against, there's no question it will affect your game.
  • Jeff Petry had the most ice time for the team (23:33), and it's about time Eakins realized that he's currently the teams best defenceman. He's the only defenceman who looks like he can handle the role properly, certainly better than any of the other current Oilers. Justin Schultz played 16.5 minutes, and if the switch between top pair and second pair happens between Petry and Schultz, sign me up.
  • The Oilers got burned by virtually every mistake they made. How many times have you seen the Oilers - or in fact any team - make a mistake, and have the opposing team shoot the puck two inches too high, or have their seam pass hit a rut in the ice before a 20 goal scorer can smash it into an wide open 6x4. The Cosmic Curse that's deep-dishing the Oilers ass can't seem to get the hint. At some point, all these laser-precision top corner shots taken moments after an Oilers turnover aren't going to hit toonie sized spots in the sunlight behind the stoppers.
Now what? Some thoughts after the hop.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 20: The Heart of Darkness

Normally the post would be crowned with a picture and a score line, maybe some witty caption, but black, oily bile has clawed its way up my throat, and my heart feels hollow and dark. So simple words will have to do; words will have to be my catharsis in this bleak, awful, and agonizing time for the Edmonton Oilers faithful.

Of all the fans in the league, no one quite knows suffering like the Oilers fan, and certainly not in the last decade or so. After the ultimate rejection by one of the worst modern era Stanley Cup winner, the Oilers have ridden a black steed down to the bottom of the league, through the gates of hell, and sat upon a pile of draft corpses, gutter slime seasons, and the bleached bones of long gone NHL coaches. Like greasy, worm-fed scoundrels, we - the unnamed mass of misguided fans - have crowded to bow before this dark throne, and begged our black master to show us the past glories. The days of yore when the Oily tendrils of the Orange and Blue spread across North America and dominated professional hockey. When the master of the puck was anointed, and he lead us to a dynasty of silver cups piled upon one another. It was hockey rapture, and the probably the greatest run a hockey fan could ever experience.

The echoes of that greatness are with us still: it's drawn one of the largest and most passionate group of fans in the world, a knowledgeable group of dedicated and intelligent writers, and finally pride. The kind of pride that had Kevin Lowe make a fool of himself when the Oilers recent ineptitude was challenged. The kind of pride that had our GM Craig MacTavish proclaim that Justin Schultz had "Norris" potential. The kind of pride that Eakins exercised in his first season as an NHL coach and that eventually humbled him before his second.

The kind of pride that has prevented the Oilers from making the kind of ruthless, necessary decisions with their roster to truly fashion a contender.

Today, after the Oilers shutout loss to the Devils - who were a measly 4 points up o the Oilers before the game - we are faced, again, with absolute fucking rock fucking bottom. Second last in the league ahead of only the -35 goal differential, possibly-historically-bad Buffalo "McDavid" Sabres, there remains almost nothing more to be said about the travesty of the first quarter of the Oilers season. It's a failure, from the coaches early season decisions to the goaltenders early stopping ability to the inept power play. It's been a failure, a fuck-up, an absolute anal-blasting top to bottom. Even in my darkest nightmares I couldn't imagine how impossibly bad the Oilers results would be.

We are left with three paths.

First, you can shun the Oilers. You can finally admit you don't have the stomach for all of this fucking carnage, all this blood, all this eye-bleeding, loser-powered play. You can walk away, wash the oily film off your hands, and find solace in liquor or crack or cat videos. This is the path for the flighty, floppy fan; the fan who doesn't truly bleed Oil; this is for the weak-willed.

Second, you can rage and scream and throat-rip. You can dial the digits of your local sports talk radio, and make the lines burn with your anguish. You can call your local witch doctor and curse the unborn children of Nikitin, place a hex on Hendricks, prick a Ben Scrivens bobble-head with voodoo juju. You can wave away the math, spit on the off-season signings, and ultimately embrace the hate. It's the easiest path. It might be the most satisfying, to give in to all that anger. I couldn't blame you in the slightest - it's been too long, too dark, and too empty for me to disparage anyone who simply wants their pound of flesh. Maybe some of that hate will light a fire in the Oilers that seems to be missing from their game since their dead-eyed coach doesn't seem to help instill it.

Third, you can believe the numbers that say that the Oilers continue to be incredibly unlucky, and that they have made real gains on the shot clock this season. I'm sure right now this seems like a laughable idea, like I'm high on heroin, that I'm watching the games on spreadsheets, or I'm stupid. Again, considering how bad they've been, even I have begun to doubt my own conviction - who wouldn't? This is the hardest path, and probably the least popular.

There have been serious problems: the coaches ice-time decisions, the power play strategies, and the general GM reaction to a lack of center, goalie, and defenceman depth. And yet, the Oilers aren't getting buried in their own end any more, and they have been the butt of bad percentages that surely can't sustain. The opposite (bad possession, high percentages) burned the '13-14 Avalanche, the '13-14 Leafs, and the '11-12 Wild even as their fan-bases screamed at the statletes that they were idiots and pencil-pushers. And now we have the opposite, and again we will probably be ridiculed or even worse, give in to the hate since it's so fucking tempting to just throw the coaching staff and players and management under the bus.

I'm sticking to my fucking guns. I believe that they are better, and even if Eakins gets replaced by Dan Bylsma, even if the Oilers find respectable goaltending and the power play punches out a few opponents, I won't have wavered. You win games by possessing the puck, not riding percentages, and I am willing to die by that sword.

Let's just hope the Oilers don't thrust it through my heart.

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 19: The Agony of Repeat


31 SOG
32 SOG

Faced with another one goal loss, it was difficult to conjure up another calm and collected response to the collective cluster-fuck that flubbed a four four tie in the third. I wanted to howl and scream, I wanted to post incendiary headlines like "Oilers Top Team in West" or "Oilers Blow Harder Than Scrivens' Goal Horn Last Night". I wanted to be there in the post game scrum and ask Coach Eakins why the Oilers got crushed in the first period once again, and why he plays the worst 4.5 million defenceman in the league the most ice time on the night - 23 minutes of tomfoolery and timidity.

I wanted some relief from the wretchedness of repeated losing seasons, and instead, what I was left with was a dark, cold plasma screen staring at me, a girlfriend pissed at me for a 3 hour silent treatment, and another one goal loss in the books. The Oilers had fashioned 3 comebacks in the uneven, mostly garbage game from luck and Miller's bad goaltending, but then regurgitated the lead when it got to crunch time. The normally reliable "4th" line made bad decisions, and once again the Bubble-Face Boys feasted on inept defending by sliding a puck under a swimming Captain Ference for a late winner.

To add insult to injury, we have guys like Glenn Healy sucking the Sedins sour-milk maker all game, heaping praise upon them as if they were baby Swedish Jesuses... Jesii? If there is anything worse than watching the Canucks TV team circle-jerk themselves into friction-induced flaming flattery, it's probably Hitler. They loved looking at some typical hockey play from the Oilers as if they had just blasted buckshot into a bunch of babies, and the Canucks making some typical play as if it was revolutionizing the game with hockey. When the color commentary - Hughson and Simpson - has you yearning for Louie Debrusk, you know they've crossed some critical threshold into one of the seven circles of Hell.

Sitting 6-11-2 is has many fans wondering "Why am I here?" and "What is all this good for?". I don't have the answers. I have predictions borne of math and logic, but even on a night when the Oilers scored on 11% of their even strength shots, they let in 5 goals, most of them preventable. Not even to mention most of the offence came from the third and fourth line on exactly the night when our top 6 was inept at generating offensive pressure.

In the post game scrum, some idiot beat reporter had the audacity to analyze Scrivens' game (click on Scrivens post game) by saying something like "It's obvious you would have liked more than a couple of those back." First of all, idiot, more than a couple would basically be every goal in the game, good job on learning kindergarten math. Second, the goal on the Aulie give-away may or may not have been a bad goal. I'm of the opinion that a perfectly placed wrist shot with NHL velocity from the top of the circle will beat every goalie in the league. Was it perfectly placed? Was it NHL velocity? I don't know. What I do know is that the Oilers didn't lose the game on the back of Scrivens game in net. He made huge saves, and while he's been Ebolabrutal for the much of the season, the team gave up double digit odd man situations.

Finally, and with greatest venom, I wish to lampoon Nikitin, and by proxy, Coach Eakins. How the spazzatronic, smoking the chronic Nikitin is getting the most ice time on the Oilers positively perplexes me. In the post game scrum Eakins - I'm paraphrasing - said something to the tune that he had to play Nikitin because the defencemen behind him were struggling. Well then, pick up the macphone, and request some competent players to rebalance the D squad. You might also start by giving Marincin a fucking start or two as well.

Or screw it, let's draw in Gazdic!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Oilers Shooting Percentage and Why Calgary Stinks

There seems to be a lot of consternation in the Oilers world about how the local Ice Stick Game team is as bad as last year. If you go by the historical standings from a year ago, the Oilers were 22 games played with a record of 5-15-2 for 12 points (29th), with a -29 goal differential (30th). Fast forward to today, and the Oilers have played 18 games, gone 6-10-2 for 14 points (27th), with a -16 goal differential (29th). In other words, marginally better, 4 games in hand with a 2 point lead is a small improvement. But we are talking about comparing shit prepared by a fine French chef versus shit that a horse's ass has air dropped onto a grassy field: it's still shit.

The thing is, you know where the Oilers are right now. They aren't in a good place, but like I said, you knew that. So as a fan, it is more important to determine where this team is going. Is it a fiery oil tanker capsizing at sea, with a McDavid mermaid swimming up to inspect the wreckage? Or are the blue and orange pulling themselves out of a oily, dark abyss to finally see the light? One obvious way is to look at points. It stands to reason that if a team is bad at picking up points in the first 18 games, they will probably be lousy at doing that the rest of the season. It's not incorrect logic per se, but it can be statistically inferred that Corsi Tied is a better predictor of future success than winning percentage (credit to the awesome JLikens, RIP):

For three whole seasons, for every segment of games, the Corsi Tied (that's the T) is a better predictor of future success than the teams current win percentage! With that in mind, the Oilers are currently ranked 17th in the league with a Corsi Close of 49.9%. Corsi close is like corsi tied but also allows for either team being up by one, which expands the number of events to be counted and is a little more reliable. The Oilers last year were 43.4%, which was 28th in the league. So a couple things to take from this:
  1. By shot metrics - which we've established will predict their future success with more accuracy - the Oilers are a vastly improved squad (+6.5% is a monumental shift in this regard).
  2. By shot metrics the Oilers are probably a better team than their points percentage indicates; they should be performing at about the middle of the bell curve. The current 17th overall team is Ottawa, who are 8-5-4 for 20 points, with a +2 goal differential.
Of course the Oilers aren't 17th in the league. They are an abysmal 27th. Which begs the question: why aren't they seeing the results that the shot metrics are predicting? One reason is simple enough: the Oilers have had an awful PDO. PDO is simply the addition of the teams shooting percentage with the teams save percentage. Aside from a few truly terrible and tremendous teams, this number tends to converge on 100%. The Oilers are 29th in the league with a PDO of 97.03. Only Carolina (96.66) is worse. The Oilers goaltending is 28th (90.07), and their shooting 24th (6.96).

I'm not going to get into goaltending (and the team save percentage), simply because a) it's been poor - and it may not improve substantially, and b) your eyes would bleed if I included any more numbers than I already have. What I will look at, is what will happen if the Oilers shooting percentage rebounded from 24th in the league to a more middling number.

Strap on your pocket protectors people, we are about to deep dive into some math.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 18: The Ghosts of Oilers Past


28 SOG
34 SOG
The Oilers were visited by three ghosts on the night: Devan Dubnyk, the Ghost of Oilers Past, Sam Gagner, the Ghost of Oilers Present, and Tobias Reider, the Ghost of Oilers Future. The ordering of course determined by the year in which the Oilers drafted each ('04, '07, and '11 respectively). The verdict is out on what kind of impact each player will have over their NHL careers, but in exchange for Hendricks, Purcell, and Kale Kessey, it's still hard to say how the swap will sway each teams success going forward. At least on the Sunday - in the ceremonious return of Mr. Heartbeat of the Local Sports Team - Dubnyk was the gangly giant tipping the scale.

The Oilers played a sound game, and generally outplayed and outchanced the Arizona squad. Unfortunately, the puck gods ordained that the Oilers would get absolutely nothing, and it probably didn't help that Pouliot took a stupid penalty in the dying minutes of the third. There were other small problems contributing to the 'Yotes win: another slimy bounce in the third to go down two, Justin Schultz's inability to conjure up his Norris quality offence in his 5 PP minutes, and a general lack of scoring prowess among the entire team.

The Oilers have the 24th ranked offence in the league at 2.44 GF/Game (2.08 5v5), and it just seems night in and night out they can't quite figure out how to put pucks in the old point-collector. I'm guessing - will verify later - that teams by the quarter mark illustrate their offensive ability, as long as it's adjusted for shooting percentage.I'll have a post later today regarding this, but suffice to say the Oilers are probably a much better offensive team than they have shown recently.

Back to the game, like Eakins I felt like the Oilers were just a bounce away, and as hinted at above, the Almighty Bastards of Bouncy Bullets decided that tonight was not the night. Dubnyk was OK, but I also didn't think Big Easy was particularly brilliant. He made the stops he should, and a couple were higher quality, but nothing stand-out-ish. Still the Oilers playoff chances aren't powered by Hero Cookies, and has the Oilers with a measly 5.9% chance to make the playoffs, leading only the 0% Buffalo Sabres. It's grim, but at least the Oilers have been absolutely hosed in terms of puck luck. Their 97.03 5v5 PDO is second worst in the league, and fueled by 23rd ranked shooting percentage, and a 28th ranked save percentage. It has to rebound, doesn't it? Doesn't it?!

Some players after the hop.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 17: Scrivens Chokes, Hoffman Gloats

Alternative titles were: Deja Vu, Scrivens Plays like Poo
Game 16 Away Game 8

Game 17 Home Game 9

Let's get this out the way right off the hop: Scrivens was not the sole reason the Oilers lost the game. He was a crucial piece of the uneven OT loss, but the second and third goals were clearly not his fault. That said, no matter which level of hockey you play, when an early goal goes in that has the lingering odour of Mexican marmalade, the team sags. They sagged all the way back into a faintly-remembered fever-dream where they were down 3-0 by the end of the first period (a ghostly voice whispers Nashville, Nashville).

There were positives of course, as there often are when a team fights back from two goals down in the third to force overtime. Once again the Oilers decided to activate McDavid Dodging Afterburners after they placed themselves in a dark, dank hole. Similar to the Nashville game, the Oilers got absolutely German-leather-mistress dominated in the first, but slowly added Fire, Gumption, Truculence, Effort, and other hockey intangibles capitalized to the ice-tilting scale. After being roundly out-possessed in the first (Corsi 13-19), they took over the game for the second and third periods (Corsi 41-26). Whatever strange voodoo magic the Oilers shamans are practicing is transforming the team during the first intermission into the resemblance of a strong, capable NHL squad. Someone needs to make sure the witch doctors are arriving before game time.

To prevent Oilers fans from drilling holes in their foreheads and symbolically pouring hot oil in said hole, I've decided to focus on another positive topic: the Oilers resiliency. Coach Eakins has talked at length about how he felt the team as a whole had a positive, and resilient mentality regardless of the game situation. Notwithstanding obvious Sun newspaper statements like "we don't want to make a habit of it", it still speaks to a team that has the confidence to assemble the humpty dumpty first period and fashion it into a point or two.

Report card after the hop...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 16: One Step Forward, Two-Step Back

This is also a diagram of Nikitin's skating stride.



Like a freckle-faced country girl invited to her first ball, the Oilers were shy and timid lady to start, and a big strong cowboy swooped in and swept her off her feet. Smothered with swagger and speed, the Oilers were nailed to their own zone's boards, and the Predators racked up an impressive 25 shot attempts to the Oilers 8. It was triple-E Ugleee, and in stark contrast to the fast, vicious upstarts that embarrassed the Blueshirts in the previous game.

The preds scored a good goal - Cullen's rebound swipe off he post, a bad goal - Riberio cleaning up Neal's long-range loose change, and an ugly goal - Flippies obtuse in-close offering. The last goal in particular stung; like Remenda said, there was a feeling that if the Oilers could escape the initial frame down a deuce that they might be able to fashion a game out of the first period wreckage. Alas, Fasth ended the goalie controversy with about a minute before the intermission, which eventually ended his night, and ultimately was all Sabercats needed.

The Good

Benoit Pouliot had another strong game, including a turbo-charged bolt to the top shelf that eluded the towering Rinne. He had 4 shots, almost 20 minutes of ice, and finished +1. If the Oilers are going to be able to sustain success long-term, Pouls will need to maintain this level of consistency. This was another good game, he seems to be making a habit of them recently.

Ben Scrivens was perfect in relief. Granted, the Oilers decided to show the cowboy a thing or two about how to dance, but in general Scrivens was solid from post to post, and made a super save on a Neal solo-shot to keep the Oilers in it right till the final whistle.

Nail Yakupov continues to stick to his game, and was rewarded on the night with a Perron power-move and pass. He had a glorious chance on the PP to tie up the game, but alas his timing failed him. It's positive he's sticking with the process, and Nail received 18 minutes of ice, essentially confirming the coach is happy with his contributions. We would love to see him connect on that one timer though - he hasn't scored a lot of goals from any distance in a while. In case you were worried about Yak, here's the coach after the game:

"It looked scary coming off but he just had a couple stitches in his wrist." - Coach Eakins on Yakupov, cut near the end of the game

David Perron continues to be the straw stirring the shit in every game. His quick, sticky play continues to pace his line; aside from his absolutely massive pass to Yakupov for the "slam dunk", he's able to drive possession consistently (44% on the night when the team was 39%). In case you were curious, his metaphysically joined brother, Paajarvi, is 6gp 0-1-1 -1, and the pick after Magnus was Ryan Ellis, a guy playing well for the enemy in this one.

The Process that the coach is employing seems to actual be sinking into the domes of the desperate Oilers. They aren't straying from the game plan - merely occasionally offering up ugly execution of said plan. If they can really get it in their thick, long losing heads that they need to play the same way regardless of score, that will be the biggest step they've taken as a team since Tambo sent them presents on the draft-tank train.

Some villains after the hop...

Monday, November 10, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 15: Turbo Mode

The Oilers had blue shiny stuff coming out of their butts in this one.



When I first purchased my Conair head shaver, the chrome was shiny, the blades were razor sharp, and the motor purred with hair honing power. Over the years, after multiple money-saving head-shaves, the chrome dulled to a murky luster, the plastic became scratched and scuffed, and the engine driving the interweaving razors slowed. In some inexplicable design decision, they also included a "Turbo" button on the side. You might ask the question why not have it work in "Turbo" mode all the time - I can't answer that - but upon pressing it the old Conair beast roared back to life, and cut hair like a little electronic scissorhands. Fast forward to the game in Madison Square last night, and we see an iteration of the young rebuilding Oilers where the chrome has definitely faded. After a yawn-inspiring 5-8-1 start, someone decided to finally hit the Turbo button.

From the NHL recap: Edmonton held the Rangers without a shot on goal from 16:56 of the second period until 10:55 of the third period, a span of 13:59. If you want to know what dominant hockey looks like, that is it, put it in the manual, draw it up on the telestrator. It was from furious forechecking and a blueline that wasn't willing to let songbird pucks out of the zone. As Drew Remenda said, every line was contributing something every shift, whether it be a trench battle to break the biscuit out of their own end, or a cycle shift spinning the suck-toothed Nash line into submission, every line followed the last with the same intensity and purpose. The Corsi chart is also impressive, showing the Oilers begin to completely take over the game and making the Rangers wish they didn't have to play Hunwick for almost 20 minutes a night.

It was without a doubt one of the most complete, dynamic, and dominant games the Edmonton faithful has seen in several orbits of the sun. Nugent-Hopkins was brilliant and quicksilver in the middle of the bright performance. He looked like a superstar center-man for possibly the first time in his entire career, That's not to say he hasn't looked star caliber, or sublime, or huggable, but on the night he looked like the best player on the ice for either team. Hopkins finished 1-1-2 +2 in 20:42, and the puck seemed to be iron ore to his magnetic stick blade. Even more apparent was his raw quickness, the kind of speed skating that almost confused your mind: who was that forward? We saw it on his sublime Philly goal; it simply didn't resemble the wispy faced teenager we had seen in the past.

Also stepping up the plate with his first big game in Oilers silks was Benoit Pouliot, who had an identical stat line to Nugent-Hopkins, and looked finally like the big, smooth-skating wrecking ball the MacT brain trust had hired. His modus hockerandi seems to be blasting into corners and bodies like a virus into a cell, and he was doing this relentlessly all night, barely giving his former blueshirt teammates space to breathe. The virus seemed to infect others as well, and the Oilers #GRITCHART was getting contributions from A-rcobello (71% in the dot with 4 hits) to Z-uccarello (-2, two giveaways).

Ultimately, the question posed in the beginning of my shitty Conair razor rant is the same one we pose now: why don't the Oilers play in "Turbo" mode all the time? This team we saw last night was quicker, grittier, more combative, and more competent than any of the elmers-pasted-together hack-job-teams the Tambellini regime sent to the slaughter. 

Individuals after the hop.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 14: Dead Buffalo Jump

A Buffalo Jump is a cliff formation which Native Americans historically used
 in order to hunt and kill plains bison in mass quantities.




Eventually our team herded the Buffalo to the cliffs edge, and with a concerted effort, sent them tumbling off the cliff into the NHL basement below. It took 52 shots for, 2 posts against, and a couple of stellar saves by Mr. Fasth Lane. For a club desperate to avoid the dubious distinction of dwelling at the deepest depths of the standings, the one-goal win would be enough. When you are looking for your first road win 14 games into the season, that's sort of an understatement.

Against the gutter slime of the league, the Oilers managed a massive 85 snot attempts (versus 51 for Buffalo), and spent long stretches buried in Buffalo's red zone. Buffalo is so bad that if they finished the season with their current 5v5 Corsi close - 36.4% - it would not only be the worst number ever recorded, it would be the worst by almost 5% ('13-'14 Buffalo had second worst at 41.0%).  They are so bad right now that they should probably start sewing the Connor McDavid jersey (the kid is outpacing Crosby in his draft season, 2.8 pts/game vs 2.7).

Regardless of entering the soup kitchen of the league, the Oilers still will take the handout, and even though the Sabres held a lead into the last 10 of the game, they really deserved to beat the Buffaslugs. When Arco potted the tying goal with 8:18 left, the Oilers followed through by really ratcheting up the shot attempts, and the constant pressure came through with a Gordon winner off a nice pass from Edward "Butter" Purcell. I have had lots of negative things to say about the Neufie's neutered nastiness, but blue line in he has some above-medium mitts.

Other noteables in the game features a flying first-goal scoring finn, Iiro Pakarinen, who had a monster opening to the game with 6 shots and a "popped cherry" (seriously Eberle said this in a live interview). In his first real minutes of the season he had a mildly positive impression, although I think the shot totals and the goal were probably more a product of fortune than a premiere performance. His numbers become a little more impressive when you consider he played a measly 7:40 EV minutes in the game. He's young, and not much to fault on his coming out party, double so if we consider that there is still a large range of possible players Pakarinen could become.

The other major player of note bumped his G-streak to two, and Arco's 7 shots paced the team. For a diminutive and crafty player, he continues to prove his worth at the NHL level. He's the only regular plus-player in the lineup aside from Hall and has had two clutch goals in two games. His strong play is something that might allow MacT to send Drai down at 39 if he can acquire a real 2C. Arcobello certainly is playing well enough to be a solid 3C on most teams in the league.

A couple more players after the hop.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 13: Aulie, Aulie, Losing Streak

4 straight from our lovable? losers. Suicide hotline engage for Buffalo.
The Oilers had just retrieved the puck from their net for the fourth time on the night, and the camera guy - like he's trained - pointed the photon-catcher on the clean shaven, stern-faced Dallas Eakins. The collective hockey-soul of northern Alberta was desperate to see the pain they felt and the anger they radiated on the face of the man bequeathed with the task of returning supremacy back to the mecca of puck, the holy-land of hockey.

Our man, Mr. Dallas Eakins, was stone-faced. The pupils of his eyes where marbles of black iron, and the faintest whisper of wrath painted the hard line of his jaw. As if nothing had happened, he tapped forwards on their synthetic-clad shoulders and assembled a 5 man unit for a center-ice face-off. There was no fiery explosion, no tears, no yelling. The pragmatist in me assures that a "steady course" is best for the man who merely tells the O's where to go - he does not move them across the ice. The passionate Oilers fan in me wants to denounce him as a shitty coach, as a man who could not instill the warrior nature in the team that could claw their way through adversity and win a couple hockey games now and again.

Earlier in the night, hundreds of Eberle & Hopkins clad supporters had surrounded the local picture-box, clan-like in their camaraderie. Hoping their long journey through the gutters of NHL talk-shows, the relentless bashing by talent-less hacks in the ivory towers of the Toronto sports scene, and the abject humiliation meted out on a night-in-night-out basis by nearly every team in the league, was finally over.

Fifty minutes into the game, the flicker of hope was alive. They had played a Bruins team (injury depleted) well on the road, spanking the Bruins by shot attempts, and earning a lead deep into the game. Suddenly, like a Rube Goldberg machine triggered by Dallas Eakins the day before, the Oilers where hit with a bowling ball from above, self-destructing to the tune of 4 goals in the remaining 8:56 of the game. It was triggered, in this writer's humble opinion, by Eakins deciding to take Marincin out and place slow-footed-and-fisted Keith Aulie into the game.

At a critical moment in the game - moments after the Bruins had tied it up (was it offside?) - Aulie tripped over the goal line on the way to retrieving a routine reverse-rimmed puck. Players trip, sure, and it's hard to find fault in the random ruts on the ice the topple the odd defenceman. As Aulie breast stroked his way back to the puck behind the net, the Bruins forechecker clambered on top of the moose-like player. For whatever reason, Aulie didn't take the obvious play to manipulate the disc with his gloved digits, and instead relied on grabbing the Bruins players stick.

The resulting PP featured a donkey play by the donkey of the game, Nikitin, and the effective stamping-out of the spark of hope in the heart of many Hopkins lovers. As much as you hate the Aulie play at such a crucial moment of the game, the true goat, the true neudachnik of the game was Nikitin. His backpedal from his own blueline on the first goal was a wonderful example of Nikki's nasty gap-control, and was fine foreshadowing of future fuckery from our favorite free agent. On the winning goal, a clear mano-a-mano play of Nikki vs Bergeron, Bergeron ended up with Nikitin's stick sticking out of each side of him like a gag arrow moments before he dished to Soderberg for an easy tap in. Not only did Nikki have his jock strap incinerated instantly, he also took a penalty on the play that eventually allowed the insurance PP marker to throw the beating heart of the Oilers fan base into the trash compaction pit in Star Wars. Spoiler: it didn't get saved by a timely hack by R2D2.

More losers after the hop...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 12: The Curse of Sam Gagner

A talented and flawed player was Sam Gagner, and the
massive junior season was clearly Kane-infused.
I'll give you one guess as to which team has the least points in the NHL since the Oilers drafted Gagner. If you guessed your Edmonton Oilers, well done. Sporting 473 points in 540 games for a point percentage of 0.876 per game, they are 30th overall, behind the New York Islanders. It's 268 losses, and for the petroleum-product faithfuls, it's been a hard, long journey.

When Gagner was drafted, the Oilers draft team saw explosive scoring totals, and good Canadian born and NHL bred kid. Right up to the draft day, the 6th overall spot was pegged to be a Voracek vs Gagner battle, and it's obvious in retrospect that the Oilers passing on Voracek was the first in a string of awful decisions that produced the gaudy numbers in the first paragraph. If you want to call it a curse, it's as good a spot as any to start pointing fingers at the Lords and Lawyers that have fashioned the NHL's worst team of the last 7 years.

Once and a while, bad decisions get rubbed in your face like boarding that too-full subway car simultaneously with a large, sweaty man. In this case the large man was from Kladno, and he was sweaty from pumping in the winning goal - his second of the game - just 16:04 into the game. Voracek plays the kind of strong, two-way puck possession game that Sam will probably never... possess. This isn't a Flyers blog - I think they are a lousy team, sporting a 44.8% corsi close number - but Jakub was the answer to the question: are the Oilers mediocre without Hall?

Speaking of game one without Hall, I think the first mistake contributing to the loss was breaking up the hounds on the fourth line. Acton was inserted, the "Tough Actin'" Will Acton - who looks like he's trying so hard every shift - managed to contribute very little: 0 shots and -1 in a team low 9:02. At some point Eakins clearly realized his mistake, and reunited the hounds of hell. I can see his smarmy face in the post-game presser now, spinning how it was to find some offence in the third. No Dallas, it's because you get better results when Acton plays less and the fourth line plays together.

Sportsnet's color guy, Remanda, wanted to harp about how the Oilers didn't play that bad versus the Flyers, and how they were dominating the shot clock. I actually think he's an excellent upgrade over Debrusk, but I have some logic to kick here:

  1. The early results from the Flyers, especially with three regular Dmen missing from their lineup, are indicating a poor team. If you don't care for Corsi close, then their 23rd ranked overall, 12 points might be a more convincing proof-in-the-pudding number for you.
  2. The Oilers were essentially sawing off shots and play until the score was 4-1. I've talked about score effects before, and here they are again. Even the best, most disciplined, most impressive teams in the league let their foot off the community gas pedal. So take the final shot totals, 36-25 Oilers, with a grain of salt.
  3. The Oilers were victims of bad bounces, yes, but let's follow that thought. The Oilers needed to allow the opponents entry to the zone, then possession of the puck, then allow the opposing player to shoot the puck, and our goalie has to not stop it. Their is a safety net against bounces, and it's more than just one bounce. It's a series of small mistakes, faulty reflexes, and underwhelming players. Case and point, the reason Voracek scored on the second goal was because Purcell was inexplicably guarding the man in front of the net - Marincin's job, and he was in the right place - instead of covering the point. The pointman (MDZ) had plenty of time to make a heads up, cross-slot pass that eventually transformed into a mighty morphin' puck-in-the-back-of-the-net.
  4. Finally, and probably most important, is the fact that the Oilers played another team mostly even. How many times this season have we seen the Oilers as the clearly start-to-finish superior team? Teams that can merely saw off play are constantly going to live and die by the ping-pong bounce of the puck, and the mighty hockey gods above. That's an extremely lucky playoff team at best (cough cocky Colorado).
Further dissection after the hop...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 11: Devil in the Details

The Oiler fan reaction after: a) Scrivens' 3rd period pass, b) Hall tumbling into
a post during the game, c) all of last season, d) all of the above 
For a guy nicknamed the Professor, Ben "Pass Givvy" Scrivvy is not flexing a lot of grey-head-worms when he's handling the puck. In a tight, well played, fast paced, even game, a poor mistake in the third can often be the difference between grins and grim. In this case, Benny wasn't even under pressure which makes the resulting pass even more puzzling. It didn't help that the shot from Derek "Dumb-nut" Dorsett - a career NHL plumber - eluded Scrivens moments later.

Adding insult to the 2-3 loss was Tayor Hall leaving the game after crashing into the post and boards after a bull-drive towards the net. Hall, PBUH, left the building without crutches or a boot, and Rishaug tweeted this afterwards:

Hall out of the lineup for any length, dare I say, is the fast-lane to Oilers apocalypse. The fire and brimstone raining from above, 7 seals breached kind of stuff.  He's the beating heart of the team, and is directly responsible for swaying momentum within games with his tenacious and fearless style.

Aside from Scrivens making worse decisions than a Bush administration during a hurricane and Hall's thigh making a date with a goal post, the game was actually a spirited, fast-paced affair. The Oilers absolutely ran a clinic around the stagnant Canucks during the first period (check out the Corsi chart). They dominated the shot attempts 27 to 17, and aside from a poor rebound and crappy coverage from the Oilers forwards, would have exited the period with a lead and a near perfect period. The Canucks goal with under a minute left marked the beginning of the Canucks playing a progressively stronger game. Periods 2 and 3 featured a lot more Sedin sisters and unfortunately, a lot more Brad Hunt, since he was inexplicably paired with Schultz in the numero uno pairing.

Let me just say, I really dislike Brad Hunt as a defenceman. Power to him he's short and some kind of sob story, I'd rather not have him play the third most ice time during the game. Only Hopkins and Jultz played more than his 19.5 minutes. The guy just can't be seeing more ice and more whisker-faced Sedin than Fayne. For a guy who is supposed to boost the Oilers PP, he had over 3 minutes and finished -2 with 0 shots. The Oilers PP, by the by, is 21st in the league at 14.7%. Meanwhile Oscar Klefbom's stat line looks like this:

2014-15Oklahoma City BaronsAHL616727

In light of Hunt playing like a rhymes-with-slang-for-female-parts, it makes sense to send him to the land of Greyhounds and not-good-enough.

Finally, to cap off the presentation, Perron potted a pisser in the meshed maw, finally. After a run of impressive games with no results, last years goal leader is off the snide, and hopefully Perron can continue his strong play. He's a very talented player with no obvious weaknesses as an NHL winger. He can dangle, drive, dish, and disturb with the best of the ràt-fû masters.

A couple more thoughts after the hop: