Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Early Season Struggles

If you do the math, it equals ugly.
We are three games into another oil drop season and I can already smell the slightly sour aroma of die-hards everywhere leaking anxious arm pit tears into their Chinese knock-off McDavid jerseys. Some of the stellar shine radiating off the golden next-coming-of-Crosby comet has fizzled, and  we are left with a reality that includes Justin Schultz making a back-pass to medicority. Thankfully, like a hardened murder detective, the crime scene is all too familiar to us, and the sight of the time-murdering Oilers leaves us numb rather than angry; we simply drink more and care less.

Without further ado, I present you with some thoughts on this new orange and blue beast lurching into the local ice arena:

The Good:
  • Connor McDavid - He's unquestionably the best raw talent we've seen in Oilers silks since the boy on the bus blasted through a couple (or 5) cup runs. He's deceptively strong, and his raw speed harkens to a meth-powered Japanese speed skater. Once the Oilers coaching staff figures out some strategies to get the puck into his hands a bit more, we should see his 2-3 "wow!" plays a game blossom into a half dozen or more.
  • The Goaltending - Both guys have been more or less lights out every night - necessary because of the patchwork 3rd pairing (Gryba + blank) and underwhelming shut-down pairing (Sekera + Fayne) so far (more on that later). Both goalies have played big, and both have given the Oilers a legitimate chance to win if only the Oilers could score slightly more than the high-school math club.
  • McLellan's Messaging - It's early days, but I've had no problem with what Todd has said in the post-game interviews or during the training camp. He says the right things, doesn't pay credence to some of the inane MSM questions like "How will you get your team to play better for their home opener?" - Gee, maybe wave his magic wand? We've heard the coach say the right things before - look how that turned out - but still, he seems even-keel and intelligent so far.
  • The Opening Schedule- The first two teams they faced this season are likely to be near the top of the western conference, and aside from a moderate discrepancy in scoring chances, they played both teams fairly tough. Dallas will probably have to fight for a playoff spot, but at the very least they definitely have one of the most potent offences in the league. It's not an excuse by any stretch but if this is the "new" Oilers at their worst, they have a chance to be a real, competitive team this year (comma necessary).
The Bad:
  • Taylor Hall - Taylor has long been a key-cog in the Oilers offence, and a lot of their ability to cycle against good teams is a direct result of Taylor's hard work in the trenches night in and night out. So far he's goose-eggs in the boxcars with a -2, and for a team that's got 2 "real" goals in 3 games, it's not surprising a lot of the offensive stars are looking bad. On the positive side, he's registering 4.7 shots a game (14 in 3), which if he shoots career shooting percentage would be 42 goals in a full season (4.66 shots * 82 games * .109 sh % = 41.7 goals). His shot rate will come down, but he will really bust out this year if he can keep the shot totals up.
  • Griffin Reinhart - First, I realize he's only played one regular season game, and he wasn't the worst defender on the ice. He is, however, making me question the acquisition cost, a cost that was virtually the same as top-3 guy Dougie Hamilton fetched. Sure Hamilton costs more, but he's also playing big minutes every night, something Griffin certainly can't say. One of his biggest strengths was supposed to be his hockey sense, but I've seen him make suspect decisions akin to that one time in the Banff McDonalds at 230 in the morning.
  • Everyone Else On The Third Pair - Sometimes if you squint just right, and the lights are dim, and your blood alcohol is higher than Jari Kurri's shooting percentage, they might look ok. The problem is in the harsh glare of the real world, they are just not someone you want your friends to know about. I think most Oilers fans are done squinting (certainly not done drinking though), and it seems like regardless if it's Gryba, Ference, or Davidson guarding the cage, their is a distinct lack of ability to move the puck out of their own end. All of these d-men seem to suffer from offtheglassandout-itis.
The Ugly:
  • Justin Schultz - I've said it so many times: this kid does not come to compete. He undeniably has oodles of slick-puck wizardry and can make great passes. The problem is he bails out on plays when any forechecker with facial hair is bearing down on him. He'll lose the puck battle on the boards, and rather than get mad he gets meek. He says "Oh just wait until I show you my fabulous body and stick position good sir, how will you get around me then? Good sir, how?" Except even that isn't so great...
  • Andrej Sekera - The biggest (money-wise) signing of the UFA season, he's oscillated from extremely pedestrian to extra piss-poor so far in his young Oilers career. Billed as an efficient, reliable puck-mover, he's made some brutal defensive zone passes (see: giveaways), and been mostly unable to break opponents offensive cycles. Most of his play would be palatable if he wasn't making 5 and a half trumps a year. If he's going to be top 4, he has to be way better.
  • The Oilers Offence - Other writers have tried to disabuse foreign MSM and fanatics from labelling the Oilers as offensive power-house, as they are more of an Iraqi weapons program: the threat of destruction is there but it turns out it is mostly smoke and mirrors. The Oilers look to have a potent offence on paper, but in reality have consistently been one of the weakest offensive teams in the league. So far it's not just the goals that are disheartening (two from the red line, and one from outer space), it's also the scoring chances. They simply aren't generating that much odd-man offence or slot chances. The vaunted up-front speed is being hamstrung by a defensive group that doesn't have the cohones to hold and pass vs cold rubber off the glass.
And now, we wait. In the words of the great Samuel JohnsonGreat works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.


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