Thursday, November 09, 2006


This I Believe-All Oilers Edition

CAVEAT: I write this after the Oilers have suffered a 3-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Some may therefore think I'm angry and being unfair. But I hold that I have argued these points consistently since the beginning of the season, and my frustration over tonight's performance left me hours ago. We are now fifteen games in, and though my points focus on the negative rather than the positive, I believe them to be fair. Nor do I deny that there have been positives in the Oilers season. For example, I think the defence has been pretty solid, that Dwayne Roloson has been above average on most nights, and that Petr Sykora has been a fantastic addition to the roster. Plus, ten games from now I could be raving about how well the Oilers are playing. But I think the negatives far outweigh the positives...right now.

ONE: This team lacks a physical presence. This covers the ability to take the body on a consistent basis, as well as the ability to defend star players. Jason Smith is the only Oiler who will consistently take the body. Raffi Torres can cause major damage, but he is a streaky player, and as was seen by the hit on Jason Williams tonight, can't stomach hurting an opponent. I don't begrudge him that fact, as it reflects well upon his character, but it makes him unreliable. Since game one, opposing teams have taken runs at star players like Ales Hemsky, and there is simply no one to defend them. Nor can the team generate a forecheck, because with Ethan Moreau injured, there is not a single player getting over ten minutes a game who will sacrifice the body to create a turnover. Teams are exploiting the Oilers physical weakness.

TWO: As just noted, the team has zero forecheck going, and doesn't seem that interested in puck pursuit. It refuses to dump the puck in, instead choosing to make moves at the line that usually result in turnovers or offsides. Naturally, since the puck isn't in the corners, and they refuse to bang or chase it down when it is, they can't cycle the puck. This prevents them from causing mismatches, creating scoring chances, or drawing penalties.

THREE: Not that drawing penalties would matter. The Oilers power play is beyond awful. I don't care about how it's going to be, it's shi-tay now. It's gotten results at times, but it usually doesn't do squat. They can't enter the zone, can't get set up, don't take shots, can't get chances and therefore can't score. A big part of this is that the team attempts to do the same two plays all the time. The first is the slapshot from the point. The second is the cross ice one-timer at the half-boards. Teams know this, push out their forwards towards the points, and the Oilers can't retain control or generate chances.

FOUR: Which leads me to coaching. This powerplay has been too bad for too long. The presence of Chris Pronger and some fortunate breaks has hid the fact that this team's powerplay has had glaring weaknesses over the past year 13-14 months. It also hid the fact that Craig Simpson hasn't made any adjustments to his gameplan. Simpson was a good player, and I liked him as an announcer, but he hasn't cut it as a coach. I've long thought that he needs to go, and this hasn't changed.

I've never had much of a problem with Craig MacTavish, but some of his recent moves have bewildered me. He's been mixing the lines so much that we've been taking bets about how soon it will happen. And while I can agree that if a guy is playing well he should get more ice time, it has limits. Over the past three games, MacTavish has played Brad Winchester and Toby Petersen on special teams in the 3rd period, even though the Oilers were losing in all three instances. That just makes no sense. Tonight, with the Oilers only down 1-0 in the 3rd, in a game they had no business being that close in, MacT threw out Winchester and Petersen with Ryan Smyth on the powerplay. Mike Babcock responded by throwing out Henrik Zetterberg, Chris Draper and Niklas Lidstrom, and a short time later, the Wings scored a shorthanded goal ( I see now that Petersen was off the ice by the time the goal was scored, and Sykora was in). Instead of giving the Oilers a real chance of tying the game by putting out Ales Hemsky, Joffrey Lupul, Shawn Horcoff, Fernando Pisani or Torres on the powerplay, he threw out two fourth line guys with little experience on the powerplay, and little experience with playing against difficult opposition. Sure, the Winchester, Petersen, Patrick Thoresen line played great tonight--you can see how many scoring chances they had by taking a peek at the comments over at IOF--but they were playing great against Juri "Rex" Hudler's line. To me, fourth-liners having a good game against weak opposition is not grounds for essentially benching your millionaires, especially with a game on the line. A blowout either way? Sign me up. But the move eliminated the Oilers chance for a comeback, and likely did even more damage to the confidence of some of MacT's most important players.

FIVE: Having said that, I have to ask: what the hell is wrong with some of these guys? Have they totally lost all their confidence and swagger? This team was one game away from winning the Stanley Cup, and you'd think they'd finished in 30th place overall. Ales Hemsky played TWELVE MINUTES AND THREE SECONDS tonight. Look at the shift chart. It's full of large white spaces for a handful of Oilers, including Hemsky, Torres, Marc Andre Bergeron, J.F. Jacques, Fernando Pisani, and even Petr Sykora. I'd get on MacTavish more, if not for the fact that I'm watching the same game he's watching. Most of these guys certainly haven't earned the confidence of their coach.

SIX: Will Kevin Lowe make a trade? Darren Dreger commented tonight that Lowe was looking for a puck-moving defenceman. My own belief is that the Oilers aren't at that point yet. For all the reasons I just stated, the Oilers are playing some poor hockey right now. Bringing in one defenceman won't correct matters. These guys are going to have to get through this by themselves, and start putting some "60 minute efforts" together. I wouldn't be surprised to see my boy "Brad" Gilbert called up soon, however, along with maybe some other kids.

SEVEN: Clearly, the terms "blender" and "vaunt" are deserving of entering the BoA glossary, no? Special kudos to Flames fan Peter (grumble grumble) for decimating the Oilers offence with one word.


I agree completely. Completely.

Although pretty hard to build confidence when your coach doesn't believe in you. Not playing Hemsky or Sykora for most of the third period last night? WTF?

How much longer until MacT hauls out the 55 minute bag skate? You think he'll wait for the 7th loss this time around?

I was at the game last nite - Oil only get in the neighbourhood couple times a year, so I took the opportunity. Bad move. The Oil were beyond bad last night - no jump, disorganized, no feet moving, nothing. Bad passes, guys not taking passes, etc. etc. The score was flattering, and the 0 shots in the first was not as indicative of how bad they played as it should be if you can believe that.

EV was brutal, PP worse. Only line with any jump was the 4th in the last 10 mins when it appears they were getting double shifted. Hemsky was the worst I've seen - haven't heard the post-game, but he would deserve all of it. Something has to be done about that - maybe benching him is bad, but during the game, i was pissed seeing him come back out. Not benching is worse IMO. I was happy to see the 4th line out there as much - maybe that was a result of the benchings and scratches, but they were the only ones with any desire to get anywhere out there.

All in all, a very frustrating experience. Only saving grace about losing was I didn't get whooped outside JLA wearing my Oil jersey....

I'd add Smyth to the shortlist of players willing to bang and crash on the forecheck, and Winchester seems to be showing some of that, too, lately, but yeah, this team seems to have lost more than any of us thought it had with Moreau's injury.

I wonder if MacT will go with the bag skate now, given the time constraints on the road trip, or give them the day off totally, to see if that clears their heads. Both things can work, depending on circumstances, and the last thing he needs in another "fatigued" game like this one.

My bottom line is, I don't care if they lose, as long as they give the full effort. The Montreal game, I could live with, because they were making noise, creating turnovers, shooting the puck, and all that. Even though they got away from the game plan a bit in the second, due to penalties, I thought it was the best road game they'd played to date. Those are losses I can live with. This is the sort of loss that makes you wonder why you bother watching. I'll probably blow off Friday just to recover my sanity, and see how things are on the weekend.

Odd that both Alberta teams seemed to hit bottom on Detroit...

The game the Oilers played last night was eerily similar to the one the Flames played there last week.

"in" Detroit...not "on". Damn my terrible typing skills.

MacT is pissed. I wouldn't be surprised if the boys are bag-skated today. For good reason.

Andy, agree on a lot of what you're saying. I'll have to give my take later.

A lot of guys squeezing their sticks pretty hard - they have to get back to basics. One of the reasons the fourth line did well, even against weak opposition, is they dumped it in and got on it. Remember the PP they had where Toby almost scored? 3 times they brought it up ice, got it in and retrieved it. That was with the game 2-0 and the Wings' best PK out there.

Why? They kept it simple.

No panic from this quarter yet but it is frustrating to see the Oilers' supposed strength being their biggest weakness.

All Hail Andy, you are dead on on most of the points. What happened to the Oilers they used to be able to skate and hand out some hits. Now when we hand one out like we did last night it looks like we were crushed. What the heck is that?. I have never seen a Oiler team with out a a big time fighter..Semenko, Brown , Mcleland, McSorley, Big GG.
We need some one of that ilk so the other teams fear playing the Oilers.

Ethan come sit on the bench maybe just having him in the vicinity of the ice maybe some of these guys will start hitting.

The boys got bag skated this morning...only for 10 minutes though.

It was like a warning shot from MacT. If they don't show up in Columbus, they'll get the full meal deal.

While I agree with the idea of calling out the veterans, he seemed to single out Hemsky, and I agree with Bob Stauffer on this that he's more than willing to target skill guys like Hemsky, but if a guy like Staios has an off-game, little is said because he's a "core guy".

And yes, Hemsky deserved to be benched last night. He did NOT play well. But so did about 16 other guys (the only guys who I thought were up-to-snuff last night were Roloson and Winchester, and when Brad Winchester is your best lose).

I don't agree with that double standard, even if I'm the only one who perceives it...

maybe someone already mentioned this, but where was Reasoner last night?

Was he hurt blocking that shot in Montreal?

I made the glossary! I can die happy now.

“(Hemsky)was treating giveaways like doughnuts,’’ said MacTavish. “And he ordered a dozen of them early.’’



I'm still not worried about the PP at this point. At least as long as MacT resists the temptation to send the scrubs out there to prove a point. Last year's team put out 7.0 PPGF/hr. Right now they're at 5.5 PPGF/hr. That sounds really bad, but we're talking about a difference of just 3-4 goals.

They haven't looked good recently, but they have generated a few chances (like Stoll's rip off the post in MTL), so I don't see it as a real concern just yet.

I'm much more concerned with the ES play in general. Last year, the Oilers were terrible at 5V5. It had a lot to do with the goaltending, but they don't really have that excuse anymore outside of maybe two games. They're on pace for a -16 performance at 5V5 (+148/-164) which roughly approximates last year's -15 performance (+133/-148).

It's only 15 games and the Oilers have had some wild swings in ES play recent years: for example they were +1 in the 2nd quarter of last year and they followed that up with a -9 performance in the 3rd quarter. So while it's a cause for concern it's not insurmountable.

riversq - the problem I saw with the PP and the scrubs is that the scrubeenies actually:

a) moved the puck from their zone to the Wings' zone three times and with relative ease
b) retrieved the puck after getting it deep each time
c) generated scoring chances

so - what do the big boys have to do? methinks get it deep and go hard after it for a start

I'm not panicking on the PP but its been a bag of suck - even a goal in each of the last four games and the Oil have two more points and maybe more in the standings by my count

even last night a little success early may have helped them steal a point in a game they did not deserve to get one out of

nearly the entire team is playing tentative now though - on the PP, at ES - its a bigtime slump

bdhs said...I'm not panicking on the PP but its been a bag of suck - even a goal in each of the last four games and the Oil have two more points and maybe more in the standings by my count.

Yeah but I was trying to give some perspective there in the above post because it's a very fine line.

Sure four more PP goals would be great - it would also put them in the top 10 in PPGF/hr based on last year and turn a PP unit that has been lacklustre on the year into an excellent one based on results. That's why I'm saying it's such a fine line I'm not sure it's worth obsessing over too much at this point.

After 30-40 games, then that gap becomes massive - at that point we'd be talking about a PP unit that would be 7-9 goals behind last year's pace and surely beginning to bleed points in the standings directly due to the PP.

Keep in mind Matt's FO stuff and the Poisson distribution too. The Oilers are about 3.3 PP goals off of last year's PP unit at this point - that's about 1 expected point in the standings according to a Poisson approach. Let's not overstate the impact too much.

Sure it's a problem, but it pales in comparison to the ES problem right now IMO. I think this team needs to be +4 or +5 ESGD per 20 game stretch. Basically almost as good as they were in 03/04 Combine that kind of ES performance with the better special teams and they can take a run at the division. Right now they're on pace to be about 10 goals off that in the first season quarter. Now that hurts.

Winchester's willingness to throw his weight around hasn't been very profitable yet, and doesn't seem very directed. For the past two games he's looked like a fourteen-year-old who hasn't discovered masturbation yet.

I wondered about the lines too - the players don't seem to have any reliable time to get used to each other, or find each other on the ice.

And has the five-forwards-on-the-PP actually done us any good yet? Now that it's actually started to do us *harm*, I think it's a reasonable question.

I know that people freak about the blender, but everyone seems to foget that MacT pretty much kept the lines intact until Moreau went out. From there on in the blender was on.

Sure chemistry has to be built between linemates, set plays in every zone need to be practiced, but these guys have had probably HUNDREDS of different linemates since they started major junior. Virtually every one of them as juniors were probably THE top or one of the top three players on their team.

Usually, if MacT sees players giving the effort an playing the plan no matter the line and linemates he has put them on, he will return to the proven good ones or the ones that he had the hunch for.

I should add in here that the Penalty Kill has been so good I forgot to mention it. So, Penalty Kill good.

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