Thursday, December 07, 2006


Go Back To Your Homes! All Is Well!!!

Four days ago I was angry, and I wasn't alone. The Oilers had just lost their third straight game, and things weren't looking to improve. After blowing a late game lead to Anaheim on the Tuesday, the Oilers had been shelled by the Avalanche on Thursday, and shut out by the hapless Blue Jackets on Saturday. As if three straight losses at home weren't enough, the Oilers also lost Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth to injury for a fair deal of unspecified time. Dwayne Roloson was playing poorly, a handful of players were banged up or injured, and the team could not put together 60 minutes of hockey. Despite all that, the team was still in 1st place in the Northwest Division. Didn't feel like it, but it was so. Yet I don't think it's too terrible of a stretch to suggest that, four days ago, the Oil were playing chicken with an angry mob.

Two games later, the landscape has changed. The Oilers played an inconsistent game in Vancouver, but a good enough one to win 4-0. Furthermore, positive signs popped up on the radar. Players dumped the puck into the opposing zone. They forechecked aggressively. They cycled the puck. They took open shots. They took the body. All the individual things that lead to offensive success, the Oilers were doing. Shawn Horcoff played his best game of the year. Fernando Pisani, Raffi Torres, Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner continued to improve their game. Roli got the shutout. And most importantly, the Oilers beat Northwest Division opponents, keeping themselves in 1st place.

Last night, against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes, the Oilers played their best game of the year. The only other time they've played that well was against Calgary, in the first game of the season. Jarret Stoll was all over the place, blocking shots, saving goals, and making it his personal mission to shut down Eric Staal. Cane killer and Patron Saint San Fernando Pisani was up to his old tricks, playing fantastic two-way hockey and exposing Cam Ward for the fraud that he is. Raffi Torres quietly did his part, getting his 8th point in the last 8 games. Jussi Markkanen was excellent in spelling off Dwayne Roloson, making big glove saves and easing his coach's mind. And Shawn Horcoff was again playing like an elite NHL centreman, winning faceoffs, playing the tough minutes, and even getting into a fight with fellow tough guy Justin Williams.

It was a superb hockey game. The outcome obviously helped, but there was an intensity to the game that made it feel like the two teams were again playing each other in the Stanley Cup Finals. The crowd was into it (they were all over Mick McGeough before the game had even started), the game itself was physical and tight checking, and playoff-like animosity between the players was evident from the drop of the puck.

There are still certain things missing from the Oilers game. The vaunt isn't quite there yet, for one. The Oilers aren't blowing opposing teams out of the rink. They still aren't generating enough shots on net (only 24 last night), they haven't been drawing many penalties lately, and, unsurprisingly, their power play still continues to struggle. But other areas of their game have drastically improved. Taking the body. Forechecking. Cycling the puck. Skating. Creating turnovers. Clearing their own zone. All of these things the Oilers are doing, and doing well. They are also doing an excellent job of hurting their opponents, a positive indicator of their physicality and intensity. An illustration:

Rick has tender chicken nuggets, courtesy of a Roli slump slash.
They make him stomp and scromp and spleen and Nash.
Zherdev is out with an umpity bumpity bodily boo.
Pyatt has a flip flop on his shoulder top, too.
Salo has aches and pains in his woopsie wonk wuzzle.
Rypien is hurt with a partially torn fruzzle.
Not least is the Brind'Amour, with his hernsome camel toe,
the Oilers are bruising and desploozing their foe.

How long will this play last? I don't know. It's only been two games, after all. The Oilers have a tough, but not impossible, December schedule. Dallas twice on the road, as well as Nashville, Calgary and Colorado. They'll finally play Minnesota, at home, in addition to Colorado, Vancouver and Los Angeles. I assume Ryan Smyth will be back right after Christmas, if not sooner. Hemsky, I think, will be gone until February.* The question is: by then, will anyone want them back? The answer is yes, obviously, but I am intrigued by the notion that the team may in fact play better with its top two players out of the lineup. It's happened so far, with the remaining cast being forced to elevate their game to make up for the loss. Ewing Theory, 101. Again, two games. Big deal. Who knows what will happen over the next five, let alone twenty? The secret to sanity for any sports fan is to avoid getting too high with your team's victories, and too low with their defeats. Making a solemn declaration on future success after a couple of wins therefore doesn't make much sense. Nor does wishing away your two best players, for any reason. But I don't think it would be wrong to say that the Oilers have played much better over the past two games, and to suggest the hope that the injuries will be a catalyst for future success. The dream scenario would be for the Oilers to stay five or six games over .500 while Hemsky and Smyth are hurt, using that time to work in some rookies and give their veterans the opportunity to maintain or elevate their level of play. When Hemsky and Smyth return, they work themselves into shape while their teammates carry the load. By March, the entire team is playing dynamite hockey, collecting wins and points. Then they roll over Anaheim in the first round, Dallas in the second, and Calgary in the third, on the way to defeating the Canes in a humiliating four game sweep for the Stanley Cup. After watching last night's tilt, I'd even be willing to let the Finals go to seven games. But since it's my dream, I'm going to ensure, this time, that we win four of them.

*As noted in the comments, Ales Hemsky is only supposed to be out for one-two more weeks. I was going by the belief that the injury is worse than they are letting on, and that it will take him longer to get back.


Hemsky gone until February?

Where the heck are you getting this idea from Andy? From all I've heard, he's going to be back within a week or two.

If he was truly out long-term, he'd have gone on IR by now...

I just got the sense that the injury was worse than they were letting on. So I was playing it safe. I'm more than happy to be wrong.

According to TSN Ice Chips

"Winger Ales Hemsky will likely be out until after Christmas. He will not be able to skate for another two weeks with his injured shoulder. - Edmonton Journal"

February is after Christmas

"The secret to sanity for any sports fan is to avoid getting too high with your team's victories, and too low with their defeats."

Holy fuck. Would somebody actually do this please? Repeat it twenty times every morning before you go to work/school.

Holy fuck. Would somebody actually do this please? Repeat it twenty times every morning before you go to work/school.

By somebody, I would assume you mean me. But I'm quite comfortable with the way I react, thank you very much. I enjoyed the game, like how we are playing, and hope it continues. If that changes, so will my reaction. It doesn't mean I'm running around the house screaming, "we're gonna win the Cup!" or gouging my eyes out when we lose.

There are some who let their emotions control their view of the game, and there are others who turn it all off. I'm quite comfortable where I am, which I think is down the middle. I'm certainly not interested in being a robot.

When Maguire came up for air last night from licking Stoll's arse he said that he was talking to Hemsky who said he was not even going to begin skating for another two weeks.

So my guess is another month??

Smytty is actually playing - he's the guy in the Jarret Stoll suit.

Well, yeah I include you in there Grabia but it's not like you're alone. There are thousands of Oilfans on the web that react much worse than you do I would say.

I used to do this, but then I found mathematics. Praise Jesus.

I used to do this, but then I found mathematics.

Well, while you look down on us from your exalted position as arbiter of fandom, we'll just breathe it all in and enjoy.

Would if somebody steps up big time in to the Smytty role over the next 3-4 weeks while Ryans mending up? By stepping up I mean basically playing like Stoll last nite on a consistant basis and the oilers do really well and pad the lead in the NW. I know, I know what I'm about to say is blasphemy but....... do you trade him to a eastern team for some GOOD help on the back-end? Especially if he is going to UFA waters this summer, and KLowe should get a good feeling on whether he will or not over the next month or so.

It's possible, and may be even smart, but it's undoubtedly sacrilege.

i think that, barring a major collapse which had the Oilers in a spot where it was impossible for them to make the playoffs, that Smyth would not be traded. If there is a chance they make the playoffs, Smyth is a bigger key to their success. If they can't come to terms before July 1, that's a vastly different situation.

I made a tongue in cheek jab a few weeks ago that Hemsky was killing you because his giveaways were hurting you more than his assists were helping. I was generally abused for this observation but see See? Told you he was killing you. I can't wait for him to get back.

Go Flames.

There are thousands of Oilfans on the web that react much worse

Yeah and some of those on feel you to take your math and …

And just watch the game! – You’ll see, with your own eyes, that Stoll is just as good as Horcoff, never mind all this ES stuff.

Dude, sorry to spoil it for you, but the Canes won't be making it back to the finals. If your Oil make it to the finals, it'll be against the Sabres. Buffalo is WAY too good, and Carolina isn't playing with any confidence or consistency. Of course that might change in the next four months, and when Stillman and Kaberle are both back in the lineup, they'll be better, but the way I see my team right now, they're not good enough to advance beyond the Conference semi-final.

Our local media is being really closed-lipped about the Brind'Amour injury. Based on what little I can gather, it sounds like he might not miss any action. Still, though, you must be happy.

Your boys looked great last night. Good luck in the rest of the season.

Yeah and some of those on feel you to take your math and …

and shove it right up your syntax?

Oh Nuts

Preview, Preview, Preview

Don't get me started on the hiding of injuries. It's my new pet-peeve.

Canes play-by-play dude on Team 1040 in Vancouver this afternoon says Brindamour's injury is likely chronic groin trouble. Insert your own jokes here.

Your boys looked great last night. Good luck in the rest of the season.

Man d-lee, you Canes fans sure are hard to get angry about. It must be that southern hospitality! I hope you are wrong about your Canes and that we end up seeing you in June again.

That's just D-Lee. Acid Queen doesn't mess around.

AG..I don't know if the Ewing Theory works with two huge guys out of the lineup.

Then we call it the Hemmer/Smytty theory!

AQ doesn't mess around, but she's also a big ol' softie for the Oilers. 'Course, if we'd won last year, we'd probably be more hated than the Red Wings, but it's all good.

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