Thursday, May 18, 2006

Outshined

It's been 14 years of silence, it's been 14 years of pain, it's been..sorry I got off on a tangent there and started quoting the lyrics of the wrong band. But it has been 14 years since the Oilers made it to the final four and I can remember exactly what I was doing at the time. I was chasing this girl and the Oilers run to the Campbell Conference Final was in the backdrop. I ended up having as much success with her as the Oilers did with the Hawks that year, but it's all about the chase anyway.

I always equates time frames with what I was listening to at the time and back then I was huge into Soundgarden's "Badmotorfinger" which I still consider to be track for track one of the absolute best albums of the '90's.

So to honour the Oilers latest run to a conference final I decided to dedicate each of that disc's songs to a particular series storyline. Some of these just wound up writing themselves.

Rusty Cage - This one's for Ryan Smyth who wasn't showing up nearly enough on the scoresheet until G4 when he put up two goals and two assists. Like most of the Oilers he wasn't all that impressive in the series' first two games in SJ and really didn't make an impact until Pronger's clearing attempt made an impact with his lower jaw teeth. He went on to assist on Horcoff's G3 OT goal and then had his breakout game in G5. You had a feeling he couldn't be kept down for long but it worried me a little just the same.

Outshined - Horcoff vs Thornton. One guy doesn't look like dumbo and the other guy's moving onto the next round. In the SJ games Ron Wilson did everything he could to avoid matching Joe T vs Horc and if you watched closely this season you'd see that lots of other coaches would've employed the same methods. In G3-4 MacT would sometimes put Hemsky with Smyth-Horcoff and give them soft mintues against the Goc line but MacTavish changed his philosphy for G6 and went power vs power and matched Horcoff against Thornton basically every chance he had. That resulted in both goals for the Oilers and in what was supposed to be another chance for Thornton to shake his playoff reputation Shawn Horcoff stole the spotlight and did it in front of a national audience.

Slaves and Bulldozers - The Sharks came out like gangbusters in G1 and though their hit total was bloated by a hometown hand there's still no debating they took it to the Oilers in the physicality department. By series end the roles had reversed and guys like McLaren and Hannan were skating like Brad March and Harold Snepts. The lesson learned was that it's a marathon and not a sprint and if you'd better have a few races behind you if you want take on Heartbreak Hill.

Jesus Christ Pose - His tenure as an Oiler has lay dormant for periods longer than two days but Mike Peca looked like a guy brought back to life in G6. He just about won the game for the Oilers before the end of the first period.

Face Pollution - How's your eye today, Milan Michalek? Isn't it funny how the tandem of Staios-Smith put up better +/- numbers once this young Czech was lifted into the air and thus out of the lineup by a Torres hit in G2. Ron Wilson called it the turning point of the series and I don't know if I agree with him 100% but I will say it was easier to match lines once the Marleau-Bernier tandem lost their steam amidst an audition of supplementry wingers. Of course Michalek would return for G5-6 and though his eye was puffy his chest was certainly less prominent.

Somewhere - For the diehard fans who lived through the Tommy Salo era and hoped that somewhere somehow a Dwayne Roloson would emerge. I don't mean the causual fans who only pay rapt attention to the playoffs, I'm talking the guys who watched him play great in the '99 playoffs and then lived through his decline. So I'm not saying that Roloson is Patrick Roy but I am saying that he makes teams work to beat him.

Searching With My Good Eye Closed - This one goes out to the San Jose powerplay which needed five full games before they realized they had to move the puck a heckuva lot quicker in order to get scoring chances. The Oilers did a good job for most of the series but by the end of last night they were running on luck. Two pipes by the Sharks is evidence that they'd finally made the correct adjustments but what took them so long?

Room A Thousand Years Wide - No it hasn't been that since the Oilers played into the month of June but sometimes it feels like it. Times like when you look back at the "bounty" received for Doug Weight and how the whole Mike Comrie dream scnario eventually turned sour. Then you look at the Oilers current depth down the middle and how the failed experiements of Oates and Dopita kicked you in the nuts repeatedly. Now we can finally let this all go and hope that Horcoff and Stoll just remain healthy.

Mind Riot - For Ron Wilson the man who's most likely supplanted Roger Neilson as the NHL's most analytical coach. Be it pure arrogance, naivety or simple gamesmanship there was hardly ever a crack in his facade in this series.

Drawing Flies - Just a little something for the carcass of the '06 Sharks. There is a lot to like about this team heading into the future. I personally think Michalek is a Radek Dvorak clone but guys like Bernier, Marleau, Georges and Carle should only get better. Even a guy like Cheechoo could round into all around better player. Toskola was great in G6 when the Sharks tanked and gave up a bevy of odd man rushes. And hell a guy like Thornton will always be regular season money and will at the very least afford you a good playoff seeding;) But will it happen next year or will they have to keep waiting? This team's awfully young in some areas and it could be awhile before it grows up. There's no guarentee that grit will eventually befriend skill.

Holy Water - I'm not an overly religious man but how else do we explain Todd Harvey charging out of a mothball cocoon to take more than a few shifts on a top line that was matching against SJ's top unit? Not to mention the fact that he closed the lid on their coffin with a super shift midway through the third period. It's easy for a team to look blessed when the netminding's solid, the bounces are going their way and they're getting contributions from just about everyone.

New Damage - All of the remaining teams in the playoffs didn't make the '04 playoffs. That's the only example needed to show that the new league truly does promote parity. Fans in Anaheim and Carolina saw long runs in '03 and '02 respectively and even Buffalo made the finals in '99. For Oilers fans it's hopefully it's the beginning of a 3-5 year window where they're no worst than a coin flip away from winning a couple of rounds. If that isn't the case at least they'll have the memories of '06 to keep them warm.

2 Comments:

Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Good stuff again, Dennis.

I think the rap on Thornton for being a poor playoff performer is a bit harsh though. By my eye he was the best player in the series for either team. And obviously the guy that MacTavish was focussing his matchups around. And the guy still had 9 points in 11 playoff games, it's not like he disappeared.

Reminds me of the way Hasek and Belfour were always trashed by the media before they started winning in the playoffs. And how many goals did Messier have in his first 25 playoff games? Only 3 or 4 I think.

Sometimes shit just happens.

5/18/2006 10:12 pm  
Blogger Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Great post Dennis.

Thornton still has to learn a little about winning in the playoffs, I think, but he didn't pull a disappearing act.

Michalek and Bernier disappeared and because of that Marleau was a little more easily contained, imo, then the Oil concentrated everything on Thornton. They eliminated Cheechoo and, well, Big Joe is a passer, not a shooter.

He is a bit passive though - just his nature I think - and that's where people get on him. He cares but because he's not out there pasting guys people wonder, does he care?

5/19/2006 7:32 am  

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