Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Gameplan Without Pronger

It is still just early July, and the exciting part of the UFA season is already behind us. Howson suggested yesterday that the Oilers may well go into the season without adding defensive depth. And Showerhead and Lowetide have done the sums on the Oilers payroll, there isn't a whole bunch of space left there. Howson may just be telling us the truth here.

So, what will MacTavish do without Chris Pronger on his roster? How will the Oilers cope?

I can't answer the second question, and I'm optimistic by nature so I can't get too worried either.

I can, however, take a stab at the first question, basing my hypothesis on the game vs CGY last winter that saw Pronger get scratched for health reasons. MacTavish's blue line that night included Syvret, Ulanov, Cross, Bergeron, Staios and Smith. And that ain't pretty.

So, what did MacTavish's coaching staff do? They rolled Staios and Smith down the right side all night. That's what. Except for when the Oilers had a PP one of those two, but not both, seemed to be out there.

The shift chart strips below are the first and second halves of the came. I cut it in two to fit it on blogger. Jason Smith is dark green. Staios is rust colour. The green and red bits along the edges are Oiler PKs and PPs respectively.

Calgary may not have a lot of finish up front, but they are a physical team to play against. Not easy for Staios and Smith. Probably why the shifts got shorter as the game wore on.

By my non-Dennisian memory it was a fun game to watch in spite of the low score. A well played game by both sides. And an unfortunate bounce, past Staios I think, to allow the Flames to tie it up late. Mike Morrison got the win in the shootout in a peculiar way, remember Amonte's attempt? What the hell was that?. Pisani got the shootout winner with his patented backhand five-hole move.

If my memory is right this was also the game that saw whiny git Mike Peca delegated to the 4th line on the scorecard. Which caused much discussion with the TV guys, who failed to notice that MacTavish was going all 1983 on our asses and had delegated Peca to shadow Iginla on the night. Not a real hard match, but 7.4 minutes of head to head at even strength. Well ahead of the usual suspect for that gig, Horcoff, who clocked in at 5.5 minutes. A light night for Shawn by his own standards, and the old school Oiler fans and video game nutters surely delighted in the game plan.

Staios made an interesting comment when asked about Pronger's absence. Just a shrug and a "we were a good team before he got here". Said in a very matter-of-fact way. Good leader I think.

Pop Quiz: Which Oiler forward played the second most even strength IggyMinutes(TM) on this night?


Blogger RiversQ said...

I'll go with Pisani here. Just guessing that he was on Peca's wing for much of the night.

Oh, now I see you said "player" not "forward." In that case, I'll go with Staios as a luck of the draw over Smith.

7/11/2006 10:41 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

I meant to say "forward" riversq. Good guess, with Dvorak out injured (he had played more IggyMinutes than anyone in the previous Flame game) ... that seems the obvious choice.

But you're wrong. 2.8 IggyMinutes for Pisani in this one.

7/11/2006 11:10 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

BTW: Changed it to "forward" now.

7/11/2006 11:10 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

I'll go with Torres next then. Tell me it's not Laraque. I'm just going to check at this point anyway. ;)

BTW, I think I like this development. IIRC, the Oilers rolled the forward lines a lot more this year than in 03/04 and then matched the dmen hard. This was mostly because they had Pronger back there.

Since Pronger's gone, maybe MacT goes back to the hard matchups at forward and then rolls the dmen - while trying to keep either Smith or Staios out there as you've outlined.

This seems like an inherently better move anyway, doesn't it? If forwards drive the results anyway, it seems like it makes a lot more sense to get maximum value out of them. Matching them hard against the other teams best lines sounds like the optimal way to do that.

7/11/2006 11:27 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

I checked it and I won't give it away. His number isn't much different from Horcoff's though.

The surprising thing is that he only played 1.1min with Peca at 5v5, which means the Oilers covered about 90% of Iginla's icetime with the two matchups.

BTW, I went through the Oilers' matchups vs. Thornton this year and they did not match them very hard this year at all. Horcoff led all forwards in every game but he averaged just 44% of Thornton's time with identical H/R splits.

7/11/2006 11:37 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

No, Torres with but 1.9 minutes. Georges with 3.8, which is a helluva lot for him. A couple of long shifts for Georges with Peca in the 3rd period. Which was kind of nerve racking and sent a few folks into a fit at OilFans iirc. :D Shift chart shows that he started the game as well, which is right too now that I think about it. Much ado about Peca being a 4th liner and then he starts the game and ends up playing a lot of minutes, chopped and changed all over the place. I don't know why I remember this particular game so well, probably because it was sans Pronger and the way mactavish ran the forwards was off the charts different.

Damn, this team would have been a lot better if they had never signed Peca. And if they knew that Reasoner's knees would be okay and that Stoll would step up his game, then maybe they wouldn't have.

The correct answer is Hemsky BTW. 6.5 IggyMinutes on the night. Smyth played a lot of time against Iggy too of course. And now I'll enter this into evidence as article 27 in my "MacTavish's Handling of Hemsky Was Batshit Crazy" file.

7/11/2006 11:46 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

On Thornton: Ya, but by that time it was 94/10/83 or bust. Why in hell not avoid that? Especially that last visit to the tank, just after the trade deadline. It was getting a bit late in the day to be farting around, and the playoffs were anything but a certainty then.

The fact that Hemsky barely saw Thornton in the playoffs tells us Something too. I'm just not sure what.

BTW: Quite a bit of 4on4 time in that CGY game because of the OT so I went to the trouble of adding that in as well.

BTW: Do you have a shift chart reader script for the playoffs? Just go to edit the code to reflect the 30xxx numbering system instead of the 2xxxx that NHL.com uses for the regular season. We all saw the Oiler games and tore them apart already ... but have a look at that DAL/COL series. Strange one there, looks like Tippet panicked after Game 1, poor Niko took the fall.

7/11/2006 11:56 pm  
Blogger Steven said...

I know we've all gone over this
ad-naseum but Hemsky damn well better turn out to be an
Elias-type outscorer soon for the amount of time they are putting into him almost at the cost of winning.

I know he's made some strides but if he doesn't turn out well or he happens to leave the Oilers and turn out to be that player some place else I'll always look back and shake my head rather than looking back fondly like I should be :)

7/12/2006 2:07 am  
Anonymous lowetide said...


Hemsky's value imo went up more than almost any NHL player this playoffs. He went deep into the second season and scored some massive goals in huge situations.

Should the Oilers choose to cut bait at any time in the next three seasons, I'd say this playoff made certain the payback is handsome.

imo, there's no way to lose on Hemsky. Either he blossoms or he gets a fine return.

7/12/2006 7:07 am  
Anonymous Doogie2K said...

I was at that game (Nov. 25), and yes, it was absolutely awesome, in spite of the score. Now I know why I was so damned nervous the last ten minutes or so of that game. ;) But, yeah, my recollection pretty much lines up with yours, though I wasn't exactly too focused on line matchups, but I didn't remember Pronger not being there until just now. I do, however, remember thinking "Pisani? The fuck?", then being pleasantly surprised at the result.

I had a really good post about it at the time on a GameSpot forum, of all places, but it seems to have been eaten by Father Time. Oh, well.

7/12/2006 8:06 am  
Blogger Steven said...


You're probably right... but I feel kinda like a father watching his kid and after putting so much development time into him I want him to succeed and stay in Edmonton :)

Seriously some of the ways they were using him in the regular season at all costs was driving me nuts. He'd turn over the puck at the blueline (making me curse) and then in another exact situation he'd burn the defencemen and set up a pretty goal.

Makes for some damn exciting hockey but I'd really prefer it if he didn't turn the puck over to the Sakic and Forsberg's over the world on the counter attack. :)

7/12/2006 8:43 am  
Anonymous namflashback said...


i wonder if the coaching staff during the regular season assumed that with the strength of the D, that they could throw Hemsky into the fire. as the reg season results show, it almost burned them as it was way too close at the wire.

if the 82 game season is where you play the hand that gets you to the big table, perhaps the coaches play it way safer than they did last year.

I think we see mega line juggling this year.

7/12/2006 8:58 am  
Blogger Scarlett said...

I think Hemsky has made a giant leap forward, but he's not there yet. I have a season ticket, and let's just say, it was frustrating watching him on some nights. So brilliant in one moment, then mediocre the next.

I'm a bit nervous for the Oil, but they had a pretty good team before Prongs and I'm sure Lowe will make a deal to fix up the back end sometime during the season.

7/12/2006 9:41 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Scarlett said...

I think Hemsky has made a giant leap forward, but he's not there yet. I have a season ticket, and let's just say, it was frustrating watching him on some nights. So brilliant in one moment, then mediocre the next.

I'm a bit nervous for the Oil, but they had a pretty good team before Prongs and I'm sure Lowe will make a deal to fix up the back end sometime during the season.

Well said. I feel the same.

And I know the feeling, hell with that whole Smyth-Horcoff-Hemsky line. A lot of games, just when I was pissed off with them for creating a bunch of chances on their own goalie ... they'd create a goal or draw a penalty from the bad guys and all would be forgiven. Smyth is slippery, Horcoff is shifty and Hemsky is as nifty as hockey players get. Fun to watch.

I invented a drinking game call "odd man rush" on a message board last January. All you had to do was knock back a shot every time that this trio surrendered an odd man rush. Two-on-ones obviously, and any time that three opponents went over the Oiler's blue line before any of them did. if that happened you yelled "odd man rush" and slammed a shot. :D

Nobody took me up on it, a shame. There would have been a lot of people making ill advised phone calls to ex-girlfriends/boyfriends by the first intermission, and a lot of people with pounding heads and no recollection of the third period on the next morning. My theory was that after this experiment the participants would shudder automatically every time Hemmer or the others turned the puck over at the blue lines, or maybe feel a bit of pain behind their eyes for a second, or maybe throw up a bit in their mouth ... it was a Pavlovian thing I was going for. :-)

7/12/2006 11:16 am  
Blogger Matt said...

Vic, I'd say your memory of that game is pretty excellent, except for your first comment about Dvorak being injured.

DVo scored the Oilers goal; this is burned in my memory because it was the first game where he was released from Peca's wing, and I predicted he'd have a huge game.

7/12/2006 12:11 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...


You're right of course. Funny, I have no recollection of the goal.

That was just past the quarter pole of the season. I remember at about that time Dvorak had played monster minutes, with Smyth and Horcoff early until they both went down with injury. Then with Peca on an old fashioned checking line (they were both struggling so bad with their confidence offensively that a guy almost felt bad for them coming down on a odd man rush :) ) Other places as well, like with Stoll for a bit, but not much by my memory.

Then he must have been hurt pretty shortly after that, no? RPM were reunited for a while and played pretty tough opposition too. Peca slotted in there in place of Marty on occasion. A mix of strange use of 94/10/83 throughout. Dvorak came back when, after the New Year? Then it was 14/16/20 as a line for the most part until Samsonov arrived, and some chopping and changing about when Moreau went down as well.

A strange year for Dvorak. Pavel Bure once said "he can do everything but finish", and that was when he was still a Ranger but after his 30 goal year, so it's not he was ever going to trigger memories of Mike Bossy. But the lack of finish this season was stunning, reminiscent of that year Moreau couldn't score to save his life, or the year that Marchant would surely have set the modern day record for missed breakaways if someone was keeping track. :-)

Still, good player. I hope that they can get him back cheap. Going by the return in trade (next to nothing) on Mike Johnson and his $1.9M salary ... I'm thinking that players of this ilk may be the best value of 06/07. They should come cheap.

7/13/2006 11:42 am  

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