Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Smid, Horcoff and the Oilers pitching a one hitter versus the Capitals

It took me awhile to get to this because it actually took me awhile to watch the game. As I said earlier the matchups against the weaker sisters don't interest me as much as they once did. Yes it's a chance for guys like Sykora and Stoll to light it up and that's important for me personally because I have them both in a pool but otherwise I really find it hard to care about these games. I find they're much easier to watch when taped.

Note: I think these games are less enjoyable because anything less than a win is crushing. Expectations have been raised and that has altered my focus when it comes to particular matchups. For instance home games against anyone in the Conf outside of Ana-SJ-Det-Nsh and maybe Cgy and Dal are matchups that should be wins. Meanwhile the Oilers are now built to win anywhere on the road as well so big games in the aforemention cities are, at least on this end, more anticipated than ever before. Of course this speaks nothing to just how nervous I'll be come playoff time because now the Oilers are expected to be more than just entertainment for people who like watching Dallas win in the first round.

Back to the present though and eventually though I did get around to watching the Caps/Oil contest and here's the way I saw it.

When I got home late Sat night/early Sun morning I checked all the scores and saw the Oilers had won 4-0. I read the CP summary and Roloson was downright effusive in his praise for the Oilers defensive effort with "awesome" being the word Roli used. Not being sure if the Ornery Ontarian is usually subject to the hyperbole that often permates the post game comments of his NHLPA brethern I began thinking the Oilers must have been very solid in this one.

As it turns out Roloson's assessment was pretty accurate.

It was an effort eerily similar to the 3-1 win over the visiting Wings just a week previous where the Oilers held a vast edge in scoring chances created and though the score was close at times the outcome never seemed to be in doubt. I don't want to seem overly confident here mind you because Edmonton has gotten off to a shaky 1-4 start on the road and has been kicked around the ice on two of those occasions, ie at Van and at Colorado. Plus they've lost to one of the three worst teams in hockey in the Coyotes. But at home the Oilers have earned every minute of their 6-0 record and Saturday night was just the latest illustration of their early season home dominance.

The first thing you notice about the Caps is of course Alexander Ovechkin. I watched a lot of the Caps last year once I realized that all the OV buzz was on the mark and he is a serious combination of skill and size the likes of which resembles a young Lindros. The only thing is that he hasbetter hands, he's faster and probably hits just a little less harder. If you keep him in check you will beat Washington and outside of one early dazzle the Oilers kept the kid relatively in check and they were well on their way to a win.

The tandem of Smid/Staios saw the most time at ES and had the highest TOI overall and it was a nice hunch by MacTavish. I can't really remember how young #5 played in Phx on Thursday but I just finished watching last Wed's game in Ana and Smid had an excellent game. A couple of more games like that in tough road buildings and he'll start to get me on his side. Until of course he messes up in the playoffs;)

On this night though MacTavish and/or Huddy sensed that the Smith/Shaggy tandem needed a rest and they acted accordingly.

It was also game one of MacT's new lines and some guys really seemed to feed off the changes. Then again maybe some of the guys who contributed chances and points were just folks who were due. I'm thinking mainly of Horcoff who's early season production belies both his abilities and likely his eventual '07 output. He was partnered with Torres and Thoresen and #10 seemingly made a point of carrying the puck and trying to create off the rush. I've forgotten where I read this but someone broke down Horc's '06 season and found him to be super streaky. If that's the case then it only makes sense that he'll soon go on a bit of a tear. I always equate a slumping NHL player to one doing likewise in MLB where if a guy's hitting hard liners for outs then eventually the hits will begin to fall. In the NHL if a guy's getting scoring chances then eventually those will start to find twine. In keeping with this theme then Horc will soon bust out and probably hit rock bottom after last Thursday in Phoenix.

His newly minted RW Thoresen also seemed rejuvenated with the change as he was back to crashing and banging and going to the net. It's hard to say just how long a slump will last for a guy like Patrick but it's heartening to know that after a couple of subpar games he was once again making a difference.

Probably the best example of a guy who was way past due was Pisani and in this game he played on a line with Smyth and Stoll. Smyth and Pisani have played together before and with some success so it was no surprise to see their chemistry rekindle quite easily. Fernando had also played two good games in Ana and Phx and he broke his early season slump with a softie in CoyoteLand. It's not like I expect Fernie to pop 25 goals but given the way he was playing he was sure to find the back of the net sooner or later.

The Lupul-Sykora-Hemsky line just buzzed along and created a few chances. As long as 71/83 are together they're sure to make something happen and it's just a question of how much. Early on in his Oilers career Lupul has impressed me with more effort than I'd orginally expected but still strikes me as the kind of guy where you won't notice him all night and then he'll pop a goal. For all his skill he's not super flashy and he's as unnoticable in games where he scores as in games where he doesn't.

The PP played a pivotal role in the win logging a 2/6 effort. After a 0/21 drought the PP unit has now marked six times in the last four games and seems to be back on track. Dwayne Roloson was hardly tested, and he said as much in his post game comments, and besides a big save late in the first on Oveckin he could've played this game in a rocking chair.

Obviously the Caps weren't a daunting opponent and it was their third games in four nights as well. If it was say their fourth game in six nights then they might have greatly outchanced the Oilers and Ovechkin would've punked Matt Greene to boot. But that would happen two nights later with Calgary and Phaneuf respectively;)

11 games is still a pretty small sample size and there are still a few things to be worked out. Some of those are:

- Just how long it takes for Smid to acquire dependability
- Where will Lupul fit in
- What kind of a road team will the Oilers turn out to be

In the here and now though I believe that a few truths have come to the forefront. First of all the Oilers have had damn fine netminding in nine of their first 11 games so I don't think that's a fluke. The team does a great job at blocking shots and protecting the dangerous areas and when they don't then you have Roloson usually doing a great job covering for their mistakes. It also looks like the PK really hasn't suffered a whole lot without Pronger and that surprises me. Yes I know the goaltender is the best PKer but Pronger stopped a lot of plays before they started and this year we've seen Greene take an active role in the PK but the Oilers as a unit are still damn good. My last conclusion is that the offense might not be the juggernaut we'd hoped for. I don't believe MacTavish will also this team to play willy nilly and I don't think this team can play offense and defense at the same time. If MacT gets what he wants you'll see a a team that dumps and chases unless it's the 71/83 combo and that means that the only way this team offensively explodes is if the PP really starts to hum. Then again maybe I'm out to lunch on this one. Thurs far we haven't faced Colu, LA, Stl or Chi so maybe the GF really gets a bump when we hit a soft spot in the sked.

In the meantime there's an interesting game to take in on Tuesday night with the soaring Preds coming to town. Nashville's shaken off an early early season funk and have win six of their last seven. They're in Van tonight and I'll try and chime in tomorrow with a little preview where I drop some science on their line combos and d pairings.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article I was at the game and I will say the Oilers D looked "awsome" and we finished a strong 3rd period as usual. Like you say I think Sykora hemsky Lupul or Torres I thought RAffi played well with them although he wasnt scoring he was creating alot of ice for 71/83!!!
Again that was a great read!
Lets Go Oilers Lets Go

10/31/2006 8:45 pm  
Anonymous uni said...

I just read the comments on the TSN board...I guess I needed a laugh. Someone compared Phanuef to Bobby Orr, I laughed so hard I almost cried.

10/31/2006 9:45 pm  
Blogger namflashback said...


Great summary. I only caught the last period -- from the point when it became 2-0 and they just looked solid protecting the lead. There have been so many times over the prior 13 seasons where the Oilers could barely get a lead, much less grit out a win.

I think the coaches recognized that this crew needs to win by winning situationally. It almost seemed like that they weren't even too concerned during that dry spell on the PP.

The contributors to this blog have converted me into seeing that winning at ES is a key for this team's personnel and will serve them effectively down the stretch and in a playoff run. Then, with a well coached PK, and a riches of talent on the PP -- special teams should be a net +GD.

It sure appears that this is the mentality of the coaches.

11/01/2006 10:16 am  
Blogger Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Another thing Dennis - and I believe you have alluded to this too - not only is Smid playing well but the responsibility he creates for Staios has made Stevie a far better Dman imo.

No more willy nilly rushes or pinches because he knows he has to take care of the kid.

11/01/2006 10:28 am  
Blogger Alana said...

Roli also called Shawn Horcoff's Halloween costume "awesome," so he may use the word more than you'd think.

11/01/2006 11:28 am  
Blogger Showerhead said...

Great game review, and I agree with nearly all of your 11-games-in-truths.

However, you might want to redefine the word "rest".


Staios: 20.4
Ovechkin: 17.1
Smith: 14.7

Staios vs. Ovechkin: 3.1
Smith vs. Ovechkin: 12.3

While you're obviously right that the Staios pairing got the lion's share of overall minutes, I don't think that MacT's clear and decided use of Smith vs. Ovechkin was his idea of giving #21 a walk in the park.

11/01/2006 11:53 am  
Blogger Dennis-IOF said...

Nice eye SH. Really no excuse for me to miss that partic aspect..especially since Vic has that tool along the side there:)

I guess I should've said that Smith and Shaggy only played when OV was on the ice:)

11/01/2006 3:10 pm  
Blogger Showerhead said...

I'll admit I'm kind of addicted to that thing :)

11/02/2006 11:20 am  

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