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.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dear Diary: Terry Crisp and The Centre Ice Package

Just a note here. The humour of this commentary will depend on just how material the broadcasters give me. On the downside the Canucks or Ducks aren't playing so that takes Jim Hughson and Brian Hayward out of the equation and that's really a shame. Hughson is one more Canucks road victory away from boiling a rabbit in Luongo's apartment and Ryan Getzlaf probably has a restraining order on Hayward. But we do have eight games to cover and here are some of the potential highlights:

1: We've got Fla/NJ which I wouldn't even watch except for the fact that Chico Resch usually throws out two or three dandies a night. That broadcasting team is an interesting combination. You've got one of the best play-by-play guys in the world in Mike Emrick and then you've got a total dummy, ie Resch, doing the colour. Plus Stan Fischler appears during intermissions. Devils hockey has been boring since, well maybe even since it was in Colorado, but their broadcasts have some of the best nimrods in the business. Sometimes you'll watch games with the sound turned off but with NJ bcasts it's almost better to listen to the game but just turn down the contrast on your TV so you don't have to watch it.

2: SJ/Nsh: This should be a good game plus CI usually goes with the home team bcast first so that means Terry Crisp doing the colour. Oh boy....this could be good.

3: TO/OTT: Part two of their series and this following McGratton's dismantling of Belak followed by Tucker's "dismantling" of Eaves followed by many comments from both sides. What will happen tonight? Well I mean besides the Sens most likely lighting up Raycroft again. Will we see Tucker trounce Spezza? Or maybe Hamel? Or perhaps the penalty box attendant.

4. Edm/Phx: This game should be a rout so that's not really a big deal unless you like watching Gretzky squirm..which I must admit I do. But the biggest highlight of this game could be that given it's a PPV PropagandaCast of the Oilers you might see some old footage that they've been holding onto. Footage of say Barrie Stafford dancing the last time the Oilers won the Cup. I first saw this in the '04 season and I'm still not over it. Hands down the funniest thing I've ever seen. Stafford is drunk and dancing like a sedated rubberband. I can't even think about it.

Finally I dropped a five spot on some Pro-Line action this eve..hey big spender!!, and I put the bones on Philly, Ott, Nsh, Bos and Edm. So just to let you know I'll probably be paying rapt attention to the aforementioned games.

And we're off...

- First stop Mtl/Bos with the boys from NESN providing the action. Habs wearing their third jerseys and I have to say that those are some nice threads. I hate everything about that org and I hate everyone that cheers for them but those are still some nice duds. I see Bergeron taking the opening draw with Murray/Kessel and it reminds me of one of the least reported stories of the new season: How Dave Lewis is trying to kill poolies everywhere by stealing Bergeron's counting stats mojo. I know that kid is good and you'll sometimes give your best players lesser linemates in an effort to find some balance but just think about it for a second: Having one line that can score all the time, ie Sturm-Boyes-Bergeron though I know Sturm is hurt right now, is better than having two that can score the occasional time. Young Kessel looks like he'll be good in the future but in the here and now he's not Malkin. Sigh..Ryder scores to make it 1-0 already. You know you'd think I'd be rooting for that guy but I just can't. Did I mention I hate everything about Les Scabitants? If my mother played with them I wouldn't even speak to her unless it was at Christmas. Oh wait...Andy Brickley, B's PBP guy, is beginning to ramble so let's flash over to Philly....

- Atl's visiting there tonight so you may be wondering why I took the Flyers. Well I don't have the specific numbers but teams do surprisingly well in their first games under a new coach. And here's Mike Knuble and Randy Robitaille on an odd man rush and it's 1-0 Philly already. I'm telling you this theory has some serious legs.

*** As a gift from the gambling gods Bob Hartley elected to play Johan Hedberg over Kari Lehtinen.

- Here's the start of the Leaves/Sens game and Neil/Tucker are lined up against each other...but Tucker's declines the invite. Hmmm I really do wonder who Tucker will fight. Maybe it will be John Muckler but would that be a wise move? I mean we all know that Muckler's a zombie, right? Has there been anyone else who looked 80 when he was just 55 but now it's 20 years later and he still just looks 80?

- Here are the five guys that were just on the ice for the B's: Demspey-Thompson-Stastny-Brookbank-Jurcina. Boston Bruins hockey!! Come out and watch a game if you're cable's out or your net connection is down or your public library is closed......

- Kessel ties the game at 1-1. Mock and ye shall be exposed!! Seriously, though, the puck went off his skate on a pass from Bergeron. Excellent play by Kommisarek there. Somewhere Dick Irvin Jr is making a voodoo doll. Just a note here. Can anyone else list Dick Irvin Jr as the first person they seriously hated? And did other 12 year olds get so frustrated with Irvin's love for Patrick Roy that they swore out loud and had their father chew them out for it? Me neither.

- Back to Philly where Bobby Holik's taking all the big draws against Forsberg which brings me to my next point. How awesome would it be if you were Bobby Holik? You're making all kinds of coin, there's not really a whole lot expected of you anymore and you're playing in a city that couldn't care less about hockey so they never mention the fact that you're more overpaid than the lady who does Jessica Alba's nails. Speaking of Atlanta..I really like watching these guys play and I think they're one more good ES forward away from giving the Sabres or Sens a serious battle in the E-Conf semi-finals. Their D isn't sexy but they have some damn solid guys back there, their PP is money and Lethinen is the next big goaltending superstar.

- Still nothing happening in TO but I see Kilger on the ice which reminds me that, at least among the hardcore guys or the guys who had him on their team, was there a least publicized story than the fact that Kilger's actually useful now?? Sure it took him roughly 27 seasons to do so but down the stretch last year I actually lobbied for this guy when the Oil were talking about picking up one more forward.

- Here's our first trip to the Island where NY's hosting the Sabres. And as soon as I flip over we see Afinigenov to Spacek to Kotalik and there's another PP goal for Buf. The Isles colour guy says that's a pizza goal and Howie Rose, Isles PBP, calls him on it and the colour guy says that means it was a special delivery. I'm not buying it though. I think it was a thinly veiled reference to Spacek's triple chin. In other news I'm so highly suggestable that I just decided to order a pizza.

- One last note on this game before we flip: Anytime Buf plays the Isles shouldn't it always be called The Pat Lafontaine Bowl? Just think about it for a second. He came into the league in '84 and in the last 22 years weren't these respective teams the most fun to watch when he wore their silks? So why doesn't Empire and Fox Sports New York, the respective stations, just agree that henceforth these games will always feature Lafontaine highlights plus his picture is superimposed upon the telecast. That seems reasonable to me and when people tire of it they can just change it to The Randy Wood Bowl.

- One last note..seriously..on this game. Poti just made an outlet pass to Kozlov. Pound for pound and inch for inch is that the most apathetic pass and receive in NHL history? I'm serious...just try and beat me on that one. Here's a hint to get you started though. Look at all Isbister's former teams and try and find a teammate of his that was just as big and cared as little.

- Flashing to the Cats/Devils where Resch says that what makes Gionta good is his love for the game. Now if this were true than Todd Marchant would break all scoring records known to man and it would be him who Kent Forsberg would underrate.

- Literally every other game is on commerical break so I begrudingly tune in to the Car/TB game. I used to love watching TB but I turned on them quickly once they let me down last year. I'm fickle like that when it comes to secondary teams I must admit. For the record though is thre anyone that does less with more than Lecavalier? Here's a guy who excelled in the World Cup in '04 and some people, myself included, thought he was ready to turn the corner. But there's just something missing with that guy and I can't figure it out. BTW...is it just me or does Martin St. Louis still go way too early in draft pools?

- Neil just crushed Ondrus..and the doorbell rings and it's the pizza guy. And honestly this just happened. So Neil crushes Ondrus and that reminds me of former Leaves 4th liners. The guy who delivered my pizza is now the boyfriend of a super hot girl that was once tagged by a former Leaves 4th liner while he toiled for the Baby Buds here in TO. I'm laughing out loud right now.

- Off to Nashville and I just missed a Bell/Weber scrap. Dammit!!! Watching Preds games always reminds me of how much I like Hartnell. Yes I know he's a GAB, Good Albertan Boy, but I still like him. I feel like I'm losing my soul here so save me Crispy!!!. On a somewhat serious note: I see the Kariya-Arnott-Erat line taking on the Joe Thornton line. Looks like Trotz is going power vs power early on. I'll keep an eye on this.

- Back to Boston where I catch a graphic illustrating 10 years in the NHL for Mike Johnson. Wow..has it been that long since he broke in with the Leaves and I was at the local sports bar waiting for the TO games to finish so they'd show the Oilers? The last time I felt this old was when I realized the release date of Nevermind. Note: remind me sometime to tell you about the Leaves fan from the local sports bar with an unhealthy crush on Danny Markov and who also happened to be a Jehovah Witness who also happened to canvas my neighbourhood?

- Back to Nsh and once again it's Arnott vs Thornton and then Trotz comes out with Legwand/Hartnell/Dumont versus the Marleau line. Good stuff all around here. But in bad news Crispy starts talking about how the Oilers light up SJ last spring and he's getting all hot and bothered about the great run Edm had. The guy's killing me here. Why won't he give me something? If he doesn't I'll just make stuff up but I'll let you know immeadiately afterwards:)

- OK I'm just gonna stay with this Sharks/Preds game because it's the runaway best matchup of the night and I just know Crispy's gonna mess up here now and a second. I have a feeling that Nashville really doesn't know how good it can be and it might take awhile before some of the new guys and lines mesh. Oh wait Crispy just called Vokun "Evil Kneivel". That's better Terry!! Don't let me down here. They're going to commerical with a Best Damn Sports Show Promo. "Coming up this week on The Best Damn Sports Show...Who can gain more weight..Rodney Peete or Rob Dibble? Don't miss it.!!""

- That was made up but it fits nonetheless.

- 1-1 after 40 in Philly and I'm surprised at that low score. Hedberg's in net for Atl and at the other end the Thrash should have at least a couple of goals at this point.

- I missed a goal in Bos because Chara just tied the score at 2-2. Great camera angle from behind Huet's net just before the big guy scored. You could tell that Murray's screen had Huet more confused than Darryl Sutter during Trivial Pursuit.

- 2-1 Preds now and 3-1 in Ottawa and 2-0 in NJ after an Elias goal. Let's stay awhile shall we? Ok Emrick just described Ruslan Salei rushing the puck for the Cats thusly, "Ruslan "'One Horse" Salei carries the puck up the ice." I wish I was making that up but I'm not and it just shows that after all these years Resch's idicocy is finally rubbing off on Doc. I knew this day would come but I didn't want to think about it too much. Not to be outdone though Resch opines that the only reason Elias contracted Hepatitis last year was because Gionta knew he was about to master the NHL and he wanted to try his hand in the field of medicine. That I made up but Resch probably wants to say something like that.

- 4-0 in TB now. It was 2-0 but as soon as I flipped over we saw St. Louis score two goals in a very rapid fashion. So it seems like my reverse jinx is alive and well tonight. Hmmm let's try this one shall we? You know who'd never score a goal? That Matt Greene. And I bet Jason Smith couldn't get one either. Ok that's pushing it too far but no guts no glory right?

- 2-0 after 40 on the Island and yet another point for the poor man's Bure: Maxim Afingengov. Of course we can't feel too badly for Pavel though. Last I read all the important guys in Russia were lining up to have Pavel deflower their daughters. For all the gambles though here's something to consider. From what I've seen and heard this is the second game in a row where Buf's been outchanced so their "luck" will soon be running out.

- NESN scoreboard says it's 2-1 Flyers so my Pro Line ticket is hanging in there. I've got the B's in a tie game, Philly's leading, Ott and Nsh are up and the Oilers should be a slamdunk.

- And so much for that because I head to Philly and Slava Kozlov has just knotted the score. I'm in a draft pool with 13 other guys and I have both Kozlov and Hossa. I also picked up Sykora in the 10th round. Needless to say I'm winning despite the fact that Henrik Zetterberg has decided to take the year off and Colby Armstrong has somehow found a way not to pick up points while always playing with Crosby and lately while playing with both Crosby AND Malkin.

- Over to Nashville where it's Marleau vs Legwand and Crispy offers his first real gem of the night when talking about how to bother the Sharks #2 centre. The former Flames coach opines that you've really got to get into his kitchen and do whatever you can. And if you can somehow manage to work up some really bad breath then all the better. He honestly said this.

- 2-2 with less than 5 min to go in Boston and Marc Savard's out there working his ass off. I know..I can't believe it either. I've got him in my pool as well so I've been keeping an eye on the B's and right now Savard and the situation with his linemates, ie where once was Murray now stands Axellsson, reminds me of a fat man at an all you can eat salad buffet. He's got the tools to impress but he's just not in the right environs.

- I move back to Nasville and once again it's Arnott/Thornton so that's a hard matchup for sure. Very fun to watch. Speaking of hard..Crispy talks about what he'd do when he'd really want to rank up the collective breath of the Flames checking unit back in the late 80's. OK...that didn't really happen. But didn't you believe it for a second?

- Andrei Markov scores a PP goal for the Habs with 1.2 seconds left in the third period so there goes my PL. It was an interesting turn of events that lead to the winner though. At one end of the ice Kessel turns Kommisarek inside out and the big Habs D takes his free hand off the stick and spins the kid around but no call. At the other end the corpse of Radek Bonk goes down the left wing on a one on two mission and young B's dman Matt Lashoff draws a penalty. The exact same infraction occurred except for the fact that Kessel was in the open ice and about to bust in alone on Huet. This is the kind of stuff that drives coaches nuts and Lewis is losing it and the fans are littering the ice. The B's commentators are being really sensible though which pleases and disappoints me all at the same time. Sorta like Meg Ryan's nude scene from "In The Cut" where I was happy she'd relent to nudity but disappointed at the result. Oh yeah back to hockey and let's close the book on this game with a couple of musings. I don't know how a guy can be underrated in Mtl but I think that's the case with Markov. He always gets his points, he's good in his own end and makes a beautiful breakout pass. On the other side Kessel might be good if his hands catch up to his brain and his feet. He's super fast and is often in the right place butlacks the finish right now.

- We're going to OT in Philly and it's a beauty. The teams are going back and forth with defenseman jumping into the rush like it's an exhibition game. Hossa nearly scores the goal of the decade off a rush down the right wing with an inside out inside move and then finishing off with a one handed shovel. The man is awesome. Nothing decided here though so it's off to the SO where yes the Thrash wear their helmets backwards. Damian Cox thinks he's so smart because he started talking about that this week but I've been all over that since they started doing it last year. Then again I actually watch games from all over the league so..

- Philly wins the SO and here are the highlights. Kozlov scored on a "Forsberg in the '94 Olys" move and Forsberg was up next and he just went high gloveside. I guess he's too old for those moves now. Biggest stories to close out are that A: Hartley removed Hedberg and went to noted SO specialist Lehtinen. It didn't work out but it's nice to see someone try it and it was also nice to see Hedberg smiling about it and being a team guy B: Here we have another team that wins their first game under a new coach. I'm telling you that this thing has serious serious legs.

- Ok all that's left is the end of the SJ/Nsh game and I flip to the Oil PPV cast to see if it's on yet and here's Laraque in a Yotes jersey and black tights. Uhh,,..yeah..I don't know who's more disappointed: BG speaking about Phx's fortunes or me that I had to see that interview. It's too bad that he makes so much money though. It would be nice to pick him up down the stretch in '08 and bring him home so that he can beat a face ON Phaneuf.

- Mark Schulz made the trek with the PPV crew. This guy's been haunting me since HS when he was on BT in Halifax and one of my classmates thought his comedy was the most inventive since Lenny Bruce's. Why are we flying this dolt down to Phx when we could be filling time just by showing Stafford dancing???

- Sharks just tied the game at 3-3. SJ PP is now 2/3 on the night.

- Jussi vs LeNeveu..how can this get any better for the Oil? Oh wait it just did because Lupul blocked a shot on the first shift;)

- I'll go on a limb here and say that both Pisani and Reasoner score their first goals of the season. I think I was being too ambitious before with my requests for Greene and Smith. And I'll say that the Oilers PP keeps rolling.

- 1-0 Phx on a PP goal. Smyth was really soft in the left corner and Comrie took the puck and fed it to Michalek. Bad bad start. On a funny note the bcasters are talking about how Wayne said he would step down if he thought it was help the team and how he was always team first. Yeah except for back in the summer of '88 but who remembers that anyway. Or maybe they should've said he's team first unless it's team second and Janet first.

- Piani just tied it on a terrible goal. I think Gretzky just lost his bowels on the Phx bench. Seriously..that was way weak. And I like to give it to the other team's broadcasters so I have to call it down the middle with the Oilers as well. Their guys acted really poorly when Pisani scored. One guy said "that's one for the baby" referencing Pisani's newborn daughter and the other guy said, "he scored a bunch in the playoffs last year and he has a knack for putting those home." Just call it like it is, boys. That was an AHL goal let in by a guy that plays in the AHL.

- One shift in the first 10 minutes for the Oilers 4th line. That's odd because everyone seems to think that the 4th line did a good job last night and we're playing the second half of a BTB so wouldn't it make sense to go with them early? At last until we see what kind of a game this is going to be. Then again maybe MacT senses some lethargy in his charges and wants to keep a short bench.

- Phx back on the PP and it's 2-1. Phx 2/2 on the PP and this PK performance reminds me of some of the Dallas games over the years.

- Horc's line gets a shift against Laraque's line and how does that happen? Phx gets pressure in the Oilers end though and BG starts running around a little and mashes both Smyth and Bergy.

- 4-3 win by Preds and that's back to back losses for the Sharks. Their first blip. Let's see how long it lasts.

- Here we have a feature on the Oilers ladyfriends and their charitable works. Nice work by Smytty in regards to his ladyfriend but Moreau's partner is going downhill in a hurry and I'm not talking about Steve Staios either;) If the PPV crew insists on these features then Lowe and Co must move heaven and earth to acquire both Darcy Tucker and Brenden Morrow. Just trust me on this one.

- 3-1 Yotes and this one has the potential to get ugly fast. Horcoff lost the draw clean on that one and Jussi gave up a huge rebound. That's the end of the first and I'm pretty happy about that.

- Did anyone else notice all the empty seats? The last time Wayne saw so many empty aisles he was at one of Janet's movie premieres.

- The first ten minutes of this period should let us know if we have a game and I've seen this team come back against the Sharks and the Yotes do have a kid tender minding the store. A couple of good shifts by the Oilers to start the second and it's just a matter of time before they start to draw some penalties and get back into this but wait..Laraque has just scored to make it 4-1. On one hand I'm happy for the big guy but on the rest of my hands I can see that this could be a terrible loss, Smith looked very weak in coughing up the puck in the corner and how does Jussi not pokecheck the big guy? It took him forever to get there so why not just snake out the stick and break up the play That's it for Jussi and probably the Oil as well.

- Boynton takes a penalty and the Oilers break out the five forward formation but Pisani has replaced Smyth and is hanging out in the slot. Is MacT playing a hunch here or is he really gonna use a slot play? I don't know the awnser to the first question but "no" is the awnser for the second one and the PP doesn't click. Horcoff takes a penalty and the Yotes are back on the PP.

- Roli just looked super lazy on an Enver Lisin wraparound attempt. I know the kid is fast but Roli didn't even follow him across the net. So here we've got Roli fighting the puck on Mon, looking like Salo on Wed and now tonight looking quite apathetic? Plus Jussi got a start tonight and looked about as prepared as Darren McCarthy before a Chemistry final. The netminding has been brutal the last two games.

- MacT has the lines in a blender and I'm just warning you that I'm calling this off if the Oilers don't pull to within two goals before the period scores.

- Nolan makes it 5-1 and that's it for me.

Just one last note. I'm not panicking yet or anything but I'll be close to it if the Oilers don't lay a beating a on the Caps come Saturday night. They are still 6-4 but there are some troubling signs. The fact that the Oilers are 1-4 on the road should be a concern to anyone. And just from memory alone I'll say they've been outchanced in three of those for sure so it's not like they're losing because of bad bounces. The last two games are pretty easy to pin on netminding though. In this game alone LeNeveu made some damn fine stops on the Oilers PP while at the other end Jussi couldn't stop a beachball and Roli acted like he was at the beach. You won't win every game just scoring two goals but you should be able to win a few and though the Oilers have been turning the puck over there are still some chances being converted that should be saves.

The last note is for Shawn Horcoff. Always one of my favorites and a tireless worker and overall an easy guy to root for. But he's -5 the last two games and he's taking bad penalties and it's up to him to drive that top line. Someone has to keep 94 going and feed Lupul as well. Plus #10's gonna log the most TOI for the pivots and he'll really be expected to carry the mail at even strenght and on the PK Once Horcoff starts going and the netminding straightens up then the Oilers should be just fine.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Oilers/Ducks: Prongerama Round 1

Ana's off to a fast start, 6-0-2, and Pronger's off to a slow one, 1-4-8. In terms of TOI he's just another 25 min plus guy alongside the likes of Niedermayer and Beachemin and Pronger's newest defensive partner is Sean O'Donnell, BTW. The other two Ducks dmen are Shane O'Brien and Joe DiPenta and if you already knew that then you're either a hardcore fan or one of their friends. Their forward lines have been changing a little bit of late as I'd noticed that Selanne was playing with Marchant and Penner but it looks like Shannon had replaced Selanne on that line the last game versus the Kings. So it's probably a safe bet that the Selanne-McDonald-Kunitz line are back together. Pahlsson usually plays with Neidermayer The Bad and Getzlaf/Perry are still scooping up the cherry minutes while being joined at the hip like a young Selanne/Kariya.

The Ducks are +7 in GA/GF differential but they're played six of their eight games at home and their sked has been laughable:

LA: Junk
at Phx: Garbage
Stl: Medicore at best
NYI: The EConf's LA Kings
Dal: Lost to the Stars in the SO
Det: Struggling out of the gate
Min: Defeated the Gaborik-less Wild 2-1.
at LA: Needed the SO to take out the Kings.

The Oilers are 6-2 and +9 and have played home and home's with both the Flames and the improved Canucks and they've hosted the Sharks as well. Edmonton certainly looks up for this challenge but the Ducks have been the NHL's best team at home since the tail end of October '05 so any trip to the Pond isn't easy.

Unless you're looking for tickets of course.

But seriously folks this will be tough sledding for the Oil given that the Ducks have last change and that Torres is auditioning in Moreau's place on one of the Oilers shutdown lines. I think we'll need a strong showing from the Horcoff line tonight and we'll need a couple of PP goals.

Back to the line matching for a second..I'll be posting a game review tomorrow where I go over the matchups and list, at least IMO, the scoring chances at ES and just how they were created and who was on the ice for both sides.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What to do with Jordan Staal?

I'm guessing that most in the Oilogosphere will say that PIT should send Staal back and enjoy his 26 year old season vs. his 18 year old season. I think I ordinarily like that argument myself, but if Staal is playing as your 2nd line C, and is your top PK F by minutes played, it's not nearly as easy a decision as, say, Schremp was last year at camp for the Oilers.

With Staal it is often mentioned that there's a 10 game cutoff in terms of sending him back to junior, but as far as I know that 10 game rule doesn't apply as an accrued season. All it means is that one of his 3 rookie years would be run off his contract if he plays 10 games or more this season. To burn off a year with regards to unrestricted free agency I believe Staal would need to play (be on the roster?) in 40 games this year. So I suppose PIT also has the option of keeping him for 35 games and, if he doesn't look ready at that point/isn't contributing enough to keep, sending him back to junior where a year would be burned from his 3 year rookie deal but he would still be 7 years from UFA.

And what a goal by Malkin tonight. Unbelievable goal.


The NHL's website gives some clarification regarding the differences between the 10 game mark, and the 40 game mark

Is The loss Of Moreau An Oilers gain?

The biggest news today in Oilerland is that Ethan Moreau's shoulder is dislocated and requires surgery. Intially it appeared that a sound diagnosis on his status wouldn't be made until sometime this weekend but the speed of this decision tells us it's serious. No word yet on who'll get the call to be the 13th or 14th forward but chances are they won't make much of an impact. So to those who's nocturnal emissions owe themselves to a certain former member of the London Knights then I'd say keep buying new bed linens because the incumbants are the ones who'll take the minutes that were formerly Moreau's.

For Raffi Torres this means that his trip to the fourth line lasted about as long as Kevin James on a treadmill. It also means that his role with the Oilers has taken a drastic turn from the first game of the season. It looked like he'd reap the benefits of the soft mintues with Hemsky and Skyora but now he finds himself with Pisani and one of Stoll/Reasoner on a unit that will most likely see as many tough mintutes as the Smyth-Horcoff-Lupul troika.

On the other hand Patrick Thorsen is making a nice home for himself with Hemsky and Sykora but his cakewalk will be likely be interrupted by regular intervals on the PK. With Moreau in the lineup and assuming that a defenseman took a penalty you'd likely see pairs of 10/94, 18/34 and 16/19 killing penalties. I'd imagine the other five see an increase in their PK TOI and 28's broken in softly.

The first thing I thought of was how Moreau's longterm injury status throws more money back into the Oilers coffers and thus allows for the team to A: buy early on the "defenseman for a Cup run" market or B: wait until later on in the season but really swing for the fence and pick up a guy making some serious money. This won't be a real concern for the Oilers because they have cap room that will only be expanded by Moreau's injury. I'm not sure if there's a guy out there making say 4 million who could really help the push the Oilers D corps over the top but if there is then the savings on Moreau's contract means the Oilers could pick him up at Christmas and their finanical eyelashes need too batter too furiously.

Over the long haul I think the best plan would be to deal off one of Torres, Lupul or Pisani for a young D with a couple of years under his belt and who'll be effective and cheap for the next couple of years. It would seem like the Hawks have a couple of those and they have a need for forwards given that Handzus is gone for the season and Martin Havlat decided to get hurt early this season. Staios and Smyth are looking to get paid and salary will have to pared somewhere and the Oilers have enough young offensive potential whereas to afford to deal some of it away. Meanwhile on the backend it's just Tom Gilbert who's somewhat close and he's just entered his first year in the AHL.

But it might also be time for the Oilers to try and land a big fish being mindful that maybe Smyth walks after this season and though Roli looks great in his 37th season he is still 37 years old and time's running out for him and subsequently maybe the Oilers Cup hopes.

I'm not saying Moreau's easily replaceable, even though I think he's overpaid, but the Oilers look to be deep enough that his loss won't do more than just sting a little. But when it comes to defensemen the Oilers certainly need another capable guy and I believe there's much more benefit to using Moreau's saved salary in an increased financial effort to pick up a defenseman to replace Bergeron's mintues than than there's loss when it comes to replacing Moreau's minutes played.

Lowe struck early last year when he lifted Spacek out of Chicago and away from fellow playoff contenders and Moreau's absence means he has even more dollars in which to persue a similar move in the '07 season and it also means he can do it even earlier.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Phx/Edm Pre-game: Moreau-less or Here comes the PP!?!?

The biggest story heading into tonight's game, at least in the longterm, is that Ethan Moreau will miss the first of what is most likely to be many games with a shoulder problem. That will lead to some line shuffling and let the speculation begin.

Early on MacT's been using 11 forwards with 4th line centre Reasoner occasionally jumping into Stoll's third line slot and 4th line winger Patrick Thoresen jumping all over the place. Of course Thoresen's been moved up now so Winchester moves into the 11th spot and either of young Mikhnov or Jacques becomes the 12th forward. I'd expect to see MacT eventually lean heavily on 10 forwards though that strategy shouldn't be overly evident in the next four games with the docket consisting of a home and home with the hapless Yotes and a visit by the Caps. Of course in the middle of all this there's a trip to Anaheim so come Wednesday night just count how much combined TOI is used on the 11th and 12th forwards and I doubt it will eclipse 12 minutes.

The 94-10-15 line did some good work on Saturday night, ie +2 whilst being matchup up against ZBerg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom, so I'll wager the Moreau-less MacTactics feature this line front and centre in a power versus power matchup. Thoresen looked fine auditioning on 71-83's left wing so I'd expect them to stay together and get the easy min and on the third line look for a reunion of sorts with Torres receiving an early reprieve from the fourth line to jump up and team with Stoll and Pisani. That line will see the second toughest matchups and look for Reasoner to spell Stoll some on this unit. That leaves Reasoner on the 4th line to run a couple of mandatory fourth line shifts with Winchester and one of the kids and I'll say the Oilers go with Mihknov as the 12th forward tonight because at this point Jacques is more ready but Phoenix is so pititul that we should be able to break in the greenest kid without the growing pains being too unbearable.

A couple of last notes on the forwards.

- It will be cool to see 14-34 reunited as those guys did some good things in last year's playoffs. I'd wager though that Peca and Pisani drove the results for that line. Torres did lay out some damn fine hits but I remember Samsonov drawing in on that line in G2 and Anaheim and those guys didn't miss a beat

- Thoresen didn't look out of place playing with 71-83 on Sat night. He seems like he can think the game with them and he was making some quick passes but they were just a tiny bit off. I'd suspect that line will snipe tonight but then again you could say that about any line with Phx being the foe. #28 should also see his PK TOI increasing as well. This is a big chance for the Norseman and I'd suspect he'll rise to the challenge.

Let's just get this out of the way shall we? Since scoring late in the second period on Oct 14th in Colorado the Oilers PP is 0 for it's last 21. That's a bad slump for any team but it's especially disturbing when you consider the kind of unit this team can ice. I don't expect this slump to last much longer but I said the same thing heading into Saturday night's game as well. For as much consternation as there's been over the team's 5-2 start, and it's obviously because the city's press corps wants the old days of firewagon hockey to return, the only problem I have early on is that the PP isn't clicking and the longer the slump goes the more MacT will want to revert to wasting PP time on guys such as Bergeron, Staios and maybe even Tarnqvist because we really don't know how effective he can be in such situations.

On the surface the Oilers 3-1 win on Saturday night doesn't look overly impressive considering that these aren't your older brother's Wings and Det was playing it's third game in four nights. But if you throw in a PP goal then it's 4-1 and that plus the fact the Oilers soundly outchanced the Wings would put this game in a much improved light.

The Oilers could be 8-3 come next Sunday morning and the PP might still be lagging. I wouldn't bet on it though and I'd say they break out tonight. That being said the Oilers will really need them come Wednesday night in Anaheim.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rough Week to be a Hawks Fan

It was bad enough news to start the year, hearing that Ruutu was out. Havlat was red hot to start the year, and now he's out with a sprained ankle.

So, all that heading into last night's game:

Khabibulin broke a finger in the pre-game, out for an expected 2 weeks, but maybe longer.

And then Handzus blows his knee out and could be gone for the season with a torn MCL and ACL.

So all CHI has on the shelf right now is their top line and starting goalie.

Sorry hawks fans, those hockey gods are interesting guys sometimes, aren't they?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

nucks/Oilers Overview: Two Goals Oilers? TWO GOALS?

Just an explanation on the caps and the quote in general. It comes from an old "Three's Company" ep where Jack goes to Dean Travers office to look for an advance on his student load because Roper's putting the heat on for the rent. So Jack's explaining to Travers about his living conditions and mentions he's living with a girl and this gets Travers all excited. Jack keeps going and mentions the second female roommate and the Dean's curiousity and libido simultainously boil over and he shouts, "TWO GIRLS TRIPPER?? TWO GIRLS!!??

Well that's sorta how I felt about the Oilers only scoring two goals in Tuesday night's 2-1 win over the visting Vancouver Wild.

Unless you missed it a win's no longer a win in Edmonton and I don't mind that one bit. You go to the Finals the previous year, you return a netminder who's been damn solid early on and you compile a forwards corps made up of guys who are established and you add some kids who should only get better and it's only reasonable that just making the playoffs is no longer acceptable.

Anytime you're at home and you only score two goals it's not cool. Anytime you're at home and you only score two goals against a team with their backup in net and with Kevin Bieska and Rory Fitzpatrick playing over 32 min combined and it's really not cool. Throw in an 0/8 performance on the PP and you're liable to be flipping over to catch snippets of the Stars/Sharks game.

A win's a win at the end of the day of course, no matter what Dan Barnes or Terry Jones say, but there are trouble spots for the Oilers and this game illustrated some of those.

Despite Andy G's rantings and ravings;) the PP isn't dead and it will strike again. It's currently on an 0/14 slide and given the talent we can ice this means that someone's about to pay and pay dearly. I hope that someone is Detriot on Sat night because the next game following is a home affair with the Yotes and scoring on the PP against them doesn't really count. Or at least it shouldn't. Some things did bother me last night though regarding the PP and they are as follows.

- How can Bergeron see more time than anyone else when it has been proven that the man is PP kryptonite? Another thing that hasn't been publicized by the league yet is that for the Oilers they're only allowed to try and score on the first 1:30 of a PP. How else to explain how MacT makes sure to have two dmen out in the last 30 seconds of an advantage? The last time the league and the Oilers pulled something this underhanded was the old "Tommy Salo is never allowed to stop a tipped shot" decree. Of course the bottom line is that no matter how much I want him to go with a five man forward unit MacT's absolutely not going to unless it's a two man advantage or we're trailing late in the game. He'll use any excuse to go back to the "unlikely to score" two dmen security blanket.

- Adding to the frustration is how they won't run a slot play for Lupul. By and the large the Oilers are still trying to figure out how to play with this kid so this omission doesn't stand alone. Then again it doesn't surprise me that they won't run a slot play for a kid considering they didn't even do that when they had Bill Guerin. Of course as soon as Dollar B began plying his trade for the B's where did you think he started hanging out? You guessed it. Lupul does have more try than I imagined though so I think he'll be just fine in the coming days, weeks and months.

That was a lot of griping for a guy who was busting Grabia's balls for talking about the PP wasn't it? Well they were 0/8 but in my defense I am ultimately a proponent of the bottom line and I was getting ready to rip the PP after the 4-3 win in Col only to discover the unit was running at 25% after four games. I'll take that no matter how it transpires.

Not that I'll throw back any goals but nice to see the markers coming off the respective sticks of Moreau and Thoresen. I saw Barnes cutting up the 18-16-34 line today in the Journal and that's deserved. The bookends on that line are now being paid a combined 4.5 mill and if they're not scoring and they're also showing up below the needle on the plus/minus side than we've got a huge problem in terms of how salary's being allocated and especially in light of the upcoming UFA status of 94 but we'll save that for another day. What Barnes didn't care/fail/doesn't know enough to mention was that early on MacT's using his home ice last line change to match these guys against the other team's top lines and thus allowing the 10 and 71 units to feed on the oppositions lesser lights. If that hunch is correct then we're in for a heckuva year but if it doesn't then it totally changes the preception of Oilers depth and then there's a trickle down to who plays whom and just how successful we're likely to be at even strenght. So it was nice to see the boys do their job last night and in the process accumulate a collective plus.

Thoresen's inclusion into this league makes for a good story and 28's early play indicates he'll make for a good addition to what should be a very good team. There is just something about this guy. He'll try and take the puck to the net, he works like a dog and he always seems to be around the puck. If this were baseball I'd say he's a guy who starts out hitting 8th but he's hitting no worse than 6th by the time June comes. But in hockey terms we'll often times judge a guy by his ES TOI and we've already seen how MacT will give some of 16's ES shifts to 19 and when things shook out last night Thoresen had managed to crack the top nine. If the Oilers were to deal off say Torres or Lupul for a dman then 28's a kid who'd look to have little problem jumping into the top 9. LT said early during camp that this was the luck the old Oilers would have, ie you'd have a good team heading into camp and all of a sudden another useful guy would emerge from nowhere. BTW..LT used Jaroslav Pouzar as the comp. The more depth accured allows for the better chance of a trade and with all of Greene-Smid-Bergeron requiring training wheels it's just a matter of time before a new defenseman hits town. If Thoresen is the real deal, and he should be unless he loses his work ethic, then we have a lot more bait to dangle.

Speaking of Torres and Pisani it's troubling that not only are they not scoring but they aren't even getting scoring chances. For all we thought that 14 had learned from last year's long playoff run the early returns say that he's still a streak scorer.

The best thing about last night's game is that it's over with and we don't have to waste anymore of our time watching it. About the only things I glossed over in this overview was Smith having another awesome game and he really looks to be warming to the role of playing on the #1 dman pairing. Smith of course did have a full on dress rehearsal for the #1 dman pairing during last year's playoff run when he partnered with Pronger.

Jussi Markkanen had an excellent game as well and outside of the gaffe to Cooke behind the net he was very solid. His positioning and rebound control were stellar all night.


- 16:04 ESTOI for Jason Smith. Shaggy logs the most min overall but it's pumped up by PP time. Right now 21's the main man in terms of ES and SH.

- 21:52 TOI for MAB with a dusgusting 10:27 racked up on the PP.

- 9:30 TOI for Torres and just 7:52 ES which bested only Winchester.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Very Early Observations

The season is just four games old for the Oilers so it's pretty early to be making any predictions that you'd expect to pan out in the long term. But here's a few things I've put together which you may or may not have already read either here or over at LT's forum. Sometimes I'll just find myself responding to a thread and I'll wind up cutting and pasting it into an email and save it for a rainy day. The Oilers will be playing the next two nights so maybe some of these things will be irrelevant come Wednesday so I thought I'd get them out in the open right now. While I don't plan on being as prolific as say Andy G over at BOA I'm sure that I'll be able to keep the content coming so I'll waste a couple of bullets today before the Oilers start their season series against the new Minnesota Wild, ie the Canucks

- The whole Hejda/MAB/ 6th and 7th D slots is pretty interesting/confusing. Hejda seemed to be generating some good buzz in the preseason and MacT was giving him the tough min and he wasn't doing a bad job with it. But once the season broke he was nowhere to be found. What I'm thinking is that maybe the Oilers had decided that 5 D slots were etched in stone and that the last everyday gig was between Smid and Hejda. Even with MAB wearing the goathorns, and a suit, at the end of the Finals last year the Oil were willing to give him a chance to start out this season and were counting on his ability to make the first pass to be worth his inclusion in the lineup. Well the season's started and he hasn't looked great, Smid hasn't looked awesome either but I think they're more willing to cut him slack, and now it's a question of just what has to happen before he gets scratched. Will MacT make a move as long as the team continues to win? I've never believed in the whole "never change a winning lineup" credo and I'm not sure if MacT subscribes to that or not. I guess we'll see if the Oilers keep winning and MAB keeps making gaffes. If the kid continues to mess up the breakout pass I really don't know why they'd keep him in the top 19.

- To reverse that idea I was scared as hell that Sharnquist was going to be a bust. I know the Oilers have had great luck with castaway dmen and they do as good of a job identifying talent on the backend as the Habs do with netminders or the Twins do with starting pitching. But we weren't hearing a whole lot about this guy as the Ex season progressed and I was wondering if the luck was finally starting to run out. Well it's only four games into the season and the new guy's playing the most min on the team and the only glitch has been when he joined the rush with the Oilers down two men. I have to admit it's gonna take me awhile to get over that one. Overall I think the D hasn't been as sketchy as originally imagined but Smid and Bergeron have had some awful moments and if the old Matt Greene happens to resurface then it could be a real gongshow. But fine netminding and balanced scoring can be the Clearasil to that acne until Lowe's finally gets around to really clearing that face up come the deadline. Ok I'll stop with that analogy now.

- I'd forgotten how good Roli can be and it's been a nice reminder. It's the old Wild version that I remember, ie always square to the shooter and excellent rebound control.

- Anyone else thinking that Moreau and Pisani are making a helluva lot of money for two guys whose combined goal totals most likely won't eclipse 30? I'll give Pisani his due and I'll say his goal scoring ceiling is higher than Moreau's but is there any need to be throwing out big bucks to both of them? I don't know the exact totals but two games into the home sked, which is where we'll see MacT's real plans given he has last change, the 18-16-34 line is as likely to get tough min as will the Horc line. So maybe MacT plans for them to make their money by giving them tough competition but that hasn't worked out that great thus far. So if these guys aren't scoring and they're coming up a collective minus in their matchups then what are we paying them for? Penalty killing?

- I have never seen a guy improve and/or change more than Lupul did from the first two games against Cgy plus the first period vs SJ to how he's played in the last five periods. He's starting to backcheck and he's starting to get physical in the O zone and thus keeping plays going and there's certainly no question he has finish. If 94-10 learn how to compliment him or they start to implement some plays specfically tailored to his skillset then maybe they turn into a line where you can play power vs power. That allows us to give the Stoll line a bit of a break which will once again raise the question: what are we paying Moreau and Pisani for?;)

- Am I nuts or should the Oilers PP be better?? It's clicking once in every four opps but it just seems to me that they don't generate a lot of chances. I think this Oilers PP should be an absolute nightmare on most of the occasions when they hit the ice but there are times when they don't move the puck well. Of course you'll also have occasions where they'll score a beauty like 94's tapper on Sat night but they always leave me wanting more. I just see too much paddy cake between the point men and not enough of Hemsky creating down low.

- I really can't wait to see how good this team is at home. The Oilers were an excellent road team last year so I'll also be expecting that trend to continue but maybe they fall off just a little away from Rexall but really turn it up at home. The crowd's been rowdy in their first two chances alebit it's easy to get up for games against the Sharks and Flames. I think we'll see a big jump in the Oilers home win totals.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Some musings re: Colorado

A quick look at the sidebar indicates that of all Oiler centers, Joe Sakic faced Shawn Horcoff the most last night. Against a team like the Avalanche, one can only think MacTavish was content to go power-vs-power and try to win on depth. The interesting part, in my opinion, is how the rest of the game's minutes were doled out.

Using Svatos as a measure of Colorado's next biggest offensive threat, you'll find that Jarret Stoll was the Oiler center who faced the second most difficult minutes last night and got beat up a little bit by it. 16-34-18 was on the ice for the Avs' first and last goals, created very little, and lost several positional battles - one notably resulting in Stoll's hooking penalty. As an aside, Sykora's line saw very little of Colorado's top players at ES last night.

I think MacT's game plan is pretty clear thus far this season. Horcoff gets the toughest minutes, Sykora gets the easiest minutes, Stoll gets the second toughest, and Reasoner gets whatever else is available. I find this interesting on a few levels:

1) MacTavish has had absolutley zero fear keeping Lupul on the top line. Even last night when things weren't going so well, the blender didn't toss #34 up there as a safety valve. Personally I am happy to see this as Lupul has impressed me with some of his defensive plays even if he hasn't been an offensive dynamo thus far. His penalty last night saved a goal IMO and he has been the 1st forward back more frequently than I would have ever expected on that line.

2a) MacTavish is either content to see Sykora get a huge raise (or walk) next year or really doesn't care that much about contracts when he sets out to win games.

2b) I think we should be relatively pleased that Hemsky is locked up long term - with minutes like he's been getting one can only assume his point totals are on the rise. Conversely, Torres has started a bit slow despite playing reasonably well - I'm interested to see what becomes of him as the season progresses.

3) Stoll often looks exposed. Despite having the two most defensively responsible wingers on his line, things just haven't worked out on the plus side of the ledger for the guy. Last night #16 was caught out of position quite a bit and looked to be fighting the puck. I'm a big fan of his and hope that he turns it around, but I'm a bit worried. In fairness, #18 and #34 did do a hell of a job turning the tide against San Jose though Pisani looked exhausted by my eye last night. I hope that the rumours of him playing hurt are false and he's just tired from taking care of his newborn.

4) I have never cheered harder for a 4th line than I do for Edmonton's this year. Something about Norwegian walk-ons and tearful reunions of versatile centers turn me into a big rubbery one. Winchester had his moments against SJ and looks to be earning his spot slowly but surely though I am curious as to what our other bottom-end forwards will look like.

Anyhow, those are my early season thoughts - it's good to post again :)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Game Thread: Sharks/Oilers

Not sure if I'll do a postgame on this one or not but I will chime in between periods and after the third and just throw in a few comments. Let's see what everyone else thinks

- Greene may be much improved in his own end, and there's no doubt he is and I was really impressed with a one on one battle where he bested Thornton, but he's offensively inept. It will be interesting to see just how much the Oilers miss the breakout passes once doled out by Pronger and Spacek.

- Smid's looking better and MAB's wearing the D goat horns early on. Twice he messed up easy breakout passes and SJ quickly turned it around.

- Oilers came out and looked like they were gonna rip the cover off SJ but the Thornton vs Stoll matchup, ie that's what MacT was going for most of the frame, bit them in the ass and it was 1-1 and then you had that BS call on Smith and the Oilers were quickly trailing.

- For the most part it's Stoll/Thornton, Marleau/Sykora/ Horc/Brown and 4th vs 4th. I counted one Thornton/Reasoner shift and one Horcoff/Goc shift. Basically MacT's trying to let the Horc line feed while he hopes the Stoll line can play Thornton to close to even. Oilers goal came with 4th lines squaring off, BTW.

- One more line matching note. Coming out of the last TV timeout MacT went PVP with Horc vs Thornton but had the MAB/Greene tandem on D. That makes no sense considering everyone was well rested.

- Lupul's gonna murder this team if he doesn't score 30 goals. He's useless in two of the three zones and he's not overly interested in working in the O zone either. And he changes the way the Oilers match lines. Usually you'd have PVP with Horc/Thornton but I'd bet MacT has them going against the Brown line because he's afraid Lupul will be exposed.

- Oilers outshot and outchanced what is likely the best team in hockey. Considering what the Canes had on D in '06 who's to say anymore what kind of a blueline corps you need to win out but you give SJ one more D to take some of the Gorges, Carle and Vlasic min and I can't see any team that's better.

CI Musings...

Just a few thoughts from watching bits and pieces of the five games on Wed
night's NHL sked

Bos/Atl: If you're in a fantasy league is there any way to go wrong with
Slava Kozlov? The guy's pretty steady, he's joined at the hip with Hossa The
Good and he'll see primo time on a damn good PP. Marian's of course a damn fine player too and he'll turn just 28 in Jan. He's been super durable so far so he's
almost a lock for 500 career goals. If you're talking about a team that
could use a playoff rental or two then look no further than Dixie.
Kovalchuk's playing with Ruccin and Sim and Metroplit's pivoting Hossa and
Kozlov. Throw a good ES forward into that mix and it might push them over the thetop. Lehtonen looks to be the real deal as well. Over Boston's way I'm
sad to report that Marc Savard looks lost. He's playing with Murray and
Sturm and the latter had some fine chem with Boyes-Bergeron last season but
the former looks done. That's two B's games I've taken note of and Savard
has been dishing in both games but no one's finishing. The future of Bos's
forward lines intrigues me. I'm wondering how long they keep Kessel up with
Bergeron-Boyes. At least they had one line last year and now they've got
four forwards they defintely counting on plus they're hoping for Murray to
bounce back to 30 goal form.

Car/Fla: Why yes I am glad that the Canes are sucking out of the gate.
Thanks for asking. Before I forget this...Ladd and Hutchinson played a
combined 14:24 on Car's PP. In a related story the Canes PP finished 1/8.
From Fla's end...I still hate Gary Roberts, Bertuzzi looks like a guy with a
piano lifted off his back and are we looking at a Ewing theory deal with RL
being banished from the Sunshine State? Probably not but I'm just saying.

Phx/Det: That's a fine team the Wayner's assembled. JR's already -5 and Owen
Nolan may just as well be Owen Meaney. If you called the Yotes soft then
soft would track you down and punch you in the mouth. Nine goals by the
Wings and seven of them at ES. The game wasn't fit to watch.

Mtl/Philly: Submitted for your disapproval here are the Flyers D in this game:
Pitkanen-Hatcher-Gautier-Baumgartner-Meyer-Jones. The first two games played
over 29 and 22 min respectively and the last four ranged anywhere from 16 to
12. That's a D corps that goes anywhere from able to piss poor. Philly's
first line is a known commodity and Calder's bonafide but then you're
depending on kids like Carter-Richards and Umberger. I almost forgot to
mention Geoff Sanderson who's filling out this year's role of "Older guy
playing out the string with Philly." You may remember past participants like
Adam Oates and more recently Brian Savage. Maybe we could add Nedved to that list as well .When it comes to the Habs I honestly can't discuss them rationally. They're a team of smurfs with an unimpressive D corps who somehow manage to come up with stellar netminding and thus always overacheive.

NYI/Ana: Here are your Ducks line combos and D pairings:
Kunitz-McDonald-Selanne, Fedoruk-Getzlaf-Perry, Shannon-Marchant-Penner and
Neidermeyer-Pahlsson-Moen. Neids-Beauchemin, Pronger-O'Donnell and
O'Brien-DiPenta. Basically those two last guys have it made. They'll get the
cherry mintues and they get to live in SoCal. In looking at that lineup they
certainly have a solid group of forwards but they're depending a lot on
youth and it will depend on the serverity of the growing pains as to how
much success they have. Chris Simon has a goal and an assist for the Isles
after the end of the second period. Damn he could sure help that Flames

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Western Conference Preview

Let me start off by saying that if you're looking for detailed analysis then you should hope over to MC's site:) I'm just throwing out opinions here and getting it all on the board before the season runs too deep.

1. Det: So much of predicts are based on your division and CBJ and Stl will be better and so will Chi maybe but that's still a weaker division than the NWest or Pac so 1st place in the Cen should be 1st place in the Conf. I know that Shanny and Yzerman are gone but this is now officially ZBerg and Datsyuk's team and that should still be enough for 1st place.

2. SJ: Using the same logic..Van has RL, Minny's much improved and Col shouldn't make the playoffs but they should still have some fight in them. This makes the Pac the second weakest so SJ takes that divison and 2nd place in the Conf. Phx and LA should be absolute pushovers and SJ should put up some gaudy numbers against those teams. Nabby's apparently now 100% healthy and if that's the case I'd say SJ's no more than 5 points lesser than Det come the last tally.

3. Edm: I believe in Roli and I believe in this team's PP and I believe in the fact that the BOA decides first place and that two years of having their asses kicked in said matchup will spur the Oilers on to at last 4 wins in those eight games and I think that's enough for 1st. Note: I'll have a little more on the Oilers at the end of this if anyone's still awake.

4. Nsh: 2nd best team in the weakest div. Yes they're 0-2 and Vokun is looking Salo like and maybe he's not recovered fully but right now I'll say that's just a blip and that another year's exp for the young dmen and depth down the middle previously untold for Nsh, ie Legwand-Arnott-Vasicek, means they hold onto 4th barely beating out...

5. Ana: the Ducks who grab onto 5th. I've seen some of their early play and it's depressing how they control the play with Prongs and Neids there. Plus Selanne's still skating well and some of the predicted '07 lesser lights, ie McDonald and Kunitz, still have some consistent shine at this early point.

6: Cgy: Kipper brings them scratching and clawing into 6th. I'm not saying the panicky CalPuck crowd are in the know but if you're not worried about the Flames offense then Jim Jones has a vacation spot for you!! If the Cgy PP isn't top 10 in the leauge then they're gonna be fighting to make the playoffs.

7: Dal: The NHL's Atlanta Braves..of course it's much harder to make MLB's postseason but for all my friends who hated the Braves I'd tell them to wait for Oct and they'd get their comeuppance. That's Dal right now. Enough chops to beat anyone in the regular season but exposed by the better comp come April.

8: Minny: It's certainly not a smart bet to simutainously wager on the health of Kim Jonsson and Pavel Demitra but even if they play 70 games apiece I think that's enough for the Wild to grab the last spot.

9: Van - RL comes as advertised and I'm sorry to report that Van won't be as bad as I thought or hoped they'd be. Their banking on the ABBA line plus the PP and netminding and that's enough for a top 10 spot.

10: CBJ - I think MC made a good point when he said that over in the EC Atl always manages to just miss and I think that will be the case with the Jackets. Of course that's assuming that LeClaire can carry the ball and if they're to step into the playoffs I think they'll need things to happen like Kesla playing a full year and taking a leap or kids like Broule taking a step as well.

11: Col - Just not enough there anymore and they'd need a big time bounceback from one of this summer's particpants in the Paris HIlton gangbang, Jose Theodore.

12: Chi - I'll say that Havlat and Handzus have some fun up front and Seabrooke and Keith keep improving and that Khabby bounces back a little

13: Stl - Lots of changes but I still hate John Davidson.

14: Phx - Just escaping the cellar because Nagy and Doan have big years and maybe Jovo too counting stats wise

14. LA - Horrible. At least the women are hot.

Promised Oilers Note: Anyone familiar with my writings/ramblings over the years know that I'm not a homer when it comes to the Oil. Up until last year I described myself as a pessimist/realist when it came to Edm's fortunes. And when I think that I picked this team for first and I look at it's D corps then I wonder if maybe I'm not the guy that should be running the Bates Motel. But I don't think Lowe's gonna wait until March of this season before he addresses the dmen and if Greene isn't gonna be dragging people down and heading to the box then we'll just need one dman to step in instead of two. Lowe had a big run last year and he knows what being at home means for the playoffs so I think he moves somewhat early and goes for the division. The Oilers have the chips and the cap room so I'd be expecting a more solid d group by Christmas at the latest.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Remembering Soap Candy

Four goals have been scored by the Oilers this season. None were scored by a player on the roster last season (Sykora, Tjarnqvist, Lupul). Three goals have been scored against the Oilers this season. Each goal had either Smid or Lupul (or both) on the ice, if I'm not mistaken. Welcome to the team, boys. Nice of you to help us get acquainted right away. I hadn't really paid attention to Sykora or Lupul before. Smid looks exposed and I'm wondering why Hejda hasn't drawn in. Sykora looks great to me, and is it me or does he nicely swoop in behind Roloson to pick the puck up and bring it out of harm?

Lupul though. Conversation piece already it seems, but we knew the trade to get him would put him under the microscope. I'm supicious of the impression that youtube highlight reels leave; maybe if people start producing some lowlite reels too I'll feel better. Anyway, Vic's been basically slapping him around online all summer, so I was expecting to dislike him.

After the small sample of two games, though, I can say that he's surprised me: he seems much, much worse than I had thought. Awful along the boards covering the opposition D in his zone. And there he was racing waaay up the ice at the end of a long shift in which the Flames were putting heavy pressure on in the zone, not bothering to see if his team really had control of the puck or not. Sure, it's just two games, on TV no less. But that's a coin with two sides. It's a small sample but it doesn't seem like one has to go combing through dozens of games in order to selectively pick out some questionable plays.

That said, the guy was smart enough to come in in tight to put in the garbage in game 2, and the best part of his game that I have seen so far is his passing, which seemed pretty damn impressive to me. If he shoots better than he passes, I'm going to love seeing pucks go in off his stick. He's fast and has size. Right now, I'm just hoping like hell that he knows how to use these raw gifts, and is teachable. Did he run a cheapshotter last game? That would work in his favour too.

Did you ever eat soap candies? Anyone know where to get them now? They taste like soap, and not just a little like soap. The first impression is "yuck". Second is "eewww". Then you finish the bag and want more. If Lupul keeps this up, he could end up being both a favourite and a favourite whipping boy. I guess that's OK because I need something to fill that particular niche, which was made vacant by Laraques departure. Still, its stinging right now it's not looking great right that the Smyth+Horcoff pairing will be much of an ES force this year with him on the wings. If so, that's quite a negative impact. But where else do you hide him?

Friday, October 06, 2006

New Kid(s) In Town

New addition Petr Sykora's 5-on-3 PP goal at 17:49 of the first period heldup as the winner in a 3-1 win over the visiting Calgary Flames.

The flow of the game was marred by a steady flow to the penalty box, 17 PP's awarded combined with the Flames taking the edge nine to eight, and the Oilers newly minted special teams unit won that battle and subsequently the game.

That's the new NHL and the Oilers may be in lockstep with how to play it.

The Oilers seemingly take no ultimate solace in the fact they were one winaway from the '06 Stanley Cup. They'll say it helped them realize their own potential and understand the sacrifices necessary to make a long run in the spring, hopefully they'll also eventually pay sufficent homage to luck, but they don't carry the 15 wins on their respective lapels. More proof to that was the fact they raised their Conference Champions banner with their players still in the dressing room.

After a slow and scrambly early start highlighted by Smith paying tribute to Igor Ulanov by firing a puck up the middle the Oilers settled down and began to flash the skill which trickles down throughout their forward corps. After an iffy call that resulted in Iginla being awarded a penalty shot, did you hear he's lost 12 pounds off his old fat frame, the Oilers clicked just 30seconds after Roloson followed Jarome across the crease to keep the game scoreless.

Hemsky whistled down the left wing and past Mark Giordano, the newest member of The League's Greatest Defense Ever TM, and Kipper was a fish out of water when Sykora drilled the rebound into an empty net. Iginla put his team down two men a little while later and the Oilers unveiled their new five forward PP unit and Sykora notched his second of the period off a slapper from the left side.

It was 2-0 Oilers and we were all waiting for this new Flames offense to kick in.

Sadly it was not to be and here's a hint why the Flames really don't or can't score a lot of goals. He might have saw just 2:17 on the PP but if you're a Flames fan do you EVER want to see Marcus Nilson on your PP? I enjoyed it though and I hope it becomes a trend.

The second period really became bogged down with all the penalties and at the very least it gave us a chance to see what MacT will do with his PK unit. The first five guys will be Moreau-Pisani-Smyth-Horcoff and then Reasoner chiming in as the 6th guy. I expected to see Thoresen see a little time on that unit and I'd imagine he will if one of those guys happens to be serving an infraction.

The Oilers made it 3-0 midway through the third when Tarnqvist sniped off a beautiful rush from Hemsky and Iginla closed out the scoring a little under four mintues later.

Edmonton's been taking it rough in the last two BOA's and if they're about to push for a divisional crown then they have to win no less than five of these eight matches. Thursday night was a good start and if all these penalties continue to be called then I like the Oilers chances of makingsome big waves early in this campaign.

- It could've been a lot worst for the Flames. Kipper made three huge saves on Torres alone. Hemsky was Jagr-esque on some shifts. Minus 68's strength mind you but he did have some stretches where you couldn't take the puck off his stick. It's hard to imagine that Sykora-Torres won't have at least 50 goals combined if this line stays together and if Hemsky was a lock for 30 goals I'd put him in the top 10 scoring at year's end. He looked faster on this evening and even more confident and the kid has never lacked confidence when it comes to playmaking.

- By my eye it looked like the Stoll line played the Iginla line as much as the Horcoff unit did. I thought MacT would use the last change to go power versus power but maybe he didn't want the other coach to dictate his forwards icetime or maybe he's just confident enough in the depth of his charges.

- I think MacT showed all his cards in terms of his PP plan. Early on with the game scoreless he had Bergeron on the PP point but once the Oilers had the lead he went for the throat with the five forwards and I think that will always be the plan with a two man advantage unless it's late in the 3rd and the Oilers are winning. The only time he went with two dmen on the point was with the Oilers leading midway through the final frame. I've mentioned lately that I expect this PP to be Detroit good and the first game did nothing to sway me from this point.

- Where does Lupul fit in? That should be one of the most interesting sidebars of the season. Some are wondering if the Oilers have too many offensive players but I don't think there's any such thing. With Hemsky-Pisani already in house on the right wing and Mikhnov and Schremp in the pipe it might not be a bad idea though to eventually float Lupul for ayoung dman who could be both affordable and effective for say the next three seasons.

- You may have to trade more than just a prospect for another dman because Ladislav Smid doesn't look to be ready. It's also a damning statement towards the abilities of 7th rearguard Jan Hejda that he couldn't draw in over the former Anaheim prospect.

By The Numbers:

Tjarnqvist - 25:37 TOI and a team leading and whopping 10:45 on the PK.

Lupul - 14:37 TOI and a "did he really play that much" 5:57 on the PP

Stoll - 19:33 TOI and a paltry 6:58 at ES which was the third lowest total amongst all Oilers forwards. Only trailing Stoll were Thoresen, 6:17, and...

Winchester - :32 TOI. Maybe it is better than Pouliot started the season in the AHL. Thoresen looked quite capable as an 11th forward and the 12th spot looks to be less than important.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Opening Day

It's finally here. With the Oilers icing a team that is loaded with talent up front, and most reporters have pegged them to miss the playoffs. Everyone but Smyth seems to have survived training camp unscathed, and with him it's just a stiff neck and we're lead to believe that it's no biggie.

Some reasons for optimism:

* This was a pretty good hockey team before Peca and Pronger got here, outside of an anemic powerplay. And all the guys who played significant minutes in 03/04, they are still around for the most part, with just Dvorak, York and Brewer missing by my count. And since then the PP MacTactics have morphed into something rational, hell the pendulum appears to have swung back the other way with some pretty aggressive choices for personnel. Plus Hemsky has already emerged as a force with the man advantage, Stoll and Horcoff have turned into effective PP men as well, and Lupul and Sykora look like good additions to that unit. Pronger will be missed here, but maybe not as much as I thought.

* When Smyth and Horcoff are healthy, they form 2/3rds of a terrific line. A line that can go toe to toe with the other team's best and hold their own. Beats the hell out of the old MGM checking line days. The Oilers are in the high rent district in this regard now.

* Any line that Pisani is on seems to create more chances than it surrenders. And Moreau and Stoll are quality linemates. They should have control of the puck a lot.

* The Torres/Sykora/Hemsky troika promises to be one of the most exciting lines in hockey this October. And there are a lot of teams in the west with really dodgy depth forwards, the potential for these guys to win the Oilers a lot of games is just huge.

* The Oilers have a goaltender behind them that the players have faith in. And he has a solid track record of stopping pucks including a stunning playoff run. Those Inspector Clousseau style saves in the postseason count just as much as if they were Randford style.

* If Hejda can play (has anybody heard Huddy or MacTavish make a direct assessment of this player yet?) then the defense should be just fine. Just one rookie D in the lineup at a time, thanks. I mean everyone thought that San Jose's defence was a back of suck last season until Thornton arrived and their goalies started stopping some pucks ... then they became a "young and talented defense corps!" If the forwards play well, the defense will look good.

* The young guys will step up. In a two steps forward and one back kinda way. And some more than others. But with three key guys (Hemsky, Torres, Stoll) still on the part of the learning curve that has a lot of slope on it ... it is reasonable to expect this trio to be better overall hockey players this season. In fact it would be downright irrational to think otherwise. Young players get better with experience, they just do.

* This is going to be a fun team to watch. They'll probably err on the side of taking too many risks with the puck at times. But I suspect that few leads against the Oilers will seem safe this season.


And for a game prediction: How about Sykora from Hemsky on an overtime powerplay. With Dion Phaneuf in the penalty box at the time for retaliating against Torres.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Is it Easter already or potency means something different in Calgary

Someone, and I believe it was Oilswell, said I'm at my most productive whenI'm angry and there's probably more than a kernel of truth to that. Which is odd if you knew me personally because I am a super laid back guy. There is something though about far flung statements which just gets my blood boiling and the keyboard clacking. The same goes for things that make me laugh.

Today for instance I'm checking out the Sun and the Journal and sites wondering where Brad Winchester's gonna land when I came across this little blurb. Granted it's a CP piece without the author attributed though I'd suspect the middle part's written by the Canadian Press's newest addition Brian Sutter.

I'm sorry but some of that stuff just kills me.

The Tanguay-Langkow-Iginla troika is what I like to call an Easter line, ie. all your eggs in one basket, and it's not the worst strategy for a team whose success is predicated on it's powerplay and it's record at home where you have the last change and can get this unit out against your line of choice. So I guess I just described the Calgary Flames. Of course it makes you pretty easy to defend against on the road. The best strategy would be to actually acquire more offensive balance and a good start would be to draft people who can actually score instead of say Eric Nystrom.

The really funny thing though is that someone described a line of Huselius, Amonte and Lombardi as being potent. It speaks to the flames lack of offensive depth, the lunacy of the reporter in question or maybe just to the quality of forwards which have donned Flames silks in the last 10 years. I guess that comparatively this new HAL line is potent as it certainly beats the hell out of say Stephane Yelle or Shean Donovan. At least in terms of the counting stats. So for this '07 campaign the Flames can put all their weapons on one line and hope that they're PP continues to hum, they remain an excellent home team and that the devil keeps renewing his option on Kipper's soul. Or they can try and spread the offense and keep waiting for the Chuck Kobesew's of the world to offensively explode. Of course we could also wait for Jessica Biel to do a hardcore porno film and see whichever scenario arrives first. Either of those outcomes would shock the f**k out of me personally.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ending the Preseason as You Mean To Carry On

Or at least I hope so. The last game of the preseason is interesting, bench coaches need practice too, and it's generally something damn close to the opening day lineup played in a way that will mesh with what we see later. I mean you can forgive a guy for not getting his legs right in the shooting lane on the PK, it's preseason after all. But on the whole it should give us some important signs. Unfortunately I missed this one, had it in my head that it was tomorrow, was it on PPV?

Anyhow, here is a list of the minutes vs quality (i.e. Naslund, who looks to have played with the Sedins at 5v5 on a load-'em-up line)

About what you'd expect. Nice to see just one rookie D in the lineup. I'll assume that's the case all year unless they're playing CBJ or CHI, but I'm an optimist by nature. I expect that when Greene slots in it's on the starboard side of Bergeron and Tarnqvist moves up to play with Staios (Shaggy bumping over to the left side in those games? He's a vet, what the hey.).

I don't know, but I expect the icetime numbers aren't fair to Reasoner here, I'm guessing critical sitautions and own zone draws, plus first shift after the Oilers PP expires. Dude is in line for some brutal numbers this year, but he's valuable. I was sent a quote from Roger Neilson a while ago, adding the last shift of the period as important as the shift after special teams. Which makes sense, even though somehow I had never really noticed that. I mean that's probably another time when the best players are out there, because even if they're tired you know they have 15 minutes to rest coming straight away. If I ever get around to figuring out the logic for summing the "shift after your team's PP ends" numbers ... I'll run the "last 40 seconds of the period" as well. I'm sure we'll see a lot of the same players playing this gig leaguewide, just stands to reason. But I digress.

Sykora/Hemsky had better deliver with the soft icetime this year. That will be the difference IMO. If they aren't leading this team by a country mile at EV+/- by midseason (Like McCauley/Cheechoo in 03/04 for the Sharks) then there will have to be changes.

Kind of freaky to see the Oilers using 5 forwards on the PP as well. I assume this is Simpson's influence and that MacTavish will crush it early into the season. And it's probably too aggressive even for me, and this from a head coach who always preached the "safe pass" on the PP up until last season. I dunno, just doesn't all add up.

Looks like they rolled Smith and Staios down the right side. Good to see. Smith is the man back there, as it should be. And he easily eclipses his D partner Hejda if you account for the time he spent in the box and PKing. Still, there's no ignoring the fact that Hejda has faced far and away the toughest competition this preseason, and by some distance. And, like Jim Bouton, I don't have a damn clue what that means.