Thursday, November 30, 2006

Some Random Pre-Game Thoughts

- Matt over at Battle of Alberta has a pretty ham-fisted argument regarding the Oilers' defensive issues. It's mostly about Lowe's reluctance to pick up a dman before Christmas. Of course you have to realize that it's partially a matter of perspective. The Flames have been pissing away quality dmen and replacing them with overpaid stiffs for some time now, so it's probably a little hard for them to realize they aren't exactly falling off trees out there. Matt also points to "a glaring weakness" at the end of that post in that the Oilers currently rank 14th in the league in shots against per game...

Interesting tidbit: The Flames are generally considered to have a pretty solid defensive core which includes the "Greatest Defensive Force of All Time" so how's their shot prevention/game? 19th in the league. If you're counting, that's five spots behind the glaring weakness of the Oilers.

So, I'm not sure good dmen necessarily lead to shot prevention. At least that doesn't apply to the Flames now does it? Surely the defensive value of a dman is better seen in shot quality and scoring chance rates rather than simple shot prevention. I will say though, that I still think shot prevention's pretty damn important while shorthanded - mostly because the chances are that the shot quality is going to be pretty high if and when the PP unit gets a shot. Matt's right that the Oilers still need a defenseman, but I don't think Lowe's wrong about waiting for the right deal

- Speaking of the right deal... It's taken me a little while now but I'm finally seeing things from Vic's perspective on the subject of Jarret Stoll. I don't want to misquote the man, but if I recall correctly Vic's position from about 2 years ago was that Stoll will never be a impact NHLer. I think Vic thought his stick skills were average, his skating was mediocre, his hockey sense was not outstanding, and, as always, the "intangibles" were way over-stated. Of course, this was before we'd seen much of Stoll on the point, so Vic didn't mention his point shot or his ability to get a one-timer off.

I could be wrong about this too, but I think Vic also said that he figured Reasoner could have had the same ES results as Stoll given the same opportunity that Stoll was receiving (cherry icetime, Torres as a linemate, etc.)last year. Your average Oiler fan probably thought Vic was off his rocker after Stoll's counting numbers last year and Reasoner's rather uninspiring year in 05/06. I have to admit, that I was starting to doubt him as well.

After watching that Anaheim game though, I can safely admit I was wrong and Vic was right. Stoll looks an awful lot like a spud right now. I nearly had a brain aneurysm in the second period when Selanne and MacDonald had Stoll and Smid caught in the cycle down in the corner. It was like a hot knife through butter as MacDonald got a nice scoring chance while Stoll just didn't have the sense (or the wheels) to stop the Ducks' duo from doing whatever they wanted. The last few games I've watched him, I've been pretty underwhelmed by Stoll's work in his own zone and especially by his inability to transition the puck through the neutral zone. Watch Horcoff get the puck at his own blueline tonight and then watch what happens if Stoll gets it. These players are in different leagues.

Sure Stoll can shoot the puck. So could Brett Hull though and he was one of the more overrated players of all time.

I'm not implying that Stoll's a waste of time - his two main skills, namely his slapshot and the faceoff prowess are pretty valuable qualities in the NHL. However, the Oilers have committed a lot of payroll over the next couple of years to Hemsky, Moreau, Staios, Horcoff, Pisani and Roloson and signing Ryan Smyth has to be a huge priority for this club. Lowe has to continue to pick the right horses in order to move forward now that he's signed away much of his flexibility. The more I watch the player, the more I'm convinced he's a bottom sixer and thus not one of the players that Lowe should invest any more time or money in. I also hated that contract he got this offseason and I'll stick to my guns on that one. Especially if they go back to giving Stoll some tougher minutes this year, thus driving down his production, only to inevitably pair him up with Hemsky for soft minutes in his contract year in 07/08. So if the Oilers are in the market for a Keith or Seabrook who look to be tested NHL contributors that they can keep around for a few years at a cheap rate, I'd happily send Stoll the other way.

- Ryan Smyth is playing some of the best hockey I've ever seen out of the man. Just inspiring stuff in my opinion, even considering the neutral zone gaffe in OT on Tuesday night. Although Smyth was dangerous in the offensive zone as well as the Oilers' only consistent threat, I was particularly impressed by his defensive work on Tuesday. On more than a few occasions, Smyth came back to pick the puck off a Ducks forward that had engaged an Oilers dman one-on-one or intercepted a pass into the slot as the first forward back. I do not believe this is the same effort we saw out of him last year. I know mc79 is in favour of attributing much of last year's 5V5 woes to goaltending, but I don't think we saw this kind of discipline out of Smyth last year. In fact I'm not sure we've ever seen it, because I've always believed Smyth got his outscoring results by keeping the puck deep in the offensive zone behind the other team's goalline. Right now, I'd contend he's doing it by also playing some sound defense as well.

I'm not sure what it will take to sign Smyth but I'd go up to 4yrs/$21MM pretty easily if I was Lowe right now. It's the 4th year that worries me more than the $5.25MM/yr to be perfectly honest.

- Last thing... This is the part of the year where I start to hate the unbalanced schedule. The Oilers are about to play their 3rd game of the year against Colorado and it just feels unnecessary. Of course, just wait until December 14th when the Oilers play the Minnesota Wild for the first time. This means the Oilers play the Wild 8 times in their last 52 games. Wonderful. I'm really looking forward to that.

By the way, is there anything really wrong with 6 games vs. divisional opponents, 4 games vs. the other WC division opponents and then 18 games outside the conference?

- I forgot to talk about Hemsky. This is grim news for the power play. Out of the key Oilers left on the top PP unit, only Horcoff is accomplished at settling the puck down and moving it promptly once the Oilers are set up in the offensive zone. None of Smyth, Stoll, and Sykora are all that great at that to be perfectly honest. Smyth would be better at it than most people think, but he belongs in the front of the net.

The other thing about the loss of Hemsky is that the Oilers are again down to just Horcoff and maybe Smyth in terms of players that can carry the puck through the neutral zone. They were absolutely atrocious at this in the 2nd period on Tuesday night and I'm not sure they're going to be much better tonight. In particular Stoll, Lupul and Torres were horrific in this area. (I don't want to talk too much about Lupul again since we've been whipping him pretty constantly on here, but he was amazingly useless along his own boards in puck support against the Ducks. The only way he was helping the puck out of the zone would be if the Oilers' dman ripped it off his helmet.) Methinks the KISS principle must be exercised religiously against the Avs - Get it past the red line, dump it in, and go get it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ducks/Oilers: What might happen ON the ice

Caryle has a pretty good thing going in Anaheim. Beachemin came out of nowhere last year and him and Neidermayer form their #1 tandem which means Sean O'Donnel and this other scrub;) take the lesser min:) Their 5 and 6 D are treated as such in terms of TOI and are good enough that they don't kill you when they're out there to face the 3rd and 4th lines of the opposition.

Up front everything runs like clockwork for the Ducks. Moen-Pahlsson-Rob Neidermayer play the tough min and Penner-Marchant-Shannon take the second toughest min and that leaves Kunitz-McDonald-Selanne to feast on the lesser oppositin with the Perry/Getzlaf tandem getting the even softer min. Those last two lines see the last amount of time at TOI but get their numbers pumped by comprising the Ducks two PP units. Basically Caryle has muckers who accept that reality and then he strokes the offensive guys by giving them the matchups that should allow them to score and overall feel really good about themselves;)

Jiggy has also bounced back in goal and this team looks like it's only beatable 4 out of 7 times in the playoffs if A: the opposing netminder catches fire B: the opposing PP catches fire or C: Ana gets a tough break on the injury side.

The Oilers already met these guys once back in October and lost 6-2 but by my eye actually ouchanced the Ducks. If you come here often you know the guys at IOF believe that the majority of times you outchance your opp you'll win and if the Oilers carry as much of the play tonight as they did 14 games ago then everyone will go home happy.

The difference in that game was that Roloson was positively putrid and that's the opposite of how he's playing right now. DR is on fire heading into this match and even though the Oilers are without Staios and may be without Syrvet as well the outstanding play of Roloson will still allow them a chance for success.

How will MacT match his lines and how will Huddy run his defense? Well Huddy will certainly throw out Smith PLUS against the Selanne line and then everyone else will rotate against everyone else. MacT's gotten away from it lately but he's usually a guy who likes to run four lines but I'm thinking he'll cut it back to three tonight and he'll play the Horcoff line to the point of near exhaustion to try and compensate for the crew he's dressing on the backend.

Jim Matheson: Oilers Minister Of Disinformation


Recently I've promised myself that I'll get all the real Oilers news and insights from blogs or people who write for other papers and aren't worried that Kevin Lowe might not like them. But here lately Jim Matheson has been really getting under my skin and I don't mind that I'm more agitated than usual these past few days with Chris Pronger being back in town and pretending that he's Christ.

This isn't exactly the slowest of news days when it comes to the Oil;) and I'm sure I could've saved this for a day when things were quiet but my Matheson hatred has been building for awhile now and today my cup finally ranneth over.

I'd been sitting on a link of his for awhile now and I was going to post it with a title of "If you ever scored a point in the NHL then the Oilers wanted to draft you". It's basically the 114th of a long running series of where Matheson pines away for other team's draft picks and blurbs on them while assuring us that dadgummit the Oilers really wanted to take them!!! I've been laughing and grinding my teeth about this for years. Basically here's the way it goes: heading into draft day Matty will let it "slip" that the Oilers are looking to move up in the draft if anyone will deal with them. And then when they don't he'll drop in later on with the details of how the Oilers wanted this guy or that guy but it just didn't work out for them. Of course the killer is that the Oilers have always targeted guys who go on to be productive players so somehow the Oilers always want a Joni Pitkanen but never a Hugh Jessiman. It's really funny how that works isn't it? So heading into the Oilers game in Montreal I opined that Matheson would say the Oilers wanted the Habs super sophmore instead of their real pick Jesse Niinimakki and dammit the old Journal schill didn't disappoint me.

Here's a piece of the piece he would go on to write:

Oilers draft wish-list leader in '02 sidelined with sprained ankle
Jim Matheson, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Tuesday, November 07, 2006
EDMONTON -- The Canadiens' most consistent player, Chris Higgins, who fell into the boards when hit by New Jersey defenceman Colin White Saturday, left the Bell

Center on crutches Monday with a badly sprained left ankle.

Higgins -- who was one of three players the Oilers targeted as their first-round pick in 2002 (Montreal got him at 14th, one ahead of the Oilers, who took a chance on Jesse Niinimaki, who bombed) -- plays on Saku Koivu's left side. He has 24 goals in his last 39 games and 35 points, and he's tied for the NHL lead in short-handed goals with three.

The Oilers badly wanted Finnish defenceman Joni Pitkanen that year and apparently were prepared to Mike Grier and their first-round pick to Tampa, but the Flyers got the pick, trading Ruslan Fedotenko and two second-round picks. The Oilers also were after Joffrey Lupul, but he went seventh to Anaheim.

There's something else I should dig up too and I'm sure it's still available and it's a blurb from Matheson's question and awnser period where he talks about how the Oilers didn't take Parise in MAP's draft year because they were pretty small at centre at the time. He then tries to cover it up by saying that a couple of years later the Oilers might've corrected their mistake by going small in selecting Cogliano.

So that brings me to the latest evidence of Matheson typing while Kevin Lowe's hand's up his ass:

http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/sports/story.html?id=94dd334e-aad0-4d28-8418-6161bec1bad2

I really don't have a problem with Smid besides the fact that A: he shouldn't be anywhere near being the focal point in a trade for Pronger and B: he shouldn't be playing 20 min a night for any team that claims they want a division title. Does Smid look good on occasion? Yes. Is he playing tougher minutes than guys like Greene and Bergeron? Yes. But is he a guy that's deserving of such effusive praise by a seemingly battle tested HOF..haha..journalist like Matheson? No he's certainly not.

Smid shouldn't be playing more than 12 mintues a night and he should never be on the PP and he should never kill penalties unless enough of his D brethern are either hurt or penalized to faciliate such a move. You look at how tonight's opponents from Ana treat their 5th and 6th D, ie Dipenta and O'Brien, and that's what the Oilers should be doing with Smid.

Funny I should mention Ana though because with Pronger in town now's the perfect time to write a fluff piece stroking one of the kids who came back in the very trade that has the town alight. The Oilers may be doing well in Chris's absence but it has little to do with the "bounty" Lowe received in return for the big man.

But I guess Lowe thought today was a good time for Matheson to extoll the virtues of guys who came the other way in the latest lopsided trade in the Oilers history and like a good schill Matheson did what he was told.

Matheson though should know better and maybe he does but as long as he keeps ignoring reality and instead toeing the party line of the local team then Mike Comrie's refrain of City Of Champions Communism seems far from being far fetched.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Merry Chris-Mas : Peca, Horcoff and Pronger make not so strange bedfellows

I don't imagine that I'm about to dole out the definitive word on Pronger's return to Edmonton and I wasn't sure I was even gonna bother to write about it but I just saw a clip of a Mike Peca interview and while it didn't exactly make my blood boil it did set the plasma to to a little sizzle.

Peca was quizzed about the potential scene on Tues at Rexall and he basically said, "you know that fan is sort for fanatic and you know what that means." Except when he said it Peca had this crazy look in his eyes and by crazy I mean it was a look that screamed, "I hate the Oilers fans and everything about them." That quote's not a big surprise if you've been reading some of the Leaves coverage this year where he's thrown out a not so subtle hint or two about just how much he didn't enjoy playing in Edm. But I thought it was interesting that it's still such a sticking point with him that he decided to take one more shot and I'd say it's more about fans in general than the ones who occupy Rexall.

I think Peca is a total ingrate for carrying a grudge this long and specifically for currently carrying it against a group of fans that had every reason to boo him last year but didn't. In fact he was getting some pretty loud cheers by the time the playoffs were over. That all seems forgotten now, or least it is by everyone but Peca.

At this point in his career Peca's offensive skills are non-existent and as much as I like the fact he can play tough minutes that alone shouldn't lead to another team paying him 2.5 mill. Yet they did and even though these "fanatics" pay his salary, and the whole linkage of gate revenue to salary is never more fluid then it is in the NHL where the league doesn't have a national TV contract to speak of, he obviously feels above them and has no qualms expressing so. The first time I ever read the old "fan is short for fanatic" was in Dan Turner's "The Expos Inside Out" where the quote was attributed to the ever congenial hurler Steve Rogers. I can't say what the expression was on Rogers face when he uttered that line but Peca basically spat out his version.

Most fans will lump Pronger and Peca together when thinking of the '06 season because their arrivial signalled a new era for the Oil. This team could finally afford some guys with big contracts and this was manna from heaven for a long suffering fans who always bemoaned the lack of a veteran presence or two. Of course their contract situations were totally different with Peca being in the last year of his pact and Pronger an impending UFA who decided to sign longterm with the Oilers. Peca had every right to walk after the '06 season and walk he did. On the other hand Pronger allowed the Oilers to talk contract with him before they sealed the deal with the Blues and then bargained in good faith to a contract that would hold him in Edmonton for five years. That's what's always choked me when I've read Pronger getting upset by the fans comments. This wasn't a guy with the chance to explore free agency. This was a guy who'd committed to the team and the city but was making trade requests as early as the next January and later on was in Mexico using his agent as a media mouthpiece before some of the Oilers playoff bruises had a chance to heal.

What does Pronger expect from the Oilers fans? Does he expect to read signs that say "Thanks for f**king us over Chris and leading our GM to acquire a 20 year old defenseman and a 20 something forward with a questionable attitude!! That was really an even swap of assets and we wish you well.!!" Pronger made a committment and then bailed and he cares so little about what the fans think or feel that he wouldn't even bother saying something like his family didn't like it in Edmonton. Fans by and large are lemmings and want to be lied to, and I mean this in the best possible way, so just make something up and get on with it. It just speaks to Pronger's total disdain and apathy that he failed to do so.

I really hate Pronger and I hate that the Ducks are doing so well and I hate what Lowe got in return for the best defenseman in the NHL. He had an impact player but it was fleeting and when you're forced to make a deal in that situation it hardly ever turns out fine. That was what was bothering me before tonight but the potency of my venom increased once I saw Peca's emaciated mug. It just triggered something that I'd known for awhile but something I hate admitting because it really tempers my love for the game and sports in general: the players don't care about nor respect the fans. That's a blanket statement and I guess a few players care but they are in the vast minority. Shawn Horcoff is a guy I really like but tonight even he wound up on my wrong side when he snapped at a reporter for asking if the fans deserve an excuse. He basically said something to the effect that it wouldn't make a difference because it wouldn't bring Pronger back. Horc's failing to understand the viewpoint of the fan just illustrates the problem even further.

Chris Pronger doesn't respect you enough to believe you deserve an awnser even if you chucked more money than you could afford for your season tickets. Mike Peca thinks you're a jackass because you get crazy in your rooting. Of course he feels different about those wonderful Leaves fans but that's just while they're signing his paycheque. And even your very own Shawn Horcoff probably doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. Sure he inked a longterm deal to stay in your city or play in your silks but that's the extent of it. Ask him if he understands your frustrations though and do so at your own peril.

What the Worst Thing that will Happen to Pronger Tomorrow?

Here are some possibilities, feel free to add your own speculation (these options are not necessarily mutually exclusive):

(A) He'll be booed, mercilessly, and just laugh it off

(B) The Ducks lose

(C) He'll be booed, mercilessly, and cry in the corner

(D) Healthy scratch, because he doens't want the pressure

(E) Punched by a fan on the way into the arena

(F) Punched by a fan on the way out of the arena

(G) A beer hits him in the head, at some point

(H) He'll be booed, mercilessly, and respond with a Michael Richards-esque rant (not necessarily racial) in an interview with Gene Principe.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Strengths of Divisions


Just a simple check to see how this stuff is shaking out. By goal differential sans empty netters and shootout goals, here are how the divisions stack up.

Last year Toronto would have had a legitimate beef that the lopsided interdivisonal schedule cost them a playoff spot even with Belfour's poor season. I have a warm feeling that the same thing might happen to the Leafs again this season. Fingers crossed.

I would have guessed that the Northwest Division was still a fair bit stronger than the Pacific. By this measure it's about the same, this even with the two weak sisters, PHX and L.A, in the mix.

And how did the Atlantic turn to suck so fast? That surely can't all be pinned on Philly. Damn.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Hawks/Oilers : The Battle For Christian Laflamme's Loyality

Call me crazy but I don't think Chicago would be all that great even if all of Havlat, Handzus and Bourque The Rene were in the lineup. But without them their forwards corps is a breakfast that even a dog would decline.

Here's a look at their forward lines from their last game in Calgary:

Ruutuu-Smolinksi-Vrbata
Lapointe-Holmqvist-Arhhipov
Corzzini-Sharp-Hamilton
Stewart-McDonald-Wishniewski

What is there really to get excited about when it comes to the forwards corps both present and future? Up front guys like Toews and Skille are still years away and that leaves you with suspects like Blunden and Bolland. Havlat's magic when he's healthy but do you wanna bet you'll ever get more than an average of 60GP a year from him?

The burden of proof lies with him.

This group isn't currently scoring goals because it just doesn't have the talent to do so. Which of those 12 guys are on the way up and for those who are just what does "up" mean? If everything broke right for the Hawks you'd have Havlat at a PPG, Sharp and Bourque would score 50 points apiece and Ruutuu would be in the 70's and that still wouldn't have them cracking the top 10 in the Conf.

But things look different behind the blueline and here's a look at their D pairings:

Keith-Seabrook
Aucoin-Cullimore
Kukkonen-Vandermeer

That's actually a very steady group who's potential for reknown grows even larger when you consider the age and games played for kids like Keith, Seabrook and Kukkonen. Those guys are ages 23, 21 and 25 respecively and all of them have less than 125 GP. Throw in Cam Barker's name and this blueline could be the envy of the league in a few years. Aucoin's contract isn't great but it also isn't big enough to choke Charles Wang and he's still a useful part that should serve as a great mentor for the young blueliners. If the Oilers are a team that are looking to trade hitting for pitching, and they should be BTW, then the opposite is true for the Hawks.

I certainly hope it's never at the expense of the Oilers but I'd certainly like to see this team turn it around at some point. There have to be some good Hawks fans somewhere who've put up with enough crap that it's their turn to actually enjoy an NHL season. I feel the same way towards Isles fans who've seen tonnes of ownership changes along with the rule of Milbury though I guess Chi fans would love for Wirtz to step aside at this point. And for Oilers fans it would be better if the Hawks bounced back because it would add some starch to the candyass Central bracket.

On the Oilers side I see that the local scribes have finally noticed Stoll's less than stellar ES play so if you're keeping score at home the current whipping boys are Stoll and to a lesser extent Torres but that will change if 14 goes pointless tonight. Lupul's escasped because of a decent little stretch and Horcoff and Pisani are nestled safely in the busom of Smyth and just might be getting a break because they're playing the tough minutes and the Oilers are winning.

The dailies are also doing a lot of crowing about a four game winning streak but I guess that's what the citizens want to read. Roloson has been the absolute man in the last two wins so it's not like the Oilers have been ripping the cover off anyone and they've been soundly outchanced in their last two wins, IMO. Speaking of Roloson, you might think this would be a time to try and get Jussi on track given the calibre of the opposition but if Roli took tonight off then he'd go six days without game action, ie between last Tues vs Cgy and next Tues vs the devil and his minions, and I don't think MacT would take that chance.

Tonight I would like to see Sykora and Lupul go off because I have them in my number one fantasy pool:) and it would be also nice if the offensively challenged guys like 10-34-14 popped a couple as well. A 6-4 win would suffice with Roli having his bad game, not that there's been all that many, at time when the Oilers can perhaps still succeed without his best effort. It would also please me to see Stoll pop a couple of goals and win a tonne of faceoffs and then trade dressing rooms with Seabrook after the game.

Post your game thoughts below.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Lowe Expectations? Or Something's Gotta Give!!

Dan Barnes in today's Journal began what could be a "Bring Brad Stuart Home" campaign but for now we'll just consider his to be the first name in list of vets who could help the Oilers backend. It's basically just the start of a series of pieces where all the writers will harp on just how inexperienced, unpredictable and at times ineffective the Oilers D corps have and can be. Heading into camp the writers and fans alike were dreaming of a season where the Oilers could score 275 goals or better and how having Roloson for a full year would exorcise some of the old Salo demons. The story that wasn't getting the ink was how much hay this team could make with all the fresh horses on the backend. Despite a 12-8-1 start and an early share of the NW Div lead the offense hasn't been going gangbusters and certainly haven't produced to the point of keeping the tale of the Oilers blueline on the backburner. And in recent games there have been enough nerve fraying own zone stretches that the pundits finally took notice. The next step is when the writers realize the young depth the Oilers have accrued and how it might be used to shore up the big club but here at IOF we're gonna beat them to it;)

To finish on Stuart, the Bruins and Barnes the whole musing was a pretty sloppy piece of work by Barnes. He failed to mention that Stuart is UFA at season's end and at this point would be a rental. He also didn't even bother to speculate on what the Bruins might be looking for and the first clue would be what their lacking in regards to organizational depth. If you peer into their pipeline and then look at their current day roster the B's have three young forwards in Savard, Bergeron and Boyes who are solidly under contract and whom they can build around. These are established guys and I didn't even mention young Phil Kessel who's aquitted himself fairly well over the first 19 games of his pro career when you consider he just turned 19 in October.

So the B's are looking good at forward.

Their defense is another matter altogether and I'd imagine that if they've decided not to try and keep Stuart around past this spring they'll be looking for a dman in return. Stuart's currently logging the third highest TOI among B's dmen and trails only Chara and Mara. The first guy isn't going anywhere and the second guy has some expensive years left on his pact and I'd guess it wouldn't be easy to offload him. In terms of defensive prospects the Bruins curernt two best bets are Mark Stuart and Matt Lashoff and neiher guy looks like he'll set the world on fire so I think the B's are looking for a dman in return for Stuart The Brad.

So in regards to the Oilers the first guy that might be going back the other way would be Bergeron who's quite affordable and and is also signed for a few years yet. I don't think the Oilers would part with either Smid or Greene and the only other young dman the B's might want in return would be Tom Gilbert who's playing in the A for the Pens minor league affiliate.

I wouldn't mind a Stuart acquistion in the least and if both him and Ryan Smyth were somehow signed to longterm pacts than I'd be satisified with filling out the latter part of the Oilers roster with young kids or cheap vets because lord knows the Oilers have enough of the former and some of them have to play somewhere and soon.

Right now there's a huge disconnect between the preparedness and proven abilites of the netminding and forward corps as opposed to the guys who work behind the blue. Roloson is bona fide personified in the crease and while kids like Stoll, Torres and Lupul might be currently struggling you'd still lay more money on them outplaying opposing forward corps then you would kids like Smid and Greene outplaying their blueline peers. Not to mention that the guys up front have vets and established kids like Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky and Sykora to carry the mail while the defense is more of a co-op venture and some of the senior members like Smith and Tarnqvist are having problems with their newfound leadership.

Lowe has to make a decision whether he's going to go for another Cup run or if he's gonna let all of Smid, Greene and Bergeron make '07 errors in order to better prepare them for '08. If he wants to go for it this year though he certainly has a lot of cards to play and might not have to mess up much of his big league roster.

There are a lot of kids in the pipe who look alright and right now the 21 year old Marc - Antoine Pouliot is the frontman. He averaged nearly a PPG down in the stretch in the A in '06 and has 12 points in his last 10 games played this season. I'd suspect that if he's dealt off we're looking at someone coming back who's good and who's also affordable in the longterm. The Oilers though haven't forgotten the days of having Weight and little else down the middle and they won't take parting with a pivot all that lightly. Alexei Mihknov is a bit longer in the tooth but the winger's just turned 24 and has just began his North American pro career. He's a certified project and I doubt many teams would want to take that on and if they did they wouldn't want to give you much in return. Rob Schremp is the wildcard. He's a 20 year old centre who I think is destined to play wing under a MacTavish coached team and let's face it: Craig's not going anywhere soon. RS has four goals and 15 points in 16 GP and has done nothing to tarnish his prospect status. Can he play on the same team as Hemsky and Lupul? I doubt it. Would he fetch a lot on the trade market? I'd bet on it. Jean-Francois Jacques is 21 years old, had 24 goals in 65 games in his first crack at the A in '06 and is 6-4 220. If teams are still taking chances on guys like Brad Isbister, ie the Rags picked him up yesterday from the Canes, then there's no way someone wouldn't give you something interesting for Jean-Francois. BTW, all these guys are Tom Gilbert's teammates and have helped the Baby Pens to an impressive early season start.

Those four guys, not to mention the extra first round pick from the Ducks acquired in the Pronger rape, give Lowe plenty of chips to bring to the table if and when he sees fit. Potentially extra valuable chips mind you as they all have talent and are all under a team's control for the next seven years. Some of these kids can be flipped for a high profile rental and some could be used for a kid who could stick around for awhile. Chances are though that at least two of these guys won't play 50 games with the Oilers. There just isn't room on the present day roster and there might not be room come the '08 season either. With the big league backend being a question mark and most of the Oilers young talent concentrated in the forwards corps it would make sense for Lowe to finally trade some forwards for some defensemen.

Stuart's most likely just the beginning of a spate of rumors and if Edmonton can't get together with Boston there should be a fit somewhere. It's not to the point of an embarrassment of riches but there are some Oilers picks kids who look ready to play and if they aren't in Nov of '06 then they damn well should be come Oct of '07. I know that Roloson and Butch Goring are by far the most significant and productive deadline rentals but if you could look ahead to next October to see where some of the aforementioned kids are playing and how they wound up there it could give us a big clue to just how far the Oilers went in the spring of '07. And at the very least it would give us an educated guess as to which 19 skaters the Oilers dress for their first playoff game in April of '07.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Data Dump At The Quarter Pole: Part 2: The Power Play

Ok, naturally I didn't manage to get this out before the Oilers started their first game of the new quarter, but here's a bunch of data on the Oilers' PP in the first 20 games.

First of all, let's just take a quick look at the 2005/2006 regular season to get an idea of where the Oilers are coming from. Last year the Oilers team icetime breakdown was 14.7% PP TOI, 14.7% SH TOI, and 70.0% ES TOI with the remainder being empty net time. (This is courtesy of mc79hockey.com) The PP unit had 86 powerplay goals last year which breaks down as 71 5V4 goals, 9 5V3 goals and 6 4V3 goals. The Oilers' PP was ranked at 14th in the league operating at an 18.1% clip. (In actuality they were 17th at 17.7% if you filter out the empty netters.) In my opinion, PP efficiency is better expressed in terms of power play goals for per hour (PPGF/hr) or power play goal differential per hour (PPGD). Last year's team was ranked 14th in the league by PPGF/hr with 7.0 PPGF/hr and 7th in the league by PPGD/hr with 6.6 PPGD/hr. The Oilers didn't give up many shorthanded goals against, so I guess MacTavish's risk-averse PP strategies could be considered a success and that's reflected in how much they climbed in terms of league ranking going from PPGF to PPGD.

So how were the individual players last year?

The first thing to point out is the Oilers' PP icetime distribution. MacTavish finally started using a modern NHL PP player personnel strategy and he rode his top players pretty heavily. Basically we see a six man rotation here and you can think of Spacek as Bergeron's replacement in that rotation once he was acquired. Essentially it was five man unit (Hemsky, Pronger, Stoll, Smyth and MAB/Spacek) and Horcoff. Everybody else just filled in.

Pronger was a horse on the PP without question. The sheer magnitude of the minutes that he played on the PP makes it extremely hard to decouple his contribution from those of the other players. However, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth appear to have been virtually as important as Pronger to the Oilers' 2005-2006 PP unit. Hemsky finished with the same number of PP points as Pronger but led the team with an excellent 6.2 PPP/hr scoring rate. He was also second on the team in PPGF/hr to Ryan Smyth. It's interesting that Smyth's PPP/hr rate isn't that great, but his PPGF/hr number is so stellar. I think it speaks to the importance of the role he plays on that unit - he's one of the chief board battlers regaining and retaining puck possession and he's also the screen in front of the net. It makes sense to me that his contributions go beyond the normal counting numbers.

Now how about this year?

Well the icetime distribution is almost identical to a year ago. Right now the Oilers are at 14.8% PP TOI, 13.4% SH TOI, 71.1% ES TOI with the remainder being empty net time. This is good news I guess - the Oilers have spent 17 extra minutes on the PP compared to their opponents. They've done a few things right at ES there with respect to drawing more penalties or taking fewer. The team PPGF/hr rate is 6.0 PPGF/hr after 20 games. At first glance this appears to be considerably worse than last year, but in actuality the team is really only 2 goals off their pace from last year. Two lousy goals away from getting pretty solid results on the PP. Unfortunately, the PPGD is just 5.3 PPGD/hr, which is pretty terrible, but again suffers from sample size issues due to the two SH goals they've given up. Right now, two goals either way means an awful lot when you've only spent 179 minutes on the PP.

The players.

Personally I'm not that happy with that icetime breakdown. There's an obvious top five unit of Hemsky, Sykora, Smyth, Stoll, and Lupul but now Horcoff is joined by MAB's pretty atrocious PP history plus significant minutes for Tjarnqvist. On top of that, Hemsky's clearly the wheelman on the PP and he's on pace for just 380 PP minutes - even less than last year. Surely we're not saving this guy for the PK or ES, so why not send him over the boards more with the man advantage? Sykora is filling in for Pronger quite nicely thank you very much. He's tied for 2nd on the team with 5.1 PPP/hr and leads the Oilers with 8.3 PPGF/hr


Lupul is a bit of a concern thus far. My hope is that he'll be better utilized as Hemsky and the Oilers start to use the down low plays a little bit more. Heck maybe we'll get Hemsky down in the left corner a few times with Lupul curling out for the shot as they work a mini cycle a la Hemsky/Samsonov circa May 2006. All in all, the PP at this point has certainly been worse than last year. The best players are playing slightly less and they're not getting the same results. Of course the sample size is still small and they've already shown recent signs of putting things together.

Personally I think Hemsky's the most important player on the PP but he's a double edged sword because the Oilers lean on him so much. I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect him to control the play once they've taken the zone, but they cannot afford to expect him to take the zone by skating it in all the time. Lately, I've seen them move away from that - they're dumping the puck in and letting Smyth, Horcoff, Pisani or Stoll get the puck and then get set up. Taking the zone has to be the most important part of the whole thing and the Oilers need to mix it up with effective dump-ins in order to give Hemsky the chance to skate it in once in awhile to take the zone without giving up possession via the dump-in.

After that I've liked the puck movement on the PP for the most part. I think dawgbone over at HF nailed it regarding Hemsky once they're set-up - he needs to move his feet a little more and use more of the sideboards to change the angles. Sometimes, he stays in a 6-8ft spot on the left half-boards and doesn't seem to give himself more options.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

BOA: Round Three. Game thoughts during and post..

I'm scared to post just how successful the Flames have been at Rexall these last few years but let's just say the Oilers had just a little more of a chance to beat Calgary at Rexall as they did to beat the Stars in Dallas.

Yes, it was close to being that bad.

But that was pre-Roli and now we have a guy who can make a few big saves of his own and the early '07 returns have the Oilers as a team who no longer throw away home points all that liberally.

And to show that this site isn't too provinicial here's a reminder that there's another huge WC battle happening later on tonight in Anaheim with the Sharks making a visit.

Not to discount the Stars, even though I guess I am, but the winner of the Pacific division will most likely grab second place in the Conf and the chance to host the Flames, Oilers or Wild and the second place team in the Pac will be hosted by the Preds or Wings.

TSN sometimes wastes it's time by exerting the power of their national cable deal to move gametimes around of matchups no one really wants to see but tonight lay an oppurtunity to bcast a doubleheader that would blow away anything HINC had to offer. All they had to do was ask the Oilers to move their game back one hour and for the Ducks to move their's up by 30 minutes.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Data Dump At the Quarter Pole - Part 1: Even Strength


In academia, (for the physical sciences anyway) there are publications known as data dumps. They're frowned upon because they're basically just a collection of data without any real story to tell or any conclusions of note. They manage to get published once in awhile for a number of reasons. Maybe because of a frenzy around a hot topic, like nanotechnology or biofuels, or because the reviewers and editors are asleep at the wheel. Or maybe just because the authors were shrewd at disguising it. Anyway, this is the intarweb so I'm just going to tell you straight out: This is a data dump. I'm going to give you a couple more too. ;)

The Oilers' story at even strength is pretty simple. They haven't been very good and I'm tempted to say it's the goals against and not the goals for. So far I've got them at 37 GF and 38 GA at the quarter mark. In the Oilers' last twelve quarters, they've only had 3 with more 5V5 GA. Meanwhile they've had just four quarters with more 5V5 GF in that time period - streaks to the finish in 02/03 and 03/04, the 2nd quarter last year, and an almost equivalent +38/-39 3rd quarter back in 2002-2003. Given that the team has a shooting deficit of 78 shots in 20 games and Roloson's .922SV% thus far, it's pretty hard to lay the blame anywhere except with the skaters.

The player breakdown looks like this:


Note: This is just 5V5 with no EN GF or GA. Smyth's obviously been the star of the show and he's on pace for a stellar year. Without looking and just going by memory, I'd say his icetime has been pretty difficult among Oiler forwards as well, so the fact that he's getting results in that context means he's my MVP skater. Other positive notables include:
1) Horcoff who was something like +4/-10 after about 12 games, but has finally come around.
2) Bergeron who's getting butter soft minutes but getting results.
3) Staios has very impressive numbers considering the fact that his blueline partner is 20 yrs old and they aren't being sheltered too much.
4) The fourth liners Thoresen and Winchester who have been outstanding bottom sixers IMO.

The negatives are lowlighted by Lupul's astronomical GA rate and Smith's atrocious EV results thus far. Now I suspect that these two things go hand in hand a little bit - Lupul probably drew some tougher assignments early on while Smith was behind him. The thing that's frightening about Smith though are the awful GF numbers. Basically he's got the worst GF rate number out of anyone playing regular minutes and naturally that goes along with the worst ESP/hr number as well. (Actually Smid trumps him by 0.01, but that's just quibbling.) Stoll and Torres have been pretty underwhelming too and it would be nice if the Hemsky/Sykora pair had a better GD at 5V5 than just +1 or +2, especially with the minutes they're playing.

The rates are here:


Smyth's the man here again given the context. You also can't complain about Sykora's production. I've ragged on him a little bit to Dennis, but you just can't argue much with the points. It seems like he's converting all the chances he was probably ringing off the iron or just plain missing the net with last year. Winchester again looks good in all of these rates. Pisani's an interesting case - I'd imagine he's got a higher event rate than we've seen from him in the past. He did start the year with that knee injury though and he's coming up from a bad start that mirrors Horcoff's since they play together a fair amount.

Alright, that's it. The PP is next.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Wings/Oilers: Predictions and game thoughts here

My first prediction is that we'll get a shot on net in the first period..unlike the last meeting;)

There just isn't as much star power on this Wings team as there's been in the past and while they're off to a great star I'm still not convinced that they're totally for real. They still play a puck possession game and their D makes a great first pass but if you pressure them they will crack. Up front the Wings are giving a lot of icetime to guys that either don't have an overly offensive pedigree, ie Cleary-Maltby-Draper, or kids who are still cutting their teeth, ie Kopecky, Hudler and Flippula. If you shut down Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lang then you should beat the Wings and MacT has the last change and this game will be played on his terms.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Blues/Oilers: Post Game Thoughts Here

Down in the Lupul thread I saw Vic say he suspects that Horc's line plus 21/29 will be matched up against Tkachuk's crew but I'm thinking that the biggest assignment will be Dvorak-Weight-Guerin. I can't remember who Keith was playing with on Sun but I'd guess it was Cajanek and someone else and I'd take them to be the second biggest threat.

But in any case if there's ever a time when the 16 line will start to roll it should be tonight. And though I know it's irrational I'm really starting to fear Curtis Sanford;)

The Oilers need to go 5-1-1 in this 7Game homestand and they can't afford to lose tonight if they want to take a serious run at the division.

Joffrey Lupul: The Worst Oiler Thus Far


To whom more is given more is expected. And in Edmonton to whom more is paid more is demanded and less patience is show. But what about when you have a kid with local ties who's grandfather also happens to be one of the 789 owners? Just how much rope does that allow ? But wait just a second here. What if that guy's struggling overall and has just eight points overall, only four of them at ES points, and happens to be sitting at a whopping -7 just 18 games into the regular season? And what if this is a guy who's been getting arguably easier minutes than any other forward on the team?

It's one of the more interesting sidebars of the season to see just how long this kid struggles and just how long it takes for the fans to catch on to what has been an horrendous start.

I'm not about to get into the intelligence and/or hockey acumen of the Oilers season ticket holder or the guy who watches most of the games on TV and makes it to Rexall just four or five times a year. I never played organized hockey and I'm sure there are season ticket holders who have and who can pick out a designed player faster than Jagr can find something to complain about. But matchups are one thing I can observe and more specifically who's carrying the mail and who's back at the office sorting it. So I can say that as bad as Lupul's -7 is it would be a helluva lot worse if anyone gave him the keys to one of the vans.

There are guys that undoubtedly handle the tough mintues for the Oilers. Horcoff, Pisani, Smyth and Moreau, when healthy, are guys that have scantly seen a soft shift. You can throw Reasoner in there too on nights when the Oilers are protecting a lead and MacT will sub him in on the third line for Stoll. On the road the opposing coach is either running his best line at them in a power vs power test or he's throwing out units like the Marchant troika who won't score much but won't give you much either. I don't have to tell anyone reading this who the guys are that make or break this team at ES. Then there are guys like Hemsky, Sykora and Stoll who at one time or another have played tough minutes and swing in and out of that role. Right now on the road the opposing coaches are tearing their hair out in an effort to get their best out against the 71/83 combo. Then there are guys like Lupul and Torres who very rarely see the tough matchups and considering that A: we've already taken to skewering Torres on a daily basis and B: Lupul makes more money and sees considerably more PP time, well I've decided to decree that Joffrey Lupul is the worst player that Oilers money is buying right now. I'd also offer that he's the most wasteful in terms of what he's done with the cherry mintues he's been afforded.

The youngster started the year with 94-10 and in what was really a baptism by fire when you considered that role with the one he was asked to play in Ana. The message was he was considered one of the team's top players and was assigned a role accordingly. Of course it wasn't all sweat and toil for the Ft. Sask native because he also saw time on a talented PP that gave him a chance to pad stats that would otherwise be sullied by having to play some tough mintues. I can't say for sure when MacT broke up this line but I'd guess that the blender really came out in the middle of the Oilers loss in Phoenix and at that time Lupul moved alongside Sykora and Hemsky.

Lupul's first Horcoff and Smyth free game was vs the Caps and he sniped a goal and added an assist but both came on the PP. In the last seven games things certainly haven't gotten better despite the fact he's playing with Torres-Stoll and that line is seeing easier mintues than any unit other than Reasoner's fourth line crew. During this time former Duck has posted a less than mighty -4 and has just one goal. Combine that with the fact that his icetime's decreased thanks to MacT's shuffling of the PP units and Lupul's in real danger of getting lost in the shuffle.

Thing's couldn't get a whole lot easier right now in terms of quality of opposition faced and and as far as linemates go while it is true that Stoll's always built his points primarily on the PP the same can't be said of Torres. In any case both players are of quality and it's not like trying to put up points playing with Cam Janssen and Jordan Tootoo.

I can't speak for anyone else but my patience is wearing thin with #15. His effort isn't consistent and when a supposed goal scorer isn't piling up shots or creating scoring chances then there's not much chance he'll score. We always talk about MacT being pulled in the opposite directions of both trying to win and develop players at the same time and right now he's leaving Lupul alone when it comes to the latter but that's certainly doing nothing towards accomplishing the former.

Lupul can't win big faceoffs, he doesn't kill penalties and I'd make a guess that he can't check the other team's top line to a near standstill. If he's not scoring then he's an anchor and if he's not scoring and he's beginning to make real money then the target on his back will become clearer and clearer.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Good Media Guys

Recently the Oilogosphere has been putting the boots to the work of a lot of journalists, and rightly so, there has been some very lazy reporting out there.

Anyhow, just for the hell of it, I thought I'd throw up a couple of comments on some of the good stuff I've seen lately, and a quick stab at the guys i can't stand.

* Kevin Karius had a terrific little piece on Brian Ross, the Oilers video coach. About 2 or 3 minutes on Global news last night. MacTavish talks about breaking the game down to it's 20 basic elements (yikes!) , Smith chats for a bit about using video to prepare himself for playing against Ovechkin, Brian Ross indicated that the guys who were really into going to the video room to look at "chances" were Roloson and Sykora, and Smyth liked to go over all of his own. I was always pretty much indifferent to Karius when he had that "Sports Night" show, but this was very good and his work on the PPVs is much better than I would have expected.

* Drew Remenda is a breath of fresh air on the stale HNIC broadcasts. The guy adds value I think, pretty easy to listen to as well.

* Jason Gregor, I listened to him a tonne in the playoffs, especially after home games, and he was excellent. Respectful to the callers, but slaps numbers at people when an opinion is out of hand as well. The guys on The Team radio drive time show, Stauffer and usually Spector, are good too.

* Dan Barnes. I think he does a good job, mostly I'm remembering his work in the playoffs. Sees things for what they are for the most part, and says it.

* Brownlee. A reasonable guy and a good read. If a story is going to break out of the Oilers he just always seems to be the first print guy in the loop as well.

* Duhatschek. Just a terrific hockey writer. Personally I'm mostly just into Oilers stuff unless it's the playoffs.


And the guys I can't stand any more:

Strachan, Brooks and Garrioch (I'm actually convinced that they talk crap to each other and then use that as "a source close to the team"). These guys drive me nuts.

Tie Domi. In the little bit I've seen of him, it's surreal how bad this guy is in the broadcasting gig. You could hire DeNiro to play the role of an ex-athlete who is thoroughly incompetent, but he couldn't touch what Domi's doing just naturally.

Bryan Hall.

Terry Jones. I don't think Jones even likes hockey any more.

.

Feel free to add any I've missed in either category.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Lots of Oiler Blogs

Just thought I'd throw up a quick note here, in case people aren't aware of some of the new Oiler bloggers out there. I don't even know if it's really blogging, mostly Oilers websites hosted on blogger because it's free and easy. :)

Anyhow, Always On The Road is a cool new blog. Different because they put a helluva effort into YouTubing game clips and the like.

Oil Time Hockey is bank shot's blog. He started off with a few really good posts and seems to be on early hiatus. But it's well worth reading, and hopefully he gets back into the habit of throwing some stuff on there.

Lord Bob's new site is very good as well. Except for the white text on black background, which is hard on the eyes. The guy always has something to say, with a reason behind it. Good stuff.

I check Mike's Blawg every week or so as well. Not very prolific on the hockey front, but what he does have to say on the Oilers is well worth reading.

The In The Box guys are funny cats. They write for Vue Weekly as well.

Last but not least is Scarlett's blog, All Oil ... all the Time. Like Mike, she doesn't waste as much of her time talking hockey as some of the rest of us, but the posts she does put up are very good.

And a non-Oilers hockey numbers site, appropriately named hockeynumbers . This is heavy stuff, frankly too heavy for me unless I'm really in the mood. The work that Chris Boersma puts into the data gathering and the math is impressive. Puts my relatively half-assed efforts to shame. And there is some stuff there that you just don't see anywhere else.

Besides the ones everyone knows about already, these are the blogs I read. And if I'm missing any good ones (likely) then please let me know.

The Shorn Identity


It's a little over an hour from the puck dropping in Colorado so maybe by the time everyone reads this post Raffi Torres will have scored a goal or two or thrown a check or two and we all won't be worrying about him so much.

In his first 162 games with the Oilers the kid's potted 47 goals and he just turned 25 so it's not like he's on the downswing.

Or at least he shouldn't be.

I always thought of this guy as being arrogant and super confident but the early '07 season returns tell me that I'm wrong. He may still be arrogant but if you watch every Oilers game then you'd have a hard job believing that the former Isles property possesses anything resembling confidence.

Torres is a guy who's always had a pretty smooth ride with the Oilers. It's true that he's never seen that much PP time but he's really never had to carry much of the mail either. He's pretty much ridden shotgun for Stoll since he's donned the Oilers silks and if those two guys are on the same line then chances are they aren't seeing tough competition. Give him credit, though, he's always managed to make hay with his situation and after last year's playoffs I think everyone had a new appeciation of him.

No one here needs a refresher course but #14 did play on a tough mintues line with Peca-Pisani and he also doled out some momentum changing hits throughout the second season.

But that was then and this is now and currently Torres looks lost. He's being shifted from line to line and he's looked pretty much shiftless while doing so.

He started out on the soft mintues line with Sykora/Hemsky and that's an assignment that anyone would lust after. You basically throw some hits, wait for some lovely passes and when you don't get them you go to the net and try and collect the garbage. Torres saw a lot of scoring chances early on but he couldn't finish them and MacT lost his patience with that unit. Torres then wound up playing tough mintues with 10-34 and this wasn't helping out Horcoff so that unit was scuttled.

Right now Torres finhs himself back with his old cherry picking buddy Jarrett Stoll and they've been joined by Lupul who looks as comfortable in an Oilers uniform as Mike Piazza did in the garb of the Florida Marlins. And right now Torres isn't hitting anyone and he isn't getting any scoring chances and it looks really odd when a one time bully is playing timid.

Seriously, I saw Torres go into the corner in the first period of Sunday's game in St. Louis and he wouldn't have cracked one egg let alone a dozen and when's the last time he created or tried to finish a scoring chance? The last time he was noticeable was when he took that terrible penalty late in the third period in Montreal. You might rememeber the following scene where Torres looked like he wanted to take a bath with a toaster.

It might seem like overreacting but about the only thing Torres isn't doing right now is scoring on his own net. Never one to excel at chipping the puck out on his wing or making a pass to start a rush he's now taken that ineptitude to new levels. He can no longer even consistently make a five foot pass.

The kid has lost his mojo and up to this point MacTavish has stuck with him and he's done enough in the early days of his career that he enjoys the benefit of a doubt. But there are troubles on the Oilers backend and they're unlikely to fully disappear and as it stands right now this guy could be traded this guy and no one would really notice.

Shooting Areas

No guarantees on the accuracy of this, and as always common sense should be applied. The dots represent the chances of a shot going in from that point on the ice. The bigger the dot, the higher percentage of them went in from there in thr 05/06 regular season. Click on the image to enlarge it if you want.

I drew the triangle on there in red. That's the age old hard definition of a scoring chance. Maybe doesn't apply as well to NHL shooters though.

I drew on a yellow ice cream cone shape as well. Because I like ice cream.

I've seen coaches log sheets with some crazy shapes drawn on them before, presumably representing different scoring areas. Some are paint-by-numbers complex, most are simpler. Three different sized circles inside each other, all of them butting up against the goal line ... that always seemed better to me. I dunno though, even a shot from far out can be more than just a chance to score on the shot, it's the chance on the rebound or deflection too. Tough to peg by just this.

The sharp angle shots go in a lot more nowadays, the shots from outside the dot, as Ferraro would say. To my eye Andy Murray's teams always liked those shots a lot. And Mario is probably the guy who really exploited that area the most, not unlike the way Gretzky showed us that "behind the net" wasn't a bad place to make a play from either.

Obviously shots from almost on the goal line have a great chance. There aren't many of those in a game though. Lots from the low slot though.

The other thing is that shots down the middle, the high slot area, really do have a good chance of going in, but teams in this era don't give up too many of those any more.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Oilers/Blues: Post thoughts here..

I'd have the scoring chances at 6-3 for the Oilers in the first period. Very slow start and the best thing about the first 10 minutes was that the fact that the PA guy played Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak" after the Blues took their first penalty.

Horcoff had a glorious one handed tip that went off the iron and I just don't know what else can go wrong for him scoring chance wise. Smyth tracked down Salvador just inside the St. Louis blueline on a play that once again reminded us that 94 plays the game like he's still 12 years old and he never gives up on anything. Torres almost had one squeek through Sanford and that was the good part. The bad part was he flubbed about three or four five foot passes.

Sykora had a shift that Kevin Quinn called interesting which is the novice way or describing a player as high event. Thoresen is back to gritting it out and him and Winchester have a nice little thing going and 26 has now entered the karma part of his streak of consistent play where he scores a goal even though he didn't play his best period.

Speaking of little things going...I wonder why MacT and Smid will tie the knot? MacTavish might want to revisit his McGeough comments because you'd have to be both blind and stupid to start a PP off with both Tarnqvist and Smid back on your points. I think the PP's reached the point of "it's anyone else's fault but Craig Simpson's fault" and we'll see some screwy things until it gets hot again. There's no question this unit should be way better but when you put out 29/5 on your points then it's just like throwing up your hands and quitting. If MacT believes the old addage that you win because you're best players are your best players than why is he throwing out a kid who couldn't even put up PP points in the AHL?

Jussi's in net for the Oil and doesn't look shaky at all. Granted he wasn't tested a great deal but he did nothing to make you feel uncomfortable either.

The Correct Answer Was Four

Somewhere in the comments to a post below we pondered how many losses in a row it would take before MacTavish reverted to a more conventional bench coaching strategy, like we would doubtlessly see in a playoff game. Turns out that the correct answer was four. And bonus points to anyone who guessed that the last one would be of the embarrassing variety.

So in the CBJ game, a team with two good lines (Fedorov's and Nash's) and a whole bunch of fringe NHLers after that ... Shaggy and Smith played the staggering majority of their icetime against the quality, Greene played so little against them that not only do you have to give Huddy props for the bench running, you have to question the abilities on the CBJ bench. And in this one, if Bergeron had been healthy, surely he would have played in Smid's spot, the fact that all other decisions were rational tells us so.

On the forwards, Torres, Stoll and Lupul were in the hole. I liekd the way that they got the shifts after the PP a couple of times. Especially the alignment where they get Stoll out for the very tail end of the PK and then have Lupul join him. If they can get Lupul able to PK half decently by the playoffs they could get the pair of them in that gig have have Torres join the party when the puck starts heading north, but I digress.

Smyth/Horcoff/Pisani were as close as you can get to a hard match on the road. Petersen/Sykora/Hemsky played a bunch against Fedorov. The other two lines played the vast majority of their icetime against the tragic depth of CBJ's roster. As it should be.

Here is a comment excerpt from nine days ago, the day after the Nashville game, in a Dennis post below:

At some point MacTavish has to make some decisions here, I think he'll probably end up having the Sykora line dump and check up (trap) when there is nothing there at the blue line, at least against quality opposition. Like that trio did a lot in the Detroit game. Because I don't know if they have the commitment to dump and chase, and I don't know if Hemsky has the size to play that style all year without wearing down. That's what I would do, and I'd play Peterson with them. Seriously.


Stoll is the other player that MacTavish has to come to grips with. It seems like the coaching staff is hell bent on turning him into Horcoff. How many games have they started out running Stoll against the other team's best, only to revert to Horcoff for that gig after a period or so? A bunch methinks. And inevitably they drop Stoll even further back in the pecking order as he gets PP time and Reasoner steps up for more shifts against quality.

I know that Stoll isn't good enough now. And I'm not sure if he ever will have the speed. Good PP shooter though.

My point: Even though Moreau's injury has thinned out the forward ranks, I'd still like to see them load up 94/10/34 and go power vs power. Let Sykora take the next level of burden, playing a more passive style and taking fewer chances at the blue lines when they are out against good players. And give 14/16/15 the primo 5v5 minutes that are now being given to 71/83.

That's precisely what we saw in the CBJ game. High freaking time. This isn't rocket surgery. This isn't about about coaches being fools. This is about the balance of player development and giving yourself the best chance to win in the now, simple as that.

Lots of smart hockey fans wear their player development hats more than me (hell, I don't even own one), Lowetide and speeds being the prime examples. And they may very well be right, I mean I don't like it, but I can see the reasoning. And that's all fair and rational, so long as people aren't clamouring for wins AND more important icetime for the youngsters in the same argument it's all good.

MacTavish's journey through 'Playerdevelopmentland' to 'Rightnow City' came via slow train, and three stops in peculiar, ramshackle towns named 'Loss'. Three towns with the same name ... I told ya 'Playerdevelopmentland' was a strange place. :) After a stop in 'Getyourasskickedville' MacTavish finally arrived at his destination, 'Rightnow City', and Lowe let him get off the train.

Hopefully he let's him rest up there for a few days. But history tells us it was a one night stop-over. Two at the most. :(

Friday, November 10, 2006

Playing defense is about more than being physical


It's not that we didn't know that before but heading into this season most fans concentrated on the full season upgrade in goal, the deep forwards corps and the possibility of having one of the top five PP's in hockey.

The goaltending theory looks solid but some of the forwards are struggling and that's diluted the current perceived depth to the level of your father's whiskey after you've dipped into for the fourth time that month.

I won't even get into the PP right now, BTW.

Of course the aspect of the '07 Oilers that no one wanted to talk about was how the defense would fare. And by no one I mean anyone who works or plays for the Oilers.

Well right about now those funk soul brothers might have come to the conclusion that you won't go all that far with a d crops that includes all of Bergeron, Greene and and Smid. I'm not sure if either of those guys will go back the other way but in today's Journal they actually had a list of guys Lowe "might" be looking at. How they compiled that list is open for debate and I'd say it's part guys who are UFA at season's end and part guys who Lowe has discussed in a glowing manner in previous discussions.

The biggest news is that the Oilers are now openly shopping for another dman and I can't wait to see who's coming to augment their defense. Just last week the Oilers lost consecutive home tilts against the Stars and Preds and both those teams employ rearguads who hurt you with the pass more than they hurt you with their physicality. You can't find six Brian Rafalski's and if you did you couldn't afford them all but there's an element they bring that the Oilers sorely lack and that's the ability to make a quick breakout pass. Once they acquire that then you'll see an increase in the Oilers going through the neutral zone with speed and a decrease in the amount of time spent in their own end.

Anyway, on to the blurb and this is an old copy and past dealie:

__Here's a list of offensive defencemen Lowe might be looking at in a trade: Tampa Bay's Dan Boyle, Florida's Mike Van Ryn, Lubomir Visnovsky in L.A., Boston's Paul Mara and Ottawa's Chris Phillips, who is an unrestricted free agent in July.__

So here's the job for all the guys who love the trade speculation. Check out the ages of these guys, their contract status in terms of lenght remaining and appliciable monies and which of them have had the most success on the PP because you know that any of these guys will see time on the Oilers PP unit, well outside of Phillips. Later on maybe we can get into each of these mentioned orgs to see where there needs are and just what they might want in return. And what I'd really like to see is which of these guys can handle the tough min and which of them have feasted on the soft mintuted lamb.

I'm really interested to see what you guys come up with.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

And now for some good news..


This isn't usually the place for prospect talk, LT's blog does that best, but I can think I bring this around to something that fits here. I certainly hope I can anyway because fans of the Oilers need good news right now no matter how little it means to the on ice fortunes here on November 9th, 2006.

Wilkes-Barre Stats

Someone might have to shorten that link but it sends you to the stats of the WBS Penguins which is the AHL affiliate of, you guessed it, the NHL's Penguins. That's just one of 145 A teams which are housing Oilers prospects in the '07 season.

Young Mr. Pouliot didn't have the best of NHL camp's this past Sept and found himself in the A for his second season in a row. Then he stumbled out of the minor league gate and was even healthy scratched for a game. This wasn't the end of the world but if a guy of his pedigree doesn't start making some noise in his second year in the A then there's not much of a chance he'll have any kind of an impact in the NHL. Sure there are cases to the contrary but by and large the numbers won't support it.

In any case the kid has turned things around and he's also turned the heads of the Oilers brass. Here's a blurb from today's Sun:

"Our scouts have liked him," said assistant GM Scott Howson, who had a scout looking in on Pouliot last weekend. "He's really taken another step since he first got there. He's been very determined."

That was the quote pasted after the article said that MAP would be the first guy summoned from the farm if the Oilers decide help is needed. It's good to see that the kid took the kick in the rear and responded in a positive manner. I don't think he'd make much of a difference in the here and now but down the road he's now in view.

A couple of other things about that look at the Baby Pens stats. Mihknov got his first point in his second game so I guess he's just started the journey that will see him replacing Samsanov's production;) Schremp's putting up nearly a PPG but the Oilers mgmt doesn't seem overly impressed.

Which leads me to my point.

Word from the AHL observes says that MAP's playing the tough min while RS is picking the bones of the PP and the soft matchups. That's not to say that RS can't be successful in that role in the NHL but it's nice to see that the guy who's taking on the toughest assignement is the one who's currently drawing the most praise.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Shots Down The Middle


Just makes such a difference I think, if the shot from the blue comes from an angle, from near the boards, it's not that big of a deal. But if a shot from the blueline comes form nearly straight on, the puck whipping in between the faceoff circles on the way to the net ... all sorts of bad things are more likely to happen (or good things, depends who you're cheering for ;) ). There is way more mesh to hit if the goalie doesn't see it or if it is deflected. Even a wide shot can bounce back into the scoring area.

Pronger was great at this on the PP last season, granted it didn't hurt having Hemsky on the left halfboards. And IMO they could have executed that even better if they could have gotten the opposition to believe they really were going to try a quick low play every now and again.


I mean every effer defended the triangle (net and faceoff dots at the corners) when we were all growing up, at every level of hockey. But smart guys adapt, the earth moves a bit when goals start coming from other places because you're too predictable.

After Anaheim was ousted from the playoffs Carlyle was asked about the Duck's powerplay troubles . He said that they tried for the extra pass too much instead of shooting, and that they wasted shots from outside because they couldn't get the puck into the middle. Of course that's completely contradictory, but he's on the west coast and a bunch of journalists have already written stories, many of which don't make a lick of sense, and surely one of those two snippets (but not possibly both) fit in well as a quote in their story. Bless 'em.

Don Cherry grabbed onto one of these (can't remember which) and beat it to death. He probably called him Carlyleee or Rand when blathering on one of his "just like I said!" bullshit tirades as well. But I digress.

Roloson pegged it though. "We did a good job of taking away the shots down the middle on the PK".

Last night on TV you could see MacTavish's plan with 30 seconds or so left in OT, he was holding up a little whiteboard for the world to see, including the guys in the Habs real-time video booth. He had three forwards out and Sykora was meant to get the puck, stride to dead centre on the blue line and fire. Presumably Smyth and would be in front by then too. The plan didn't work, but shit happens, can't fault him for betting on sevens.

And tonight we'll see the king of the "shot down the middle", Nik Lidstrom. Every bugger knows he's going to do it and he stills gets it done most of the time. Tremendous player.

As an side: This thread can be a sign up list for scoring chances by centres on the ice. Really good stuff from the guys who contributed last time, we're well on our way to doing something really above and beyond here. I mean we don't have the time or data or resources to do it like the teams do, but we can throw the darts nearer the middle by being more coldhearted about it.

If nothing else having a kick at it for even a period or two throughout the year will change the way you see things without trying. Even when you are listening on radio you'll notice that Horcoff subbed in for Stoll on the defensive zone draw that lead to Lupul's chance, and that the rookie sat and Stoll bumped to the wing. Or that the scoring chance that PDO has nicked against Stoll later on was right ... but more fairly it was really Horcoff line's fault, just a late change on the fly. All of us are wrong about plenty, and we all carry bias, but we can make each other smarter too.

Having said that, there's something to be said for believing in the magic. The clutchness, the entertainment, the niftiness, for riding the wave of the ones that go in off the post (what a player!) and the ones that just miss (useless!). Hell, this past weekend I bought a remote switch and had my four year old convinced that she could turn lights off and on by focussing, blowing on her fingers, and throwing her hand at the lamp while yelling A-la-kazaam! You should have seen the look on her face, it was priceless. Just because there is no magic, doesn't mean it's not nice to think that there is. So think about it before you do it. It's as simple as beans, but once you have a go the coaches are going to start seeming one helluva lot smarter and your local journalists and the guys calling into local radio shows ... less so. And you can't undo it. Seriously. It's inevitable.

Back to point: This should be a good one, I expect Sykora/Hemsky to be reigned back in big time. Too much talent on the Wings to fuck around. Shouldn't be tough for the coaching staff to respect the Wings, the players know, they know how badly they were outplayed last spring and probably suspect that the hockey gods are out to even the score. The bookies aren't giving the Oilers a hope in hell, but I think we'll see a good game. Special teams decide it. That's my hunch.

So, anyone interested in the scoring chance gig? Even for just a period or so.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Full Circle Jerks: Montreal/Dallas Connection Increases Habitants Hatred

Long before there were the Dallas Stars there were the Montreal Canadians which is to say that other fans hated Mike Keane long before he became an asshole of legendary porportions amongst Oilers faithful. This of course refers to Keane's quotations after G6 in '01 when the Stars once again outsed the Oil.

I can't say what it was like in Alberta as far as regional telecasts went but here in Newfoundland on a Saturday night you either watched the Leaves or the Habs and maybe my Montreal memories are more vivid because they were good while TO sucked. That doesn't matter right now though. The cold hard facts are that I hate the Habs more than any other team in the league.

Yes, even more than Calgary.

Montreal has this way of finding netminders that just sickens me. The first one I can really remember was Steve Penney and the glorious way him and his teammates blew a 2-0 Wales Conf lead to the Isles in '84. But that's hardly the biggest part of the story. These were long before the days when I looked at goal differential but just look at this link and tell me that the Habs winning nine of their first eleven playoff games wasn't the work of the devil?


Hab playoff stats

Speaking of Satan it would be two more years before Patrick Roy lead the Habs to a Cup and that's one I've been hearing about now for lo these past 20 seasons. You might remember Roy from such Oilers episodes as trying to score on an empty net repeatedly during a game in Col in the '99 season. But that was just one of the ways that the old Habs would come back to haunt me. Early on you had Bobby Smith leading the upstart North Stars in '91 which were coached by Bob Gainey but we all know that was just the tip of the iceberg. Eventually we got around to the Dallas/Oilers matchups, I refuse to call it a rivalry when one team won five playoff series and the other won just one, and these battles were fought by old Scabitants stalwarts like Carbonneau, Skrudlund, Ludwig, the aforementioned Keane and later on Kirk Muller showed up to throw some dirt on our graves.

These days some of those old guys have come home to roost and Gainey's in the big chair with Carbonneau running the bench and aided by Muller. It's working pretty well thus far with the Habs holding the 4th best winning pct in the East racking up 17 points in 13 games. They are just +6 in GF/GA though so it's not like they're pounding anyone and they also get to play in the Eastern Conference;)

I usually chime in with lines and d pairings but everything's a bit topsy turvy line wise in Mtl today with the news that Higgins will be missing for six weeks with an ankle sprain. And if you think that didn't put a smile on my face the you didn't read the first few para of this particular blurb;)

They do work on the old pairs idea though with Ryder/Koivu, Samsonov/Kovalev and Bonk/Johnson being the guys they build their top three lines around. Sat night's D pairings had Rivet/Souray, Kommisarek/Markov and Niinimaa/Streit forming the respective tandems.

The Oilers have their own things to worry about with Roli pretty much sucking right now, Pisani making a whole bunch of fans look like Nostradaumus with his inability to find the net and Horcoff looking like he's just lost his way. I'll lose my cool and the ability to log on to MSN Messenger should the Oilers lose this game but I keep on hoping that things will turn around once Roli bounces back.

At the very least we'll see some new concoctions tonight courtesy of a MacT blender that's on both high and puree. Note: it was funny to see Smyth use the word blender today in reference to MacT as that's been a staple of the Oilers online community for as long as I can remember. From what we can gather the new lines will be:

14-10-34
94-71-83
22-16-15
28 or 20-19-26

Yes you read that right..Stoll's officially relieved of tough minutues duty and is getting his first shot at unlocking the offense from Lupul. That #22 you see by them is JFJ whom I'd imagine will play 5 minutues or less. And Smyth moves up with 71/83 so I'm thinking this is the first game where we'll see more being asked of the 71/83 tandem with 16/15 now getting the easiest matchups. Or as easy as the matchups can be with the team on the road.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Player Development

Dennis hits on this season's most relavent Oiler issue in the post below. I thought I'd expand on it here.

If Sidney Crosby had played in the QMJHL last season instead of on the Penguins, would he be the same player right now?

I think all of us will agree that he wouldn't be nearly as effective. We might disagree on the extent of the damage to his development, but there is no doubt that it would exist. Players get better by playing against better opposition, that's a simple fact methinks. More dramatically by playing against NHLers instead of junior players. And also by playing against Modano instead of Meittinen. Of course the boundaries are set by common sense, playing Crosby in the NHL when he was 15 wouldn't have helped anybody, he would have been completely over his head. In the same vein, playing Hemsky regularly against Forsberg and the like when he was 19 probably wouldn't have accomplished much more than destroying his confidence.

Back to Sydney, just looking at 5on5 + and - here for now as it's the largest sample set:

First third of 05/06:
EV+ 20 EV- 24

Middle third of 05/06:
EV+ 20 EV- 18

Last third of 05/06:
EV+ 30 EV- 17

This season so far:
EV+ 11 EV- 3

Obviously a tremendous player, and he's still just 19 and still improving at speed. Yikes! An exceptionally rare talent.

This year's numbers surely aren't hurt by having Malkin around. And his first couple of months as an NHLer would have been a helluva lot worse if not for the fact that he was either playing with or behind Palffy. And he got killed in rare glimpses against quality opposition then. But not any more.

On the Oilers ...

Would Schremp be a better player now if he had played last year in the AHL instead of the OHL? Absolutely. (If Nonis would like to bitch about player development issues rationally, this would be a good place to start, and it is done for financial reasons. 9 of 10 Nike executives would have ethical issues with this arrangement for crying out loud.)

Would Ales Hemsky be as good as he is now if he hadn't played so much icetime against high quality players last season? Almost certainly not. It says something about his character as well, near the end of last season he commented to a reporter "if I want more icetime I'll need to get better at playing against good players". Kind of the polar opposite of things we've heard Selivanov, Carter and Comrie say in the past. Based on that quote alone I'm really pleased they signed him to the long term deal. He still has a ways to go of course, he'll grow to be a much better all around player yet, but he's on the right path I think.

So, what is the best place for Ladislav Smid to play right now from an "Oilers winning games right now" point of view? Unless you're a prospect junkie or willing to drown yourself in the KoolAid, then Wilkes-Barre is your answer without hesitation. Maybe easing him into the third pairing around midseason, letting him watch just as many from the press box.

Or, what is the best place for Ladislav Smid to play right now from an "Oilers winning games in 08/09" point of view? How about giving him one of your best players as his D partner to mentor him. Bring him along as quickly as you can, start giving him the odd game with increased responsibility in terms of opposition and situation (own zone draws, shift after PP, etc). Being careful not to overwhelm him or destroy his confidence all the while.

Similar thing with Lupul, Stoll and Torres (as we've seen in alternating fashion this season, somewhere there is a MacRota with one of their names on it for the "vs Koivu" gig in the next one.) Based on the numbers so far, Jason Smith has played very tough minutes and has been on the ice for a whopping 13 goals against at evens. Of the triplet of young forwards above, the "Why The Hell Does MacTavish Have Them Out There Right Now?" guys ... one of them (10 times) or two (1 time) has been on the ice for 11 of 13. If that seems like rational bench coaching to you, then there is a good chance you've been huffing ether.

If it was February and the Oilers were safely in a playoff spot, then fine. Hell I'd probably be bitching about MacTavish if he wasn't running things this way. Every team does that then. But in October and November with a team that seems like anything but a lock to make the playoffs? If you're the Kings, sure, why not. But the Oilers? Damn, takes some balls.

This is starting to look like the year of player development. And the games should be fun to watch. I wonder how many games the Oilers would have to lose in a row before MacTavish says "to hell with the kids for now!" and plays a playoff game style alignment. I'm thinking at least 5 or 6 consecutive "L"s.

I don't doubt that bumping the responsibility of the talented young players pushes them along the development curve more quickly. How much more quickly? I don't know. The young defensemen on non-playoff teams usually seem to be the guys that hit their strides the quickest at the NHL level (SEE Duncan Keith and Zbynek Michalek last season) maybe because their coaches have nothing to lose in playing these guys against Modano, or when their clinging to a lead with the net empty.

I mean the draft doesn't give you 14 years of "ownership" of a player any more. The smart GM probably picks the guys that he thinks can be difference makers and endeavours to get them up to speed a year or two ahead of the normal schedule. There is a huge cost saving to be had if you can accomplish that. If you're a GM taking this route; best if you have a long term deal and your coach is like your brother, because it won't be easy to win in the 'now'. If you're the coach; best if it's a long term deal you signed too, because a lot of fans will probably want to run your ass out of town in the regular season of the first couple of years. You're going to be looking damn smart by year three or four though.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dal/Edm: Alexei Semenov, Mike Comrie and own zone draws and at what cost development?

The reasoning for the above title started off awhile back over on LT's blog when he blurbed on the latest Semenov news coming out of the Florida camp. It looks like the big guy's NHL days are over and Lain was just wondering how and why it all went wrong. Vic chimed in with his story about how MacTavish tried to give Semi some of the tough min in the '03 but quickly disregarded that plan once the playoffs rolled around. And that story reminded me of similar MacTatics in a home game against Dallas early in that same season with the Oilers having a draw in their own zone with less than 20 seconds left in a period and MacT allowing Comrie to face off versus Modano. Comrie lost the draw, then lost Modano and Modano scored and the Oilers would eventually lose the game.

Of course Comrie would go on to get hurt in a game at SJ and miss 13 games but did recover in time enough to trigger his points bonus with an EN goal in Chicago and his Oilers career was over a short time later. Looking back we can see that MacTavish was trying to figure out just what kind of a player he had in Comrie and exactly what his worth and value would wind up being. I think it's fair to say the Oilers concluded that he would always be a guy who'd need the sheltered mintues, like say a Hemsky right now, but unlike Hemsky he wouldn't be able to really exploit them. So they just cut bait and moved on but not before they felt they had a true handle on his potential.

I wonder if we're not seeing the same thing right now with Jarrett Stoll and Raffi Torres and I wonder how much of an impact it's having on the Oilers ES production. It seems like MacT's trying to drag Stoll kicking and screaming into being an accountable ES player and that's a stretch given he's a guy who's put up the bulk of his points on the PP and has always been sheltered from the tough matchups. But MacT's been asking more from him from the very start of this season and maybe the Oilers are getting ready to make a decision on his future value and that will determine who they trade for the affordable and effective dman they so desperately need.

Torres could also be the bait as he's really a man without a country right now. He blew an early cherry mintues assignment with Sykora/Hemsky and now he's back to playing tough mintues with Horcoff and Pisani. Those are two guys who have proven track records in that field and Torres is a kid who's known as a goal scorer first. But now he's trying to find a way to score goals and look after his own end and the early results aren't exactly promising.

MacTavish isn't above using his blender and as long as the Oilers aren't winning he'll keep making changes and I'll be interested to see what he comes up with. The current fly in the matchup ointment is that he's trying to shelter the Sykora/Hemsky tandem and that means everyone else has to carry the tough minute load. It also doesn't help that Moreau's missing either. MacT will ultimately have to decide just how much he can try to both develop and win and when he makes up his mind he'll either start asking more from 71/83 or asking less from guys like Stoll and Torres.

Meanwhile Kevin Lowe will have to decide just how long he thinks this team can stay afloat with this current D corps.

On to tonight and the Dallas Stars make their first visit to Rexall sporting a 10-2 record overall, plus 17 in goal differential and identical 5-1 marks both on the road and at home. Without looking at strenght of sked it's easy to argue that Dallas is the second best team in the league right now and trailing only Buffalo. Let's take a look at their sked before I list their line combos and d pairings as observed from their last versus the Blues.

3-2 OTW at Col
3-1 W vs NJ
4-1 W at LA
4-1 W at LA
4-3 SO W at Ana
2-0 L at SJ
5-4 W vs Chi
4-0 W at Phx
2-1 W vs Van
4-3 L vs Det
3-2 W vs LA
4-1 W vs Stl

OK so here's the deal. Seven of the Stars ten wins have come against WC teams that wouldn't be in the playoffs if they started today and another one of their wins have come against a Devils team that wouldn't make the playoffs if the EC's second season started today. I'm not taking anything away from someone being able able to snuff out the lesser lights but it's not like this team's been world beaters either.

Now on to the lines and d pairings:

Jokinen-Modano-Lehtinen
Morrow-Lindros-Ribero
Stefan-Halpern-Miettinen
Hagman-Barnes-Barnaby

Sydor/Zubov
Modry/Robidas
Daley/Boucher

You've still got some Finns sprinkled in though they've lost a bit of the Lion with Niinimaa in Mtl and Kapanen in Atl. But where there's four Finns there's bound to be a great work ethic and this is still a Dallas team that feeds on your turnovers and probably more than ever early on this season with their PP nestled in the middle of the pack. Modano still has some jam left, Morrow's a mini Ryan Smyth and Lethinen and Lindros are still dangerous but their forward corps is pockmarked with a lot more elbow grease than it is illuminated by flash.

Their reaguards are both decidely unphysical and decidedly skilled. Zubov's aging just as well as Diane Lane and Sydor hasn't yet regressed to the point of being less than useful. Modry's put up at least 38 points in three of his last four seasons and Boucher's coming off a 43 point season and has seven in his first twelve games thus far. It mirrors the Preds D in it's lack of physicality with the only difference being that the Dallas D features guys who's offensive upside has been realized.

If the Oilers commit to getting pucks in deep and going hard on the forecheck then this is a D corps that should be taking less than hasty routes to the corners by the time the third period arrives. As long as Roloson The Good shows up then the Oilers should be fine.