Some Random Pre-Game Thoughts
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.