Sunday, December 31, 2006

Oilers/Flames: And I Won't Forget To Put Roses On Your Grave

The Oilers suck right now and there's no two ways about it. I could make excuses for them but at this point I'm none too interested in putting lipstick on that particular pig. I'm in a pretty piss mood today as I spend the better part of it flipping back and forth between three NFL games hoping my Titans could pull off a major playoff run comeback. It wasn't to be though, and the Broncos are currently pounding the Niners anyway so Ten most likely wasn't gonna get all the last day helped it needed, but combine that with the Oilers decision to start sucking at home and I'm not exactly in a great mood here this evening.

It was frustrating enough when the Oilers sucked on the road and were picking up the slack at home but now the Oilers are allowing goals at Rexall at an alarming rate and it brings to mind the old Harry Neale line about how his team couldn't win at home or on the road but they'd be fine as soon as they found a third venue to play in.

So all that aside it's New Year's Eve and the Oilers are heading to Calgary. I'd been looking forward to this game basically all year and really only changed my tune after the Oilers lost to the Kings at Rexall this past Thursday. I figured the Oilers and Flames would be duking it out for the NW crown and this had marquee matchup written all over it and back in the not too distant days when the Oilers were playing without both 83 and 94 some of us openly talked about holding the fort until Mick and Keith returned and then we'd be ready to return to Altamont.

Well both the Glimmer Twins have returned but the Oilers remain more Dirty Work then Exile On Main Street.

This year has been a total rollercoaster and it's only because some of us didn't give a super hard look at the Oilers roster of defensemen. I still believe that forwards drive the results but the minute the Oilers began using a 20 year old as their 4th dman at ES was the minute we should've known this season was likely to end in frustration. So you take that reality and throw in the fact that Joffrey Lupul's been a bigger bust than Cherry Pepsi and that Shawn Horcoff's sniping like Sean Pronger and here we are.

I wouldn't pick the Oilers to win in Calgary even if they were banging on all eight. This always smacked to me of a homer series and the Oilers hit Cowtown running on little more than fumes.

A win tonight would be good for the confidence and great for their divisional standing but when you've gone 12-15-2 in your last 29 games, yes I'm keeping track, one win's just a blip no matter the competition.

In the meantime, subsitute Kevin Lowe for San Diego and let's remember the unfortunate remark that once temporarily ended Ron Bergundy's San Diego broadcasting career.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Canucks/Oilers: Things Are Tough All Over

And we're back!!;)

I tried messaging with Cam today but I'd imagine he's pretty busy trying to get in all his Edmonton partying before heading back stateside to school. Had I spoken to him though, I'd imagine he'd have been able to find a pic to accompany that quote, ie it was inspired by that old SNL sketch where Jimmy Fallon played a morning radio shockjock.

LT's on the record as saying the whole mountain's falling down right now and I don't think he's far off. The offense has started to roll, 19 goals in the last 6 games even though 7 of their last 9 goals have come via special teams, but now Roloson's Sv Pct from more than the last few games resembles more of an exempliary NBA free throw shooter than it does an NHL goalie. And the defensive corps have begun to stink to the point that the Oilers are about to sit Smid tonight which speaks to the point that the Oilers are finally embracing reality instead of courting the optics of the disasterous Pronger trade.

Can things get much worse?

The awnser is yes because things are super tight in the NW Divsion and if the Oilers throw up two regulation losses tonight vs the visiting Canucks and then tomorrow night in Calgary, well we're officially looking at a freefall.

Just the other day MacT referenced the Oilers treading water and I'd say a more apt description would be the Oilers sitting alongside a pothole and gleefully watching a makeshift sailboat peruse it's murky contents.

They've been there that long.

Back on October 23rd the Oilers took their record to 6-2 by beating the visiting Yotes by a score of, well, 6-2. Since then the Oilers have gone 12-14-2 and that's a prolonged stretch of mediocrity by anyone's standards. Now the question is if they'll come out of it and if so then by who's hand. We'll refer to goals against as pitching and goals for as hitting and in baseball you'll often hear teams or fans of middling teams lamenting the ability of said squads to combine good hitting with good pitching and defense. Early on the Oilers were getting the pitching with Roloson taking the hill and inspiring confidence. On the other hand you had a whole bunch of rookies at the plate looking like they couldn't hurt curveballs combined with vets guessing wrong even when the count was in their favour.

Now we're very close to a new year turning over and all of a sudden balls are finding the gaps and finding their ways over the fence but now the fielders are dropping two hoppers and Roli's falling behind in the count to nearly every batter. There is a new hurler taking the bump tonight though as Jussi gets the start and that can only be viewed as a positive. Smid's out and Hedja's drawing back in to team with Shaggy and Winchester is out with Jacques drawing back in.

The best thing about playing in a tight division is things can change in the matter of days rather than weeks and with two regulation wins in the next 27 hours the Oilers will once again be high on the Northwest hog. But the bigger truth will be that this team has been scuffling for awhile and Rome won't be built in a day and maybe the Oilers don't have the workers in house to build it in the first place.

But we'll leave that for another time;)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Festivus One and All!

I can't believe it's Festivus already. Where did the year go?

I wish you all the best of luck in your feats of strength today. As for the airing of grievances, feel free to leave yours in the comments section.

And a very merry Christmas to the Oilogosphere's contributors. All the best to you and yours.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dwayne Hole-son

Vancouver is best known as a goalie graveyard and if you saw Demitra's goal last night in Minny you get the feeling they're always ready to build new crypts;) But while the Oilers have seen guys like Fuhr, Moog, Ranford and Cujo wear their silks, plus there's a story about how Ron Lowe was picked up late one season and did a job for them too, there also still looms large the spector of Tommy Salo.

In a time when the Oilers basically let all their big ticket items walk out the door, Salo was the guy they kept. It turned out being the wrong horse to bet on and while everyone else made comparitive peanuts, Salo was making nearly four million and when his performance tanked he took the team down with him.

I can't say that it didn't make me hate goaltenders because it did. TSN guy Bob McKenzie says they should just call the game "goalie" and while I think that might be a bit extreme I do know that while teams can win with just good goaltending, no one wins with average netminding.

The Oilers gambled on Conkkanen and cost effectiveness for the '06 season and it damn near killed them. I don't mind saying I supported the move but Conklin put the first f**k in the plan by not playing enough in the lockout season and then he got hurt early in the '06 camp and Jussi couldn't handle the ensuring workload. Meanwhile, the D crops were doing a job before Spacek showed up and the forwards were consistently outchancing the opp but the Oilers were doing little more than treading water. Enter old hand Dwayne Roloson at last year's trade deadline and the offense nearly immeadiately went as cold as a witch's titty while Roloson struggled with the rust of inactivity. For awhile things looked tough all over.

But the Oilers squeeked into the playoffs and depending on who you talk to came within an injury to Roloson and/or a G1 pinch by Jason Smith from winning their sixth mug. Along the way Roli was magnificent with rebounds being perpetually controlled, magnificent saves being occasionally made and masks being shaken off when the heat threatened to burn down his kitchen.

It looked like old times were here again early in the '07 season but disparaging eyes are now once again being cast towards the Oilers crease.

Here's a link to Roli's game by game stats from this season. I'll admit it's hard to judge a guy just by SV PCT along but at the end of the day I still believe it's the most salient of netminding statistics.

So, Roli's awesome in six his first seven starts and then he starts to go downhill come Oct 25th in Ana with the Oilers outchancing the Ducks at the Pond but Roli being simply awful. He got the next night off in Phx but Jussi was pulled and Roli came in but only to be awful again. Then he bounces back with a home blanking of the Caps but the Oilers played such a buttoned down game that most goalies could've done the same thing. Then Roli struggles in consecutive home losses to the Preds and Stars and we're looking at stretch where he was terrible in four of his last five appearences.

But then just like that Roli bounces back starting on Nov 7th in Mtl and he runs off an outstanding eight game streak that yields six straight wins and points in seven of eight games. But then it disappears again starting with Getzlaf's goal in OT on Chris Pronger night on Nov 28th and he goes into a three game slump that's broken up by two consecutive shutouts first in Van and then in Dal but since then he's fallen back again with terrible goals in losses at Chi and Col and then a flat out embarrassing home defeat to the Avs.

I questioned AsiaOil earlier in the season when he said legitimate questions could be raised about Roli's durability. Well it looks like his fears just may be founded. Roli's had just three great games in his last 10 starts and four of those starts have been simply vomit inducing. We could raise some legimate concerns about rust down the stretch in '06 and now it looks like Roli's struggling because he's being overused. He says he has a great relationship with MacT regarding playing time but maybe the coach is doing a bad job when it comes to imposing his will. Yes I know Fuhr and Martin Brodeur can handle 70 games plus a season but not a long of guys can or maybe it's the fact that not a lot of coaches try and find out.

Jussi was good his last time out in a home win vs the Canes and I thought it was ac curious move to go back to back with Roloson last Thurs and Fri vs Min and at Col respectively. And I know the longview and long plan has Roli playing the primary role but did anyone else find it odd he was allowed to start the third period last night?

I think Roloson might have a little too much power right now when it comes to determining playing time and I also believe MacT's being too passive when it comes to asserting his authority.

One thing we don't have to guess is just how ineffective Roli's been of late and now we just sit back and wait to see how long the team must suffer in order for Roli to work out his quirks.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Avs/Oilers: One more time, with(out) feeling!!!

It's times like these I hate Lou Lamoriello. Yes there's a chance the Oilers might still be facing the Avs for the 5th time in just 33 games had the NHL not adapted the new sked as pushed by Lou, but there's certainly not a great chance.

I don't mind the Oilers playing the Flames 8 times a year but that's a special case with every team having a primary rival. In fact, in some cases some of them have even more more than just a single Stanley Cup.

What was I talking about again?;)

The point is that volume of different competition has been compressed in the new NHL and it leads to games like tonight where you really have to struggle to find a reason to watch.

The season series stands at 2-2 and Tyler Aranson owns the Oilers and as frustrating as it was to watch the old loaded Avs team take points off the Oilers it's even more hair removing to watch the no-names extract their pound of flesh as well.

It looks like Patrick Thoresen's gonna get the pine tonight so that's just the second HS of 28's early career. I thought he played a really game game two matches ago vs Minny but he wasn't that effective last time out on Friday night. MacT's giving Winchester yet another shot so let's see how 26 steps to the challenge. MacTavish had a few words for Jacques today as well so it looks like 22's gonna be the next guy to get served if he doesn't buck up. I can't see 28's demotion running any longer than one game as he's got to have some capital built up given his hot early start and even though he's struggled offensively he's still managed to remain less than a goals against sinkhole like say Lupul for instance;)

Lupul's gonna spend the night with 20-19 on a grind line though reports have 15 being placed back on the first PP unit. I thought 16's line had a poor game last time out and if they struggle to create chances again tonight then we can call it a slump. If they bounce back though then we might be golden again. 71-83 had some chem right off the bat last time out and if 71 keeps getting these chances it should be only a matter of time before him and the red light become reaquainted. The 4th line has 22-78-26 and Pouliot will try to build upon his best game thus far last time out in Denver.

No word on Roy drawing in on defense so I guess that means Smid will continue to fill the role of the Albertan Sheldon Souray, read: pylon. Yes I know Souray's also a GAB but he's not playing in the province.

Tonight marks the beginning of a stretch where the Oilers play three of their next five games at home and if they don't emerge with at least seven points then I won't be a happy camper. Hemsky's back now and Smyth's on the mend and one by one the excuses are being removed.

Then again there's no accounting for how hard it is to thrive with a defense that's both Green-e AND subpar.

Did I mention Smid's probably gonna play close to 20 minutes again?

Joffrey Lupul: He hasn't dropped off the key yet but's already mentally checked out

Twas an interesting day on the Lupul newsfront, was it not? The Oilers just aren't scoring the number of goals that was basically predicted for them by everyone and someone's gotta take the brunt. I'm not being a Lupuloligist or anything but year by year it becomes more apparent that Hemsky will be hard pressed to ever score 30 goals, Horcoff couldn't throw the puck in Paris Hilton and guys like Pisani and Torres are struggling with newfound expectations.

Of course hold on to anyone who thinks I've found religon and the EIG. I'm going somewhere here and it's a land where people who aren't scoring goals get cut some slack as long as their working their asses off, coming up no worst than even in the +/- dept and/or filling lesser roles while taking home lesser pay.

Unforunately for Lupul he can use neither of those situations as a safehouse and the boobirds may be coming home to roost.

Dan Barnes weighed in today and here's the link.

To his credit, Barnes isn't soft on him and he actually approaches damning. It makes me feel good to read reporting and opinions like that and I should also mention that Barnes' work is approaching bi-polarity these days. About a week ago he wrote a piece that didn't seem to draw much interest around the blogs but it was basically a shot at the EIG just in case they're expecting a new building to be erected without them throwing in some of their considertable wealth. I was impressed given that the Journal owns a stake in the team. Then a few days later he writes about a piece about the Oilers defense, and Bergeron in general, where he states he'd take MAB over Joni Pitkanen. That was bizarre to say the absolute least. And by bizarre I mean uninformed and jaw droppingly stupid.

Now today he's back to the good Barnes where he's certainly doing less than castigating the young Mr. Lupul but he's also far from letting him off the hook and he's also throwing out a suggestion of how he can avoid being the latest young to be eaten by the constantly starting Oilers fanbase.

On the other side of town you have Robin Brownlee who's already in the IOF badbooks for a disgusting piece of local boy schillery that ran a little over a week ago. And it's the Brownlee piece that really interests me because I think it gives us the latest quote to just how unprepared Lupul was/and is when it comes to playing in Edmonton.

And the quote:

"It's harder to take your mind off it here," Lupul said.

"In Anaheim, you could go do a hundred other things and no one would bother you.

"Here, you go sit at home all day. Nor do I want to see a lot of people, especially friends and family right now. It's not a great time.

"On the other hand, it's a long season. It's only 30 games (32 played so far).

"Hopefully, I can turn it around."

There you go, 32 scant games into his Oilers career and the 23 year's old already learning how to be a hermit.

That's OK though.

We could always use another Jeff Woywitka

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Lupul And Or Smid

A simple look at impact on 5on5 results. We all know that neither of these guys has had a very positive effect on special teams yet, but I'm just looking at 5on5 for now.

The Oilers so far this season, when neither Smid nor Lupul is on the ice, pro-rated to the teams icetime:
EV+73 EV-44 (net +29)

That's damn impressive.

For a point of reference, let's look at how Anaheim has done so far this season:
EV+73 EV-53 (net +20)

Yup, that trade was a beauty alright.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Conkanen One Year Later

A year ago we were deep into the Conkanen debate - and opinions on what to do were all over the place. I started out with high hopes for Jussi and zero hope for Conklin - but by Christmas 05 even the biggest Jussi optimist had to admit he wasn't cutting it. There were a number of options open to Lowe last Christmas - and here's how the most talked about candidates are doing now - yes hindsight is a beautiful thing.

Roloson 28 games .921

Denis 20 games .878
Biron .9 games .889
Gerber 16 games .896
Theodore 19 games .903
Fernandez 26 games .906
Luongo 31 games .911

Could Lowe have made a better call for last spring or this year? Probably not. I honestly think Lowe and MacT don't really have a clue about goalies and basically just want a vet who knows what he's doing so they can leave him to his job - and no one has ever been able to explain to me how Peter Peeters helps anyone. This approach clearly didn't work last year with Conkanen and it's hopeless with the young tenders who need actual coaching (ya think?).

So with this mgmt team and number of young players this year (especially on defense) Roloson was a stellar choice. He's a no bullshit take charge guy who does his job and doesn't need his hand held. Plus he's a big game guy on top of it. Props where due - Lowe made a Grade A call here and anyone who was pimping Biron or Denis to be our savior should in the words of the immortal Denis Lemieux "feel shame".

...and just for shits and giggles that little prick Cam Ward is a stunning .893 in 24 games this season which is pretty much just as bad as he was in his first regular season (what is it with the Oilers making rookie goalies look like Johnny Bower?)

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

Here's a picture of our good friend Ladislav Smid and if the Oilers are still running this team under a meritocracy, you won't be seeing him on the ice on Tues when the Avs come to Edm to finish off the home and home series.

I dare say the last two games have shown us the worst of Smid and have provided ample illumination of the absolute folly of asking a 20 year old to average just 1:10 less TOI a game than Jason Smith, ie Smid clocks in at 18:42 and you can do the math to figure what Smith's logging.

Andrew Brunette was the latest to victimize the youngster when he "how do you do'ed" him on the Avs third goal but to be fair that's not the kind of mistakes the kid usually makes. His gaffes of choice are losing his man in defensive coverage and throwing the puck to his D partner Staios whenever there's even a hint of trouble. Note: Mikko Koivu also toe-dragged Smid on Thurs night and he took a very poor penalty as well so let's say this blurb is certainly topical.

I'm not here to throw Smid under the bus but I think we're about to see just how much of his puzzling amount of playing time is development and how much of it is optics. It hasn't happened this week but not too long ago Smid was drawing mad praise in the dailies and if you watch the games it didn't make a whole lot of sense. Yes, he's playing on a tandem that draws the second toughest min but at this point, even as a 20 year old, there's really nothing to gush about when it comes to Ladislav Smid. But it makes for a better post Pronger trade plan to play him a tonne and pimp him in the papers than it does to suggest, even softly, that he's playing way too many mintues and that help is on the way.

Then again maybe Smid gets to play through this terrible stretch because the Oilers aren't happy enough with their depth on D and in particular this might be more of an admission on their lack of confidence in Bergeron more than anything else. Because if Smid's to be shown the pine the logical move should be to move MAB into the top four and bring in one of the scrubs to fill out the third pairing with Greene. So at the end of the day maybe this is about more than just being afraid of what the public will think. But then again I remember the Oilers being confident enough in Jan Hedja to bench MAB and bring him in and he went on to average 17:48 in 8 games.

Lupul was the other piece of the Pronger puzzle and his icetime and role has begun to lessen so I can't totally say the Oilers are afraid of how it will look if the bounty of the Pronger trade fails enough enough tests that even the lemmings will notice. Because Lupul has put up failing grades all over the board and when you see him playing with Reasoner and Thoresen, well you know MacT's not happy.

The forward depth had and has been thinned with the injuries to all of Moreau, Hemsky and Smyth but one of those guys are back now and another's returning soon, so the Oilers will soon have enough options that it won't look like lunacy if they sit 15. And if they do that then I'll have less of a concern about just how concerned the Oilers are with optics.

But that's a matter to deal with right now we'll look to see how the Oil deal with the recent awful play of their 20 year old defenseman. There are always different rules for different players but that never infuriates me more than when it can be applied to players acquired in a franchise altering trade. If the Oilers can sit down Bergeron for a couple of games then I can't think of one good reason why they can't do the same with Smid.

Top 11 Prospects for December 2006

I can't even pretend this list will be as interesting, well written, or informative as LT's, but here goes in any event.

I choose to go with a top 11 instead of a top 10 to start with because I think there is a divide of sorts at that point, where the proven steps a little bit away from the unproven. Trukhno and Cogliano are exceptions to that, but I've liked enough of what I've heard and seen from the two of them to include them with the rest of this group.

(1) MA Pouliot - One of my two favorite prospects in the Oilers system (Pouliot, and Trukhno). Underrated offensively, a smart player and that can't hurt with the adjustment to the NHL. Terrific goal scorer's goal tonight.

(2) Slava Trukhno - having read Guy's top 20, I think the Oilers just lucked into this guy. He's nothing like the typical Oilers pick, he screams Sens draftee to me. I think they still don't know what they have in him. This is a guy that some had ranked in the late 1st/early 2nd of the 2005 draft, personally I think he had a better season last year than Cogliano and that's why he gets the bump. On the other hand, Cogliano's WJHC camp gets me a smidge excited, along with his recent play. Trukhno was 20th in the Q in scoring last season, 96 points in his team's 221 goals. No one on the team who played serious minutes was really close in +/-, to Trukhno's -1. F Danny Stewart was at -10, and the other players in the top 5 in scoring were -20 or worse. He had a torrid start to this season, and has recently slumped. Were there no slump I'd have him at #1.

(3) Rob Schremp - All kinds of tools, they don't seem to be translating as seamlessly as some may have hoped. Still though, 18 points thru 24 games isn't awful production given that not many are saying he's had an easy adjustment. I could make a case to have him first, and I could probably make a case to have him 6th or 7th if I were in a bad mood. Still has enormous potential.

(4) Andrew Cogliano - has recently caught fire, I think he can move to the top of this list if his offence improves over the rest of this season, and hopefully we'll see a strong WJHC from Cogliano as well. Hopefully he will turn pro this summer, but that remains to be seen. If he's truly not seeing the kind of icetime one would expect in college, maybe spending a year in Michigan next season where he'd be given more responsibility wouldn't be a bad idea. On the other hand if he looks to be pretty much ready to play at a more competitive level, there's no sense holding him back to play in college. EDM can control Cogliano's rights for a maximum of seven seasons starting 07/08, and they don't receive an extension by leaving him in college for another season. If he goes back to college next year, then EDM will only control his rights for six seasons starting 08/9. He can be #1 on this list in a month, and I hope he is, because the more good F prospects that turn into great F prospects, the merrier.

(5) JF Jacques - If he's not NHL ready, he's pretty close. The big question with him is offensive upside, but he answered some questions well last year in that regard with his AHL performance. However, there hasn't been much shown at the NHL level, and even though he's young you'd still like to see a bit more offensive awareness.

(6) Tom Gilbert - He has adapted very well to the AHL level from the sounds of things, I'm more excited about him as a prospect at this stage than I was with Greene last season. With Smid and Greene ahead of Gilbert on the depth chart Gilbert may end up getting stunted within the Oilers organization, if that is going to be the case maybe we'll see him moved sooner rather than later?

(7) Devan Dubnyk - Not much to say about him, obviously we'll need to see how he translates to the AHL, except he may not get a chance to play there this season. Give how much they had to pay in signing bonus to get this guy signed, maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to pay an AHL team some money to guarantee starts? Can they do that?

(8) Alexei Mikhnov - I would have put him higher before camp, but a couple factors hurt his prospect value. He's only 4 years from UFA, and I don't know if he can play away from the puck well enough at the NHL level. Time's ticking on Mikhnov.

(9) Taylor Chorney - At the time of the draft I was none too pleased with Chorney's selection, mainly because I haven't heard much about him and had heard more about some other players. The more I hear, the more I like with the exception of the report that he's a little bit soft. Can't wait to hear how his WJHC goes.

(10) Kyle Brodziak - the results are starting to speak for themselves, Brodziak sounds like he's having quite the season with Wilkes Barre. Not a tremendous year for Iowa last year. Since November 15th Brodziak has posted 11 pts in 12 games to go along with a +4 rating.

(11) Mathieu Roy - simply having too good a season to have him lower IMO, and he may still be too low. Same problem as Gilbert (and to a lesser extent Chorney) in that he's blocked by Smid and Greene. The Oilers might have one or two of those guys bust largely because they are blocked within the organization, only to blossom elsewhere, so perhaps moving one of them (or Greene or Smid, who knows?) might be an option in the right deal?

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Defensemen

Here are the stats for the Oilers Dmen at 5v5. Simple stuff, organized by the most common defence pairings. This does not include tonight's game.

To add some context, Smith and Tjarnqvist obviously get the lion's share of the icetime against the other teams best players, on most nights anyways. Bergeron and Greene don't see those guys much at all, especially not if the score is close.

To someone who hasn't watched the Oilers this year the odd thing here is going to be the big difference in the goals-against rates of the guys who played on the same pairings.

Sometimes our memories play tricks on us with linemates though, or at least mine does. I tend to forget stretches earlier in the season where the alignment was different, or times when a guy or two was injured. So, as a check of our memories, courtesy of the time on ice (TOI) data sheets. The amount of icetime the D played, at 5v5 only here, with each other on the ice.

By way of example, Smid has played 380 minutes of 5v5 icetime. 317 minutes of that with Staios and 38 minutes with Smith. All of this seems about right to me.

So most of Bergeron's non-Greene ice time has come with the other three real, honest to goodness, NHL calibre defensemen. Same goes for Staios, and to a lesser extent Tjarnqvist. Whereas Smith's sans Shaggy icetime totals over an hour and a half, and most of that has come with some pretty dubious partners. While Smith didn't get off to the strongest of starts, this is probably a factor as well.

My point, and I do have one: Greene and Smid really have been a matching set of boat anchors. And they are going to keep getting thrown over the side of the boat. So my advice would be to learn to appreciate improvement and to see the beauty in 'mistakes that almost worked', drinking during games should help with that.

And now, to get all B.F. Skinner on your asses, I present the The Smidgreene Drinking Game: Every time either one makes a nice play you say "They're gonna be beauties!" and down a shot. You should end up with a light buzz, no hangover the next day, and eventually you'll get a warm tingly feeling every time they handle the puck and be overwhelmed with a sense of optimism about this Oilers squad.

Oilers/Avs: Putting Up Shelves

Oh Norman Fell, you magnificent bastard.

I know the Oilers play the Wild 8 times in their last 50 games and that's something that can certainly chap the ass of even the most patient fan.

But we'll deal with that when it comes.

For now the Oilers head to Denver to face the Avalanche for the fourth time in 32 games and I hope the Oilers attitude doesn't emulate mine because I view yet another Edm/Col matchup just like Stanley Roper did when it came to having sex with his wife Helen: it's like putting up shelves and while you don't want to do it, you know it's necessary.

The killer about this series over the past couple of seasons is that Col has at times treated Rexall as it's own personal road woodshed and have layed a couple of really good beatings on the homebound Oilers, ie case in point was the 7-3 pounding late last month. This game's in Denver so that makes the last point less salient but I find it interesting that despite the fact there's been a massive turnover rosterwise the Avs can still bring a certain amount of blowout pain that we'd usually assiociate with teams emboldened by the likes of Forsberg, Drury, Lemieux, Deadmarsh, Blake etc.

There's a look at their last game and that roster shouldn't be blowing out anyone outside of maybe the Yotes and Flyers. These days the Avs are showing more and more reliance on kids like Stastny and Wolski and past life fatsos like Aarnason. Of course, Sakic's still around doing his business and Hejduk is even Hejduk some nights but their D corps can be a dog's breakfas and their netminding is always up in the air.

The Oilers are 2-0 thus far in Denver and played a great game there last time out. The first win was 4-3 early on in the sked but any impartial observer would have to state that the Avs created the vast majority of chances. But the last game was a 2-1 Oilers win where they practically tore the cover off the Avs in the metric of scoring chances for/against. So despite the fact the Oilers have been a shitty road team thus far, though I will throw in the caveat that I've liked their road performance their last seven times out and you can look that up if you wanna fight about it;) they haven't had a whole lot of trouble in Colorado.

The Oilers played a great game last night and showed enough moxie to grab their first win of the season when trailing after 40 min. 83 could be back tonight and if not tonight then most likely come Tues at Rexall against the, you guessed it, Avalanche. 94's on the mend and they're talking about him coming back possibly on the 30th vs Van and if not then on NYE in Cgy. I've said this before but if 94 misses a NYE tilt in Cgy then he might be hurt enough to miss the entire season;)

Edm just has to hang on until the cavalry comes over the hill and they have the sked to be able to weather such a games missed storm, IMO.

In the HTH section the Avs have more than a couple of Oiler killers. Sakic's running at 31-83-70, ie that's my own personal stats for goals, points and games played and if you can't figure out the assist total than that's your loss, Turgeon's 23-58-55, Brisebois may be defensive garbage but he's been killing the Oil for years to the tune of 7-24-29, Hedjuk goes at 17-37-43 and Arnason may be young but he's a quick learner, ie 7-11-14.

The Oilers always lag behind in this catergory, or at least in volume, because their guys are so young and I haven't been listing 94 because he's currently lame. 71's knows the Rocky Mountain Way, 11-25-15, Horc usually gets a little bit done, 4-18-28, and Stoll's learning as well, 5-10-15.

This game's worth checking out just for the fact that the Oilers should be looking to avenge the result of their last meeting but at the same time I'm not expecting any barns to be in jeporady either.

So we look forward to perhaps another altitudinal win and we offer the Oilers the same advice that Stanley did to his ladyfriend: Be gentle with us Helen.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wild/Oilers: Cue Enlongated Sigh

It was bad enough watching the Oilers play the Wild when Edmonton absolutely owned them. But now that the worm has offically turned and pretty much given the Oilers the finger, Minny went 6-2 vs Oil in '06 and outscored them 27-18 and ran the table at Rexall, it borders on the potentially excruiating.

It got so bad last year that the Wild even won two straight games at Rexall, Dec 26-28, and threw the Oilers into a sprial after Edm had won it's last five games and gone 7-0-3 in it's previous 10. The best of times quickly became the worst of times and the Wild did it in typical workmanlike fashion.

Of course both teams have undergone changes since then and from one December to the next the Wild have upgraded their skill quotient. Granted Gaborik has played just 7 games all season and for all the braying we've done, and I'll admit I'll continue to do so as long as the situation is applicable;) about missing both 83 and 94 at the same time you can understand that the Wild certainly could use Marian. Off-season addition and noted Oiler killer Pavel Demitra does have 18 points in 22 games but is a whopping -11.

Which brings us to the fact that the Wild live and die with their special teams and said units aren't all that effective away from Minny. In fact not only does the Wild PP have trouble scoring on the road, they've only generated the third fewest opps to boot. It's hard to score on the PP when you're always playing at ES;)

Minny's 4-9-1 on the road and the Oilers are 11-4-1 at home. It looks like a mismatch on paper and speaking of paper, err maybe, here's a look at the lineup from the last Wild game:

Wes Walz is expected to draw in and most likely for Matt Foy I'd imagine.

At the other end there are no suspected lineup changes for the Oilers tonight. Edm's been by and large a great home team and tonight MacT will be able to choose his matchups and hopefully shelter what has been an increasingly awful kids 4th line unit.

Edm's most effective Wild killer is 94 and he's obviously not gonna make this one and on the other side the Wild have a bunch of guys that love to see Edm coming. Rolston is an old school Oil dropper 13-22-22 which meant Brian Rolston was Brian Rolston against the Oilers long before he was Brian Rolston against the league. You still with me?:) New to the scene is the prematurely bald Pierre-Marc Bouchard who might not get two mintues for looking so good but he did have 12 points in last year's eight game series.

So, post you in-game complaints here, be it about the Oilers PP, the Oilers in general or just how boring the Wild still are;)

It Damn Well Isn't Lupul's Fault, I'll Tell You That!!

I know I know I know.

I promised I wouldn't let these things bother me but to write about it and hear other people vent in a similar fashion is actually quite cathartic.

There have been lots of discussion in the OBS lately about Lupul and his various roles and his overall lack of production. There's also the matter of his grandfather being one of the 718 members of the EIG and what the potential optics would be of the Oilers possibly trading one of their own, as it were, who also happens to be one of the prime pieces of the wonderful Pronger bounty.

Note: I know sarcasm translates more effectively in the spoken medium but if your computer has a sarcasm detector then I dare say I just broke it.

And while I understand you have to find stories I can't believe Brownlee broke out a pro Lupul piece today. You've got kids like MAP and JFJ who are scuffling and could be worthy of a few para, you've got the whole deal with Horc's eyes and ears which resemble something out of some lost Tolkien works and hey, isn't it time for another update on Greene living with Smith?

Just write anything other than this:

You know I can't believe we were all so bloody wrong about what the Oilers needed to do to improve their team. Some of us thought we needed two more dmen but here all along we just needed a centre who's goal in life is to feed Joffrey Lupul. And come to think of it you know, that makes perfect sense!! The Oilers are seriously thin down the middle, icing the likes of Horcoff, Stoll and Reasoner so I'm with Brownlee here: I really can't blame Lupul for not being able to snipe. And the fact that he's had only 9 shots in the last two games combined shows that he's not even getting the puck!!! I don't know why in the hell the Oilers acquired this guy if they didn't plan on making him their number one priority!!!!

End of rant. Well somewhat.

This has been a sad week for the Edm media and that's coming from a guy who literally expects zero from that crew in terms of the objective. You had Morley Scott basically admitting he's the Leni Riefenstahl of radio guys, Matheson is wasting our time fielding questions about the first fucking Zamboni and now you've got Robin Brownlee crying about how the Oilers just aren't doing enough for Lupul. And though he says it isn't a shot towards Horc he's obviously delusionals because that's exactly what it is. I'm currently railing on 10 myself but it's hardly ever for lack of effort and while Horc's goal scoring prowess can be questioned I've never thought of him as a poor playmaker and the fact that Lupul's had 9 SOG in the last two games should count for something in 10's favour.

From this end of things I think Lupul's been shanking a tonne of either gimme's or five foot shovels. Anyone else remember him muffing that open net chance on the PP with less than 5 min to go in the eventualy OTL to the Ducks? He also did the same thing in home games vs the BJ's and Canes. Or how about all the times he was on the doorstep in the last two games? It's funny we mention puck luck because Horc's suffered it in spades but I think Lupul might have a bad case of it too. Bottom line though is that he is getting his chances and that speaks towards any of his centremen being something other than Louie Debrusk-esque when it comes to their passing abilities. And of course what Brownlee never mentions who is who plays the tough min on this team and that when Lupul was shanking all these opps he wasn't doing it while playing against the cream of the NHL crop.

Of course I guess that stuff really doesn't matter now does it?

There are still a lot of stories to write on the '07 Oilers and some of them wouldn't even have to be puff pieces. That's probably not allowed in Oilerville mind you but Brownlee would've been better off writing a piece about how much JFJ misses his dog back in Quebec rather than raising the pen to defend a highly paid local who just isn't doing the job.

I'd give my left nut to cover the Oilers or any NHL team for that matter and at the end of the day I'd still have one testicle left.

That'd still be probably one more than Brownlee currently posseses.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Waiting For An Alibi: Lowe's Excuses Becoming Thin

That title's probably a bit of a misnomer as Kevin Lowe really hasn't been making any excuses for his inactivity on the trade market. And I also wanted to tie in the post with the Thin Lizzy song of the same name;)

Lowe should be making excuses though because he's working in a hockey rabid city where even the most obedient of lemming has to see that the Oilers need help. He's also seemingly buoyed by the facts that the Oilers aren't really close to the cap, the EIG is likely swimming in cash given the long '06 playoff run and all the revenue it created plus the Edm have a multitude of prospects which are more valuable then ever in the new penny wise NHL.

Yet the silence is deafening.

Everyone knew there would be days like these without both 83 and 94 in the lineup but there also been lots of days like these even with both guys making the gameday roster and that's what's disappointing. I could go on and on about the PP but it sucked before these guys were hurt. Whomever's in charge of that unit should be tarred and feathered before even being fired.

The offense overall has been close to a total bust and some guys have been pulling their weight in the absence of 94 and 83 while some guys just keep sinking like a stone.

Shawn Horcoff's going the right way towards a terrible season. I know he's playing tough min and all but offensively he's worse than shit. He has three goals and I remember the one that bounced off 10 people vs the Yotes and then there was the goal that bounced off 17 people in Van. I can't remember the other one but needless to say the guy has less finish than Paris Hilton's headboard. No I didn't think he was Mike Bossy, and neither is Lupul for that matter:D sorry I had to have a little jab, but he's blowing chance after chance.

Lupul's now playing tough min but no one can argue that he's spent the vast majority of the season playing soft min. In fact when I think about 'the' fact he started the season up with 94-10 I believe that at the time MacT was using his last change to put 18-16-34 HTH facing the other team's top line. 18 was injured at the end of G7 and by the middle of G10 in Phx the blender had come out and the 94-10-15 line was kaput. Now he started seeing tougher opp in G26 in Van so this is a somewhat rough estimate but I've got Lupul playing no more than 15 games where he was top six in terms of tough opp. The other 15 games he was being sheltered bigtime. Yet the kid has just 6 goals at ES and is -11. Everytime I see 24 being hamstrung by 5 or everytime Lupul racks up a minus it reminds me how Burke cornholed Lowe or how Lowe bent over when he should've INSISTED on Getzlaf. The day we learned who came back for Pronger was the day this franchise began to get fucked. And the following days and weeks and months since where we haven't seen any upgrade on the backend continues to doom us towards 7th or 8th place. I keep talking about Lupul because he's an interesting case. He's super young but the Oilers have already chose to "pay" him. MacT is trying to change him and he's just spinning his wheels right now. Skyora completes the current first line and he's looking pretty lost as well. He does have a lot of capital built up from earlier in the season though when him and Smyth basically were the offense.

Back to Lupul for a second and what's his future role once everyone's healthy and 83-71 reunite? He could play with them and be sheltered but I'd hope he sticks with 94-10 though that looks less likely after games like last night. I think I know what Lupul is and I suspect so does MacT and while we're all talking about how Stoll might be the one dealt for a D I'd wager that if Lowe waits until this summer than Lupul's the one to be moved.

And for all my clamouring about how the Oilers have to start developing their kids I'm sad to report this idea looks a lot better on paper than it does on the ice. The current 22-20-79 line is approaching nightmare status during road games with opposing head coaches finding ways to get one of their top two lines against them. At that point it becomes a total gongshow and though I want to like the guy it's looking more and more like JFJ needs at least another 20 games in the AHL. At this point I really don't see any reason for him to carry a stick when he's on the ice. It's not like he's doing anything productive with it. The respective plus/minus of both him and Petersen continue to plummet by the game and a hint to who might sit as soon as both 83 and 94 return might be found in the ES TOI of last night's tilt in Nsh. MAP played nearly three min more at ES then did Petersen. There's no question that Jacques will be the first guy sitting as soon as one of the injured guys draws back in. MAP is a guy strugging to find his legs but at least he shows glimpses. He's still far behind some of his draft class brethern though and I have to admit that colours my opinion of him.

On the backend the problems of yesterday are still the problems of today. The collective +/- of 21/29 has improved but Smid's coming up -6 and really shouldn't be playing more than 10 min a night. At least he shouldn't on a team that is serious about winning the division. Greene's still cutting his teeth and because the Oilers don't trust MAB enough to elevate him into top four ES TOI, you've got a situation where two guys are being sheltered and the kid Smid is being asked to shoulder a load that's too heavy.

Of course there are positives as well. All of 14-16-34 have picked their game up lately and I didn't see this coming. 16 had been taking an absolute pounding from me and some other guys regarding his play at ES but the guy's now risen to +3 and that line is banging on all eight. Torres had one of those games last night where you wouldn't trade him for the world, ie two assists and soundly besting the much bigger Weber in a spirited bout, and Pisani is certainly overpaid but he's +6 and who among us will argue that he hasn't played tough min all season? I'm hoping this line continues to give us something after the inevitable Horcoff/Smyth reunion.

We know Lowe has the patience of Job and the excuses of 1000 20 year old's so holding one's breath while waiting for a solution isn't the best course of action. MacT publicily admitted he was hoping for .500 hockey for the time being and then a flourish once everyone was healthy. The only reason why Lowe might jump is if the Flames start winning on the road. They're currently hard charging and I doubt he'd want them to start piling up serious distance points wise. Yes the Oilers lead the division currently but their lead is a mirage.

Lowe has the chips and he has the capspace and he has a divisional rival just about to overtake him. If he doesn't jump it's probably just an admittance to this year being one of those fucked up "rebuild and develop while giving the impression of competing" years that we probably knew was upon us but didn't want to admit in the afterglow of last year's elongated second season run.

In the meantime don't ask Horcoff to handle your groceries and don't loan any money to Lupul.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Oilers/Preds? MacT Awaits His Response

I just finished a 27.5 hour "sentance" without internet access and boy it was rough;) I never did get a chance to read the Sun or Journal's aftermath regarding the loss in Chicago and I know you usually don't gain much insight from the dailies but I was thinking MacT would give us something to chew on after the Oilers had lost their fourth game of the year against some of the league's more pronounced weaker sisters, ie previous losses had come at the hands of the Yotes, Blues and Jackets.

MacT didn't disappoint me as he lambasted his new first line and really ripped into Horc and Lupul.

"Lupes was getting knocked off the puck, which is happening over and over again. For a guy that size, you have to win a few battles to have success at this level."

I don't know if Lupul was ever getting a totally free ride but if he was then these comments indicate it came to an abrupt end at the 29 game mark. The kid was always looked upon to provide offense but he did get to hide in the weeds a little when both 94 and 83 were in the lineup. He was doing very little with a lot of soft minutes but those days are over for the time being with him having ascended in 94's absence. I've been heartened lately by comments from Lupul which seem to indicate that he understands what will be expected from him while he's in Oiler silks. How he responds to MacT's first overt challenge might be a hint to the kind of player he'll end being.

"Horc took a couple of penalties in a row and then started trying to make some inadvisable plays. You know, 85-foot saucer passes and forcing things through instead of just playing together, playing the game with some continuity and trying to create offence that way instead of trying to get lucky.

"When we try to get lucky offensively, we generally give up a lot. It's a certain stubbornness. A certain amount of arrogance, I guess, that you feel like you're all of a sudden going to make that type of play. They just have to get back to playing a good team game instead of trying to get lucky."

There's an interesting relationship between MacT and Horc. 10's on the record as saying he was frustrated with how he was used early in his Oilers career, ie the diehards remember it as Comrie vs Horc in terms of offensive oppurtunity and development, but he also says he eventually realized it was for his own good. MacTavish also isn't shy when it comes to heaping praise on the MSU product and it's easy to believe that he's hard on him because he knows his potential is significant.

Finally, MacT pontificated on just exactly who drives the bus and subsquently who should get thrown under it when things aren't going exactly swimmingly.

"To single out somebody in a third- or fourth-line role would be absolutely unfair. To take out somebody in the first couple of lines would be more fair but could mean less production."

I can't say I totally agree with this assessment but I'm pretty much on board with it. To whom more is given more is expected and that axiom's applied in the NHL via TOI. Guys like Reasoner see their TOI swell with PK time but they aren't the ones expected to score and most pointedly aren't the ones expected to go toe to toe with the Havlat's and Ruutuu's. Or at least they weren't on Sunday night. The only quibble I have with MacT on this point is that at this point the Oilers 4th line is a bit of a problem. It's not getting dominated or anything but I know it's getting outscored and I'd imagine it's fairing quite poorly but in terms of SC's, scoring chances, for and against and also in the metric of shots directed on net. Of course all the injuries haven't provided MacT with many other options and overall he's right that the 4th line isn't having an overly negative effect on the team's current performance.

The Preds head into this one hoping that Arnott makes a super early return from his latest injury and he's listed as questionable. Vokun's still out but Sullivan and Legward are listed as probable and here's a look at their injury depleted lineup from last Sat's loss at SJ.

I read today where Radulov might draw pine if all three of the above draw in but that would be a shock from this end give he has 8 goals in 16 games and is a +7. I'd imagine he's seeing cherry min but he's been certainly captalizing on them. Oiler killers on the Preds include Kariya, Timmonen, Legwand and Arnott.

Over on the Oilers side there are only two guys who figure to be good bets to make an appearence or two on tonight's scoresheet, Jarett Stoll has 4 goals and 8 points in 9 career games vs the Preds and Petr Sykora has 6 goals and 14 points in 17 such contests.

There's no accounting for luck and the Horcoff pass that lead to the 3-1 goal might've been monstrous and overall the discipline was sorely lacking, that being said you'd have a hard time convincing anyone the Oilers didn't have more Grade A scoring chances in their loss on Sunday night. I don't know which way Ms. Luck will swing tonight but MacT has clearly challenged his club and the anticipation regarding their response makes this game worth watching.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bits & Pieces

People with stunning memories who also read the Battle of Alberta blog might remember that in a Matt thread there a month ago I commented on Pronger's start to the season. He had a stunning +/- and I said that he must be getting it done playing tough minutes because he didn't have any events with Selanne on the ice and almost all of them with Pahlsson.

The "quality of opposition" thread below shows Pronger playing something less than brutal opposition. So I checked again. I had used #44 instead of #25 when I had checked then. Mea culpa.

In fact, at 5v5, Pronger is +12 when playing with Selanne and +1 when he isn't. Which makes a lot more intuitive sense as well.


According to the ESPN guys, who log this stuff for most teams, so far the guys who are drawing "new rules" type penalties for the Oilers:

9 Smyth
8 Pisani
8 Horcoff
5 Hemsky
5 Thoresen
4 Staios

I've arbitrarily included Holding, Holding the Stick, Hooking, Interference and Tripping here. Data courtesy of behind the net.


The Oilers had a stunning 9W - 4L record when Mick McGeough reffed a game last season. It didn't go nearly so well when Marc Joanette was one of the refs.

Those are the only two I checked. In response to Andy Grabia I wrote a tiny PHP script to check that. I've since dropped it onto the NHLcode blog that I started a long time ago and then ignored. Just cut and paste it into the body of any HTML file, save and load it from your browser ... and you can check for this, or any thing else on the gamesheet for that matter, and for any season going back at least a few.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Oilers/Hawks: Jarrett Comes Alive!!

Martin Havlat may be back, and if last night's any indication he doesn't plan on missing too many of his early season beats, and the Hawks under Denis Savard might be improved, points in all six games under his watch with three of those being victories, but the Oilers still have to feel good about their chances as they ready themselves for a Sunday night in Chicago.

I've been reading the Chi dailies the last couple of weeks, mostly skulking around in the hopes of finding a Seabrook or Keith to Edm rumor, and the general consensus seems to be things are much more positive under Savard than under Yawney. Guys like Salmo and Hamilton have seen their icetime and roles increased and they've responded in kind. Things are souring a little in the standings though as the Hawks have lost their last three games, albeit two of them in shootout's and last night's loss was in OT. This means the Oilers were resting last night waiting for Chicago while the Hawks were playing the first of two consecutive games. This also has to be considered an advantage for Edm.

I remember a few days ago Vic out of the blue asked me who I remembered as doing well against the Hawks and I said Stoll and Pisani. Turns out I was right about that as Stoll has five goals and six points in nine career games against Chi while Pisani's tallied five goals and nine points in 10 likewise games. And there's more folks. Lupul has seven goals and nine points in nine games and Skyora's an old school Hawks killer, totalling eight goals and 18 points in 20 career games against the Hawks. So lots of guys lick their chops when they see Chicago coming.

Boucher got the start last night as Khabby had flu symptoms but I'd guess those cleared up rather quick given the odour on the Wild's GWG tally from Mark Parrish..

Back to Stoll and I don't mind slamming the guy so I feel it's only fair to give him some praise too and it's probably quite topical to do so on the eve of him facing a team he usually succeeds against. Previous to the injuries to 83 and 94 Stoll had quietly become an ST specialist and really wasn't doing a lot with the soft min. Things changed when those guys went down and he's doing a fine job stepping up and he's picked up ES points in four of his last five games and he's done it against some good competition as well. He faced the Nasdin line in Van and then the Staal line vs the Canes and both teams he managed to contribute to the Oilers offensive attack.

I'm not sure what Savard will do tonight in terms of matching lines and who he'll send out to face the 10 and 16 lines. Vignault went hard at Stoll's line in Van and I don't know if that makes a lot of sense. Sure you're avoiding 71-10-15 but all three of those guys are capable of putting up points and two of them are not known for their tough min acumen. On the other hand Pisani's been playing tough min forever and Torres did it for a long stretch in last year's playoffs. I think I'd go after 10's line because there's a better chance you'll outscore them plus if you give them a softer matchup then those guys might really go off.

There's a look at last night's Hawks/Wild box and Savard had four of his 12 forwards play 9 min or less at ES. Of course there were a combined 15 PP's so that obviously skews the numbers but it looks like Havlat, Ruutuu and Sharp are the guys he's targeted to carry the mail. I'm not going out on a limb when I guess Martin never played many tough min on those old powerhouse Sens teams but this is clearly his team forwards wise.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Desjardins' Quality of Opposition Numbers

Gabe Desjardins is a guy that Lowetide keeps referencing with regard to prospect point projections. He has his own site now, and there is some good stuff just posted there as well as links to some other things he has written in the past.

There are now dozens of guys analyzing hockey out there in the blogosphere. And there is some terrific data gathering going on and a tremendous amount of effort applied to analyzing it. And unfortunately almost always some tragic leaps in logic being taken and some really mad conclusions being drawn. But to my eyes anyways, this guy can be lumped in with mudcrutch, lowetide and the IOFers as someone whose stuff pases the BFS (Basic Sense) Test. We'll all disagree on some aspects, not so much on the math side but on the 'how it applies to what really happened on the ice' side, but to my mind anyways; there is a strong thread of reason in all of it.

Gabe lists the quality of opposition level for every player in the league in a post there. I've dumped that into Excel and sorted out the Oilers stuff, this is what is shown in the pick. He doesn't explain how he does it, and his rating is a small number with no specific meaning defined. I've x100ed it and cropped off the decimal points to make it easier on the eyes, so it's a dimensionless number here. [Side note: Perry and Getzlaf play the softest minutes in the entire league by his metric]

From an Oilers point of view, it looks pretty darn rational to me. Hopefully Dennis or any other people who watch a lot of non-Oiler games, and that notice matchups, hopefully they will have a check through and see if Desjardins' stuff meshes with what they have seen.

Also Desjardins has lists of the guys who draw penalties from the opposition for 28 of the teams, I have no idea where he got that stuff but it's really interesting and it matters.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Oilers/Stars: Wars Now Waged On Different Battlegrounds

We all know the Oilers are hurting but Dallas is fulling up their own MASH unit as well. Morrow and Miettinen are out for sure, Lindros is doubtful and Modano is questionable. The latter doesn't seem to skewer the Oilers, or anyone for that matter, like he once did but playing an Oilers/Stars game without him just doesn't seem right. It's just a symptom of change though and lots of things are different when the Stars and Oilers clash these days. The Stars are 19-3-2 in home games vs the Oil but Edm's won a game in Dallas in each of the last two seasons so while the worm hasn't totally turned it is doing more than just lightly stirring.

If all of above mentioned miss tonight's games than where will the Dallas offense come from? I know a quick check reveals A: it looks like a pot calling deal given that the Oil will be missing Smyth and Hemsky and B: both clubs have 78 GF with Dal having played just one additional game but, unless you're a Flames fan, most fans would look at the Oilers roster and still wager that some guys are due to break out given past performance and age. I don't know if you can say the same thing about some of the forwards the Stars are icing.

Here's a look at their lineup from their last game vs the Yotes:

Tippett leaned quite heavily on eight forwards in that one and some of those lumanaries included Stefan, Halpern and Barnes. Given that the Oilers are once again preaching the "keeping the shots to the outside" mantra and that Dallas are doing the same and Marty Turco's in the midst of a shutout streak, I think it's a good bet to take the under on a Sports Select ticket.

I think we'll see the same stuff from MacT with 10 and 16 carrying the mail, and in that order, and then the hope that the new old 19 troika grabs us some momentum and maybe even chips in a goal. MacT was a giving a little "away from the puck" praise to 15 today and him and 71 playing tough wing min is one of the most interesting sidebars happening in Oilerville today. The shelter has always been removed from 16 and so far everyone's pulling their weight.

I'm not seeing or expecting much from the 4th line because Petersen's offensive abilities have disappeared, Pouliot hasn't looked consistently great,and there's not much chance given the timbre of his linemates, and JFJ could probably run through the side of a house but if he has any puck skills whatsoever it hasn't been apparent early on.

On the backend it will be worth watching to see if Greene can follow up on a good game and if the 21/29 re-emergence continues unabated.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Enigmatic Mr. Laraque

I check on the Phoenix box scores every now and again, just keeping tabs on Georges and a few other Coyote players out of curiousity. It's an interesting team they've assembled.

Anyhow, Georges has always been a unique player and person. And he always has had stretches of tremendously effective play, not very glamourous but when your team has the puck as much as George's team does when he's on one of his rolls, you end up with gaudy +/- numbers at evens. And of course stretches of just terrible play when he looks lost out there.

Anyhow, before Georges got his first goal and point of the season vs the Oilers back on October 26th, he was EV+0 and EV-5. I remember Dennis had noticed him inexplicably playing tough minutes and mudcrutch put up some snippets of shift charts to drive the point home. He was starting to get some bad press as well.

Since that time he is EV+12 and EV-2 including a pointless game where he went -1 last night. In that stretch he has a whopping 11 points at 5v5, plus another 3 on the power play. Yowza! I mean Ovechkin has 12 5v5 points in the same stretch, but with a helluva lot more icetime.

Not getting total cherry minutes or anything either by the looks of it. He played typical 4th liner minutes against the Oilers by my memory, but not usually in other games.

Just checked the icetime against Kariya (with Legwand and Erat now as Arnott is out) vs Nashville the other night. If the shiftcharts are right then he had a respectable 4.6 minutes of head to head time, trailing only Doan and Sjostrom amongst wingers, a mile behind Michalek at 11.3 minutes, but a mile ahead of Jovo (0.3), Gratton (0.0) and Roenick(0.1). And well clear of Scatchard, Morris, Nolan and a few others as well.

He NEVER played that kind of icetime for MacTavish. Look at a list of the guys who were on the ice for Georges +s and -s as an Oiler and it's mostly a list of guys that only hardcore fans have even heard of. But in PHX I've noticed Lang and Tkachuk on that list, last night against Dallas' decimated lineup his minus came against Ribiero and Lehtinen. Strange stuff indeed. And good for Georges. He's an enigma, most hockey players are very nearly exactly as 'streaky' as a slots player would be expected to be. Laraque is an exception, madass stuff. And if history has taught me properly then he'll implode soon enough, which is a shame.

Also: Georges has been playing with Zigomanis as his C. Good player if he's the guy I'm thinking of, a smallish guy with big hair who is very hard on the puck.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Canes/Oilers: Memories Are Made Of This

Allow me to wax nostaglic here for a few moments and later on I'll post the Canes lines and D pairings as they appeared last night when Carolina played the 1996 Florida Panthers;)

I know that Mc79 is pretty charged up about this game and he thinks the Oilers will follow suit. Personally I'd rather not see the Canes all season because it brings up a lot of bad memories.

It would be much healthier to remember the good times like Winchester giving this team a huge spark in Det and Horcoff risking life and limb to block a potential game tying shot from Lidstrom. Not to mention the G6 comeback where we ended Yzerman's career. I'd suspect not a lot of people took as much pleasure out of that as I did but then again maybe not everyone was as sick as I was of watching him complain over every fucking call.

But that's for another time;)

When I see the Canes unis the very first thing I always think about is back to G1 last year when Pronger scored on the penalty shot. What could possibly go wrong at that point? The Oilers were holding the edge in the play and Big #44 had just begun to put the finishing touches on his Conn Smythe performance. Imagine the way that would've played out over the years? Stories like "Pronger was so good that season they even picked him to take a penalty shot and of course he scored and in the process made Cam Ward look like Cam Cole" would've rested right alongside "then Messier knocked out Savard and took over the series" on the less than dusty shelf that houses the tales that serve to legitimize fandom. In fact when Pronger was going back to the bench to recieve his congrats I thought about a team that looked destined to win it's ninth playoff game in it's last ten chances and I let myself just for a second wonder how Ryan Smyth would react when he lifted the Cup.

But then Jason Smith inexplicably pinched with the Oilers already up 3-0 and less than 5 min to go in a period and Laddgeron combined to bowl over Roli and Conkknanen reared it's medicore head. The next game saw a rusty Jussi accompany a dejected Oilers squad and the series was essentially over.

So no matter what happens tonight it won't make me feel one little bit better about what ultimately happened last June.

On to tonight and here's who the Canes iced in their last game:


Certainly nothing to write about him but neither was last year's Canes D corps though this one is admittedly lesser given it's without Ward, Kaberle and Wallin.


So basically two lines to match against and that means Horc and Stoll take on BA-Staal and the Oilers hope they win because of their PP or because their bottom six can chip in a goal or two though those hopes are somewhat lessened give who the Oil currently ice in ES positions 7-12.

Roli was great last time out and his rebound control was impeccible but for those who think he's past a slump that started last Tues in OT vs Ana and continued for the next two games I'd throw out this caution. The last time he slumped he had two terrible outings in a row only to shutout the Caps before falling back again for another two games.

Oilers vs Hurricanes

A quick preview.

The Forward Lines:

PK tandems:

Defence pairings

As long as the score is close Laviolette likes to roll the top two lines together, I'd expect him to start the game with Brind'Amour with a short shift and then Staal. So MacTavish probably guns for Rod's line with Horcoff, and if he misses he'll hit Staal's trio. Iginla played 17 even strength shifts last night, 16 of them against Staal's or Brind'Amour's lines. I expect to see the same sort of splits with Horcoff in this one unless the score gets out of hand one way or the other.

Gleason ate up a bunch of tough minutes last night, 9.1 minutes at evens vs Iginla. That's usually Hedican's gig, but he had soft minutes and hardly any PK time in that one, played a bunch on the PP though. I'd guess that he's playing hurt.

I'd guess that Huddy will try and get the Smith pairing against the Brind'Amour and the Staios tandem against Staal. Shouldn't be too hard for Huddy to manage that on home ice, at least not if Laviolette goes with mostly three forward lines. Having said that, though the Canes didn't play their 4th line much at all last night, tonight they will probably have to in this the second of back to back games.

Some line will be run out after Horcoff for the most part and catch a bunch of one of the top two Carolina forward lines. Assuming that 71-10-15 stay together, I'd like to see 14-19-34 for that job, but going by the Vancouver game Stoll seems likely to get that job again. We'll see.

With Smyth, Hemsky and Moreau all out I don't know if the Oilers have the depth to beat up the Hurricane's bottom six forwards. And the Oilers rollover line in this game (the one that will probably be facing Staal) ... I can't make myself believe in them, as much as I want to. Still, Carolina should be tired, and according to namflashback playing soft, I like the Oilers chances in this one.

John Short On The Sather Blackball

For those that don't know, John Short has been an excellent sports journalist in Edmonton since Christ wore short pants. Apparently he's hanging up the mic, I caught a bit of Gregor's show on The Team last night and John Short was his guest for the whole thing, a tribute show I guess.

Short always had a complete hate on for Glen Sather, and I had never known why, until I heard this story. Apparently many years ago an agent informed Short of Sather's salary, and it was ringing in at a bit over $2 million. This was at a time when most GMs were making a fraction of that. A handful of highly paid guys like Bobby Clarke and Neil Smith were apparently earning around a million, and then a sharp drop to the pack. This was also a time when the Oilers were constantly pleading poverty, playing hardball with players at contract time (albeit unsuccessfully), and Sather was forever championing himself as the savior of small market NHL hockey.

So Short checked with the Oilers for confirmation, he received neither confirmation nor a denial, he DID receive a threat from Sather that if he printed the story that he would never have an interview with him again. Or any of the Edmonton players or coaches for that matter. He would be blackballed.

I just hate this shit. At least we know where Gretzky learned his tactics though.

Short mentioned something along the lines of not everyone obeying the blackball order. Does anyone remember any Short player interviews from the Sather era? Which players or coaches crossed the line to speak with Short on the record?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Oilers at Canucks: Who's Lines Are These Anyways?

Here's a look at who TSN says will take the ice for the Oilers tonight and who they'll line up with:

10 has two new guys on his wing and he just started playing with 71 in the last game though he did start the season 15. 15-71 had a few games together early in the season as well. I'm really not sure about this one though because 10 has always anchored MacT's shutdown line but who really wants to see these guys go up against Nasdin?

19's back together with 26-28 and we can remember those guys being the Oilers best during the latter part of the Oilers first Eastern roadtrip and then doing some nice work in their first game back at Rexall. I think this sorta wastes Reasoner's ability to deal with tough matchups but then again the Canucks only have one line so lineup construction and matchup scnarios aren't as concerning as it would be if you were playing in SJ or Ana.

14-16 are back together and Pisani's with them as well. I think the last time these guys all played together was the 6-2 loss in Ana when they clicked for a goal and had a few other chances to boot. 14-16 have played together in a quite a few games and I remember Pisani being one of those guys who auditioned on their right side last year along with guys like Winchester and Dvorak. I don't think it worked out all that great back then and I can't imagine these guys being able to handle tough min now. They're gonna be high event and let's hope the pendeulum's at least swinging both ways.

22-20-78 are together on a line that really does absolutely nothing towards discovering the potential depths of Pouliot's offensive upside. The way they're using MAP is already frustrating and I can just imagine how I'll feel once they start really busting down his icetime or benching him alltogether before he's "not getting anything done." I don't think the guy's Wayne Gretzky but the last two games have seen him saddled with linemates more suited for Wayne Van Dorp.

You can see that Mihknov's out and I really don't understand why they called him up to sit. He's a guy trying to find his offensive legs in North America and somehow the Oilers feel he's better off practicing in the NHL then actually playing in the AHL. And this doesn't come from a guy who think's AM's the awnser to any of the Oilers problems and that he'd be able to chip in with a few points. I'd just as soon let him catch fire in the AHL and in his stead bring in a guy like Kyle Brodziak who's development is likely stunted by some NHL pressbox time and would be better suited to the role that Mikhnov will be asked to play whenever he does draws in.

Tonight's game will be like watching an exhibition games except some unfortunate people will have to listen to Jim Hughson call it. The Canucks outworked and outchanced the Oilers early in the season when Edmonton wasn't dressing half the AHL and now Lowe's Boys head into Van with less than a full squad and far from a barrel of confidence.

I see some guys who's opinions I value have started to fear the Dys because they believe that some of their offensive guys are immersed in slumps way past due and are about to break out. I can get down with that a little bit but I also think they're just icing a tonne of fellows who have less finish than Wilt Chamberlain's headboard.

They probably have enough to take down the Oilers tonight though. Edm's auditioning new lines and new players and I doubt the accompanying performance will draw winning reviews.

Deja Vu

Today's quotes from the Edmonton dailies are awfully familiar to Oiler fans.

From the Journal:
"GM Kevin Lowe has made astute deals in his time, and could find a way to fetch a Dan Boyle, a Joni Pitkanen, a Brad Stuart or a reasonable facsimile thereof sooner than later.

But the timing is brutal, with the Oilers severely banged-up, slumping and therefore vulnerable to having to overpay for the puck-moving defenceman they so obviously need."

If you were an Oiler fan as recently as one year ago you remember their awful 7 game losing streak last fall and the doom-and-gloom that surrounded it. Igor Ulanov and Cory Cross were getting burned by RW's, LW's, and Centers; Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen were sharing a (just about) league-worst Sv.%; etc; etc.

The unfortunate thing about the situation was that though the problems were obvious to everyone, Edmonton was in a "position of weakness" to make the right deal. The Oilers brass as well as the press repeated often that the vultures were circling and Edmonton would need to overpay to get the pieces required.

As we all know, the Oilers leveled out to a more acceptable regular season mediocrety and were able to pick up some key pieces of their successful playoff roster as the year went on. A situation that could have easily ended with a fired coach, disappointed fans and poor owners became a successful model because it ended well. Not only that but some additional forgiveness was in order because as the season started it would have been difficult to predict just how poor the goaltenders were going to be or how obsolete Crossanov would become.

This season the Oilers have taken a very different path to get to the exact same place. Everybody following this team has known that the Oilers need a defenseman (or two, please!) to be a truly solid hockey club. Despite the club's modest success up until the quarter pole the holes were still obviously gaping, yet here we are again talking about a position of weakness and how difficult it will be to make personnel changes on the back end.

From here on out Edmonton will slump (or they won't), their roster will get healthy (or it won't), and they will recover and play well as the season progresses (or they won't). None of this changes the obvious MO.

Unless... this will become a rebuilding season?

Just looking at all the youth that will be floundering about tonight in Vancouver gives you the idea that the opportunity is there. If we ignore Dwayne Roloson and focus instead on Ales Hemsky's contract then Edmonton has a very obvious new long term plan. While I don't expect this to be the case, I personally don't care if this season is sacrificed for future success.

All this said, you can't have your cake and eat it too - buy a big truck if you want to haul loads and a sportscar if speed is your thing but to hell with SUV's that can't do either quite well enough. Kevin Lowe's actions over the next month will be just as interesting a story as the Oilers' reaction to their newfound position of weakness.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Alexei Mihknov Recalled: Oilers Throw A Curveball, Bring Up A Guy Who Likely Can't Hit One

Everytime I use a baseball analogy I feel like I owe LT money;) but it's funny how most of these comparisons work.

On to the news and today the Oilers officially placed Smyth on IR and in his stead will be the enigma that is Alexei Mihknov.

Big #8 has gone 3-10-13, that's my own personal shorthand for goals, assists and games played, in his AHL travails but has come on as of late. I don't have access to AHL TOI but I try and read the WBS dailies as much as I can and I know that a couple of games back the head coach had him replace Schremp as the guy who was working the PP halfboards.

Speaking of Schremp, don't you think he's a guy that's choked today? In the last week he's seen the Oilers encounter a rash of injuries and fellow Baby Pens MAP, JFJ and now Mihknov get the call to the big club. Meanwhile RS is caught in a slump and his coach has been decreasing his icetime.

Back to the AM callup and I'm super surprised that Kyle Brodziak isn't the one making the trek north. Alexei's a kid who isn't going to help you unless he's scoring and he might have played a few seasons against men in the RSL but heretofore he hasn't been tearing up a league comprised of boys and men. The bras should already be trying to figure out how to unlock the offensive potential of a kid like MAP not to mention also trying to find icetime and a role for JFJ and now here comes another guy who needs to be sheltered.

The only reason I can see AM getting the call is because he's a UFA at season's end and the Oilers only have a few more months to make a decision whether he's in their longterm plans. That being said he's unlikely to being able to help them in the shorterm and now we're looking a roster with a helluva lot of guys that you can't set your watch too.

About the only positives to come out of the arrival of all the new kids is the string of rookie dinners likely to follow;)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Oilers Trade Rumors On Sportsnet's Hockeycentral

Just thought I'd throw this up here as I heard it while I was banging out the whole Stoll/MAP joint.

Ray Ferraro is a HC panel member and Millard began the Oilers talk when he previewed tonight's game and focused on MacT's comment about how Roli was basically carrying this team. Ferraro said he fully expects the Oilers to pick up a D before the holiday trading freeze and then Kypreos chimed in.

Nick's a bit of an idiot but there's no doubt the guy's connected and he went on to say that Lowe's recently made a call to Phoenix and and that he's extremely interested in Nick Boynton. Ferraro didn't say this in the conversation about the Yotes but he did offer that in general Torres is the guy who could be sacrificed for the betterment of the defense. Millard ended the segment by saying he's hearing that Brewer might be coming back.

So what do we make of this? Boynton's making 2.95 mill and he'll be making that in the '08 and '09 seasons as well. The Oilers are at 39 mill and that's a self imposed cap of course so they can certainly afford Nick. It wouldn't make much sense from the longview to trade Torres for Boynton and it would make a lot more sense to deal Stoll from a finanical standpoint. We know the Oilers need a younger guy who's affordable for awhile and Boynton's not making crazy money but I still can't see this deal being made unless the owners are getting ready to get closer to the cap.

Brewer's making 2.014 and will be UFA at season's end and I have no idea what the Blues would be looking for in return and would the Oilers want to bring Eric back into the fold longterm? Maybe he'll just be a rental.

I was very surprised to hear that Torres would the guy being dangled given what he's making. Then again maybe the owners have decided to spend some of their '06 playoff money in an attempt to make '07 playoff money and that's why they wouldn't balk at picking up Boynton.

How they could afford both Boynton and Smyth in '08 is a matter for another time. But for now it looks like Lowe's kicking some tires and that can be seen as nothing but positive.

Colu vs Edm: Stool Pigeon Or Help Me Help You Help Me Outta Town

The Oil are taking on the BJ's tonight and the newly minted 71-16-78 line from Thurs will be my primary focus for more than a few reasons. Reasons like how 71 will cope without 83 and how 16 will mesh, if at all, with these two guys. Neither of these guys have played together and chemistry can be a funny thing. For example right now 14 and 19 have shown a nice understanding of each other's abilities in the offensive zone and for my money that's the first time they've ever played together. The same can be said for Stoll and his two latest wingers so let's see how it all turns out.

I'm still trying to get a feel for what we can expect out of Pouliot and Thursday night shouldn't be used as much of an indicator. I didn't think he played too poorly and he absolutely flattened Liles on his first shift and it was odd because it was almost like it didn't happen. Kevin Quinn totally missed it and the crowd hardly even acknowleded it and I decided to mention it because it seems like there's at least some element of physicality in 78's game and while I don't expect everyone to be Ethan Moreau I don't like it when guys are Alex Selivanov either. There's a lot of expectations on the kid because of the timbre of his draft class and especially with the early success of both Parise and Getzlaf. I don't think I'm the only one who'll forever link his progress with their's or at least until we see just what can kind niche he carves, if at all, at the NHL level. It's always hard to predict the success of rookies unless they're "won't miss" guys like Crosby and Ovie and we all know that won't be MAP's fate. He did look comfortable in the offensive zone though and there was a play where he failed to get his shot off coming off the left sideboards and he looked more pissed about it then anything so that shows he has confidence and that goes a long way.

Stoll's been the latest guy to get kicked around in the blogs because A: we've grown tired of giving it to Lupul and it's almost like he's wearing us down already with his indifference;) and B: 16's quickly becoming a guy that's only worth talking about in terms of special teams and faceoff ability and every soft min ES shift he wastes makes us wonder just why the Oilers are paying him so much in the first place. Not to mention that the Oilers defense is in dire straits and would be even if Staios and Bergeron were 100% healthy and someone off the current roster will have to be dealt when Lowe finally decides to address it. MacT went and added some more fuel to the '"why are we paying Jarrett this much much money'" fire when he mentioned that they need more from him at ES. The Oilers are deep at both centre and RW and those areas will most likely be subtracted from in order to add to the defense corps. Fans have begun kicking around the idea that if MAP can gell with Skyora or anyone for that matter and give us some more offense at the pivot position than it would only make sense to deal away Stoll. Combine that with 94 looking for a new pact and 16 making over 2 mill and it it makes a lot of sense to dangle Stoll for a D that will be here past this season and will also be affordable. Reasoner's a guy who MacT trusts with tough minutes so I can envision a scnario where Horc and Reasoner get the tough matchups and MAP tries to make his paper with first Skyora and then Hemsky when Ales comes off IR.

Thursday night began a scnario with both MAP and Stoll getting the cherry mintues and if the latter gets hot and the former has something to do with it then it could be the end of Stoll as an Oiler.

I think the way to know what the Oilers biggest problems are is they're always the ones you never read about. MacT's been talking about how good the tending is in '07 and how it was a huge problem last year. Of course we all knew that but you didn't read it in the papers until Roli was acquired and the Oilers began pontificating about what was expected from the new guy and what was lacking with the old guys. The Oilers are betting that forwards drive the results but there's not a lot of guys anywhere who can consistently take the puck from behind their own goal and carry in through all three zones. Lowe's trying to wait as long as he can before making a move and some folks over at HF are drinking Matty's Kool Aid and are getting Smid ready for a future Norris;) but when the GM jumps he's gotta make sure he's bringing in a guy who can be here for awhile.

Stoll could go a long way towards bringing that kind of guy here and a good early start by MAP could facilitate such a move.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Jean-Francois Jacques Called Up To Go In

Maybe I'm the last guy to get on this, ie I just spoke to Riv about it and he was all over it, but my latest thing is listening to all the goodies in the audio section of the Oilers official site. The gameday report is like hearing tomorrow's news today and they also post the postgame comments as well.

So I checked out MacT's Friday musings and he mentioned that JFJ has been recalled and he specifically said that he's been called up to see action. So the next question is who'll find their way to the pressbox and from the rest of the scrum we can figured that it will be either Winchester or Petersen.

BTW, here's how the forward lines finished on Thurs night:


That third troika was interesting as it's the first time we've seen 16 and 71 pair up at ES and today MacT mentioned how they scored late in the game and how they'd be kept together in the near future. He also fielded a question about how 28's really slowed down lately and the coach responded that he's going to find a way to increase his icetime because he thinks that's the problem. So using deductive reasoning we can imagine that it will be either 20 or 26 who come out for Jacques.

The Oilers talked about being passive on the physical front in their last couple of games and JFJ should able to pick up some of that slack. But looking at the first three lines listed above it's hard to imagine he'll crack the top nine. It is a start for the kid though and let's hope he makes the best of it.

There might be too much room at the Oilers inn for him to start making a real name for himself but if he plays well enough he might be the bait for some kind of help for the Oilers on the backend.