Jackets/Oilers: Baby if you ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me...
It something we never wanted to see again, though I don't mind admitting that I thought a Conklin/Markkanen tandem could do the job for the Oilers in '06, but tonight at Rexall the old gruesome two square off in opposite ends of the ice while the Oilers incumbant creaseman, Roloson, sits on the bench wondering why his game's fallen to the wayside. For Jussi it's his second start in a row and that's noteable for a guy who only had four starts in the Oilers first 49 games. In fact, giving Jussi two games in a row would be akin to Juan Bell taking over for Cal Ripken Jr when the '89 Orioles went on their annual West Coast swing.
At the other end of the sheet we get re-acquainted with our old friend Ty Conklin who's been pressed into duty in the Jackets nets thanks to a blizzard of injuries to their netminders. To his credit he has responded with a great relief effort to close out a win against the Wild and just last night he posted a SO win in Vancouver.
As I said I supported Lowe's net-sharing plan back in '06. Conklin had played great down the stretch in '04 and Jussi had give us a couple of good efforts once he was rescued from a then hapless Rangers club. Plus, Jussi had gone to Russian and the RSL for the lockout '05 campaign and had done an excellent job. But Jussi never warmed to an expanded NHL workload and Conklin was shagged right off the bat with an injury incurred during training camp and in hindsight it looks like he didn't take great care of himself over the lockout and in deciding not to play that season seemed to indicate that he had a job waiting for him and he knew it. The initial hope was that both guys would spur each other to that point that one guy would take the ball and run with it but what eventually happened was Oilers forwards, defenseman and fans alike assuming the position of Charlie Brown and running to kick ball while the Oilers netminding Lucy tandem jerked it away every time we all got close.
Lowe eventually acquired Roli and we all rolled though a long playoff run and the days of an obvious need not being addressed for three quarters of a season was shelved just like that old Bobby McFerrin CD.
Until now of course because even though some would read into Jussi playing back-to-back games as a sign that MacT's lost faith in Roli, I look at it as the coach's way of admitting that Roloson's workload has been too heavy and that with a seven game Eastern road swing in near view it makes sense to have both goalies at the ready.
As much as Roli's struggled for the last little while it's still hard to pin a whole lot of the current malaise on his decidedly slight shoulders. There's a new sheriff in town in '07 regarding an obvious hole in the Oilers game and it's their lack of defensemen. It's the first and foremost reason why the Oilers are about to play their first must win game of the year in Colorado on Saturday afternoon, it will take place with the season being at the tender age of game 53.
There's been a lot of praise for a guy like Dan Hejda, shoutout to my man Roget Millions, as per Jim Peplinski, and yeah it looks like he should've been playing all season playing over the Olsen Twins, aka Greene and Smid. And while the older Czech has done a decent to good job after having been suddenly parachuted into the Oilers defensive top four, the truth is he's yet another guy who struggles to make a fine first pass. So when he's paired with Jason Smith you have a guy earning his stripes, with very few of them coming because he has offensive upside, playing alongside a guy, who while still carrying value as a tough as nails defensive defenseman, is probably only two years removed from leading the league in icings.
The Oilers need some offensive blood in their D corps and it doesn't have to be an Orr or Coffey who can rush the puck on a whim. In fact I'd wager you'd see a damn fine increase in GF and decrease in GA just by adding a guy that makes sure the puck doesn't spend as much time in the Oilers end. Over on LT's blog the other day I had a post ready where I talked about how MacT got the Horc line a favourable matchup against the Sharks on Friday night only to see the line's offensive potential hamstrung by the fact that playing behind them was the pairing of Smid/Greene. The kids spent the whole shift trying to clear the puck and by the time that was done the Horc line didn't have the juice to get into the offensive zone. This kind of thing has happened all season and it doesn't take a Buckeye Newshawk award winner, see I brought it back to the WKRP crew;), to know this won't change as long as Lowe continues to employ the current dcorps and even if Shaggy's return was on the near horizon things wouldn't be looking exponentially brighter.
Anticipating;) a Jussi/Conklin faceoff tonight reminds us of the last time Lowe could see a pox upon his team but took his sweet time before acquiring the antidote. I view Jim Matheson reportings as the newsworthy equivalent of a booty call, ie I only consider his musings attractive when it suits me;) and in today's Journal he hits the Brad Stuart to Edm rumors pretty much head on. It looks like the B's want Torres in exchange and if you've read the Boston dailies they're obsessed with the idea of an energy forward. It sorta reminds me of when the edm writers wanted Tyson Nash as a shit disturber except to my knowledge Torres didn't appear in any Boston Pizza commericals with Kevin Lowe while he was a kid. Staying on message, would I support Torres plus for a Stuart rental? Absolutely not but if we can get Stuart signed then I'm dangling Torres and I'm not even thinking twice about it.
As much as I loved Raffi's knockout punch ability last spring, I think there's something to be said for all the guys who wondered if his goal scoring wasn't as much a product of luck as it was anything else. I will say he use to score some weird goals but he's a young kid and I figured he just had the knack. In looking at this season though he's not even getting scoring chances let alone goals so it looks like he's lost his way as much as Lupul has. The difference is that Raffi's remained a plus while playing tough mintues and that certainly counts for something. But he doesn't kill penalties and he's shown no reason to be given PP time so what exactly is his value?
As much as you'd like to acquire roster players for fringe players there's also something to be said for the fact that the Oilers defense corps in '08 stands to be just as green, or green-e as it were, inept and ultimately frustrating as it is this season. Hejda looks like a keeper and hopefully they'll bring him back but his skillset is limited. Staios is good dman and so is Jason Smith, though the latter's abilites don't include moving the puck, and Smid and Greene will still be super young and super inexperienced. This isn't even mentioning Bergeron who's cheap and does a good job in his role but doesn't posess the poise to rise above it.
Kevin Lowe needs a defenseman, or most likely defensemen, so that his team doesn't miss the playoffs for the third time in it's last six seasons. And he also needs these guys so that we're not in the same predicament come '08 as well. For that to happen he'll have to give something to get something and that also means Stuart will need to be signed before the deal with Boston's completed. Hopefully that's what's holding everything up because you can't help but look at today's standings and tonight's netminding matchup and think back to last year's debacle. Now the question is if and when Lowe moves, has he waited too long and is there any chance he'll end up looking as astute as he did last winter.