I have been thinking a lot these playoffs about what the successful teams are doing and in what areas these teams are outperforming the Oilers. As a team that is no longer a have-not, I don’t see the Oilers building the Penguins route. For me, again and again it comes down to what Detroit is doing. Yesterday, I spent quite a lot of time going through and the pre/post game interviews on the RedWings website and I found some very interesting quotes from Mike Babcock as well as Nik Lidstrom. It really revealed a lot to me and my overall assessment was fairly encouraging about the direction the Oilers are heading.
Reporter: "Is it a luxury as a coach to be able to get your best players out in any situation cause some guys have to, if teams are taking penalties, they can’t get their best forwards in the game. How much of a luxury is that for a coach?"
Babcock: "I guess it’s a luxury but I guess you put them out there in those situations over and over again until they do it right. You don’t let them off the hook and you make them check their best players. We went through the process a couple years ago we'd alternate who match up against the other team’s best, Pavel would match up, Z would match up and then Draper would match up and we'd go night to night. We'd give them the hardest matchup. Because in our opinion we feel that’s just what you have to do. We do the same now with Fillipula and with Franzen. We think your best players gotta play both ways, that’s the philosophy we have and then I guess you get lucky and they can do it. My point being is when your the coach and you gotta hide your best players when you gotta avoid matchups they don’t get on the ice enough, they get frustrated and sometimes your telling them they aren’t good enough to play in those situations. To me that doesn’t lead to winning in the end.
You look at a guy like Steve Yzerman. Did he become a more complete player when he played. Obviously. And when you go through some of the best players in the league, thats what happened. When I came here Pavel Datsyuk was a star, he could still stick handle in a phone both. Now he's just more dominant. All over the ice. He didnt use to penalty kill - now he's a dominant penalty killer. He's a dominant face-off guy. He is great in the first minute of the game and great in the last minute of the game. Up down whatever. He's evolved now I think that’s part of the expectation thats put on him here. Thats part of being a red win.”
Observation: Ales Hemsky needs to start killing penalties. Plain and simple. Oilers can’t affort to have Hemsky sitting 6-8 minutes in a row because of penalty problems. He needs to dominate in more areas of the game like Datsyuk does.
“Zetterberg has always been a great defensive player but he never shot the puck. Now he shoots the puck more anyone in the league (well not a quite as much as Ovechkin) so he scores all the time. And then the other thing that happens is you earn the right to feel confident. No coach gives you that. Your parents don’t. You earn that by having success over and over again. What happens is Fillipula starts trying to do the same things you do and Franzen starts doing it and it’s just kinda contagious.”
Observation: When I first thought about how Zetterberg didn’t shoot when he came into the NHL I again immediately thought about Hemsky and how he actually did start shooting the puck more this year. But after I thought about it, I began to think Horcoff starting to shoot more last year was more along the lines of Zetterberg’s development (always a good defensive player). Last year Horcoff emerged in my mind as a legitimate number #1 center because he started to shoot the puck. Something clicked inside him that made him want to shoot.
Observation: Make Horcoff captain. He is our workhorse leader, with and without the puck on and off this ice but more importantly he is our (second) best player. You want Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson and Brodziak watching how Horcoff works, how he plays. He is the guy you want players learning from. For all Ethan Morreau does, working his ass off and fighting tougher guys, I’d be ok if I never lived to see Sam Gagner fight Ryan Kesler again.
“When you have a pro like Nik Lidstrom who sets the tone, it doesn’t mean your gonna have success every game or year but it means you just keep knocking on the door and you have a chance."
Observation: He is such a deuschebag but man do I miss Chris Pronger. That statement above is so true. IMO the value of an elite defenseman is higher than that of an elite forward. Calgary doesn’t seem to be contending with a decent lineup and Jarome Iginla but Lidstrom has kept Detroit an elite team between Yzerman/Federov and Datsyuk/Zetterberg. With the loss of Pronger, our last 2 seasons come as no real surprise to me. As for next year, the Oilers D is much improved but is still lacking a top-end player unless Gilbert or Pitkanen have breakout seasons.
“We have 4 lines that can play both offense and defense. That’s just what our team does, everyone on our team plays both ends of the ice.”
“Our team defense that we talk about, 5 skaters and the goalie. And just the overall effort from the guys, back-checking, and keeping the other team on the outside, keeping them from finding good shots in the slot.”
- Nik Lidstrom (pregame May 12)
Observation: For all the guys that complain about how Craig MacTavish is a defensive minded coach that discourages offense, it seems here that he is telling players exactly what Zetterberg/Lidstrom talk about above. MacTavish wants a four line game where all lines can player and are defensively responsible. This is what Detroit does – just better.
"They (Zetterberg/Datsyuk) play hard. We you have you best players offensively that are your best defensive players that work harder than anybody else that sends a pretty good message to the rest of group you better do the same. I think they are league elite players, I've been thinking that for 2 years. They've both gotten better offensively. Pavel’s got a lot better defensively. They are complete players with great will. They move the puck well and are competitive … We're fortunate that our best players, not only are they elite players, they are elite competitors."
- Mike Babcock
Observation: Mike Babcock seems to be big on complete level which is something I’ve heard MacT talk about continuously in the last couple years. Its encouraging that Gagner, Cogliano and Gilbert not only have a high level of skill but also a high compete level. The knock on Rob Schremp has been that he can’t skate and that he doesn’t compete hard enough. The lack of compete is not good for him all.
-- Sorry for the any translation errors. My typing is brutal. The Babcock quotes can be found http://redwings.nhl.com/ by clicking on “Wings TV” then find “Mike Babcock presser (May 13)”.