Friday, November 28, 2008

Crazy Town

I wrote just recently about how the Oilers were approaching random. Now it seems they're approaching rock bottom and Oilerville is in chaos. A core of fans frustrated with their team (ie Staples and OilersNation). Now there appears to be players who think changing the coach might be the kind of change the Oilers need (Sportsnet, MC79hocky and Lowetide*).


Not good no matter how you spin it. Getting out chanced by the LA Kings - a team who played the night before - by a 2 to 1 margin at home is brutal. No one on the Oilers is creating offense unless Ales Hemsky is on the ice. Three lines are having yard sales in their own end of the ice and the team is seemingly getting worse. The goaltending has been good, the defense has been fine but the offense has been almost non-existent. MacT has taken some serious heat of late and lots of it is justified - coming from a MacBooster. The PK and PP need to be better and IMO that is coachable. The PP being a perpetual sore spot for the Oilers under MacT's leadership.

Last year MacT had no problems coaching these skilled players. This year, Nilsson and Gagner in particular, look lost on the ice and completely lack confidence. IMO, however, the lack of confidence is a side-effect of not winning. So then, what changed?

1) The return of the veterans Horcoff, Sourray, Moreau

Without knowing the locker room that well, this one is possibly a big one. When Horcoff and Sourray left the Oilers they were hovering near a lottery pick and it was the kids who carried the load to a near playoff finish. I'm not saying but its possible that the veterans coming back and trying to run the show after the success the Oilers had last season could have rubbed some players the wrong way. For years the Oilers have been a grind it out type team and since 2007 have transitioned (rather quickly) into a smaller skilled team. I follow the Canucks and Flames closely being rivals in the NW and have read/heard that in Vancouver the departure of Linden, Naslund and Morrison has allowed the younger leaders to emerge (those pricks Kesler and Borrows to name a few). A captain should reflect the type of game a team is going to play. Looking at Calgary you see a hard working team led by the best power forward in the game - Jarome Iginla. Getting a grinder (Moreau) to lead a now skilled team might be two ships heading the wrong direction - or a tug-a-war awaiting a victor. I may be being hard on Moreau here because his game has been great and if anything the Oilers need more competitiveness and grit but results speak.



2) The additions of Cole and Visnovsky.

Cole has struggled, Visnovsky has been great. These guys are new guys and I dont see their impact being huge. Cole from what I've read is a character guy but he's obviously frustrated so I don't know how he is dealing with it. I'll reserve judgement.

3) No Curtis Glenncross

Seeing his success in Calgary is the answer to some of our question that GX is not Scott Fraser. The Oilers IMO chose Moreau and Nilsson over Glencross and that still might be a good bet but the elements he brings are sorely missed (not to mention his 14 pts).

4) Adversity and pressure

The kids never faced any of this last season and its a learning experience for them. Last years success was surprising and the fans rode it but it hasnt followed them around so far this year. Bruce wrote and interesting post on the '80-81 Oilers and their struggles as a young team. Obviously Gagner isnt Gretzky but the comparison is a good one. If MacT goes, he is a victim of a similar scenario (or maybe its just time).

Of the factors, I think #4 has the biggest impact followed by #1. The Oilers are finding their identity. I personally think that Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson are going to need to get their games back in a hurry. The alternative to them is scraping the league for grinders and IMO regressing from last years success. But its about winning games right now - the coaches job is dependent on it.

* Seriously Lowetide, 300 comments overnight! That's too much, get a comment rating system or something.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Edmonton Oilers Q1 Report


I figured it would be good to have a Q1 ranking for the Oilers so I can track players over the year. These rankings are heavily based on expectations and the grouping of players is more important than the actual rankings. I grew up on percentages, I dont really even know the difference between a C and a D.

A

Sheldon Souray - Outstanding so far and healthy. Has been a physical presence and one of the best Oilers players so far this season. He is also healthy which will need to stay for Souray to keep his ranking. Often shoots into blocks on the PP but the Oilers don't have enough shoot first players and Sourray is earning his cheque so far this year.
Dwayne Roloson - I wrote Roli off before the year but Roli has proven to be competitive and capable. Has basically earned the starters job and given the Oilers solid goaltending night in and out.

B+

Steve MacIntyre - For a guy playing 3-4 minutes per game, he's done his role well. Able to make game changing hits and willing to stick up for his team.
Ales Hemsky - At 21 points in 20 games playing hard minutes Ales should have an A. If not for 6 games to start the season, he'd definately get one.
Dennis Grebeshkov - Struggled with Gilbert early but as David Staples points out, he wasn't at fault for many of them. I am bullish on Grebeshkov and wishing he was locked in longer.
Ethan Moreau - Led the Oilers well on the road trip earning #1 line role. Has struggled on the top line and takes too many penalties but Moreau after not playing for 2 years deserves kudos for his first quarter.
JDD - Played excellent when called upon. If not for the logjam in goal he'd get more starts.

B

Lubomir Visnosky - Not many of us thought Lubo was capable of playing hard minutes but he is doing it and surviving. His PP chemistry isnt there yet but looking forward to seeing him play with 37.
Mark Pouliot - After another poor season he has emerged as an NHL player IMO. He also seems to have chemistry with most players and is smart (but needs more jam). I'd like to see him get an extended shot between 18 and 26.

B-

Fernando Pisani - Hard to blame him for the injuries or for playing out of position every game. Still does a lot right and is a valuable player.
Ladislav Smid - I actually liked his game before he got hurt. Hasn't emerged as a player yet and while other young defenders are emerging, the game still looks like a challenge for Ladi.

C

Shawn Horcoff - Struggled for a good chunk of the first 20 games and if he wasn't playing with the man Ales Hemsky his point totals would be much lower. Playing the tough minutes isnt an excuse anymore when your making 5.5. At the same time, he is incredibly valuable to the Oilers. The C ranking is possibly a reflection of a unlucky shooting streak.
Tom Gilbert - Struggled bad early. Would be a D ranking but came on in the last half dozen games.
Robert Nilsson - Inconsistency is hurting his game because at times he looks brilliant. Needs to produce more and be careful. He is likely the most tradable Oiler.
Andrew Cogliano - Coming on nicely over the past while but part of the kids problems early.
Erik Cole - Didnt mesh with Hemsky but not many players do. Doesn't think the game well but can skate, hit and generate chances on his own. If he could duplicate his games vs Canucks and Flames I'd be really happy with his game.
Jason Strudwick - Proved very useful early but started making errors and giveaways of late. His expectations for me arent high and the C ranking I suppose doesnt really reflect that.
Mattieu Garon - .888 SP isnt good enough period. Was amazing early but didnt keep his job. Was given the starting job on a platter and couldnt keep it. Could easily be a D.

D

Dustin Penner - Such a frustrating player. If he could duplicate his efforts against CBJ then we'd all be thrilled with the OS. More PP and time is 10-83 should mask his inconsistency but like MacT, I'd like to see more return for a 12th overall pick and 4.25 million per.
Sam Gagner - Proving how hard the NHL actually is. Thinks the game well and has been given preferential treatment from the Oilers. I expect he'll recover during the season. He's just too smart.
Zach Stortini - Lost his job to MacIntrye and thats the #1 reason for the ranking. Has played the agitator role effectively at times however.
Kyle Brodziak - Perhaps playing between 46 and 33 softened his game but he hasnt brought much jam. He also only has 3 points and isn't doing much on the PK. There isn't much separating him from Reddox anymore but I think he'll bounce back.
Steve Staois - Steady Steve's game is starting to decline. He looked bad early last season but came on so I'm confident he'll recover. To many giveaways and inability to make a breakout pass is another weakness in his game.

Overall, the Oilers first quarter has been a struggle. Their record is probably flattering given the quality of game they deliver night in and night out. Personally I'm still optimistic that most of the players on the team will respond. There is a lot of skill on this team and its still early. Far too much of the offense is generated by Ales Hemsky and Sheldon Souray. The biggest room for improvement needs to come from the kids and the PK. The PK might require a mercenary.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Approaching random

Life isnt easy as an Oilers fan so far this season. The highs and the lows are quite extreme and change without notice. I have been away from the Oilogosphere for a good chunk of time in November attending a friends wedding in Cancun but as an Oil-junkie I typically check the scores and skim over the piles of good comments at Lowetide's site. Several times I've had to scratch my head and wonder wtf is going on.
  • Oilers (5) Flyers (4) - I watched this game, dominating performance by the Oilers. Reason to be excited.
  • Oilers (4) Blue Jackets (5) - Tanked the third period in a game they didn't really deserve to be leading. Reason to be concerned.
  • Oilers (4) Penguins (5) - Oilers didn't show up for the first period and got blown away despite a late comeback. Reason to be concerned.
  • Oilers (2) Devils (1), Oilers (3) Rangers (2) - Didn't check the internet for a couple days and came back pumped. I was expecting 2 losses and 2 wins. Reason to be excited.
  • Maple Leafs (5) Oilers (2) - I watched this game in a sports pub in Cancun. It was packed and fun. First period Oilers dominate. Reason to be excited. After not getting enough goals for their chances game falls off in the 3rd. Reason to be concerned.
  • Avalanche (3) Oilers (2) SO
  • Oilers (0) Red Wings (4) - I don't get upset when the Oilers lose to Detroit. They are a better team and I expect as much. Still 0 goals for and reason to be concerned.
  • Oilers (7) Blue Jackets (2) - Penner and Horcoff lead the Oilers (finally). Reason to be excited.
So anyways, quite a month the Oilers have had thus far. To be 9-8-2 with 14 road games is nothing to brag about but reasonable. I think the most frustrating part for Oilers fans (and coaches) is the inconsistency and frequency of momentum swings. The Oilers season so far is reminding me of the Eskimos season that just ended. A team that started off strong and seemed to be better than their record showed but each time they had a chance to turn the corner, they'd stumble. I remember being at the Labour Day game in Calgary coming back home thinking the Esks were a good team only to see them come out lame and blow it. The Esks also did this winning in BC and losing back at home. Similarly, the Oilers seemed to be on a role heading into Columbus before blowing the 3rd period lead then the big one for me was losing to the Leafs. If the Oilers are going to be anything more than a marginal team, they are going to need to string together some confidence building wins.

There have also been some interesting discussions on Lowetide's site as well as a good call from MC79. I'll chime in briefly on the issues because I am too late to do so.

On Penner:

This guy has a good top 6 game but doesnt bring it enough. My opinion is that the Oilers tried motivating him but he didn't respond so they tried going public. I don't like the public bashing but MacT was right in what he said and it worked. Penner getting pushed off the puck by Steen vs the powerhouse against CBJ last night are like complete opposite. I'd like to see Penner on the #1 PP unit more and if he keeps showing up lame again, bench him. Hopefully he'll learn. Raffi Torres didn't.

On Garon:


IMO the Oilers don't see Garon as a goalie capable of taking them to the next level. Garon started off like gangbusters but since then has struggled especially in games vs the Penguins and the Canucks. The longer Roli plays well, the better the chances Garon gets traded. Garon is a good goaltender though and I think once he comes back he'll have a chip on his shoulder.

On MacT:


Lowetide seems to think MacT is on the way out the door. I have no idea if this is the case but there is the possibility that MacT is losing the room. Look at the consistency I have highlighted in the past month. Something isnt jiving right now. MacT may not be completely at fault on this though because he has to rely on inconsistent players Penner, Nilsson and Hemsky. I think MacT is a great coach especially in the playoffs so losing him would be a shame. He sticks with Roloson (probably too much) but has been right on many of his decisions. As mentioned before, the Oilers (and MacT) need a string of wins here soon.

One final note: After playing in over 25% of their games in SO last season, the Oilers don't seem to be playing many this year. Is this the Garon factor?