Sunday, December 12, 2010

More Happy Thoughts


Was supposed to post a little more this week as Jenn was supposed to work the past two nights but she's come down with laryngitis and the end result was two nights off for her and an unexpected Capsule game for me last night. A little bonus as I am missing next week's game and then Christmas is here and so it was looking like no hockey for a month for me.

Instead I got to play last night and it turned out to be the best game I have had in a while. I've had a pretty good year but we've had a real struggle the last month or so, just falling short in game after game. We lost two guys from our blue last year who were quite a bit of chaos as they were converted forwards but what they gave up they more than made up for with their offence. Their replacements are true defencemen and as a result we're pretty damn stingy but we've never been that high scoring a club anyways and we have had a hell of a time putting the puck in the net. Add to their loss the fact that one of our two best forwards has basically been a noshow (he scored a hattrick in one of the two games he has played) and its been a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 losses. A blown coverage here or there has been costing us. The disappointing thing is the league is wide open and we could very well take it all but its hard to say yet if we're just struggling or if we're just not that good.

The good thing is the last couple of games we have deserved better and that's a good sign and so last night we tried to break out of our slump and ended up doing so. I got to play centre for the first time in a while and despite it being on an Olympic size rink I was able to hang in there and as the game wore on I got stronger and in the space of two shifts ended up helping to tip the game in our favour with just under ten minutes left. We were up one to nothing and the game was still in the balance and one of the dmen on their team, well he's noticeably weak and so I just started going at him. Three times in a row I beat him and got in alone and while their goalie beat me the first two times, the third time I picked up my own rebound and snuck it in and that was it for them. We added another and that was it. End of the slump. A great way to end this calendar year and as I joked with the guys after one of these days I'm going to score, pick up the puck and go right to the dressing room and hang them up. I've had a nice go of it the last two years though so that day may still be a long time away.

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Just to continue on the theme from earlier this past week, a further look at what has gone well for our Oilers. The loss of Hemsky and Horcoff will probably guarantee a lottery spot for the Oilers. They were lucky to get the win against Tampa and its to be expected when two thirds of your third line is basically two thirds of your top line in the AHL. The bottom six is a mess and you cannot play two lines all game and if you look at the scoring chances counted from Friday night you can see that things may get a bit ugly.

Never mind though because there is a lot to like here. For the first time in a few years there are plenty of players who are either exceeding expectations or, at the least, meeting them. And its been a long time since we can say that. So here are five more things I like.

1. Dubnyk. The big kid had a nice stretch to finish off last season and this year so far he has continued to impress. Still a long way to go and he may never be more thna a capable backup but I think at the least he will be that. He's got good technique and a nice calm about him and there is a lot to like there.

2. Magnus Paajarvi. I figured the young Swede to be the best of the rookies but Hall has blown him away and Eberle has shown better as well. Lately though the kid has gotten going. Some of that is getting a chance to play with some real linemates and from there I think it was a case of his confidence coming around and now it looks more and more that he too is going to be as advertised. A lucky get for the Oilers by the looks of it, he has certainly looked better than, say, Kadri, who was picked before him.

3. Sam Gagner. Gagner, I think it is safe to say, has turned the corner. He's not big and he never will be and he's quick rather than fast but he's contributing offensively despite bouncing around the lineup and the most impressive thing about his game is that he's winning puck battles and moving the puck the right way. He's coming into his own and its had to believe that he's just twenty one. He's been around forever.

4. Ryan Jones. Ryan Who? Guy looks like he forgot to take his skate guards off for all of the times he falls down but he sure has a nose for the net. An odd guy and not sure where he fits on this club. My guess is longterm he will be part of a fourth line in the Glencross/Brodziak/Stortini tradition, a line that can murder the other club's dregs, hang in there against tougher opposition when needed and provide guys who can step into the top nine now and then when needed. A nice surprise.

5. Omark. Sure its just one game but Linus' debut symbolizes a lot about what there is to like about this club. There is some swagger back in Edmonton and some excitement and while they're not close to being a winning club yet its nice to see something after a few years of drab losing hockey. Omark may or may not be an NHL player (although I suggest that if he were LW with Gagner and Hemsky that he would be just fine) but the way he drove the net on the PP shows that he is, unlike Robert Nilsson, a guy who is going to force the issue. As for the shootout goal, well the silliest thing I heard were the complaints about his showing a lack of respect with his spin move in that longstanding tradition of the shootout. While guys like Avery and Cooke run rampant with their cheapshots and guys drop the gloves whenever there is a clean hit of all things, I think that a lot of the critics are out to lunch. And Omark's answer to the critics, that he basically doesn't care what they say, was a terrific thing to hear. Hockey is a wonderful game and while I would never want to see the chest thumping and mememeism of, say, the NBA, in hockey, the fact is that the NHL tends to grind the personality out of its players. Good on Omark for having personality and bringing it to the Oilers.

12 comments:

Bruce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce said...

Paajarvi has really turned it around the last couple weeks. He had 0 points in November and looked lost for much of that dreary month, but started to play better at the end of the month and then started scoring when the calendar turned.

As you may know I've been grading the players on a game-by-game basis for the Cult of Hockey, and Paajarvi has some pretty interesting splits:

First 9 games: average grade 6.0
Next 10 games: average grade 3.7
Last 8 games : average grade 6.4

... with all 8 of his "below average" games occurring in that middle segment. Part of it was likely me seeing him bad for awhile, but a big part of it was him actually playing bad in that time. The first series of games he was very good, and the last group he's been better than that.

Andrew said...

It's been great watching Gags quietly having a great season, beneath all the hoo-haw about the rookies (which in a lot of cases is deserved - that Hall is a real treat to watch).

And Ted Peckman! Getting some more love from his uncle Don last night, he's been fun to watch too.

Now that it's pronounced "Lie-nus," to we have to start calling him Pinus (Pie-nus? Paye-nus?)?

This season has been fun to watch so far.

Black Dog said...

Andrew - its been pretty fun although I'm thinking it may be a little less so for the next little bit.

Bruce - Yeah he really hit a speed bump there, eh? Wonder if he was hurt a bit or sick maybe? Playing with Cogliano and Brule certainly did not work out for him at all and it seems his confidence really went south as well. Much better lately though.

spOILer said...

From his interviews sounded like Paajarvi was adjusting to his new city, country, team, pay cheque, league and life. His comfort level wasn't there and there were plnety of stresses outside the rink.

spOILer said...

I just want to point out that we often look at players as automatons and will say thinngs like, "he's lost a step" when in fact what he lost was his wife, child, girlfriend, mother (whichever), some of which can seem like forever to overcome.

Despite the hefty pay cheques these guys get depressed and are affected by personal issues just like anyone else.

Stats never explain these kinds of things.

macaotim said...

Dog,

I had to work during game two of Omark's Hall of Fame career. Can you or someone else comment on his performance in game 2.

I agree with your sentiments on this young man...forces his way into situations and adds psychological grit to this team.

Q: In the next shootout, how much will Omark's antics affect the goalie's performance...no one wants to be on the wrong end of an Omark highlight goal!?!?

Black Dog said...

spOILer - agreed and of course throw in the fact that a lot of these guys are just babies really.

I'm glad to see Paajarvi picking it up, he seems like an enthusiastic young man.

Tim - cannot comment on the game as I did not see it myself but his line didn't do a damn thing again. He's kind of stuck here. Because of injuries he is playing with O'Marra and Jones and really I don't think we can expect much from that trio. Just the way it is.

Problem is once a guy returns who would give him someone to play with it really means he gets shipped out.

So he has to either make hay on the PP or hope for another injury to a top six winger.

As for the shootout thing, no idea. I'm not a goalie. I would think in most cases it would have no effect but I cannot say.

spOILer said...

Pat,

Your keeper redeemed himself with that injury time save on Drogba's penalty. Well done to earn the draw. Your side probably needed the 3 points though to close on the Top 4.

My Wanderers scored a late goal down a man to Blackburn to thieve the win, keeping us right on your asses. That goal got our former manager Big Sam fired from Blackburn.

It's anyone's league this year, and I'd like to see a couple of the nobodies strike fear into the hearts of the rich kids at the top of the table.

macaotim said...

Dog,

You nailed it as far as Omark's situation. I really thought Red Ox would have been a much better fit for a call-up. However, I'm glad Omark got the call as the Oil need to decide if he's in future plans.

I think the Omark has the psychological edge in the shootout and many goalies will have itchy feet when he comes in.

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Black Dog said...

spOILer - Spurs can really make some hay in the next month or so as their schedule is quite favourable but unfortunately it seems that they aren't at the level yet where they can put the boots to a weaker opponent. If VDV can stay fit and they get a little help in the transfer window then they should threaten that top four. They're right there.

macaotim - I'm glad that Linus got the call and I liked what little I saw of his play last night. As for Reddox well they could have kept him out of camp and it would have made sense.