Monday, January 21, 2013
Capsule has been on a tear but Saturday night our six game win streak ended. Too bad, it turns out a win would have left us tied for first place. Really though the score was the only bad news about the whole thing. We had eight skaters and we were playing a young fast team and yet despite this we would have won the game if the hockey gods had even remained neutral. Their first goal pinballed in on two deflections. Third goal ended up in our net after two of the luckiest bounces you will ever see. Fifth goal was knocked down by a high stick which in our league is an automatic whistle (and penalty). Refs didn't know the rule. Seriously.
Meanwhile we hit three posts and outshot them. Lost by two, could have won by a half dozen.
So it goes. At the end of the game I joked that we should have taken our helmets off to show them that they barely beat a shorthanded group of old men.
Sledding gets tougher the next month, there are four teams at the top of the league, we're one of them, and three of our games are against the other three. So we'll see how we match up. Its been a fun year.
Even more exciting was our Saturday morning. The boy's team has started to put it together although a bit of that has to do with the quality of the competition. There are eight teams in their league and its now been divided into two divisions of four. The boy's club was 1-4-1 before they split the divisions but literally lost two games and ended up with a tie in three of those. Plus in the 'preseason' they were 2 and 1 including a win over the second best team in the league. In other words they're not really B division material, same as one of the other teams playing with them now. The other two teams? They're fodder. But you can't have a division of six and a division of two so they get to pound on these poor little guys.
Saturday they held their opponent to one measly shot and won six to one and if it wasn't for the tiny goalie they would have scored a couple of dozen. We're talking glove saves, stick saves, sliding across the crease to make pad saves, reaching behind him to snag the puck saves, throwing his stick out at the last minute to deflect the puck away saves. I've not seen anything like it ever. I swear it was amazing.
The boy is improving, his skating is his biggest weakness and we're starting to get out to get him some practice. But he gets right in there and battles and he's around the puck more and more. He loves it. After last game I got his rod hockey game and told him that when the time is right to stand at the corner of the crease and wait for rebounds. Its the first piece of advice I've given to him and he took it to heart.
Three times Saturday, after eleven games without a sniff, he got the puck on his stick n scoring position. One shot trickled wide, the two others were stopped by the miniature Rogie Vachon.
If he had put one in I might have leapt onto the ice and ridden my stick to centre. I always have it with me, as is custom where I am from in Northern Ontario. :)
I doubt I will be able to write up comments on every Oilers' game as much as I'd love to but I did want to say a few things about last night. The Canucks' depth was lacking up front without Kesler and Booth but even still I cannot remember the last time an Oiler club went into Vancouver and had a game like this one. Sure there have been games where they came out strong and Luongo weathered an early storm but invariably the Canucks take the Oilers out to the woodshed and make them feel shame. I think Vancouver's window may be about to close, which means they will join the Sens and the Sharks as elite clubs of recent vintage who have fallen short of Stanley, but as I noted the other day I think they are still one of the elite clubs in the league and they're not done yet.
And still the Oilers were full value for the two points and probably deserved the win in regulation if not for some poor (rusty?) shooting. A lot of missed nets.
A lot of interesting opinions out there on the tweeter. Here's what I thought, trying to avoid the trap of small sample sizes and all of that.
- a lot of Oiler fans have a hard time believing that quality veteran players help you win. This attitude isn't limited to Oiler fans or even to hockey fans but Oiler fans REALLY love their prospects. Some guy was chirping @shorcov the other day, which was awesome in and of itself, but his main point was that Horcoff and Smyth should be cut loose.
Now we won't get into it about Horcoff's contract, yes he's overpaid, but the fact remains that, as many have noted this year, buddy is actually a decent hockey player. Someone has to do the dirty work so that the kids (RNH struggled at ES on the road in the AHL for chrissakes) can get their opportunities. On this club that heavy lifting is going to fall to Horcoff, Smyth, Belanger and Nick Schultz. Throw in Ales Hemsky with a virtuoso performance, Petrell doing some nice work on the PK and Eager having a decent game, that is, hitting but not taking any dummy penalties or blowing up defensively (despite Ralph getting him out there verse the Sedins, what the hell?) and well, this looks like a pretty good team. And yet there are many fans who would be happy to run the majority of those guys out of town and replace them with, um, Lander, Pitlick and Moroz I guess.
Its been a particular peeve of mine for years that the Oilers loved to shed good veteran hockey players without replacing them with same. There's a reason that the Oilers went from a Stanley Cup finallist to the worst team in the league pretty quickly. The 2006 team had veteran Dman Dick Tarnstrom in the pressbox (I still think that was dumb, he had to have been hurt) and Ethan Moreau and Radek Dvorak playing mostly fourth line minutes. That's a hell of a team. For years now the Oilers have shipped out quality and let quality walk and to replace the quality they have plugged in kids and plugs and the result is six years out of the playoffs.
The Oilers are a long way from that spring 2006 club but when you consider that Fistric, Paajarvi and Jones all did not play last night and they still won then you can see that there is progress. Moving a guy like Hemsky or cutting Horcoff loose does nothing but cut into what is suddenly a club with a bit of depth. Maybe two years from now they need to do it for cap reasons when they have to pay Petry, Schultz younger and Nugent Hopkins but for now, revel in the fact that we actually can send out three lines with actual NHL players.
And for that matter when Jones returns Kreuger could run a fourth line with him, Belanger and Paajarvi on it. That's a very good fourth line.
- I found Kreuger's use of the fourth line interesting, Tyler has a nice piece on it. Essentially because the power play uses the kids, Hemsky, Horcoff and Smyth Kreuger elected to send Belanger out after each PP expired where they inevitably had to face the Sedins. He got away with it too (they were even in scoring chances and took no bad penalties) and it left me wondering what the story is here. Is he trying to see if these guys can carry on in this role going forward? Is the plan going to change once Jones comes back? What about Paajarvi?
Kreuger has stated, I believe, that guys will have defined roles, especially when it comes to special teams. Some guys will play the PP, others will PK and the twain usually shall not meet. I think that when Hartikainen has a few more games under his belt that he will take a spot on the PP. Horcoff and Smyth did terrific work on the PK yesterday, killing two thirds of each of five penalties. Add their ES work, generally the tough sledding, and suddenly one can see that having them out on the PP might be a bit much, especially as they're doing the dirty work there too, taking a pounding in front of the net.
I'm not a huge believer in the Eager/Hordichuk player type personally, although Eager can at least take and make a pass, and if it were up to me they wouldn't be a factor but then again I 'never played the game' as Tie Domi was always happy to point out to anybody who questioned a particularly selfish move on his part. I'd like to see a fourth line of Teemu, Belanger and Jones though, if everyone gets healthy, and Paajarvi moved in alongside Smyth and Horcoff. Have Hartikainen and Jones get the 'stand in front of the net' role on the PP, have Paajarvi PK and then run out the Horcoff line after the PP is done. Strikes me as a pretty reasonable option.
With that said and yes it was only one game one can see that both Eager and Belanger maybe had their best games as Oilers last night. Eager was concussed in camp last year and seemed lost all season. Rumour had it that Belanger had a bad back and it never got better. Ever have a bad back? Think about trying to play professional hockey in that state. Belanger had been a decent NHLer for a long time and based on last night's performance he may indeed be back in form which will make a positive impact.
- as for the D well Nick Schultz was fantastic and Schultz younger was just fine in his own end, rarely in trouble. He moves the puck as advertised and while there will be adventures one suspects that longterm he is going to be very good. Smid and Petry picked up where they left off last year, which is to say they are a legitimate top pair in this league. Put it this way if last night was a sign of things to come for these four then this club makes the playoffs. Crazy to say I know.
- the issue is on the bottom pair but luckily that's the one that is easily replaced. One suspects Fistric comes in for Potter quite soon, for Potter that nice stretch last year is a distant memory. As for Whitney, well he can still move the puck but his 'new normal' means that his skating is limited. There was one point, it might have been on an Oiler PP when a Canuck rushed up the wing, Whitney angled him off pretty well but when the Vancouver player suddenly cut back to the net from below the Oiler goal line old number six could do nothing but watch buddy go right by him and try and stuff it by Dubnyk. He couldn't pivot and it was a simple play.
This is after eight months off. In other words its not getting better. As noted the good news is that its the bottom pair. We know Klefbom will be the rookie they throw to the wolves next year. Unless they plan to throw him into the top four (it is the Oiler way after all) one suspects he will take Whitney's spot alongside Fistric or whoever his replacement is.
- what else? well Yakupov didn't look out of place, most importantly physically. He wasn't getting pushed around at all
- I didn't really think either Hall or Nugent Hopkins played very well at all, the latter especially looked a bit nervous, and there were a couple of shifts, including their first, where they got hemmed in their own zone in a bit of a firedrill. The good news? They had a bit of a shit game and they still outchanced their opposition
- I know a lot of folks didn't like that first goal on Dubnyk, I for one didn't mind it. Potter basically backed into his lap, screened him and then tipped it. Good work. I found that the big man looked great myself. Confident. I have faith in him.
Two points in Vancouver after being down two? And without smoke and mirrors? That's a good two points. Tough road ahead with San Jose and LA this week, two teams with more going on up fron than Vancouver. Should be a couple of great tests, interested to see what Kreuger does with the last change and if we see Fistric.
Posted by Black Dog at 9:24 PM