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2/19/10

2 Quick things re: Canada/Swiss

I wanted to quickly comment on two things I see after every game like Canada's 3-2 W last night.

1 - "It was a great game". If you mean that in the sense of it was dramatic, sure. It was not however, well played in any sense. The Canadians were terrible. They were panicky idiots with the puck, whether they were in shooting position, from the point, or in their own end. The best players in the world were attempting Jason Strudwick plays...just dumb. I can't stand to watch hockey like that because of the mental lapses that are so very apparent. The guy who was most guilty of this was Dan Boyle, but the whole team had their moments. Unless there were serious injuries, I didn't like the way Babcock ran his bench either. He's usually better than that.

2 - "We/they ran into a hot goalie". If you take the kind of idiotic shots Canada took last night, save for very few, you will make any goaltender in the world look like a star. Even their glorious chances were poorly executed, and some of their best puck possessions ended because some goof trying to "just get the puck on net" ripped a shot wide and around the boards. If you're going to put it on net, be smart about it.


Canada will be waxed by teams like the Slovaks if they continue to play like that.

Mike Green and Jay Bouwmeester should both be on this team. HUGE mistakes. As were the picks of Morrow (who was laughing as Canada was nearly losing) and Bergeron.

2/14/10

Advisory - no game report tonight

FYI everyone. I'm still on the road home from a brief vacation and thus not at the game tonight. Ergo, there will be no report on the last place Oilers vs. Ducks game. Sorry, but we'll try and get some feature articles up during the OLY break.

2/3/10

LMHF Game Report #31

EDMONTON 1

VS.

Philadelphia 0
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Just to clarify before anyone uses the term incorrectly, 3 wins is a streak. This is not one...yet.

I will again re-iterate that the east must be BAD. The Flyers were utterly horrible. I didn't see any of their stars do anything of significance and their supporting cast was useless.

I'd forgotten why I hated Scott Hartnell even before the hair. Now I remember. What a cheap little loser of a hockey player. No need for running into Deslaurier at the end of the game. Still a little upset none of our guys pounded on him. Comrie was seemingly ready to fight 2 guys, but neither wanted to bother at that stage.

Jeff Deslauriers played really well tonight. He battled and made saves on some excellent shots that he maybe should've have stopped. He got one really lucky break in the first when a Philly player (Gagne? Carcillo?) stickhandled away a goal in front of an empty net from 6 inches out, but other than that he was good. He was even pretty solid in terms of playing the puck. Deslauriers is a competitor, which is plain to see every time he plays for us. I was really hoping at the end that they'd win it for him because he did deserve it tonight. He held em in.

Watching Alex Plante for the last 2 games has been a pleasant surprise to say the least. Tonight he got a little bit more icetime and certainly didn't do himself any harm. Again, if he develops any footspeed at this level, he'll be okay. One thing he does that separates him from some of our defenceman and that could make him very useful is that he makes physical contact with just about every attacker that comes near him. This doesn't mean he needs to dish out hits (though he seemed to personally take on Carcillo, including trying to fight him, which impressed me), it means he gets in the way, rubs people against the boards, and generally makes life difficult in the defensive zone. So long as you can do this without drifting out of position, this is a great instinct. He doesn't drift out of position. I don't recall him getting caught. He almost scored his first NHL goal tonight on an excellent slapper from the point, and I noticed that late in the game under pressure from the Philly attack, instead of flipping the puck away as many rookies and vets do, he simply changed his positioning, handled it away, and made a calm pass. Perfect. If it is not simply adrenaline, this kid could somehow turn out to be MONEY.

Taylor Chorney also played a pretty solid game. I didn't notice as many little things with him, and he made a couple giveaways and hung Visnovsky out to dry a couple times, but for who he is and where he's been placed, it was okay. I like his offensive instincts as I always have, although there was a point late in tonight's game where he could have jumped in and after a puck harder than he did and he decided against it. I was surprised.

Tom Gilbert I felt was quite solid again. He defended well, laid some hits, and got back to make a great defensive play or two, including one late in the third that was fairly important. He's settled in. What I'd concentrate on for the rest of the year is trying to get him into the 26-28 minute range 2 out of every 3 nights. Will the ever be a better time to see if he can manage?

Jason Strudwick was himself. I think Plante looks better frankly.

Lubomir Visnovsky didn't have a great offensive night in that he couldn't really seem to get anything going. There were no epic skates, no great passes and no laser shots. What he did do however was defend like a champ, including breaking up a nice Philly chance in the second. Why exactly he plays so little for a man of his skill, I have no freaking idea.

Denis nearly cost his goalie the game. In the third he got flat burned by a Philly forward who wasn't even moving that fast and nearly allowed a dangerous rush only to be bailed out. I also didn't see the offensive work from him tonight, so I'd consider this a disappointing effort.

The Jacques-Pouliot-Stortini line was once again led by Pouliot. He was the one skating, making people miss and making passes. It's too bad he doesn't have anyone to pass to. He set up Jacques on a great little move in the third when the score was still blanks that could have been the winner and Jacques predictably whiffed. Stortini had an okay fight with Ian L, who I would still love to have had on our squad the past 3 years.

Moreau-Horcoff-Comrie was pretty dull, but essentially never in danger. I'm sure much will be made about Moreau's missed open chance in the third as Horcoff was driven straight into the goalie, so there's probably not much need to go into it here. Horcoff was better at maintain his distance from the play until it was appropriate to move in. He didn't over-chase in the corners like he did last game. This is an issue he's had ever since he got into the NHL because he thinks he can rely on his skating all the time. The approach of overchasing leads to turnovers and/or lost battles. Comrie was okay in that he generated a little offence, but not as much as last game.

I really don't mind the way Cogliano plays when he's with Gagner and Penner. If that were our second scoring line I'd be fine with it, but I don't see how we build a team with a true first line not including Penner at this stage. Cogliano works best as a jump-in-jump-out support guy as opposed to the go-to on a line. I think his role with Gagner and Penner shows this best. Gagner on the other hand works best as the puck control feature. He did that job okay tonight but didn't make the dynamic plays we might have expected. I liked the play he made to set up Potulny's goal of course, and I liked the way he got himself into position in the inside top of the circle for one-timers (as opposed to Horcoff's WIDE low position) and certainly think he could have buried them. Penner continues to struggle. The only notable thing I remember about him tonight is that he took a fall or two.

The Brule-Potulny-O'Sullivan line was a familiar one that has the chance to provide fireworks on a nightly basis. They didn't provide much in the way of excitement for a long time. O'Sullivan's penalty was a ridiculous example of how stupid the NHL has become at times. You can plow a goalie, pick a man, grab him by the face, or throw him into your goalie and not get a penalty...BUT...if you lift a stick, which is a perfectly legal hockey play...some bonehead ref can give you a penalty. I thought it was a STELLAR defensive effort, incredibly well timed myself. Potulny found himself in the right place at the right time and did what he knows how to do...finish. Good for him. It's true that it looked like he whiffed a little, and so did Leighton in that he should have had it, but it went in. Brule should have risen to the physical occasion in this game and didn't. I need to see more out of him than I have lately.
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This was obviously not the greatest game in the world, but gave a good look at some of our defenceman. I sincerely hope Mr. Plante is both able to keep playing, and continues to impress. He'd be a massive boost if he's a keeper. A better puck handling, bigger and non-penalty-taking version of Matt Greene would be awesome. So happy he didn't get the goathorns for that crummy break of the puck bouncing up on his stick and being shot over the glass.

2/1/10

LMHF Game Report #30

EDMONTON 4

VS.

CAROLINA 2
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The Isotopes win a game! The Isotopes win a game! The Isotopes win a game!

No, there is no epic winning streak on the way, and no, we don't have a crazed large man dancing up a storm and delivering results in that magic way that only he can. (I guess the three completely obliterated girls in the Molson box annoying the season ticket holders will have to do?)

But we won tonight. Thankfully. Finally.

I must admit I'd rather spend what is surely a small amount of remaining wins on rivals and good teams that would require a true fight and a sublime effort, but after a franchise-record losing streak, this is enough.

I make mention of the losing streak because it's become apparent that the org is trying to cover it up or jump right past it. Great political messaging, or corporate messaging, can sell a good message effectively, or take the edge off news that isn't so great, providing hope for the path forward. It does not flat lie. Trying to claim that because the Oilers lost a game in overtime during this stretch means it is a winless skid instead of a losing streak is a lie. I have more respect for Dan Tencer and what he's accomplished at such a young age than most seem to, but that he was forced to trot out THAT load of bull and said it when he could have found a way to abstain made me sad. I'm sure I don't have to remind anyone reading this that we could have lost in overtime back during the last LOSING streak as well.

But enough with that, on to our victory over Carolina.

We essentially won because Cam Ward had a pretty weak game. We didn't have a lot of intense pressure and scored two very weak goals (Jacques and Pouliot). He's usually better than that I believe. Had to be disappointing for the guy because he's from these parts of course. Cam always seemed like a good guy; I golfed with him when I was younger. Too bad we didn't find a way to draft the guy.

Watching Joni play again was in fact enjoyable. Loved his hit at the end of the game. Every time he got the puck, it seemed like the rest of his squad was having issues getting open. I like that he doesn't try to force passes in this instance. He'd do something not many would think of and shoot the puck right on net, or make a flip pass. I frankly didn't mind what he did to Stortini; as I think it's legit when you have a guy running at you with hands high. The only reason Stortini got nailed was that his hands missed the elbow. Joni could play for my squad any day of the week.

Ray Whitney looks like he still has some game. Should we decide to be half-decent next year, he'd be a good pickup. The shot and the veteran presence are still there, which is all you'd need from him.

Speaking of guys to keep next year, Mike Comrie showed why I believe he should be kept. He's one of the only guys that looks like he might be playing for a job. He fought every corner battle and won most of them. He also made things happen with the puck. Comrie's strength is to create space where there isn't much and make something happen. He did that multiple times and always seems to get the puck to the net. The only reason he didn't generate more points are the players he was playing with 5-on-5. On the PP he certainly showed his skill, including setting up Gagner's goal. As the play entered the zone Comrie offered a passing option on the wide side; he didn't get the puck here but it was important. He also didn't trail off this path, and went to the scoring area. When you know how to operate in this space, the puck finds you. Penner got the puck to O'Sullivan, who knows how to find people in this area, and he feathered one to Comrie. Most of the forwards on our team would have muffed the chance but Comrie handled it and got a shot through traffic that nearly went in, was kicked straight to Gagner as Penner cruised through the slot, and it was in. Textbook. A great all-around play, and Comrie had a lot to do with it that could often be missed or dismissed. Tonight he controlled the puck, got it to the net, and didn't give it away. That was his game all night.

Contrast that with one Shawn Horcoff. Early in their careers, these two were often compared, with Horcoff winning in the areas of smarts, skating and responsible play according to some. Comrie wiped the floor with him tonight. I criticize the giveaway stat many times in my writings; with tonight's Horcoff performance being the perfect example. In his first 3 shifts he gave the puck away 6 times. These were not cheap giveaways either, they were fairly obvious. Not counted. He got the puck and was just useless with it. He rushed in on a break and wanted to pass so bad that his eventual shot was one of the saddest 2-on-1 efforts I'd seen in a while. In the third another example came with Horcoff behind the net. Comrie got into position in front, audibly yelling for the puck, Horcoff held it. Then, as Comrie was moving to get into a better position but currently covered, Horcoff threw the puck haphazardly and gave it away. He didn't get much done tonight.

Moreau completed the unlikely trio. I'm not particularly sure why Quinn did what he did with the lineup, but I guess I can only work with what I had. I didn't see much out of Moreau, despite the fact that he had chances to make something happen. I suppose he logged 20 minutes of "nothing" time in that nothing was given up, but oh well...

Looking at our "top line" of Penner-Gagner-Nilsson, I wasn't all that impressed. Nilsson was basically invisible for me tonight. The puck didn't come to him, he didn't shoot and didn't make any tremendous passing plays. I remain unconvinced that he's anything more than a bit player who would be replaced on a good team with a veteran who produced more consistent efforts and wasn't a liability. Gagner was the best player on the line. On his good nights he has a "wheeling and dealing" look to him and I saw glimpses of that tonight. When he got the puck he was really solid with it. I just don't like watching him as the #1 C. In a support role, his current play would be outstanding. Penner's effort tonight was weak. He could've landed some solid hits and skipped them. He could've plowed through to the net and seemed to pass up the opportunity until the end of the game with an empty net. I didn't like his play on the boards in our own end. Again, I get it, but that doesn't make it any less annoying. The thing about this line is that it struggles to make a positive moving start from its own end unless Penner's really going and he isn't anymore. That's a shame because it's a hell of a thing to watch, but again, oh well.

Our fourth line got some serious play early on. Once again I suppose the guy who impressed me most was Pouliot. Not so much for his goal which, while a solid fundamental move was still a fluke, but for the way he skates with the puck. Even though he's left out there alone with it, he always does a good job. I appreciate that effort. He's also doing a solid job of getting in the right position which is a must for a guy of his style. Jacques I must say got lucky. It sure didn't look like he "saw the hole" that he scored via on Ward, but I don't know. Other than that goal, he didn't do too much. This didn't stop the line from racking up more icetime than usual, as while they weren't lighting the world on fire, they also weren't depositing the puck in our net. Stortini I didn't particularly notice.

O'Sullivan, Brule and Cogliano were certainly alright. I think this is what a good O'Sullivan scoring support night from a second line on a good team would look like. He made the play to Comrie on the Gagner PP goal to show off his passing. He's not great playing the PP point, and bumbled the puck a little bit tonight, but he makes it worthwhile with his passing ability. He also made a nifty play on Brule's goal. Everyone (including Brule) assumed that Cogliano's initial pass was going to Brule, which led Ward to play the one-timer. O'Sullivan picked the pass and deftly moved it along to Brule, changing the timing and angle, giving the best shooter on the line a chance to deliver and he did. He might be the only guy along with Potulny currently on the active roster that finishes that solid play as he did. We need more guys who are capable of that. I didn't see much of Cogliano really. He seemed solid but nothing in particular stood out for me aside from missing an EN chance because he didn't change the shooting angle as I'm always blabbing about Comrie doing. Brule was okay, but I've seen a lot better. If I can only keep two of these 3, Cogliano's going if I'm running the show.

Tonight was Alex Plante's introduction to the show. 18 shifts and 12 minutes of action isn't too bad for your first adventure on an NHL blue line. I must admit I see some promise in the kid. He's certainly got the frame to be an effective NHL defenceman, but is not the awkward bumbler that many of his size and style become. I saw the beginnings of defensive positioning. You can tell that he's working at it and will be for some time, but he looks around like he knows where to go. The issue that Plante has in being the type of defenceman he can be, is his skating. Currently his skating is what keeps him from compensating for his lack of positioning experience. He'd likely be okay otherwise. I hope they work hard on this part of his game. Even though it was a simple play, how can you not love the guy getting his first assist in his first game? Good for him!

The goals that Deslauriers allowed were not very good. An NHL tender should not allow a weak Andrew Alberts slapper and a weak Jussi Jokinen backhander, both of which were easily within glove reach. Aside from that he actually looked quite solid, while not approaching the confidence level we saw earlier this season when he was in a bit of a groove. I do love his competitive fire, which came through when he aggressively secured the puck at the end of the game to secure the win. Good for Jeff. He's been seriously hosed after some solid efforts this year and any decent effort we can get him helps.

Taylor Chorney is the other young defenceman we're all watching. I'm still seeing a general level of confidence that is very assuring me. He doesn't bobble the puck and picks his skating lines quite quickly. Occasionally he forces passes resulting in ugly turnovers such as one that nearly resulted in a goal in the third. Nothing wrong with 20 minutes and 5 blocked shots though. We may have 3 guys challenging for the #7 spot next year. I'm fully on board with a vet #6 and a young #7 as opposed to the other way around.

Jason Strudwick received a second star tonight. I remain baffled trying to think of anything truly positive that he did. I also don't remember anything hideous...which is a good start...but not sure where the extra credit of a star in a win comes from...

Denis Grebeshkov made some really solid defensive plays tonight. I can think of a sequence in the third where he moved his man in front of the net to keep him from getting a pass, then made a really smart stick play to remove a puck from just above the circle. I can only recall one giveaway, which I believe was in the second. Now that Souray is gone, I won't see him played with Souray which I believe is a solid pairing choice, but I really think we'll see a better Denis after he comes back from his Red Army duty.

Lubomir had some entertaining moments including an ugly giveaway that nearly resulted in a goal right in front of our net. He almost totally recovered in time, but was helped by some CAR ineptitude. Very rarely does he make such a mistake. I didn't see a lot of offensive control from him today, but it seemed like he didn't need to. I suspect a lot of this was because he was looking after young Mr. Chorney.

Tom Gilbert had a really solid night in my books. He's racking them up while playing for a truly hideous team which has to mean something. I think his style will benefit from playing away from Souray, in that the two styles aren't really compatible. I'll be looking to see if Gilbert's passing game comes along a little more than it has.
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3 Oilers Stars
- Comrie
- Gagner
- O'Sullivan

Well, it sure was nice to actually write in some detail again. Sad that I needed such a low comparator, but at least this was a watchable game.

Joni Returns

I had nearly forgotten that I get to watch Joni Pitkanen for the first time in a long while tonight.

Pitkanen was one of my favorite players for his year in Oilers blue. He was on many nights their best and most talented player. His skill for using his massive frame to remove an opposition man from the puck, then take it away and either begin skating or throw a marvelous flip to the opposition blue line, either making a pass or allowing his mates breathing room, was superb.

I blame Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe for him no longer being an Oiler. I don't buy that just because a man is quiet and doesn't like to booze means he must not be included on the team. Nor that just because a coach cannot figure out what to teach someone that talented, should he be slighted. The man is just a damn fine hockey player. He is the defenceman that I only wished I could be. Unrealized potential, yes, but my what potential it is. The most effortlessly powerful skater we've likely seen in a LONG LONG time in these parts.

At least I'll get to watch him play. Maybe someone on the home team will show up as well...