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3/28/12

LMHF Report - Game #39

EDMONTON 1

VS.

DALLAS 3
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Well, I could see the narrative coming in this one from some time before the game. The Oilers, in a coach-led quest to avoid being "pushed around" as Renney incorrectly believed they were early in the season in Dallas (they just stunk is all), iced a lineup designed to avoid this sort of fate. Problem? Well yes, because the crew on the ice tonight was left with very little in the way of scoring options.

It is blatantly obvious that every time you've got 28-93-14 on the ice, a half-way intelligent coach will stick 3 players to 93 and 14, then simply challenge Jones to get open and the remaining 2 to get him the puck in a position where he can't screw up. This is a really difficult way to play hockey. 56-89-83 was okay and at least consistent. 37-10-94 is a disaster of epic proportions from the get-go, because there is almost zero chance they will get in behind the D, almost zero chance they'll win a cycle game and very little chance they will score from anywhere else (long Petrell shots, Smyth crashing the puck through the goalie and Horcoff using his face to bash one in remain possibilities). The fourth line is so bad I might just exclude them from the break down. Completely and utterly useless.

BUT, you say, our powerplay is the key to our success! And right you are...unless you have a coach who has no idea how to deploy his slightly altered lineup. A mightily struggling and possibly still injured Horcoff remains plastered to 14 and 93. Jones gets time even though he showed more talent in taking his idiotic holding penalty than he did at anything else all night. Hemsky, despite having strong shifts with 14 and 93, never finds himself with them on the PP. 89 can't win a faceoff? Send him out there AGAIN! Hartikainen is driving the net, winning draws and hitting people? Pine young man! Old man Smyth is having a rough night? Meh, he'll figure it out.

Seriously, what the hell???

Another great example of things I just can't understand from our coach was the PK at the end of the game. Down 3-1, the only sensible thing to do is get your talented players out there, cheat some, and try to force a break. Did we see any of this, even in a game where Jordan Eberle generated a SH breakaway? Nope.

By the end of the game everything was on blend and double-shift and bench and spinspinspin around...it was weird.

I could go on. The point is, we were set up to fail tonight. Of course we didn't score against the Stars...we barely had a hope as things were arranged. Throw in a really rough night in our own zone for the defencemen and some average goaltending and you've got yourself an easy loss. What a waste.
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Dubnyk
- He was okay tonight, but just okay. Bit hard on the first Ryder goal but it never really should have gotten that far. The Ribeiro goal would have taken a highlight reel save and he almost got it. The second Ryder goal I'm not sure. The thing I noticed most tonight was that Dubnyk was missing pucks everywhere. Whether that was knocking them down with his stick behind the net (whiff!), blocking them at the side of the net (ooph!), or trying to catch them in his glove (bamph!), he failed at this everywhere. Lack of focus? Lack of confidence? Lack of skill?

Smid-Petry
- Yikes. Ya know, these guys have been so good for such a bad D group for so long, I've got to give them a pass tonight. Petry made a couple ugly, ugly plays on the Dallas goals, but it was bound to happen. This is one reason why Stauffer shouldn't be talking about how he's already ascended to the ranks of a top-2 dman. He's a long way from establishing himself there. Smid pushed the issue offensivelv in the third, which was good to see because it reveals some of the "take your team on your shoulders" mentality that most really good defencemen have. They'll be better against the Kings for sure. I wouldn't want to be one of the forwards that has to face them all night.

Whitney-Schultz
- Whitney started off the game quite well, but as things wore on he either got tired or lost focus. From the middle of the second, his passes were ugly, he didn't hold the line in the offensive zone and he kept bobbling the puck. There was a footrace in the third that revealed most of what we need to know about how his feet are doing...he wound up getting the icing, but what should have been a nice coasting skate turned into holding the Dallas player off with all he had. Not good. Schultz had another quiet game save for the one foray into the offensive zone during the 2-on-1 he took part in. He got a shot on net, but peeled away far too quickly as he could have gotten his own rebound very easily. Aside from that, he was not bad but not great either.

Sutton-Potter
- Potter was to blame on one of the Dallas goals as well, but otherwise played an okay game. He wasn't asked to do a lot and got a couple of shots through. Sutton struggled with the puck tonight and gave it away on a number of occasions. He also screwed up the chance he had to create an odd-man rush coming out of the penalty box.

Hordichuk-Belanger-Eager
- Yeah....no. Not worth the effort.

Smyth-Horcoff-Petrell
- Ill-conceived answer to a problem we didn't have combined with generally poor efforts. Horcoff's game was by far the worst of the three and likely left everyone wondering why he was allowed to play tonight. Some of the effort was there, but he lost the puck on a number of occasions, made bad passes, couldn't get shots away and took a couple dumb penalties. Really unacceptable game from him. He even did a double-spinnerama behind his own net...Smyth was better, though not great. He needs to play a support role for a line where players are attacking, which is something he did late in the game with a combo I can't remember. He can't be the attacker anymore. The most useful thing he did was the big ugly slapper he took that hit Lehtonen in the chest that impacted his reaction time and allowed Hemsky to score a tiny bit later. He struggled with the puck some but didn't make a lot of mistakes. Petrell did his job. Landed some hits, moved the puck forward, skated hard. The thing is, that is a fourth-liner's job description, not the guy playing against some of the other team's best.

Hartikainen-Gagner-Hemsky
- Aside from a point in the second period where they struggled with giveaways to some extent, I liked what this group brought. They consistently moved the puck up the ice and at least created some offensive opportunities. Gagner wasn't able to pull the trigger tonight, Hemsky didn't get a lot of shooting lanes and Hartikainen drove the slot well but couldn't knock anything in. The thing about Teemu is he always moves the puck to the net. Whether it is his oddly accurate and evasive shot that somehow always finds its way through, or bulldozing through defencemen (he owned Souray on a number of occasions and should have drawn multiple penalties), the guy just gets it done. He even won every draw (I don't agree with the 1 loss he was credited with) he took. Ales got boosted up to play with Eberle and Hopkins for a time, and they looked dangerous other than the fact that Eberle looked uncomfortable on the left-hand side. It was a fairly medium game from #83 though, as he was getting by the initial Dallas line but not the secondary line. Gagner as I noted couldn't pull the trigger and didn't utilize the complementary parts of his game enough. Still, these guys were at least decent.

Jones-Hopkins-Eberle.
- Jones was terrible. Seriously, for a guy receiving no defensive attention to not be able to get open, keep up or avoid taking stupid penalties (that hold at the end was clear as day, on the PP and a couple hundred feet from our net and he whines?!?!) is brutal. He's got a really easy job playing with those two and showed no signs of being up to that task tonight. While Hopkins and Eberle weren't exactly dynamite either, they were at least doing the right sorts of things. Hopkins had the puck on a string and made the Dallas D look silly. He also fired unexpected shots on a couple of occasions and was just off the mark. Eberle generated a breakaway where he made a great move and simply didn't get the puck over the pad. He also made a play in the third where normally he would have faked the shot and backhanded to Hopkins for an open goal, but Dallas actually read it. I was impressed because that move has worked all year. 14 and 93 never quit tonight, and I think it would have been at least 3-2 if not for the penalty late.
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I heard some of the post-game comments talking about effort and even though they were from the players I don't really agree that was their downfall tonight. Bad planning at every turn (including Kelly freaking Buchberger diagramming the play with the goalie out...) led to their loss and their effort led to 32 shots (though not great shots) and a number of powerplays generated.

Bad plan + no execution = loss. Simple.

3/12/12

LMHF Report - Game #34

EDMONTON 2

VS.

SAN JOSE 3
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You could tell very early on in this one that unless the Oilers got some exceptional individual efforts, this one would be a loss. It looked so much like so many of the games this team has lost this year from the very beginning that I was not exactly optimistic.

I hear Tom Renney went off the situation in the dressing room after this game. That's a BS cop out there coach. A bunch of this is YOUR fault.

Two things doomed the Oilers from the get-go tonight: their pathetic, PeeWee style breakout scheme, and the fact that once in the offensive zone, their attack from the beginning of games is geared toward the perimeter and rarely ever changes other than when rush chances create something else. Any coach worth his salt can see when these schemes isn't working and either has an alternate scheme to run that his players know, or asks for the leaders to show some creativity and lets the horses run so-to-speak. Renney only knows how to keep banging his head against the wall.

It would have taken very little to throw the Sharks off in terms of the breakout. If on just a couple of occasions the defenceman would have skated up the middle and the forwards would have changed their skating lines to accomodate, or try a breakout where the wingers skate different paths and the center is the one looping outside or across the zone...any of these little nuanced changes could have opened up the boards so that our somewhat challenged defence core would be able to make passes up the wings again...no changes came and the playbook in our own end stayed the same from the beginning to the final buzzer. Absolutely brutal.

On the offensive front, the Oilers have been utterly stymied by every single team they have faced this year that puts all five defenders in a collapsed pentagon on the inside portion of the ice. They absoutely refuse to skate through this grouping, and change nothing to make it shift to another side. Because our defencemen have not proven to be capable offensive weapons at 5-on-5, they are not a concern. Suddenly we're trying to score from behind the damn net. That's very easy to defend against. The teams that own us do it in this manner. It is absolutely brutal to watch because you see it from the very first shift. The only line that had any success against it was the Omark-Gagner-Hemsky line, who didn't score tonight because their primary triggerman (Gagner) had a pretty rough game. Then they get broken apart for playing the coach's system and have the pleasure of Belanger joining #s 83 and 89 for the shifts during the most important part of a game where you're down 1 goal...absolutely unacceptable. The kids haven't figured out how to break down this D set up on their own yet, and have to rely on powerplay chances or rush offence in order to contribute. Their supposedly experienced coach should be able to help them get Eberle open in the middle of that grouping and either force SJ to shift or allow capable passers Hopkins and Hall to find #14...but he doesn't have anything. Perhaps I'm being too harsh on a guy that has Kelly Buchberger running his forward group...NAH, he's got Krueger if he wants and could always take it over himself. That's his job.

Can the excuses Renney. You've got a ton of weapons up front and the fact that you can't help scheme them scoring chances is a shameful mark on your coaching ability.

Back to other topics...

The crowd was pretty blah in this one. I think the subpar play at home lately has finally taken the wind out of those who were still cheering this season and because of that it was very quiet (even for a Monday game against a non-rival). Really sad but at least it wasn't the Dallas game.

The goals we scored were both on turnovers and didn't really reflect any control of the game. I don't think there was any lack of try from the lineup tonight though. San Jose is a decent team that didn't exactly come in and dominate, but it still takes more than effort to break through and beat them.

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Dubnyk
- Aside from that one stellar save in the second period, he was pretty bad. It is one thing to have an iffy defence in front of you playing an inferior system, but you cannot be giving up obscene rebounds at every turn and unable to use you glove hand. That catcher is going to cost him the chance at being a #1 goalie in the NHL. The fact that he couldn't even come close to getting it on Thornton's shot was shameful. He had time and Thornton telegraphed. The first goal was horrible in that Dubnyk lost the puck despite 3 separate chances to cover up. When your goalie's idea of defending the net involves making himself small and spinning in a circle, then complaining to the ref, you don't have much hope. The third goal was another classic example of Dubnyk playing too far back and not facing the shooter aggressively. In short, I thought he was horrible tonight and the good saves he made were largely only possible due to his own poor rebound control (the 'ol save percentage boosting "Roloson Special"). Yuck. If we'd had a capable goalie, I would've pulled him after the first one. Not ready to play.

Petry-Smid
- The bright spot of the game for me. You might as well start coming up with a nickname involving bodychecking and punishment for these guys, as they dropped bombs on the Sharks forwards all night. You expect it from Smid, and he was at his best in terms of the hitting tonight, but Petry had himself locked on and with Smid defending from strong positions, decided to take runs at various Sharks. Absolutely wonderful display of making the opposition pay. Where I will dock Smid a bit is that he didn't exactly move the puck as well as he usually does and I didn't see any productive sojourns into the offensive zone. Petry on the other hand was excellent in the first and early second in terms of moving the puck, and jumping into shooting lanes in order to hammer the puck. He needs to keep doing this. In the third, he took a little too much on himself and actually messed up the forwards on a few occasions...oops. Play of note was a nice little recovery Petry made in the second on the rush where Smyth batted the puck into the netting...he made a nice defensive play there. Little things showing big improvement.

Whitney-Schultz
- I didn't notice Nick Schultz at all tonight. This can be a good thing for a defensive player...but why do I get the feeling that it was he who was feeding a bunch of those pucks up the wings to no one or a covered winger? I can't confirm so if anyone noticed that please post. Whitney scored a really nice goal by joining the rush, deciding to shoot, then changing his angle in Eberle-esque fashion and letting a ripper go. It was a beauty that some of our forwards could really learn from. Defensively, I didn't think he had nearly as good a game and didn't play the physical game he needs to in order to succeed against San Jose.

Sutton-Potter
- Rough game for these guys. My favorite sequence of Sutton's was his adventure into the offensive zone where he rightly held the puck in a position where his linemates should have been able to get open and receive a pass...the thing was that they never really did. Too bad as it could've been very pretty. That was one of the few times all night when an Oiler was in a threatening position with the puck in the Sharks' zone. Potter probably had the worst moment of the night, with a horrible giveaway after a bit of a desperation play in the third period. Not good and at a time when he needed to be making offensive moves with the puck. In the defensive zone these guys were pretty bad all night and Sutton had a ton of chances to hit people but backed off. From a guy with a limited skillset who really needs to be physical to contribute, this is horrible.

Eager-Belanger-Jones
- Eager made an excellent play on a high pass to glove the puck and generate a rush for himself in the first; only to miss the net. He simply didn't have any room and didn't make a angle-change that would have given that room to him. Disappointing that he couldn't convert on that as it looked like a great chance and he was moving with speed. Aside from that I didn't see a lot from him during the course of the game. There was a little bit of physical play but not much and he didn't get under anyone's skin that I could see. Jones had a couple solid hits, but did not get in behind the SJ defence at any point and didn't contribute to the attack. Belanger as has become usual did a whole lot of nothing. His promotion to a scoring line was a slap in the face to the other members of the team.

Smyth-Horcoff-Petrell
- This combo didn't really work for anything by making it a little bit harder for SJ to score. I know in many ways this is their primary purpose, but we cannot afford to spend so much of the game with very little chance for offence. Unfortunately, Smyth was moving slowly again tonight (aside from some hits and general meanness) and Horcoff is unable to deploy his speed at present because he is so bad with the puck. He singlehandedly screwed up several chances in the third, and it is embarrassing that he is out there when we've got 6 skaters going for the tying goal. I know this isn't his fault, but he could at least get out of the way and let the talented guys perform. His job in that situation is to win draws and get to the net. He did neither. I didn't notice Lennart except for a couple of hits and it should be noted that the bottom six combos fluctuated somewhat throughout the game.

Omark-Gagner-Hemsky
- As I noted above, this crew had most of the few effective offensive sequences in terms of actually getting to the front of the net. Hemsky and Omark worked the boards and the offensive side of the neutral zone very efficiently in the first period and this probably should have generated a goal or two. Unfortunately for whatever reason, #89 didn't have much go tonight. It almost appeared as though he was sick or just a bit off, because he wasn't in the right spot on many occasions and made some utterly perplexing plays with the puck. Aside from a big slapper on Niemi, he was pretty ineffectual. Hemsky and Omark both tailed off somewhat after the first, and when that was combined with the breakout strategy (which doesn't play into the style of this line AT ALL), it led to a pretty weak offensive push. They did have moments and Hemsky certainly could have scored on a couple of occasions, but in the end you need results. Still, not having these guys (at least two of them) out at the end is a mistake. There is no argument for 10 and 94 over any of these 3 outside of faceoffs. I'm not sure this is the right combo, but it can work if another line is pushing hard and wearing down the D. These guys will control the puck and people will get open...but you have to convert.

Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- Honestly, probably one of the poorer efforts I've seen from these guys. If any group was going to break free of Renney's idiocy and take over the game, it would be these guys who could then open the door for line two, but they did not. They seemed content to stay on the perimeter and hope for a rush chance. Hall got his and made no mistake. I sure hope he learns the power of his shooting ability and stops doing that stupid backhand-fivehole garbage soon. Eberle couldn't seem to find an opening with the puck or contribute in his own zone all that much which is unusual. I still see Hopkins as being off of his peak earlier this year, but he was more dynamic in the center of the ice tonight and that is a positive sign. He also got shots away from some places that none of his teammates were able to, which is a plus.
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So, another disappointment. And to top it all off, I have to miss the next three games for a work trip and when I came home I stepped on an inch long pin that was sticking out of the floor for some reason...talk about stabbing you when you're already down for the count. Oh well...hopefully this leads to massive firings of Oilers coaches and management...a guy can hope.

3/2/12

LMHF Report - Game #32

EDMONTON 1

VS.

DALLAS 3
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What a giant pile of garbage. My friend who accompanied me tonight has come to about 1/4 of the home games each season for the past 3. She figures that's the worst game she's been to. I'd be inclined to agree. Even in blowouts and bad efforts there's usually something that is even mildly entertaining. Tonight's game was the definition of boring.

A lot of people at the game we saying that they didn't see a lot of effort tonight and I'd disagree with that sentiment. It was not that we went out there and had no try, but much moreso that we went out and tried really really stupidly. I'm not sure I've seen such a confusing and awkward effort from our team in a long time.

Our passing game wasn't great against the Blues, who put on a clinic in terms of keeping their passes short and crisp while closing gaps on the Oilers as they tried to advance the puck. Dallas wasn't near as good at either aspect of the game but still managed to keep the Oilers bouncing the puck around the ice to no one in particular. If we could have connected on even a half-decent amount of the passes we attempted in the first and second period, we win this game going away. Instead, players were hesitating, second-guessing, re-routing, bobbling and basically doing everything possible to screw up. It was amazing.

One exceptionally weird thing about this game was that it probably should have ended 0-0. Both meaningful Dallas goals were horrible, they added an empty netter and then we got one in garbage time. It is not every day that you see a game played that sloppily.

Don't get me wrong, the Oilers had chances. The amount of times Ales Hemsky hit a player with a pass in a dangerous shooting area tonight had to have been at least 8-10. Hall got the puck in his office multiple times in the second period alone and couldn't do a bloody thing for some reason. Though I am usually in favor of shaking the lines up in such a game, I thought it was a mistake to take Hall off of the line with Gagner and Hemsky. They hadn't connected yet and were having some confusing/frustrating ventures into the offensive zone, but they were also generating enough chances that eventually one would have bounced in or finally come off Hall's stick smoothly. It was only a matter of time. The other lines I wouldn't have minded, but not that one. Then again, this is the price you pay with 91, 23 and 56 on the farm. All the bottom sixers you could elevate on nights when people go cold are in OKC.

I'm really sick of talking about how bad the officiating is, but I will say this; if it is true that the Oilers are getting after the officials vocally I understand, but if it isn't doing anything you might as well snap a little bit, REALLY get their attention and maybe scare them some. If you're going to passively complain and get treated the same or worse, you might as well crank it to 11 and really get something going. What's the worst that happens so long as you keep it short of physical contact? They've been patient enough with this BS all year. They play a disciplined speed game that should draw a ton of penalties, yet are grabbed, hooked, and interfered with by the Detroits, Vancouvers and Calgarys of the world and don't get a thing. Time to change the approach.

As I got into above, I didn't really mind the top line so much. They didn't connect but the chances were being generated and the puck was moving the right way. They were a couple connections off from being money. A couple of times, they hit the line with speed and went offside. Just so you know how I see this, the puck carriers job is to make sure his line hits that blue line with as much speed as possible, and he needs to make sure that puck gets to the blue paint quickly. This sometimes means extending and always means having the puck fairly forward. Gagner and Hall didn't do this and it cost the Oilers two very nice looking rushes. Hemsky was the one hitting the line at break-neck speed both times. Another time, Hall made a great back pass, opening up a lane and Hemsky was a step too late getting there. All of these guys slightly miscued and it cost the Oilers some glorious chances. These plays could have been the game. It is not good that they whiffed on them, but at least they had the opportunity to begin with.

Our second line was a bit of a different animal because Petrell played on it. While Hopkins and to a lesser extent Eberle both had opportunities, they were largely individual efforts, not including passes or even using teammates as screens or picks. This meant there wasn't much ice to play with and kept these guys from being really effective tonight. I'm torn on what to say about Lennart. In a sense, he did what he does best in terms of being positionally safe, landing some good hits and getting to the front of the net. Indeed he had a couple of really solid tips that could have gone in...but the thing is that he so messed up the dynamics of the rush attack that the odd-man situations both Eberle and Hopkins thrive on were not created. Lennart isn't good enough to do his own thing, so the Stars could effectively double team both of the other guys. That's not going to end well and it didn't tonight. One really cool thing I noticed Hopkins doing, is that he keeps making really small passes to himself on the rush. It is something I've never really seen from a hockey player and keeps the opposition very off-balance. This appears to be why he's so effective with the puck. I will say though, that he has not been the same player since coming back from his first injury.

After those two groups, it was pretty sad. The mishmash of the remaining six players does not have enough talent to make up a single line capable of putting goals on the board. This won't serve you well over any kind of averaging-out period. When some of the best passes on the night are made by Darcy Hordichuk (credit to him, in the second he was patient, kept his head up and made some truly sound decisions out there), you're not going to succeed. I maintain that without Paajarvi's speed to change the dynamic of the third line, no sustained attack is possible. Opposing checkers can simply play back and wait for the Eager, Smyth, Horcoff (or similar) combo to make a mistake with the puck. They always will if you don't let them get behind you. Horcoff was doing a whole bunch of skating and creating a whole whack of nothing all night. His choices with the puck were weird even for him. Smyth kept thinking he could make a play behind the net and the Stars shut him down easily. Eager didn't have that extra jump he needs. I will give credit to Jones as he did a good job of driving in on Dallas and always made sure to finish his check. I already mentioned Hordichuk's most meaningful contributions to the game. Belanger needs to be sat. He contributed absolutely nothing to this game, and his attempt at checking Dvorak on his goal was absolutely embarrassing. What is wrong with this guy? Seriously?

I have a hard time harping too much on our D tonight. I liked the balanced combinations and the fact that they really didn't let Dallas beat them aside from the odd Trevor Daley rush and the unfortunate run-in Corey Potter had with Khabibulin. For the most part, these guys did their job. If I had to pick one area though, I would criticize their decision-making as they approached their own blue line. Many times tonight, Dallas simply backed off and let the D rush the puck up. For whatever reason, guys like Whitney, Potter, Petry and Schultz especially decided that this meant despite the speed they were carrying, a forced pass would be necessary. I'm quite sure that at least one D man could have generated a goal with a solid rush up the middle tonight as Dallas was standing still. Whitney was especially guilty of pass-forcing, but I was certainly glad he showed initiative with the puck at times. He got set up for a fabulous chance by Hemsky and couldn't finish...odd...two games in a row where Gilbert probably would have scored...

For a guy who is defensively skilled and doesn't show much offensive potential, Schultz sure jumps up in the rush a lot. He actually does it quite smoothly (I'm sure a function of his sound skating) but just can't seem to add any pop to the finishing effort. This is really too bad. One nice thing we have going for us right now, is that both Petry and Smid are playing a mean game on D, dishing out some abuse. I just wish #5 would stop doing that side-block (he's going to get hurt) and maybe drop the gloves from time to time (he's got a nearly unblemished record there).

As for Khabibulin, did it really matter what he did tonight?

I think I had more fun tonight eating dinner, driving home, and writing this report than I did watching the game tonight. Yuck.

Call up 23.