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2/22/13

2013 LMHF Report Game #9

EDMONTON 1 (again, yep)

VS.

MINNESOTA 3
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SO, I find it really amazing and revealing that the post game conversations I've had the opportunity to look at while relaxing with my son before writing this report have taken the tone that they have. I knew that the main topic for discussion would be the one thing that was actually accomplished this game - someone, namely Taylor Hall, finally had a shot at that skating piece of trash Cal Clutterbuck, took it, and hammered him. It is about damn time. In an era where this type of "hockey player" is allowed to run around without fear of the traditional method of response to his type of "game" (that being a thinly veiled elbow to the teeth that netted you no penalty), you have to take your shots when they come and #4 did. Kudos to him for seeing the opportunity and trying to blow up that loser. I'm guessing there will be people around the league thanking him. I'm frankly a little sad the moron's leg isn't busted up. If Hall had been coming the other way, that moron would have jumped a foot off the ice, went for the head, then ran to the nearest official he could find to hide. This is because he's a coward. He's a coward who can't handle the repercussions of the way he plays the game. He's a coward who tried his damndest to make what is apparently a charley horse look like a career ender. Our guy went for a hard hit and kept playing the game. Respect earned tonight Mr. Hall.

I can't believe the reaction of some people. Edmonton Media, bloggers, twitters (emphasis on the twit) and forum posters who think this was "stupid" and other such things. What is wrong with you right now? Have you actually lost your minds? I'm inclined to say the past number of years have rotten your brains at this point. Yeesh. Get a damn grip. A guy went for a hard hit on a dirty player. Messier used to clothesline guys and get props afterwards. Scott Stevens would have ran Clutterbuck out of the league. The game has changed in a bad way when it is the Steve Otts, Cal Clutterbucks, Steve Downies and others who are defended by officials, fans and from the other players.

Credit to Ales tonight as well for not taking any of that moron's crap at the end of the first period. Shoulda dropped the gloves and shown everyone what kind of pansy the Wild have playing such an integral role on their team.

Speaking of the Wild...not impressed. Weak squad, boring hockey, no attack to speak of and didn't do anything defensively to write home about. They're strong in the neutral zone but that's just about it. Where were Bouchard and Parise? Crazy that they'd be so invisible out there. Maybe it is just a function of the game they play.

We made some mistakes tonight but our main malfunction was just having no speed or desperation heading into the Wild zone. We didn't drive anyone back, dazzle with passes or draw any penalties. We need to draw penalties with our speed to win hockey games. The first line kept slowing down. The second line had no rhythm. The third line was mildly effective. Why did Krueger bench line 4?

I'm starting to doubt our new coach some - especially now that there is a rather attractive coaching option on the open market. I liked the adjustment in the third period that saw the HHH line put together some really solid shifts. Everything else was kind of in shambles. 91 and 56 saw almost no ice on a night when there were a number of our higher end players that didn't get it going. We are sticking with a system that clearly doesn't play to our strengths and doesn't generate 5-on-5 offence. How many stretch passes have you seen this year? Forwards flying the zone with speed to an opening? Innovative breakout plays? Effective zone entry tactics? Changes need to be made and our coach is adopting far too much of a stay the course attitude. This was epitomized by the lifelessness of tonight's game. I may sound a little crazy for saying this...but didn't Ben Eager look like a guy who might get a line going tonight? He won't on most nights, but a guy like Bowman could always read when a guy like that was on and his star players needed either a kick in the ass or just a different set of skating lines to think about. It was worth a shot when we had nothing to lose. This is not a 2-1 team. We all know that. Why doesn't our coaching staff? I doubt the head man is getting much from his 2 Assistants and that might be a place to start to see some change. I think we all also see that management could have reacted to the challenges we've faced this year with subtle moves to blunt the impact of injuries while shoring up roster depth and has not. To me this means that they have no intention of winning anything this year or are completely incompetent. One of the two. Of course...I also find the idea of winning nothing this year to be something an absolute incompetent would try.

SO, on to the players.
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Dubnyk
- Can't allow either the second or third goals. Still dipping his blocker shoulder and you can tell the video guys have it pegged. He's allowed a bunch of goals in that exact same spot this year. He must have been completely asleep on the second as he was not in a proper butterfly and barely even moved. I'll give him a pass on the first but not those two. Subpar performance. Not that it would have mattered too much but we could win 2-1 in an SO once in a while I guess.

Fistric-Peckham
- I see this pairing two separate ways tonight. First, they did some really nice things in terms of standing up at the opposition blue line and keeping the puck in. They generated multiple scoring chances this way in the first and I give special credit to Mr. Peckman for handling the puck so well in his season debut and getting solid shots away cleanly. They were also pretty decent in their defensive end in terms of positioning and playing the man. They could have been more physical but that is okay. The flip side of all of that is that they don't move the puck effectively. We need even our third pair to get the puck to our forwards effectively. Fistric has the talent to do that but rarely takes the time or has the confidence and tonight was no exception. Peckham probably doesn't. At least they're playing better than Whitney...damn is that sad.

J.Schultz-N.Schultz
- Goat horns to Nick tonight. Two absolutely brutal sequences leading to two Wild goals. I don't know how a veteran NHL defenceman noted for his defensive play can be so horrible at the 2-on-1. Doesn't take away the puck carrier effectively at all and no aggression to force a mistake whatsoever. He also did nothing offensively and didn't hit anybody. Not good. Justin had a pretty quiet night with only a couple offensive adventures that could have actually resulted in anything at all. I'd like to see him go riverboat more early in games and at the end of games where we need a goal. He has the skill to play rover at those times.

Smid-Petry
- I'm going to give a collective MEH to these two. A couple giveaways but nothing too horrible. Also nothing that stood out in a big way which is too bad in a game where we needed a spark. I'll reiterate my call from last game - why hasn't Smid absolutely buried someone lately???

Hartikainen-Vandevelde-Paajarvi
- Barely played. A mistake to use them this way in this game. Much as the third line picked it up the fourth line wasn't doing anything wrong in its limited icetime and #56 specifically was showing some jump.

Smyth-Belanger-Eager
- Certainly the strongest game from this group that we've seen. Smyth scored of course and also made the play to set up his goal by getting the puck free and to Belanger. He was also in on the forecheck much better than in past games and didn't get caught chasing so much. Belanger played mainly a support role and did it pretty well. If only he could actually shoot the puck. I like that he got in the faces of some of the Wild players from time to time as well. Eager had the best game of the three. He was looking for his and landed some good ones including and absolutely crunch-job behind the wild net on Brodin. He carried the puck well. Got some pucks off and generally mixed things up while staying out of the penalty box. A fine job.

Yakupov-Gagner-Hemsky
- Nail had a weird game. Got a couple good shooting chances and didn't convert. Made a great play to Gagner who couldn't handle the puck (a common theme tonight). Also made a couple of really weird passes to a Wild player in the first and to absolutely no one in the third. He's really struggling to find his spots at the moment. I just wish he'd float a bit more (seems like an odd thing to say I know) because he'd probably find more open ice that way. Gagner was pretty bad tonight. He couldn't do anything well with the puck. Yakupov gave him a gift and he missed. He was sent in on a breakaway and rushed himself so bad he lost the puck despite having time and space. He couldn't corral the puck on numerous shooting chances. Very very weird game from #89. Looked like he'd grabbed the wrong hand of stick or something. And what was with that goofy spin in his own zone and skating himself into corners? Ales didn't have a great game either. While he was a little better in the offensive and neutral zones than his linemates and showed some real life when bumped up with Hall and Hopkins, his reverse play in the third was ill-timed and resulted in an unfortunate goal when combined with Dubnyk's weak effort. I get trying to make something happen in a game that was going like this one but that wasn't the time for that play.

Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- #14 is in a genuine slump. He's not getting to his usual shooting lanes, is slowing down in the offensive zone and just generally not playing the game he knows. It is very odd to watch. I recall a play in the second (I think) where he had the puck along the goal line with both Hall and Hopkins WIDE OPEN in perfect shooting position and instead he shoots with zero chance to score...for a guy with supreme hockey awareness that's just terrible. He's not trusting his instincts at all at the moment. Might need a fresh look on a different line to do it. Or at least some strong practice time. Hopkins was just okay to me. He missed the net on his best shooting chances (again), was decent defensively and could have made some things happen. I did notice a few times that he was skating to the wrong side of players when attempting to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Not sure why he'd do that. Hall was frustrated and rightly so. He didn't make a lot happen tonight despite a lot of effort. I expounded at length on the hit above.

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Disappointing and frustrating. The most important home stand of the year. Crummy. Not "lose your minds" crummy like some are making it out to be, but crummy nonetheless.

2/20/13

2013 LMHF Game Report #8

EDMONTON 1

VS.

LOS ANGELES 3
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First things first - this Game Report was made possible by my wonderful wife, who suggested that I should head to the game tonight. We're working on routine as I'll be at work on Monday and she is figuring things out but it was great of her to do. Thankfully her family was also in town to help out as well. For those interested, things are going pretty well and thank you again for all the congratulations and well wishing.

Back to business - So tonight was a pretty interesting game in the sense that we did come out fairly strong. Every indication early on was that we'd overwhelm an LA team that for whatever reason doesn't generate a lot of goals (it really doesn't make much sense as they certainly have the players). The shots were coming we were getting to a lot of the right spots even against LA's stingy defensive setup. We should have generated at least four powerplays in the first period. There were multiple stick infractions and some holding/interference as well. They weren't cheap would-be penalties either - we drew them and deserved a pay off. It didn't come.

After that we got frustrated and backed off the game plan a little bit. At the same time, Los Angeles returned to their disciplined system play in their own zone. LA plugs up the middle of the ice and uses their sticks better than any other team I can think of right now. They are quite tough to beat in that area. The thing is; this is nothing new. Los Angeles has been doing this for some time. The Oilers video guys should have this system picked apart by now. I don't know why we don't have a specific plan for attacking the zone against the Kings. It really handicaps our high level scoring lines ability to generate the high quality shots we need. There were a ton of times tonight where our top six drove the middle well but were shut down by LA's efforts. We needed to adjust.

After the first (some of the commentators and Krueger said the first 45. I don't agree) they did not appear to spend as much time in the Kings' end and certainly did not spend as much dangerous time there. Where you'd think we'd be up at least a couple after the first you did not have that impression after the second. Things had ground to a halt and the Kings controlled the pace. They also scored an ugly goal to take the lead.

We certainly didn't exhibit the push back I've seen in other games. Even the ones we lost and ones where it was only a couple shifts long. We sort of just kept playing iffy hockey. Not a lot of sustained pressure and not a lot of rush pressure either frankly. After Gagner's goal and into the third we didn't get the jump I still thought we might. The attitude seemed to be that we'd missed the boat in the first and the game was done. I highly doubt we would have won in OT...possibly in a shoot out.

While you can't leave a game to the last 60 seconds and blame a referee's skate for a loss, it sure does stink. That was an interesting looking rush with fresh enough legs that Hall was leading. He would have at least had the opportunity. Instead we get semi-caught and a shot through several players winds up in our net. Crummy.

It's not that we deserved a better fate. It is that good teams often deserve to lose and manage to squeak one out with an elite play at the right time or JUST enough pressure and a defensive mismatch or some such thing. Not our night. We're not there yet.

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Khabibulin
- He played pretty well. Kind of has to stop at least one of the LA goals though. Both were strange and neither was great. He made a couple great saves (and I actually looked away on the play where he made a great stop on the weird bounce off the glass) and certainly did enough that we had a shot. He looked really confident in the net - almost to the point of too much confidence because he was knocking rebounds into some pretty iffy areas. It wasn't a control problem either as he was directing the puck to these places. I liked the way he played the puck but unfortunately Khabibulin and Dubnyk's style of playing the puck is so different that our defence struggled to adapt to the goalie they've seen so little of this season.

J.Schultz-N.Schultz
- Justin has kind of drifted into the background in the past couple games to my eye. He's not skating the puck as much from his own zone and is not picking his spots as well in joining the rush. He has also been caught multiple times (including tonight at least twice) standing still around the opposition blue line on 40/60 sort of plays. In the AHL I bet he turned a bunch of these into great chances. In the NHL the wingers he's facing pull up and make a pass or blow by him. He's got to watch that and got bailed out on these plays tonight. Not so lucky against Colorado. He didn't get an assist on a great backcheck-to-quick-up play and made some things happen, but he's backed off the aggressiveness a little bit. I'd like to see him amp it up. This might require him to be moved onto a pairing with Smid. I say this because I'm not a huge fan of the work Nick Schultz is doing. Too much indecisive play at the blue line. Too few offensive efforts, not a lot of physicality and not a lock-the-barn kind of guy either. This was all going on this evening. I'd much rather have Tom Gilbert.

Fistric-Whitney
- I will give Ryan Whitney some credit. He made a few great passes and even better reads tonight. He fired the puck when he needed to and paused, changed angle, then found his man on others. It was nice to see him do that. What he cannot do is fail to finish checks in the corners. He cannot have bad giveaways trying to exit his own zone. He can't drift around and lose positioning. He did all of those things. Fistric had a pretty decent game. He fought hard and punished people in the corners. He wasn't the greatest at moving the puck but also didn't make any mistakes he couldn't recover from. The one thing that was missing from the Colorado game if my limited TV viewing was correct is that he didn't really keep the puck in the offensive zone as well tonight. Those plays made a big difference against Colorado.

Smid-Petry
- Right now Jeff Petry is playing well from the offensive side of the neutral zone to the other team's faceoff circle. He made two fairly memorable and solid offensive plays in this area - one in the second and one in the third. Outside of those areas he is struggling. His first passes, ventures into the deep offensive zone and positioning around our net leave something to be decided. Smid on the other hand was pretty simple and solid. I wonder where his big hitting game is right now though.

Hartikainen-Vandevelde-Paajarvi
- I wanted to highlight these guys even though they were only a line briefly. They did some nice things as individuals and in the third period. Teemu specifically had a really great shift that generated scoring chances with great work behind the net. He didn't have as good of a night where he started, with Gagner and Hemsky. Instead of creating room he struggled to transition and make a quick pass to either #83 or #89 and failed to capitalize on shooting chances. I'd also like to see him return to focusing on the hitting game more, because he does it so well and in a way that makes offence happen. I'm guessing he was still hurting some today. Magnus was just okay. He had a couple bursts where he challenged the Kings D but nothing sustained. Couldn't find any real lanes either. Again, not a bad effort just nothing to write home about. Vandevelde continues to plug away and do his job as best he can. He hit a few people, caused some turnovers and went to the right places in the offensive zone. Unfortunately he could not capitalize on a couple very good scoring chances. In the first he received the puck in the slot and only had to take one more stride to be facing a completely open net and instead simply whacked it into Quick. Classic 4th line move. Too bad.

Smyth-Belanger-Eager
- It is not good when Ben Eager is really the only guy who impresses you compared to his relative performance but that was tonight's game. Ben kept himself out of the penalty box, laid some hits (though he strangely let up on Dustin Brown twice) and got a couple scoring chances. I can't help but think if he played a more patient, positional game he'd have more nights like this. At least he was focused. Just couldn't capitalize on a couple rebound chances either. Belanger was okay. He took a couple solid shots on the net and played a tight positional game. Smyth won a couple puck battles which is great, but I cannot help but seeing him continually behind the play. He's not the type of guy that could ever get by being a stride behind and he sure isn't that guy now.

Yakupov-Gagner-Hemsky
- Again, this crew wasn't together all that long but for convenience sake we'll group them here. Yakupov managed to find himself a couple decent scoring chances and took good shots. He could not beat Quick and was never really in alone. Also didn't manage a one-timer. I've started to notice that while #64 has a powerful, accurate wrister release, it is actually fairly slow. Goalies seem to be able to read it. I've also noticed that he is anticipating hits too early and either leaving himself vulnerable or missing the puck. He needs to work on his patience and hiding his release a little better. Gagner was pretty meh to me tonight. Hemsky and the defencemen got him the puck in his wheelhouse on several occasions but he seemed reluctant to fire that goofy half slapper. He scored but let's be honest it was not a great goal. He had better chances and was just a little off tonight. Hemsky started well, driving the net and should have drawn at least two penalties in the first period. He spent the first and some of the second absolutely dummying Keaton Ellerby. Unlucky for us, his D partner was Drew Doughty who had a stellar game swooping in to shut Hemsky down. Unfortunately neither Yakupov nor Gagner seemed to clue in and follow up on the play so that when Hemsky forced Doughty across he could dump it to one of them or get the rebound. He tailed off a bit after the first but was pretty decent overall. Still looking shot which is great on that line. Still needs to go to the low post a little bit more.

Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- Very frustrating night for Hall and understandably so. He crushed a guy near the end of the game but that was probably the most satisfying moment he had. It was he who was going up the wing and had the puck take a bad bounce off the linesman. He carried decent enough speed in the neutral zone tonight, though the line as a hole kept slowing down right at the opposition blue line and trying to pass for some reason. When Hall did head for the scoring zone he had an old, familiar problem: he carried the puck much too far from his body with his stick at a low angle. This meant an already active and strong Kings D could strip the puck and shut him down fairly easily and before he was able to look shot and pass off. He never corrected which, again, is something the video guys should be doing. Being that I believe this is part of Buchberger's role, I don't see it as likely this will happen. The good news is these games have been few and far between this year. I wish he'd adjust and carry closer to his feet the way elite players that aren't huge do. He'd be absolutely unstoppable. Hopkins was just okay. He fired a really nice shot off a Hemsky set up in the first that really could have gone. In the second he broke in and was robbed by Quick. His passing was off though and he didn't carry speed well. He also got beat up by hits which isn't good to begin with and especially when you have a shoulder issue. Defensively he made the effort out there and broke up some plays. Eberle was also just okay by my eye. He had a great chance in the first that I believe he rang off the bar. That stunk because it would have really fired up the crowd and the team to start the game. After that he was decent enough but quiet in the offensive zone.
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So all in all just a game we didn't win. We're starting to lose too many of these to make the playoffs for sure. The good news is we've been in pretty much every game. This is indeed a team that, if it hits a roll on this road trip for instance, may turn into one of those "they may never lose again" sort of teams, but they need a lot of things to go right, and probably a personnel change to make that a more realistic option. We'll see where we go from here.

I think we almost need a Chicago visit...crazy as that may sound.


2/13/13

2013 LMHF Game Report #6

EDMONTON 1

VS.

DALLAS 4
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If you've read these for a decent while you will know that I often wind up slightly to the other side of the commonly held opinion about the game we all just witnessed. A lot of nights that means I am a tad more positive than many others. This is usually due to little things that I saw in the game and impressed me. Tonight I suspect I'll come off a tad more negative than the prevailing opinion, which seems to be that the Oilers played pretty well and simply got unlucky/ran into a "hot goalie". You will know if you are a regular reader that these two cliches don't hold water for me.

Tonight the Oilers did indeed do a bunch of very good things. They started out with a solid set of powerplays that should have resulted in a goal or two. The main difference tonight was the urgency with which the players drove (either themselves or the puck) towards the shooting lanes and quickly took advantage. They slowed down a little later in the game unfortunately and also the coaches did not realize that we had our best powerplay when the line led by #83 took the first shift.

The Oilers were physical tonight. Many players hit in areas and on plays I have not seen them finish off in some time. It was impressive but they were not able to back the Stars off of the puck or create turnovers to the extent you'd like to see. This is after all the main point of playing a hitting game. The other result can be that the opposition wears down and collapses near the end of the game. Unfortunately it was the Oilers that did this after a night of grinding away and coming up with nothing.

I liked that our powerplay was using a variety of break-ins, including dumping it along the boards with a winger speeding along the other side. Hemsky is especially good at this and Hall did it too.

I commend Ralph Krueger for sitting Smyth and Whitney. It was absolutely the right thing to do. I'd hope he keeps both out next game, or Smyth at the very least. Team-wide accountability demands it. The unfortunate thing for Ralph is he simply does not have enough to work with at the bottom of the order. Thinking about it tonight, we have become too used to bad players being in our lineup and are seeing some positives or assets where there really aren't any. Eric Belanger, while certainly improved over last year is nowhere near the player we thought we were getting. Chris Vandevelde is not an NHLer. Neither is Lennart Petrell despite his best efforts. Ben Eager should be an optional accessory rather than a necessity and nearly a given. In T.O. David Steckel can't get into the lineup. In New York, Brian Boyle finds himself in a similar position. We don't have these kind of players to move in and out of the lineup.

Dallas is not a great team. They seem to have a ton of confidence rolling into Edmonton and that makes sense given their past results I suppose. Lehtonen was very good tonight, but we made him look like the best goalie in the league. We had some minor breakdowns but make no mistake, when Dallas scores the goals that meant anything by playing some weird sort of hockey-racquetball hybrid and bouncing the puck off everything but the cheerleaders' rear ends, they don't exactly get much credit.

But the thing is, we shouldn't either. The thing that matters in this game is finishing. You must close. This is not horseshoes or hand grenades. This is hockey. You need to score more than one goal. It is nice that we suddenly seem to be able to pop the first one...but the second one appears incredibly elusive. There is no good reason for that to continue.

Crazy thought - in a game like this where one line is clearly in high gear but seems to be cursed, I think you spread them around for a couple shifts and hope their game rubs off on some other guys or they find a match. Can't help but think that might have worked out tonight.
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Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- So, straight to the heart of the matter. These guys were both amazing and disappointing tonight. The way they drove the play was stupendous. They shredded the Dallas neutral zone defenders like they were not even there. High in the offensive zone their work was beautiful. Behind the net they controlled the play. The thing was, they did not get to the middle of the ice as much as they needed to, and when they did, things somehow went horribly wrong. They took a lot of good shots on net but also rushed at times. Hall's goal was a smart decision - 1-on-3 he takes a hard wrister, down low to the corner of the net rather than his usual five-hole. It goes in. Good. Nothing profound but might get the ball rolling. He did many other more impressive things throughout the game. Hall showed how he can lead the team tonight. He didn't pass the puck as much as he could have on a night when the rush was cruising. I loved the way this line responded to the first Dallas goal. Their next two shifts were brilliant and could have each resulted in a goal. For me, the game turned on Eberle's chance at the very end of the second period. He'd had a great chance in the slot and fanned earlier in the second, and also received a great feed at the side of the net in the first, but this was IT. Hopkins made an absolutely wonderful pass as Eberle grabbed a lane and then cut in his direction, opening up on the backhand and leaving Lehtonen dead...then Eberle did not roof his backhander. I still can't figure out why he went low. With the way he's shooting right now I suspect he may have half-whiffed even if he said he didn't later. Last year that's under the bar every time. #14 needs to bear down and finish there. The game is ours if he scores that goal. He had more chances later but they didn't work out either. I can't believe he can't shoot smoothly this year. Back to the old lumber. Hopkins had the best chance in the third. He got a great chance to tie the game at the right side of the net. Again, he didn't go upstairs. I wonder if he might be overthinking it because he is missing the net high so much at this point but I don't know. These guys were everything we need them to be in terms of appearances tonight, but could not close the deal. I'm amazed they didn't score 3 or 4, but they have to bear down in close and they aren't.

Yakupov-Gagner-Hemsky
- Nail was all over the place, both figuratively and literally at times. He got some excellent looks in front of the net and didn't pop one somehow. I really thought he'd beaten Lehtonen on the backhand in the first after taking a nice pass (from Petry?) and making a great move. It didn't find the corner. He also took a nice wrister in the third that didn't go. Couple outstanding plays in the neutral zone and even a really solid effort on the backcheck. Hemsky was strong in the defensive zone. He won a bunch of battles after iffy passes came up the boards to him. He outmuscled some guys that are much bigger than he. Several solid backchecking plays and lots of puck support plays. You could tell the whole line and especially #83 was trying to support Yakupov by utilizing a more flowing breakout and criss-crossing from time to time. It kind of worked and kind of didn't. Yakupov was out there for Jagr's goal. He'd actually make a nice little breakup play, but was chasing too hard and then Smid dove to block a pass that never made it through and we were cooked. Very unfortunate. I think we have two options with #63 - keep him where he is and tell him to play a simple positional game OR give him a line to run on his own. He could do either job. Gagner was kind of in the background tonight. He had some really good chances including one at the left side of the net in the second but every time the puck came to him he couldn't seem to pull the trigger as fast or effectively as he has been lately. His passing game was not as solid as it has been recently. Certainly not a bad game and laid one of the best hits I've seen in a long time, but he can do better.

Hartikainen-Belanger-Paajarvi
- As I noted above, Belanger is better than last year but still struggling. He is at least taking and making passes solidly. Tonight he did some nice things in that area and also in terms of his position. The thing is, he can't get a good shot away and is not getting anything done either in front of the net or in the corners. This is a necessity for a third line C and we're not getting it. This also creates a giant hole where offence goes to die and #s 56 and 91 suffer for it. They carried speed into the offensive zone but if the puck went through Belanger we were done. His faceoff work was brilliant but it does not appear to have resulted in goals. Magnus and Teemu continued to do the things they need to do, with a little less success than in some previous games. The one thing I'd like to see is this group generating some plays to the slot...but again, if that player is Belanger it isn't going to work.

Eager-Vandevelde-Petrell
- Meh. Eager had one of his better games in that he got in on the forecheck, forced some plays, hit some people and didn't do anything too stupid. I'd like to see him get to the slot a little more though as he can fire it. Twice he was caught out on long shifts. When #55 takes a long shift, he takes a hand off his stick and starts grabbing/shoving. When this happens he takes penalties. Someone drag him to the bench next time. Vandevelde was okay. He hit some people and didn't get caught badly or anything. He isn't an NHLer though. Lennart was okay and good on the penalty kill.

Petry-Fistric
- Odd pairing that wound up working out okay. Petry had another mixed bag of a night but certainly better than some of his recent efforts. He'd made two horrible plays within the first two shifts, then made a brilliant pass and started to turn his game around. He was part in drawing a key powerplay that could have helped greatly. He still got caught out of position a couple times and certainly could have been better, but maybe we're on the way up. Fistric did his job in that he hit people, drew a crowd and a couple penalties, and also got a couple shots toward the net. Really helps out the PK.

Smid-Potter
- Another odd unit. Smid played a whale of a game for much of the night, even inspiring a SMMIIIIIIDDDD! chant at one brief point. He blocked shots and broke up plays like crazy. Not the greatest effort on Jagr's goal as I noted before, though it should not have even mattered at that point. He also got caught on the same side as Potter at times which nearly resulted in a couple of disasters. I'll chalk this up to being a new pair. Brilliant pinches by Smid though. Just wonderful. Potter was just okay. He didn't make too many defensive mistakes, but I'm still waiting for the passing and the self confidence to come back. They were not there tonight.

J. Schultz - N. Schultz
- A relatively quiet game from this pair. Aside from a couple brilliant pinches and follow-ups by Justin, there wasn't really much to write home about aside from some solid defensive play.

Dubnyk
- Should have been a good enough effort for the win. I get why the first goal went in, but not putting his hand up to catch the second one was really strange. I know it was deflected but still. He made some great saves in the second and early third.
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One theme I didn't really find a place to hit on was that the Oilers were overskating the play far too much tonight. They'd blow by players and have to work even harder to get back in the play. They almost worked too hard tonight. Back to basics. Solid positioning and finishing those scoring chances. That's where we need to go.

Well, that and acquiring the center and defenceman we should have months ago of course...

2/7/13

2013 LMHF Game Report #5

EDMONTON 2

VS.

DALLAS 3
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Well, on one hand you've got to beat this Dallas team. Their roster is weak, old and they're missing important players. They didn't show very much tonight that was impressive in any meaningful way. They're not dynamic or particularly effective at anything. They do have a strong goalie which helped them out for sure. Jagr and still do a couple of the things he's always been able to do (win the battles when he has the puck and shoot it when he has any room) and that made the difference for them tonight.

On the other hand, our roster going in to this game stunk. It stunk even more when we lost our fourth center of the year to injury. Get these men some adequate padding or something already...wow. Did we cope very well with the losses we sustained? Well...sort of. The players themselves did a fairly good job of adapting and not getting lost of confused during the game and dealing with ever-changing arrangements. 5-on-5 at least. The powerplay was scary-bad at times this evening. They couldn't get puck control off of a zone entry without great difficulty. The coaches did not adjust so well. It was already bad enough to pull a MacTavish and simply plug Mark Arcobello in a spot where he had no possibility of succeeding to begin with...then to stick with him after a couple periods and an injury to Lander was pretty terrible decision-making on their part. This probably cost us at least one 5-on-5 goal and ultimately the game.

It feels odd to say this about a 3-2 loss where our forward lineup was depleted and generally bad, but the defence really let us down tonight. There were mediocre to bad performances for most of the crew and I can't figure out why exactly. Hmmm.

Let's turn to our goals for a moment.

Our first game after a superlative effort by the Yakupov-Gagner-Hemsky line. There were at least three beautiful shooting chances during this sequence that just didn't turn out. It wasn't for lack of effort or desire to fire the puck though. Eventually Yakupov got the puck in a really nice spot, took a shot that easily could have gone in but deflected to Hemsky who made no mistake on a shot that turned out to be harder to cash than it initially appeared. Great all-around effort to get the 1-0 lead.

The second Oilers goal was an even more beautiful thing. It started with an Eberle pass off to Hall. Rather than simply stand idly, Eberle worked his way down low and behind the net. He then motioned with his head to Hall that Hemsky was open. Hall fired a hard, flat, excellently timed pass across the whole zone to Hemsky, who was WIDE open and had about three years to decide what to do. The made a little fake then teed one up just right for Justin Schultz. All this while, Teemu Hartikainen was battling away in front of the net, and had set up a perfect screen for anyone who needed it. Schultz made no mistake. Perfectly executed powerplay sequence.

We'll look more at the Dallas goals while discussing specific players.
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Dubnyk
- He was really good tonight and made some nice stops. He was positionally solid; save for an approximately 10 minute stretch in the second where he was AGAIN dipping his blocker side shoulder and Dallas was simply not able to take advantage. Chabot needs to get a bloody taser and train this out of him during practices. It is going to kill games at key times. Luckily for us he returned to form subsequently. Definitely gave us a chance to win.

Petry-Smid
- Easily the worst game I've seen Jeff Petry play in a long time. He was wandering around his own zone out of position, turned the puck over routinely in every zone, deflected a goal into our net and generally looked terrible. He's lucky Smid was there to bail him out with shot blocks and strong defensive plays for most of the game. I do give Smid a hard time regarding the Benn goal as he was out of position, but that is partly because Ryan Smyth was in the middle of nowhere and threw everything off. Petry usually is, and has to be much much much better than he was tonight. I was starting to fear the times he got the puck. Just ugly.

J. Schultz-N.Schultz
- Similar to what I've seen so far, Nick had a quiet game but his tentativeness cost him at times. Just not aggressive enough on the opposition blue line. He also screened Dubynk pretty badly (along with Ryan Smyth) on the Roy goal. Not good. Also no physical play again tonight. Justin was pretty great. Solid defensively. Worked hard. Skated well. Made crisp passes for the most part. He could have been a little more aggressive to try to augment the Hall-Arcobello-Eberle line's offensive potential but oh well. Really nice goal he scored and could have had another earlier in the game.

Whitney-Potter
- Potter wasn't very good in that he couldn't gain puck possession and make solid passes. The guy who was a pretty decent puck mover at the beginning of last season appears to be long gone. He was the guy who was doing some of the bailing out on this line tonight line. I've run out of ways to feel bad about Ryan Whitney. His game just isn't there. The only thing he can do at this point is make a decent pass and take a slapper on the powerplay. There was a sequence in the second period where he got beat by a Stars player to the corner. He took several strides. The Stars player only had to glide (and hadn't been flying in the zone either). That's just not going to work in this league. Then he goes and messes up badly in overtime after several miscues at the offensive blue line in the third period. This is sad but it is reality. We need to replace Ryan Whitney and we need to do it soon. To watch a player fall from the best skater on our team at times to not even able to make a proper hockey stop is just crushing.

Hall-Arcobello-Eberle
- I really wanted to like the guy who came out wearing #62 tonight. They made the right call in asking him to play instead of Vandevelde and I appreciated that. It is always good to see a guy who clearly has a lot of respect from his minor league teammates get the call. That unfortunately was the last good thing that happened to him today. He was very unfortunately placed with Hall and Eberle in a way we've seen guys like Toby Petersen and Liam Reddox placed with the equivalent line of their day by other coaches. He looked completely overmatched the whole game. He turned the puck over nearly every chance he had. He actually made a pass in the third period but the fact that this was surprising was also scary. He couldn't keep up with the speed of the game and if you're as small as he is you actually have to be faster than average NHL speed. Not happening. To give him 18 minutes was absolutely insane. His spot was a giant hole in the middle of this line who was immediately outnumbered as they tried to put up a goal or two. For their parts, Eberle and Hall gave it what they could. Eberle is struggling to find his shooting (or tipping for that matter) rhythm at the moment. He had a wide-open net on a beauty feed from Schultz and missed. He missed on feeds from Hall. He could have tipped at least two pucks in but missed on both. I do give him credit for continuing to fight through though, and making some nice plays including on the powerplay goal and on the feed to Hall in the second after battling like hell and forcing a turnover deep in Dallas territory. I'm not going to bag on Hall for going between the legs there. It must have been the only option he saw. I'm also sure he was intending to go high and failed. If he'd thought he could get across the goalie and finish, he would have. Great pass to Hemsky before the Schultz goal as I noted earlier. He's having his best time on the ice right now whenever he and #83 are together. They really make things happen. Did Hall have several chances he needed to finish tonight though? Yes. The good news is that these guys weren't making defensive mistakes, unlike a player on this next line.

Petrell-Smyth-Hordichuk
-Obviously these guys didn't stay together long but it is still easiest to keep them grouped for discussion purposes. Hordichuk at least didn't take a stupid penalty in his incredibly limited ice time. He's a complete waste of a roster spot as well but the coaches and management don't seem to want to acknowledge that. Petrell played okay, especially when penalty killing, shot blocking and on the forecheck. No offence from him tonight though. And so we turn to Mr Smyth. What a horrible joke of a game he played. In addition to generally being slow to the puck, taking a horrible penalty, getting beat clean by defenders or forwards and not doing a damn thing offensively, Smyth made two of the laziest giveaways (one offensive and one defensive) that I've ever seen during the third period. He's just lazily flopping the puck wherever his stick happens to be pointing. In addition, his laziness (and whatever the heck this lean over and hopelessly half-lunge at the puck thing he's doing right now is) led to missing attempts to grab the puck on both of the goals Dallas scored in regulation. Neither of those would have happened if he wasn't slacking and/or out of position. Once on the boards and once in the middle of the ice. He then committed a double error by also screening the goalie on Roy's slapper, while not being near as close as he should have been to prevent the play in the first place. The way #94 played tonight, on a night when we needed veteran leadership, was absolutely embarassing. He should be sat out next game. I don't care if he can fake playing center. That effort should not go unpunished. What a flipping joke.

Paajarvi-Lander-Hartikainen
- Now on to the mostly positive. Obviously Lander getting hurt is not positive, but before the injury he looked to be continuing what he was trying to do last game and I have no complaints with that. Magnus played a fine game. He used his speed to get in on the forecheck, draw a penalty or two, carry the puck effectively and even hit people. It was really like watching something important finally click in that hockey brain and getting to enjoy the results. He also didn't cheat for defence as much which makes me happy. I really hope he can continue this level of effort and get some good shots away as well. Remember this is a man who can rifle the puck when he puts his mind to it. Hartikainen also did very well for himself. In addition to clogging the front of the net effectively on the Schultz goal, he worked well in the corners, threw some hits and brought the puck to the front of the net for shots. I would take the opportunity during the next couple games while chaos takes hold with injuries and such to elevate #56 to a line where these efforts would be better utilized.

Yakupov-Gagner-Hemsky
- The only consistently dangerous line on the ice tonight for us. They were why we had a chance out there. Hemsky was going as he has been for several games now. The goal was very nicely done and he made the right decision on the Schultz pass. He also checked hard along the boards, made some nice plays to both Gagner and Yakupov that could have wound up in the net and got several really strong shots away himself. I liked that he looked off Eberle and then fired on a 2-on-1 chance that he had. It is too bad that he blocked the puck with his mouth along the boards in the third period. He was in alone and likely would have finished if he'd blocked it with anything else. Gagner was a little medium tonight but effective enough. He was being asked to do a lot as the only decent offensive center on the team and certainly did enough. I don't blame Yakupov at all for the OT goal against. He can't be responsible for guarding Jagr because our former #1 Dman now has zero good feet. Really liked that he was responding physically with a hit and even the penalty to some extent. Can't take any garbage from that loser Morrow. He rang an absolute lazer beam off the bar in the second. Kari is still looking for that puck. Really thought he'd scored an absolute beauty there. Oh well.
----------------------

In the end, we couldn't get it done with only one consistent offensive line and a rickety PP. Not surprising.

Management will reveal its plan for the year by how they respond to this. There is time to pick a C or two and several decent ones that could stay with the team later and help out are available for nothing or practically nothing. We also need a defenceman badly. If they make moves now, they want to make the playoffs. If they don't, they are on board for another year of failure. We shall see.

2/5/13

2013 LMHF Game Report #4

EDMONTON 2

VS

VANCOUVER 3
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Well, that was a weird one. Not just weird but also containing many contradictions and I'm sure there will be violent opinion either way as to how the game should have went. I understand why some people will say the Canucks deserved the win but I'm heavily inclined to disagree. Both of their goals were just garbage. This had serious potential to be a 1-0 game if things didn't get weird numerous times tonight.

Early on, Vancouver was doing a very good job of keeping us to the outside in their defensive zone and also standing up at the blue line on their PK. We took a while to figure out that you have to chip and chase against this strategy. It resulted in a goal pretty damn quick though.

We on the other hand were not very sturdy defensively for much of the game. There was a time in the second where we got really tough in our own end and I really enjoyed that. It continued briefly into the third but not long enough. I really appreciate a team that can separate the puck from the man and defuse a play quickly. We were that team plus some solid checks for a time tonight. It is something we need to work on doing more. It is really too bad our D wound up short staffed. It had a big impact on our ability to finish. I understand and to some extent agree with benching Whitney tonight, but we did miss his ability to make the first pass. There was a time tonight where we really struggled to get moving out of the defensive zone. He makes a difference there, even at 60ish%.

The thing was, we held firm enough against Vancouver efforts that we wound up with enough of a lead to take this thing home. We were right there and did not close. There were an absolute ton of chances to do so. It reminded me a lot of the opening period in Colorado, where we should have staked ourselves to a nice lead. Thankfully we didn't roll over and die at any point tonight so we at least got a single, but with the chances we had, this could easily have been a regulation win.

I know a lot of people will look at the shot clock and think the Canucks controlled the game. Again, I understand this line of thinking but I strongly disagree with it. An absolute ton of those shots were from WAY out and at bad angles. I'll get into why they were doing that a little later.

I think this may have been the first game that Krueger over-coached. I know he was forced to do some different things due to injuries, but that does not excuse him on this one. The fourth line was having a tremendous game with limited ice time and had a ton of energy going into the third. I'd argue they actually were our third line tonight. But instead of forechecking the hell out of the Canucks with that unit (as they had all game), he pops Paajarvi in Yakupov's spot, has Lander center Smyth and Petrell for a time, and benches Hartikainen (who was having the best game of the fourth liners). Terrible. Backing off like that costs games. It was part of why we blew the lead. I get sitting down a rookie every now and again, but in a game like this messing with the equilibrium of lines who are at least all moving the puck north on a routine basis is playing with fire. We ignited late.

One thing I did enjoy is that we were effectively able to shout the Sedins and Burrows. That's always key to playing the Canucks. The lines that did it deserve commendation for the work.

A word on our breakout: It needs to become much more versatile. I can remember Joni Pitkanen's skyhook passes out of the zone when there was trouble, Pronger's stretch pass plays out of nowhere, forwards criss-crossing rather than simply being on rails the whole night...teams really shut us down for extended periods and we need to stop that now.
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Dubnyk
- Ya know, he was tremendous, except when he was not. He made a ton of stops on really good chances that good shooters had from good shooting positions, including a lovely bounce-back save after that first goal. But, let us talk about that first goal. Horrible and inexcusable. Why he's coming off that damn post so much I have no idea. No reason for that. No reason to let that play of all plays handcuff you on a night when you're doing great work. The Canucks recognized this and then began specifically shooting from weird angles. It almost worked multiple times. Don't get me wrong, I'm so glad he bounced back with confidence on the tough chances, but he looked like an monkey falling out of a tree for most of the third period, on horribly weak shots. Why does he get so rattled? The Bieksa goal has to be a save all day long. That was really weak. Stabbing at a puck like that is not NHL goaltender material. He nearly missed another shot high to the blocker side near the very end of the game as well, batting the puck into the air before recovering. Again, don't get me wrong, the diving through the air save on the awkward rebound, the beauty glove to keep it 2-1, the solid stops from great positioning through the first two periods were phenomenal and he kept us in it, but he's so schizophrenic in that net. It's baffling.

Petry-Smid
- Petry made some great plays including a beautiful third period jump into the rush that should have resulted in a goal. He should have finished it himself however, as he had ideal shooting position and a goalie playing the pass. He also made some stellar defensive plays and an amazing stretch pass to Paajarvi in the second (at least, I think it was Petry). He also turned the puck over in the neutral zone a number of times, got beat clean to the net by rushing Canucks and nearly cost us the game. Far from his best effort, but still flashes of what is to come. I liked Smid's game except for a couple times that he skated himself into corners with the puck. The only disadvantage of playing Smid with Petry is that #5 is too worried about covering for #2 that he doesn't skate with the puck like he used to. That's a distinct strength of Smid and we are missing it. He played a physical game and made several key defensive stops though.

N. Schultz-J. Schultz
- Nick is leaving the zone too early. He had several easy pinch opportunities tonight and passed up most of them. Some of them were nearly no-risk and came in the third when we badly needed a dagger goal. I'm not sure why he's playing so passive. This is a guy with some offensive talent and a partner who can skate like the wind. Not exactly a tightrope situation. I suppose he was pretty decent most of the game, but he's too tentative at times for my liking. Justin has flashes where you really do think he could become a Pronger type defenceman. I don't know if he'll be able to put on the muscle, but the few times tonight where he ranged around in the defensive zone, deftly using his reach to break up the Canucks' opportunities brought back a lot of memories. Beautiful deke and presence of mind to blow by the Canucks defender who'd lost his stick after Hall blasted him in the third period. Needs to finish some of those though. The wrister is just too easy for goalies to read at this stage.

Potter-Fistric
- This was Corey's chance and unfortunately he did not step up. He struggled to get the puck moving on the powerplay and that really hurt his linemates' attempts to do anything. He also tried to be physical in the corners but succeeded on a very limited basis and got caught out of position a number of times. Fistric was playing the kind of game we need him to play against Vancouver until he left. I'm assuming it was the hit he missed that messed up his back? Too bad. He may have made the difference for us tonight.

Hartikainen-Lander-Paajarvi
= Really, really solid game from this crew and especially from #s 56 and 57. They were in on the forecheck harder and more effectively than just about anybody in the game tonight and it nearly paid dividends on a number of occasions. They made the Canucks work more than anything else and you could see it having an impact. They started backing off Hartikainen and that gave him and advantage. Lander started attacking the puck as well and did a good job. He was also pretty excellent on the penalty kill, making a number of key clears while also making physical plays without getting himself out of position. Not the easiest thing to do in the NHL. Paajarvi also had a successful night but on a more limited basis. He used his speed and at times improved positioning to both get scoring chances and move the play forward. He had a couple really nice rushes in the second period. Just needs to work on his in-close shooting some. What I didn't understand was why he played so high in the zone. This is not consistent with the Oilers' system and cost him scoring chances when his linemates won corner battles and he was too high up to receive a pass. He needs to be more aggressive. There is no need to cheat for defence on the fourth line, especially when you are that fast. He looked a little out of sorts with Hemsky and Gagner, which is understandable and not his fault but Krueger's.

Petrell-Horcoff-Smyth
- Horcoff was actually moving his feet much better and took a couple nice shots at the net before he was injured. Not playing great by any stretch of the imagination but certainly an improvement. Petrell managed to land a couple of hits and get himself a great scoring chance where he reminded us all that he's the shooter on that line. They really need to get him the puck some. Smyth worked hard and was again better than the last time out. His goal was classic, hideous Ryan Smyth which is fair enough. The amount of times where he went in on rushes and all you can think of is "he's got NO chance" was rather sad though.

Yakupov-Gagner-Hemsky
- As a line they were a bit ragged at times, but also produced many of the best chances at other times. They were absolutely robbed in the second when Yakupov was given that tripping penalty on what was a clean 3-on-1. Pretty sure we cash that chance at that point in the game and the rest is academic. They also got hosed when Gagner took an elbow to the face and they didn't get a chance at a five-on-three in the third period. Tough breaks at times. They had moments. Yakupov's play to Hemsky who then used positioning and strength for a beauty goal was fabulous. Ales was going most of the night and generated most of the chances this line got. Really liked the play he made when he got stuck out shorthanded and got a key clear with a nice hit. I'm sure there will be people who complain about the fact that he went 1-on-3 in the Canucks zone and didn't get through on a play in the third. You may not have been able to see that Hall had hooked around the other side and they were inches from a clean 2-on-0. You have to take those chances. There was another sequence in the second where the puck whizzed around between the three linemates and I believe it was Gagner who was unable to pull the trigger. It was unfortunate that he was a half-step off the pace tonight. His shots were coming too late, from too far out and he wasn't quite in the right spot for passes. I recall a long powerplay shot that he put on net with no one in front and Luongo having a clear view in the third. Not a one-timer either. Then again, not all his fault. The Dman (Potter I think) had Yakupov wide open for a one-timer at a great angle and didn't look. Idiot. I'm getting the impression some people (and possibly our coach) thought Yakupov was bad tonight...I didn't see it. He didn't do anything too electrifying and there was the penalty he took, but other than that he was certainly okay at the very least. I don't blame him on the OT goal because every person on the ice was busy fiddle-farting on that play. That was just UGLY. Eberle knows much better and so does Smid. Petry was out to lunch in the OT. At least these guys aren't having the issue the next guys are having.

Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- So, here's the real conundrum. You've got a first line who is indeed driving the play forward, getting a bunch of chances and doing it against good opponents. That is all great and would seem to mean you leave them together forever. There is however a substantial problem developing. While it is understandable for even the best players to go through times when they are truly snake-bitten, as long as the players don't believe this is an actual trend, they will be fine. Our flashy franchise players have started to pass off scoring chances. They are not confident in themselves and that spells trouble. Where Hall or Eberle especially would normally fire a shot, they are passing them up. Granted the players they are making passes to are in great scoring position, but it just doesn't work all the time. You need to mix it up. This has been what has always been so great about these guys...you never know what is coming. Right now it is way too telegraphed. They're also doing horribly trying to beat the other team's D 1-on-1 while carrying little speed. Hall had a great shooting chance in the third where he was roaring and had Luongo cheating...he passed it up despite the fact that even if he didn't score we were rebound-ready. Eberle was shooting to the wrong side of the goalie or passing up as well. The good news on Eberle is that was in all likelihood the one bad game in every 30-to-40 we see from him. He should be good for a long while now. I don't know what he was thinking tonight; from missing rebound chances, to wandering around in OT, to passing up shots and stumbling into the back of Canucks defenders...it was WEIRD. I must say as a whole this line falls more than any line I've ever seen. It's like a contagious disease that Hall started with and now they all have. Hall was the best of the three tonight and could have been combined with Hemsky to win this thing. Hopkins is still a little lost. He's looking down while stickhandling and not beating anyone clean. They need him to carry the puck less and be the transition or net guy much more than he is right now. Overall, things need a shuffle even though these guys are pushing a big boulder up a hill. You can not let their confidence be shaken for long.
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Many interesting things to be learned from this one. I understand we're also without Horcoff for some time now. Time to grab a C. There are several out there and I only hope the coaching staff/management doesn't see fit to let the 'D' class take up the bottom two center spots. This could get ugly in a hurry as those lines are not scoring at all. Get someone. Guys like Arnott and Connolly are flawed, sure, but they whup Chris VandeVelde any day of the week.