2017 LMHF Report - Game #2




Sunday 'night' games are always weird. I swear the team never looks ready on these nights. Tonight was no different in many ways, but the team was good enough to overcome the early nap and get back in the game. Indeed, when Kassian broke through the line with under a minute to go, I swore he was going to pick the top corner and the Oilers would be ahead going to 2. He missed by a little bit, but that wasn't the killer, far from it.

A year ago, a few more games in, many of stood and watched as the goaltender anointed to be the future was failing. Thankfully, a part-time fill in was ready to rock and the team eventually got things moving - at least for a while.

Here we are again. I haven't watched a period yet this year where Cam Talbot looks to be ahead of the puck and making easy saves. Even the most basic shots are vexing him right now. This is truly disturbing as there is no Anders Nilsson this year. I saw a small glimmer of hope in the third when Talbot finally made some saves on yet another Buffalo PP, but even then he wasn't his usual, well-positioned self.

Make no mistake - I believe that despite all the issues tonight they win this game if Talbot doesn't stink out the second the way he did. That was brutal. It turned the game. I can't blame the team too much for not thinking it could run down Buffalo tonight. The pucks were just going in to fast.

The coaches didn't help either. I understand benching Pouliot. I truly do. This guy needs to figure out how to play the game without taking weak, useless penalties. How much are the refs looking for him? I'd imagine quite a bit. That doesn't excuse him, but I imagine it is a big problem.

Now, you bench Pouliot - sure...you don't mess up the lines as a result. You replace Pouliot with another winger and that's it. The change they made completely threw off the Oilers' attack and it wasn't the same at all for the rest of the night. Because the Oilers committed so strongly to the Lucic-McDavid-Eberle group, they don't have a lot of immediate versatility there. This is something you have to build, and they haven't.

The special teams are still struggling. Tonight they didn't generate powerplays but their PK was on display again. I've said it probably dozens of times now - until they ditch that absolutely stupid setup at the top where their forwards cross sides and wind up blocking no one and no lane, their PK will be a joke. Giving up such easy gimme chances is not excusable the way it happened tonight.

A word on a couple of Buffalo players - Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan O'Reilly are certainly a couple of the finer players in the league. Risto had multiple points, and was an absolute beast in the D-zone. SO unfortunate the Oilers narrowly missed out on him. He would have been the absolutely perfect piece on that blue line right now. O'Reilly gave the Oilers fits too.

Random arena finding for the night - they don't have butter for the damn popcorn. Are you kidding me???

I don't know how much I want to even break down the goals so much. It was kinda ugly.

- Like I said, his game is dpeely flawed at the moment. Tonight he was late to essentially every puck and struggled to be square to shots. I'm having trouble picking up on why - there's nothing obvious other than that he doesn't look sharp or controlled in the net. Maybe he's unfocused, I don't know.

- Oscar had some struggles tonight and gave the puck away more than usual. He also wasn't particular physical and didn't do anything offensively. Rather disappointing. Larsson at least made a diffence with some physical play. He got mad and punished some Sabres, which was more than you could say about some players tonight. He made some odd skating choices later in the game but seemed to be okay.

- There was a play that Russell made in the second period that was one of the few bright spots in the game for me - he broke in from the point and made a strong move with the puck. Unfortunately the shot he got on net appears to have been blocked by Kassian. This could have made a difference in the game. I didn't see #4 as strong as in the first home game, but thought he was generally fine. Sekera was just okay for me. He has to create offence to be effective and it wasn't there so much tonight.

- Ugh...I really don't like watching this pair play hockey. Nurse simply isn't ready. He got beat again on a weak PK effort tonight in the first period where he waived his stick instead of taking a step. This is nearly universal in sport - if you get caught not taking a step, you pay. In tennis, basketball, hockey and pretty much everything else. It's just the way the games are played. I like having Nurse as a tough - but if that is all he becomes, that's an epic waste of talent. Gryba is simply too slow and takes too many penalties to play for this team. He can be the #8 or 9, but not 6. So many on this blue line can get the puck moving quickly. Time to weed out the player who can't in a more permanent way. Unfortunately, McLellan has adopted the flaw so many NHL coaches have. He has favorites. Comfortable players who he goes back to, whether they're any good or not. On this team, that's Eric Gryba and Mark Letestu. They play too much, get bumped up too easily, and get prime opportunities they don't deserve.

Now I'm going to try to cobble together the forwards - it was all over the place tonight.

- Otherwise known as "the benched and his unfortunate friends". Pouliot scored a nice goal but man...he just has to get this penalty thing under control. Shorter stick maybe? I'm serious. Lander was just okay. He ran into a few people, but that was about it for me. Pitlick was a little better - he landed a nice hit of course, but he also skated hard and was in decent position. He was more nervous with the puck than last game. Still holding his own.

-Jesse probably played his best game despite limited ice time. He was getting to pucks and beating defenders in a way I haven't seen him do thus far. This was the first night where I really saw him as a #3 rated prospect on the ice. He still needs to calm down with the puck a touch, but at least he's using his size and skating ability now. I'm still in favor of sending him to the AHL. Kassian had some moments. I have generally liked his game as a depth winger who can move around the lineup in the preseason and games thus far. The guy can play hockey and seems to have decided that is indeed his priority now. Like I said earlier, good chance in the first and got in some Sabres' faces throughout the game. Good stuff. Letestu had a nothing game by my eye.

- Hmm...Didn't work for me. Even though I quite like Maroon with McDavid, they need a bit of a speed demon or at least a quick player to play with. I could see Leon on McDavid working well together, but not with Maroon. The combo just ruined the flow for me. Of course both #s 97 and 29 still got chances because that is what they do, but there wasn't the sustained pressure and balanced attack that you get when players like McDavid and Draisaitl especially are deployed correctly. Liked some of the fight in McDavid tonight as he got into some scrums. Maroon was a bit off for me. He usually gets better looks.

- As I noted earlier - didn't work for me. Yes Hopkins got a couple chances but something is off. Tonight he looked a step slow, and just wasn't that strong with the puck. He took a quick shot when a deke would have resulted in a goal. I don't know if he's being tasked with something different from the Coach or what. His game just looks off. Eberle? Didn't seem him a bunch to be honest. Again, with the flow thrown off this line looked slow and disorganized to me, especially Eberle. Lucic was okay - he at least kept doing what he does.

Honestly I think the focus tonight has to be on the coaching and goaltending. Without the problems there, we see a different game tonight.


2017 LMHF Report - Game #1





And away we go.

That was some kind of show on the ice tonight. Lots of entertaining moments and lots of "uh oh", but never any give up, which was huge.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on details of the new arena - it is too easy for me to drift into negativity and missed expectations there. Let's focus on the fun for a while if we can.

I will share a bit about the game going experience - it does feel new. It feels more upscale in many ways now, though that effort is concentrated in the lower bowl. I could easily see us moving seats to the lower bowl in the next year or two because the atmosphere down there seems great.

Where my seat is right now is very similar to the Rexall experience in a lot of ways, but the old routines are completely gone. There will be a settling in period of course - that can be expected, but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. We've already noticed that it is a bit harder to track the game from where we are. The players mannerisms and detail such as helmets etc aren't as obvious so you have to be more active in terms of looking for players. Every now and again you mistake Pouliot for McDavid for instance. It will take some getting used to.

Got there very early tonight - mainly just due to the absurdly late start (seriously, who thought that was okay? I've got a flight at 8 tomorrow morning...). Wandered around a bit - found my way to my seat and settled in. The pre-game was fairly over-hyped and oddly shorter than I thought. It basically ended with Connor McDavid in the spotlight, charging in and putting a puck into the net. I was quick to point out that this was the wrong net, and despite the fact that the Flames had come out before the end of the presentation (who does that??), Connor should have charged the other net anyway. Make a statement. One that begins with F and ends with you.

Once the game started - many interesting things happening.

To my dismay, the Oilers are still using the systems play that was shown not to work last season. There are several better players trying to do it, but it still doesn't work. A couple specific areas leap out at me:

- Both 5-and-5 and on the PK, the forwards are way too low in the offensive zone. Especially against a team like the Flames those wingers have to be high. So many chances for the Flames D to blast away and create chances. How the coaching/video staff isn't catching this and adjusting I have no idea. It generates multiple chances every game including this one.

- That power play is just atrocious. Needs a complete system reboot. They don't control the puck or make things happen unless McDavid and to a much lesser extent Draisaitl make an outstanding play. This is no way to deploy talented players and win games. They were very fortunate this didn't cost them tonight.

With that said - this is a different team in terms of the player makeup. The two most striking differences right off the bat were the amount of large players who can also skate and forecheck, as well as a number of quick releases on the squad. The first change meant that Calgary couldn't withstand the fact that the Oilers kept coming. The forechecked and skated so well that the Flames never had time to get a foothold. This despite two horrendous SH goals against. Puljujarvi and Pitlick showed very quickly what a strong release can do.

You never felt the Oilers would lose this one, which was nice. The fans are still quite nervous though and when combined with what seems to be a noise-dampening building, meant it was fairly quiet a lot of the time. This will go away if they win and do so regularly. It's really that simple.

This was an odd game in that it could easily have been a blowout for the Oilers, but wasn't, and it felt like the Flames had more chances than they really did. Let's talk a little more about that below.

- Honestly, the only one who brought his 'A' game was McDavid. He essentially willed this team to a sure victory tonight. I had a hunch that especially after Matthews did what he did, #97 would mean business tonight. I'm not sure what you even say about him anymore. He's a force of nature. That penalty shot goal was something else - being able to elevate the puck from that position at that speed? Just crazy. He could've had at least 3 more points as well. Eberle was just okay. He had a couple of chances he should have been able to finish. The most obvious one was in the third when McDavid left a puck in the crease for him and he simply didn't put enough weight on his stick to finish. There were a number of instances where he just didn't seem ready. Lucic was not good. Didn't really blow anyone up, didn't move the puck well and couldn't finish any chances except one into his own net. Ugh. I know he's a slow starter, but that looked really really rough on a night when most of the Oilers forwards played pretty well.

- This line did solid, if unspectacular work. I liked watching Slepyshev look pretty comfortable as he did at the beginning of last season. So long as people don't expect him to light the world on fire offensively, he'll do well. The guy has an excellent skillset for a depth player - he's large, shoots well and can skate. Hopkins played like a vet. I liked his leadership on the ice and the way he was able to shut down some Flames chances. I'm not sure if he'll find the high gear offensively again. It's really hard to know at this point. Pouliot had a couple very nice chances and didn't take any dumb penalties - that's a solid night for him really. He didn't need to be an offensive star tonight either.

- 2/3 of this line was excellent. Maroon got the first goal with a classic tip-in that you could call a mile away. Lovely in its simplicity. The rest of his game I really enjoyed as well. He got to pucks and the front of the net all night. He played at least one shift with McDavid after Lucic fought and looked much more at home than #27. I hope he's finally found his consistency here in Edmonton because if he strings together nights like that, he's such a useful player. Leon looked great. He really moves like a veteran out there and has succeeded in adding more power elements to his game. I like him a bunch at C and don't really see how he could be better on the wing. I'd like to see him get set up for more shooting chances on the PP though. I didn't much like Puljujarvi's game though. He seemed behind the play or fumbly and rushed all night. Even his goal (which was a phenomenal release) was rushed. He went by pucks a lot, turned some over and didn't really impose himself much. Great little hit on Brodie I think it was in the third but that's it. I'm of the opinion that he's not ready and should be in the AHL, but oh well. Glad to see one go in for him soon, and maybe that gives him a big confidence boost.

- Great games for the wingers on this line. Pitlick's goal was the result of an excellent, assertive decision to shoot off the rush. To then see our most injury-prone player go careening into the boards was rather alarming, but somehow he jumped up. He was generally effective during the rest of his time as well, earning some extra ice at the end of the game and looking like an NHL-level player for sure. Good for him. I just feel like his leg is going to fall off at any moment. Kassian too played an excellent game. He was all over the ice - skating really well and getting in some faces along the way. Absolutely beautiful deke on his goal. There might be 3 or 4 guys on the team that can do that. Beauty. Letestu was just okay by my eye and I didn't notice him a lot other than being behind the play on the PK.

- Good night for this pairing generally. They led the D group as a whole in simply moving the puck out faster and smoother than the last number of years. The forwards are such that if you just get the puck up quick, they can run. This needs to continue so, so badly. I was alarmed at one thing Larsson did on a number of occasions though - he has a tendency to just throw the puck to areas without looking first. This resulted in 4 or 5 losses of possession. Oddly enough one of them turned into Pitlick's goal because Calgary was turning to attack so hard and bungled it. He was fairly physical though, which was great to see because he does it in a positionally responsible way. Klefbom was rock solid - shocking precisely no one at this point. That laser to Kassian was MINT.

- This pair did fairly well. I'm not a huge fan of the Russell signing, but he looked pretty good tonight. Got pushed around and beat a little bit, but he made some excellent first passes and some very smart defensive plays as well. I hope he finds his place here as we're committed to him now. Sekera looked to be in midseason form. You can definitely tell the World Cup helped him out a bunch. Really led the play when he was on the ice and I enjoyed watching him very much. The one thing I would like to see better than tonight were his shooting choices.

- This pairing didn't really work. As good as Davidson is, he couldn't bail out Nurse's wandering which cost them early as he wasn't covering anyone on a number of occasions including the goal. Real shame to see Davidson go down on a dirty play from a dirty piece of trash like Keith's kid. Someone needs to re-arrange his face on Friday. Nurse or Kassian are my bets, but it needs to happen. This guy can't be allowed to run around. Thankfully the refs aren't fooled but they can't save you from injuries.

- He was not good. It wasn't so much about the goals either - a couple weren't really his fault. The thing was, he turned a bunch of easy saves into hard stops. He was late to almost every puck until the third period which isn't a good sign for a goalie who's usually so square. He needs to get things righted in a hurry. A sharper team could've hung 8 on him tonight and sent us all home sad.

Great to get that win. People really wanted to smile after this one. Great to see.

Great to be back. I hope this is a happy year filled with a ton of these reports. Night!