Oilers vs. Lightning Postgame: “Fourth” Line My Eye

Jonathan Willis
December 09 2009 09:10PM

Edmonton Oilers: 3

Tampa Bay Lightning: 2

Four in a row. No Hemsky. Four in a row. On the road. I repeated that because it bears repeating. Say what you will about the ultimate future of these Oilers, but there’s no arguing with the results so far. Also: I’m a fan of the current fourth line, featuring the new, half as enigmatic Robert Nilsson, Zack Stortini and 2005 WHL First Team All-Star Ryan Stone.

Oilers Three Stars, According To Me

1. Ryan Stone. Stone had a great game and has done plenty to show that he might be a deserving of a cameo somewhere higher up the depth chart than the fourth line. He went after Steve Downie twice, and managed to beat up on him without drawing an instigator penalty. Also recorded an assist on Zack Stortini’s goal and did it all with just a hair over six minutes of ice-time.

2. Zack Stortini. Also played just a little more than six minutes on the night, and managed a Gordie Howe hat-trick, a plus-2 rating, and three hits. His goal stood up as the game winner. Fought not once but twice with Zenon Konopka, who I’ll talk a little more about below. It’s incredible how much better a player Stortini comes when he’s not counted on to be the skill guy for his line.

3. Robert Nilsson. Maybe it’s a little unfair to pick just the fourth line guys, but they did a ton and they did it with not much ice-time. Nilsson’s been worlds better since coming back from a concussion, and I firmly approve of how Pat Quinn has spotted him in on higher lines from time to time, as well as using him on the power play. 

Random Thoughts

I quite like this Tampa Bay team; not that I expect them to win anything but they are enjoyable to watch, even with Ryan Malone and Steven Stamkos for big chunks of the night. Martin St. Louis was the best player on the ice for either team and constantly created stuff, while the other guy who jumped out at me was Zenon Konopka, who held back when he had Zack Stortini in a vulnerable spot and struck me as a classy guy from the audio bits I heard (he was mic’d up on the Tampa Bay feed).

Dustin Penner had a fairly good game, although he had better plays than the one that got him a goal. The other red hot Oiler, Lubomir Visnovsky, had the worst game he’s had for a while and I wonder if he wasn’t a little shook up after taking a hard hit from Downie. In any case, the pairing of he and Smid was overmatched in a tough assignment.

Tom Gilbert had an interesting game; he managed a goal but his play was spotty in places.

It’s definitely time to reconsider that second line. I haven’t been that impressed with Horcoff the last little while but he looked good by eye tonight and it wasn’t enough to bring success to his line. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen that line have a good game since being put together.

A good, solid outing for Jeff Deslauriers, who (inconsistency aside) has been a highly capable replacement for Nikolai Khabibulin. I have my doubts he can keep it up, but I’ve had my doubts all along and so far he’s proven me wrong.

I’m as critical of the Oilers as anyone, but give them credit for putting the game online free of charge rather than sticking it on pay-per-view. It could have gone the other way.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
December 10 2009, 08:03AM
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@Reggie

I kinda mentioned that with Hemsky out I rather have Nilsson in the lineup instead of Macdonald, O'Marra etc... Nilsson has the offesnive skills and if this team is to carry on without Hemsky, Nilsson and other would need to step up.

Good to see that Stortini had a good game, I haven't liked his play as of late but at the sametime given the time he plays and his style not much should be expected.

How was stortini's fights?

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#52 Hemmercules
December 10 2009, 08:11AM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

I kinda mentioned that with Hemsky out I rather have Nilsson in the lineup instead of Macdonald, O'Marra etc... Nilsson has the offesnive skills and if this team is to carry on without Hemsky, Nilsson and other would need to step up.

Good to see that Stortini had a good game, I haven't liked his play as of late but at the sametime given the time he plays and his style not much should be expected.

How was stortini's fights?

None of the games fights were that great IMO. I haven't see a fight in a while where both guys were landing decent punches. Everyone is always trying to protect their face these days. Stone and Downie landed a couple on each other but nothing serious.

Edit: Storts first fight actually wasn't bad but his elbow pad slipped down over his hand for half the fight so he was kinda defenseless for a bit.

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#53 Milli
December 10 2009, 08:14AM
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I still don't understand why anyone wants a tank job this early. Now, if we srart to struggle like we where before this trip, well, we'll be in the basement fast enough. There is still way to much hockey and all the teams are way to close together. Are we begining to find ways to win as opposed to the opposite? Just how much do Stone, Souray and JFJ add to the team? How much more space is there for the small skilled guys? I don't know, but it's ahell of a lot more fun coming to work after a win////

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#54 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
December 10 2009, 08:18AM
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@Milli

That was my origninal standpoint, that we should wait and see how the team responds without Hemsky. I'm now at the point where I'd like to make the playoffs, but if we tank and get a good pick I will be happy. I just don't want to finish 10th or 11th again.

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#55 Hemmercules
December 10 2009, 08:26AM
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JDD made a couple huge stops in the final minute, he has looked way better than I expected.

Anyone else see Moreau cough up the puck at the redline in the final minutes with an empty net?? He tried some fancy stick handling and got stripped, leading to a scoring chance against the oil. Get it deep and chase it man.

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#56 BBOil
December 10 2009, 08:27AM
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Little comment to all the drive for five fans out there; I'm sure Carolina, Toronto, NYI, Minnesota all have room on their bandwagons. You may as well get off ours.

Just absolutely baffles me that so many people are ready to give up on a team 3pts out of a playoffs spot in a Conference where every team aside from maybe the top three has serious question marks. Just like we had a couple of bad weeks, anyone of those teams we will be competing with (and we will be competing whether you like it or not) is capable of having a couple of bad weeks.

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#57 Reggie
December 10 2009, 08:35AM
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Hemmercules wrote:

None of the games fights were that great IMO. I haven't see a fight in a while where both guys were landing decent punches. Everyone is always trying to protect their face these days. Stone and Downie landed a couple on each other but nothing serious.

Edit: Storts first fight actually wasn't bad but his elbow pad slipped down over his hand for half the fight so he was kinda defenseless for a bit.

actually, I thought Stone really gave it to Downie at the end of the fight. Given all the history coming with Downie, it was nice to see Stone lay a lickin' on him.

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#58 BigE57
December 10 2009, 08:36AM
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As a fan you have to hope for wins rather than losses, tanking the season and getting a high pick is no guarantee on producing a great player. The early picks in the draft in recent years have produced a wealth of talent but realistically we have to be due for another Alexander Daigle type of player at the top of the scouting reports and with the Oilers draft record he'd be a shoe in here.

Keep winning boys.

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#59 Reggie
December 10 2009, 08:37AM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

I kinda mentioned that with Hemsky out I rather have Nilsson in the lineup instead of Macdonald, O'Marra etc... Nilsson has the offesnive skills and if this team is to carry on without Hemsky, Nilsson and other would need to step up.

Good to see that Stortini had a good game, I haven't liked his play as of late but at the sametime given the time he plays and his style not much should be expected.

How was stortini's fights?

I have to agree with you about having Nilsson in the lineup vs the other AHL possible call-ups. He has looked good on the 2nd line PP unit and moves the puck well.

He seems to have changed his game a bit in that he is giving up the puck less and going into those tougher areas and competing a bit more in physical battles than we've seen the past 18 months.

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#61 Rigger
December 10 2009, 08:40AM
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@Sandra

I don't get this sentiment. Gags set up a goal, and that line has had consistently decent chances. The coach has even noticed this. Look, the kid is like 4 or 5th in scoring on this team, Cogs doesn't even crack the top 10. You can't expect him to put up 3 points a night every night. If memory serves me right, when he, Penner and Hemsky DID do that everyone was calling it the second coming. Seriously, none of our playes is going to do that consistently. On a side note, your boy Cogs registered ZERO shots last night, one of only TWO players NOT to get a shot last night. The top line had two people with THREE shots, and those were Gags and Pens.

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#62 Rigger
December 10 2009, 08:42AM
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@Hemmercules

I did see Moreau bungle that up. I also saw him almost bungle up getting the puck down the ice before that when TB had the extra person out in the final minute. Moreau needs to realize that he isn't a stickhandler. He gives me a headache.

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#63 Rigger
December 10 2009, 08:44AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Agreed Willis, JF is starting to bug me a bit as is Sully. I don't know what anyone can do to get Sully going, but it's got to happen sooner rather than later. He's money in the shootout, but it would be nice if he did more before we GOT to the shootout.

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#64 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
December 10 2009, 08:51AM
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Reggie wrote:

I have to agree with you about having Nilsson in the lineup vs the other AHL possible call-ups. He has looked good on the 2nd line PP unit and moves the puck well.

He seems to have changed his game a bit in that he is giving up the puck less and going into those tougher areas and competing a bit more in physical battles than we've seen the past 18 months.

The one thing that I noticed is some players actually reflected on their game when they are sitting up in the pressbox. Nilsson was out for quite awhile and maybe he realized he needs to do some things differently if he wants to continue to play in this league.

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#65 Rob...
December 10 2009, 09:00AM
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-I'm still confused by any suggestions, direct or indirect, that the team is better off without Hemsky. Wouldn't it be more plausible or accurate to suggest that the team is better off without an 'injured Hemsky'. He admitted that the check that did him in for the year was just the last straw, not the full cause. I'm positive he'd have been a lot more effective in many of his games if he was at 100%.

-Watching the Tampa Bay feed last night was frustrating. I've a friend in Pittsburgh who constantly suggests that the commentators in Canada are far superior. I now agree with him 100%. If I wanted to listen to 3 hours of highly bias, annoying whining I'd throw a Seinfeld marathon.

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#66 sizzler
December 10 2009, 09:13AM
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Good win, got to admire the 4rth line, thats 2 wins Zach has got us this yr (nashville and tampa), doing his part. as for concerns: Line1: Gagner will develop into a line 1C, its only a matter of time and him getting some confidence back. Its way easier to develop when you are winning. Got to keep winning. I predict he going to have a big game against the blues. Line 2: JFJ- I like what he is doing right now, but needs to take the next step. Hitting is good but you have to be able to take the puck to the net some times. That second line seems to have no communication right now. Horcoff's never had chemistry with anyone except hemsky, he needs to start using JFJ and Patty'O. Patty'O is a good skill player but again on that line it seems like nobody knows who going where. If horcoff except JFJ to turn into hemmer and start feeding him pucks for one timers, not going to happen. To JFJ's part, he's taken the first step, that's provide physical presence and he needs to take the next step, start taking the puck to net. Line 3: Moreau- dumb slashing penalty in 3rd period to give tampa a 5 on 3. Come on dude if you can't contribute atleast don't be a load. Yet Pat Quinn trusts him and puts him out for the last minute, I guess he must be doing something right. By the way great work by Poltuny to kill the short 5 on 3. Line 4: Stone makes me want to say "glencross who?" Defense: Vish + Smid: A little bit of a rough game but look O.K. Some of the best trades are the ones that you never make...or in this case get blocked by no trade clause Souray + gilbert: O.K Staios + Strudwick: Struds can use some rest. Can't wait till grebs comes back. JDD: Dude let in a few bad goals over his career, but he improves every time.

****Keep your emotions in check. Just when you think this team will tank, they go on a 4 game win streak & Just when you think they might be able to make the push....the opposite might happen......this is the OILERS we are talking about

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#67 Bill Up North
December 10 2009, 09:16AM
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Agreed. When they started whining about Laddy pushing Downie(I think) after Downie got in Deslauriers face after the whistle I had to mute the TV for the rest of the game. I couldn't take the complete ignorance anymore.

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#68 Dyckster
December 10 2009, 09:17AM
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Hemmercules wrote:

JDD made a couple huge stops in the final minute, he has looked way better than I expected.

Anyone else see Moreau cough up the puck at the redline in the final minutes with an empty net?? He tried some fancy stick handling and got stripped, leading to a scoring chance against the oil. Get it deep and chase it man.

Yup, I saw that $#@%'in play. Couldn't believe it, that seems to be more the norm than the exception with that guy.

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#69 Woodguy
December 10 2009, 09:21AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I thought Gagner was actually pretty good tonight; I've been impressed with him.

The guy who continues to bother me is J-F Jacques, who seems to land three impressive hits a game but doesn't seem to do much other than that. In fact, pretty much any line he's been on all season has struggled; the top line stunk when he was on it, and the second line stinks with him on it.

Now, that's just by eye so it's only supposition; I think I'll have to look statistically to see what happens to players with/without him.

Agreed.

He seems to be a disaster at defensive zone coverage and getting the puck out.

I also think that O'Sullivan is drowning on that line.

If that's the line that's supposed to play tougher minutes, its only because Horcoff is there.

I would like to see what changing the RW would do.

Move Stone up and O'Sully down.

Can Stone's knee and lungs handle the extra ice time? He has certainly played well enough to deserve the extra ice.

Think we would get a better look at who the anchor is on that line as well if you only change one part at a time.

Unfortunately I don't think you can upgrade the LW with the current line up. Moreau? No way. Stone is currently 4LW, but he's played RW on most of the lines he's been on.

I still like swapping Stone for O'Sully. Having 2 "gritty" guys is better for that line than just swaping out your one "gritty guy" even if its an upgrade. O'Sully is doing nothing to get the puck going the right way on that line.

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#70 Bucknuck
December 10 2009, 10:13AM
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With 51 games to go, the Oil need to win 30 of them in order to make the playoff (which would give them 92 pts). That is a pretty steep hill to climb.

I can't see them managing that feat. If they lose a few they will be back in the cellar so all you DFF people will be pleased. If they are not in 8th place or better by the deadline then they should be sellers at the deadline and so they will probably get a lottery pick.

Don't get too stressed out now. Be happy that this team has enough "jam" or "Crust" not to throw in the towel. This four game win streak says something about the coaching staff and leadership I think.

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#71 TigerUnderGlass
December 10 2009, 10:18AM
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I think Nilsson has possibly earned a tryout on the second line.

I would like to see POS moved to the left wing and Nilsson moved into his slot on the right for a game to see how that goes. If Horcoff is our best defensive forward than he is the perfect guy to center Nilsson, and the added skill might give the line a bit of a scoring spark.

Drop JFJ to play with Stone and Stortini to make a bit of a rock-em sock-em line.

I just don't see it happening because of Quinn's apparent need to spread out the size.

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