Team Needs

Jonathan Willis
February 28 2009 09:26AM

Oilers

There have been a lot of articles the last few days stating that the Oilers desperately need to boost their offense at the trade deadline. This morning, for example, TSN.ca ran an article which opened with “The Edmonton Oilers have a very clear need heading into the NHL's Trade Deadline, to boost offence on the top two lines.

Even Craig MacTavish seems to believe that a lack of offense is the primary problem with his team – from today’s Joanne Ireland column:

“We need offence out of the forwards. It's as simple as that. They have to find a way to be productive offensively.”

and

"Largely it's offence. We have to find a way to score more goals. We're having a hard time scoring five-on-five goals, so any time our power play is not producing, as has been the case the last few games, we're having a difficult time."

My question: is offense really the primary problem with this team? Let’s use some simple numbers. The Oilers have scored 2.72 goals per game to this point in the season – that ranks 18th in the NHL; a little below league average and clearly not as good as it needs to be. On the other hand, the Oilers have allowed 2.98 goals against per game – 23rd in the NHL, and behind every single playoff team.

Based on those numbers, it seems clear that while the offense hasn’t been good, the defense is really the pressing concern. Those numbers I quoted are over the season as a whole, though, so let’s take a look at just the last ten games – perhaps there’s been a drop-off in offense. Here are the scores of the last ten games the Oilers played:

1-0L, 5-3W, 3-2SOL, 4-2L, 4-2L, 3-1W, 3-2W, 7-2W, 3-2SOL, 8-3L

That works out to 29 goals for and 31 goals against – 2.90 goals for per game and 3.10 goals against per game – and a team allowing more than three goals against per game isn’t going to win very many. What about Craig MacTavish’s assertion that the Oiler’s offense has been carried by the powerplay?

The Oilers have scored 39 5-on-4 goals (18th in the league), and 106 5-on-5 goals (20th in the league). I’m not convinced that a drop of two places is significant, so I’m inclined to say that the coach is wrong here.

On the other hand, the Oilers have allowed 109 5-on-5 goals (18th in the NHL) and 50 4-on-5 goals (24th in the NHL). Edmonton’s penalty-kill, at 77.9%, ranks 27th overall in the NHL. Although the overall number is only moderately better than it was a month ago, it hides a massive improvement – over the last ten games, the Oilers penalty kill has killed off 39 of 46 opportunities, an 84.7% success rate. It also means that the defensive problems over the last ten games have been primarily at even strength – and that, not scoring from the top-six forwards, has been the Oilers primary weakness over the last little while.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, 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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#1 Didsdave
February 28 2009, 09:40AM
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Rejoice Oiler fans. MAP on second line according to MacT will lead to an offensive onslaught like never before seem at Rexall

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#2 Pokie Reddik
February 28 2009, 09:50AM
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Number 1 thing the Oilers need is an owner who can clean house at the management level, or let Laforge do it if you can get him away from the Almac.

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#3 ultimateoiler
February 28 2009, 09:52AM
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As I read your article, the question that comes to mind," Is it the coaching or is it the players that causes this team to be so average to below average? Yes, the Oilers need offensive players but after reading your statistics on our defense it would seem we also have needs there as well. But what is more painfully clear is that the coaching and organization of this team needs to change before Oiler fans like myself (since the 80's) see a successful team.

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#4 Jonathan Willis
February 28 2009, 09:57AM
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@ ultimateoiler:

Yeah, the offense isn't good - it's only average, and if this team were going to make noise in the post-season it would need to be addressed.

I just don't think it's the #1 issue right at the moment, and I think the Oilers' defensive struggles have been overlooked to date.

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#5 Zamboni Driver
February 28 2009, 10:22AM
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To summarize.....the Oilers offense is crappy, but lets not overestimate the craptacular defence too.

We're in fine shape.

Tell you what - someone wants to give us younger players with some talent for guys like Cole, Pisani, Moreau, Roloson, Horcoff (one can dream, can't one) - the brain trust should LEAP on the opportunity.

Which of course means they'll trade useless for nobody and commit to 'what we're building here'.....again.

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#6 ultimateoiler
February 28 2009, 10:24AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Are the Oilers going to make the playoffs and if they do is that a good thing for them in the long term? We are caught in a cycle of indecision and mediocrity.

It seems like the there is too much short-term planning or reaction than real long-term planning. It is not going to change until the owner Mr. Katz looks carefully at his people and realizes that they have only had a couple of real successes lately (signing Hemsky and the cup run) and whole lot of failures(losing a host of good players signing Penner,signing Horcoff to way to much money bringing in Erik Cole, not getting others to sign Marian Hossa). To me the lack of results suggests that no matter what some drastic changes are called for on the management side of things. It is my one hope that he will (Mr.Katz) will come to this decision and not let his friendships with the old guard Oilers (Lowe, MacTavish etc.) get in the way of what ultimately must be done.

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#7 Jonathan Willis
February 28 2009, 10:31AM
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@ ultimateoiler:

I think the Oilers could make the playoffs, particularly if they buy at the deadline.

It all depends what the cost is; if the Oilers can ship out a guy like Cole for somebody under contract and still make the post-season, then it will have been a decent trade deadline. If, on the other hand they ship out Cogliano for a top-six LW and make the post-season, the odds are good it will have been a mistake.

One more week to wait and see.

And just to toss this out there - I wonder if the Oilers are considering claiming Avery on re-entry waivers. He'd fix some problems out on the ice, but I very much doubt it's worth it.

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#8 Steele
February 28 2009, 10:31AM
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So if Defense has been the Achilles Heel for some time & only recently improved, are you saying the Lubomirs and the Grebeshkovs, with their fancy “spin-o-rama” moves with the puck in the defensive zone are to blame for our Goals Against tally? That and Tom Gilbert?

BTW – This year was supposed to be “the Great Return of Oiler Hockey.” To me that means the Oilers “score more goals than they give up.” A.k.A. OILER HOCKEY. So, I’ll buy your analysis, but several more goals per game from the Oilers Forwards would be a winning poultice to a leaky back end.

~Steele

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#9 Cam
February 28 2009, 10:33AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Jonathan, I think in this particular instance we have to take two exceptional games out of the equation before we judge the defense. It is bad statistics to do that, but I think losing two games by a margin is 19-4 skews the GA stats a little too much to judge 60 odd games so far.

Having said all that, I actually agree that defense is a bit of a problem. I am astonished that in a 0-0 game both Raffi Torres and Rick Nash had breakaways in the third period. Obviously after Raffi's it was no longer 1-0, but that was a major defensive breakdown. Of course obviously you cannot win if you score no goals, which points to offense as well.

I think they really miss Visnovsky for his defensive play as well as his offensive play, and they are playing Staios and Souray too much as a result and it is hurting both of those players performances.

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#10 Jonathan Willis
February 28 2009, 10:45AM
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Steele wrote:

So if Defense has been the Achilles Heel for some time & only recently improved, are you saying the Lubomirs and the Grebeshkovs, with their fancy “spin-o-rama” moves with the puck in the defensive zone are to blame for our Goals Against tally? That and Tom Gilbert?

No, the penalty-kill has been the achilles heel for some time and has only recently improved. 5-on-5 defense has fallen off dramatically since injuries to Visnovsky and Grebeshkov, and I personally don't find that surprising at all.

I'm not sure why the PK turned around; I'd probably credit the coaching staff with that (since the injured players weren't regular PK'ers) but the drop-off in defense is, IMO, directly attributable to the losses of Visnovsky and Grebeshkov and the elevated roles for all of Staios, Strudwick, and Peckham.

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#11 ultimateoiler
February 28 2009, 10:58AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ ultimateoiler: I think the Oilers could make the playoffs, particularly if they buy at the deadline. It all depends what the cost is; if the Oilers can ship out a guy like Cole for somebody under contract and still make the post-season, then it will have been a decent trade deadline. If, on the other hand they ship out Cogliano for a top-six LW and make the post-season, the odds are good it will have been a mistake. One more week to wait and see. And just to toss this out there - I wonder if the Oilers are considering claiming Avery on re-entry waivers. He’d fix some problems out on the ice, but I very much doubt it’s worth it.

Yes, the Oilers could make the playoffs but in the big picture is that good for this team? They are caught in a quagmire of being a very boring and not very good hockey team. Personally ,I want more for the team but I do not believe this team is going to ever get there without a change in management. Especially after reading about what they have on farm team which is next to nothing.

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#12 Fiveandagame
February 28 2009, 11:01AM
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Have we ever had a team under Craig MacTavish's system that hasn't struggled offensively?

Remember when we went deep in the playoffs, we played the trap.

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#13 Bad Seed
February 28 2009, 11:12AM
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What is Oiler hockey? The Oilers have been very mediocre to bad longer than they were ever good. Ultimateoiler is right - mgmt has been indecisive & mediocre fo far too long. I hope they don't do whatever it takes to make the playoffs & sacrifice the future. Of course, we've been hearing about this "future" for years now & I don't think Mr Lowe & company have any idea how to get there. Combover McGee has not been very good at his job & I sure hope Tambo doesn't have to run his ideas past him. We can't even look forward to a nice high draft pick! The Oilers can't do anything right. Probably pick another runt anyway.

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#14 wiggs22
February 28 2009, 12:14PM
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But how many goals were scored from the point? the games i've been to this years, we just collapse and leave the opposing d-men free. I think our d-men on averge arn't that bad but how many missed assignments have the forwards messed up this year..and leave the d-men up s&*t creek. Do our forwards need to play better in there back end? Personally i think bigger stronger threats up front! they push our littler guys around and theres no one to stand up or push them back. Plus the other guys taking shots on hemmer.. and no one doing anything.. it makes me sick

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#15 wiggs22
February 28 2009, 12:18PM
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I miss our old school ways.. forchecking like mad men.. speed that made the other team wet the bed. and guys who would pound you into submission. We were fast, strong, in your face and we had each others back. if macIntyre was ant faster i'd put him 2nd-3rd line and if ant one touched hemmer or cogs or gagner you would recieve one hell of a beat down. there is not a team in the league that's scared of us man.. that's embarrassing

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#16 TonyT
February 28 2009, 12:22PM
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I definitely agree that their defense is pourous. The Oilers alot of the time play a collapse defense and almost always defy logic with their breakout schemes. They never outnumber the opposition on the boards (where possession is won and lost) and they almost always reverse flow with no puck support along the boards thereby handing the puck right back to the opposition's point. This may be the players, but obviously most of us are in the FMNF camp and I believe theur systems supports that. Also, I don't understand how so many hockey "experts" could peg the Oilers as Division leaders (based on their lineup) and be so horribly wrong. I believe alot of the Oilers problems stem from Shawn Horcoff and the Oilers brass unwillingness to move him of the first line. If Gagner and Nilson are too small and are too easily forced of the puck, why don't they switch Gagner and Horcoff? Horcoff gives the second line defensive responsibility, and Gagner with Penner and Hemsky frees him some space. These are just my suggestions, obviously I don't get paid to think but in a year of one million and one line combinations, I have yet to see Horcoff off that first line.

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#17 Lofty
February 28 2009, 12:41PM
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I dont agree with your argument that the most pressing problem on the oil is the defence. When you look at the shots for and against on a regular bassis the problem seems obviously to me. We spend 75% of every game in our own end and the other 25% in the offensive or nautral zone.

I feel that this is due to forwards that turn the puck over, dont drive the net, and arnt willing to go in the corners and win a battle. People are talking about how Stortini is the "hottest" oiler right now, thats cause he has been doing these things.

Trade for some size and emotion already!!!

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#18 Darcy
February 28 2009, 01:20PM
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Steele wrote:

So if Defense has been the Achilles Heel for some time & only recently improved, are you saying the Lubomirs and the Grebeshkovs, with their fancy “spin-o-rama” moves with the puck in the defensive zone are to blame for our Goals Against tally? That and Tom Gilbert?

According to Behind the Net, here is the Oiler defense corp's Goals against per 60 min of ice time at even strength: TOM GILBERT 2.72 SHELDON SOURAY 2.55 DENIS GREBESHKOV 2.47 JASON STRUDWICK 2.44 STEVE STAIOS 2.39 LADISLA VSMID 2.25 LUBOMIR VISNOVSKY 1.90

That being stated, I think the biggest problem in the Oilers' zone coverage is the high slot, and that is the centerman's responsiblity. Or if the center goes to the puck, the wing on the side of puck is supposed to come off the point to cover the high slot.

Horcoff is the best at this coverage, Gagner isn't bad, but Cogliano and Brodziak are terrible at it.

Watch it tonight.

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#19 Greg MC
February 28 2009, 01:24PM
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Hmm, Avery... that would be a shakeup! Still three years left on his contract, team would have to look closely how much would buyouts cost year to year. I have been told that "a leopard doesn't change his spots" so the chance of him being well behaved over the full term of the contract must be close to nil.

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#20 rindog
February 28 2009, 01:30PM
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When you you implement a defensive system that relies on your wingers collapsing down to the front of the net - you are destined to give up goals (or alteast scoring chances).

Take a look at how every team we play against takes away our D-men in the oppostion zone by having the wingers stay up higher in the zone. We rarely get a chance to cycle the puck and then get it back to an open D-man.

On the other hand, when the oppostion team is on our end - they have a little mini-cycle and then have no problems getting the puck back to a wide open defenseman because our wingers have collapsed so low.

There is a reason why we block so many shots. We allow the other team to shoot so often. Take the Columbus game as an example. Not only did we get out shot terribly (32-19), but Columbus had 32 more shots that were either blocked or missed the net (compared to 13 more for us).

That is a 64-32 (2:1) difference in shots at the net.

The Columbus game was not just a "one-off". Those kind of numbers happen on a regular basis.

When you give up so many more chances (because of your defensive system) you are fighting an uphill battle.

With a defensive system like ours - you better have some proven skilled players that make the most of their opportunites.

Unfortunately, that is not the case for our team...

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#21 99thOilfan
February 28 2009, 03:30PM
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Steele wrote:

BTW – This year was supposed to be “the Great Return of Oiler Hockey.” To me that means the Oilers “score more goals than they give up.” A.k.A. OILER HOCKEY. ~Steele

That is what I was hoping for too...

But is the "Cold Hands" that runs amok on each line of this team the Players? ( they that bad ? ) Or is it the Coaching on all levels of this team, Head coach down ? ( Poor Handling of Players skills etc ) or is it the Management that fields the good ship Oil every year that bad ? (Poor selections,deals etc.) Or is it us fans, that can not get our heads around that Edmonton has a bad time attracting Players ?

All ? Some ? None ? Anyone ?

Very Important 4 points, CBC HNIC, Who will show up?

Hurry Hard Oil !

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#22 michael
March 01 2009, 06:08PM
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The lack of offense stems from a lack of finish. The lack of finish on the PP is a big reason for where we are at.Also the inability of the team to kill penalties.The fortunes of any team are linked to thier special teams. The Oilers fortunes this season are closely tied to thier lack in both of these areas. For whom does the bell toll. Clearly the blame is on the coaching staff. The inability of the team to score while on the PP has hurt the team more often than not this season. As for the PK, the choices the management made not to keep cetain players has hurt thier PK bigtime. Let me say also that the choice not play ROB Shremp ths year has been a monumental blunder on part of the team management His contribution to the PP I feel would have justified a roster spot on the fourth line. Hindsight is 100%. In this era of low scoring, players with talent like a Rob Shremp or Gilbert Brule toiling in the minors ( while the team continues to struggle offensively) only goes to prove that the Oiler coaching staff is locked into a mindsst that is proving detrimental to the teams longterm growth. Change is inevitable. The winds of change blow strongest in the spring. Beware the Ides of March. Go Oilers.

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