GDB 53: Not Taking Steps Back

Jonathan Willis
February 08 2009 11:04AM

I really hate to plug things that the Oilers’ organization does. When I read stories about how the Oilers complain to the NHL because a Calgary radio station played a song parody after their 10-2 loss to Buffalo, or their heavy-handed tactics in dealing with fans, or how members of the organization parked a Zamboni behind the HNIC production truck after Marc Crawford had the temerity to question the quality of the ice at Rexall, I get angry. I think about how petty and ham-fisted an organization can be, especially an organization that has milked public sympathy repeatedly in the past and intends to do it again to get a new arena, and wonder why anyone would laud the Oilers’ organization.

In any case, it’s really worthwhile (as it usually is) to check out the post-game comments up at the Oilers official site. There, for example, you can find this charming quote from team captain Ethan Moreau:

Well the score doesn’t reflect how we worked, I thought that a lot of guys really battled hard. It’s hard to find positives in an 8-3 loss, but a lot of guys competed really hard. We had some big efforts – Storts gets a goal and assist, Poulie scores a nice goal, I thought we battled in the faceoff circle, so there’s some good things going into tomorrow.

Reading that, I wonder if Ethan Moreau was at the game. If the Oilers were putting forth the necessary effort, why did they have the doors blown off? Was their pre-game preparation lacking? Asked what the difference was between the first and second periods, Moreau offered the following:

Just that they scored more goals in the first. It’s really hard to find faults in our energy in here before the game. Things didn’t go well, we took the penalty early and they scored and things snowballed from there. But if you really break down the game and watch it I thought there were a lot of individuals who really competed hard and won a lot of battles. It’s a process – we’ve got thirty games left and if we continue to do things right and fix things that need to be fixed we’ll be fine.

Compare that quote above to what Kyle Brodziak said after the game:

We came into the game, and I don’t know if we were really nervous or tentative but we were uptight and we weren’t skating. They’re a good team - they’ve got a lot of skill over there - and if you’re not ready to skate with them they’re going to pick you apart.

Which of those two comments seems closer to accurate? Ethan Moreau’s idea that the only problem was that the Red Wings just scored more goals in the first but the team battled hard, or Brodziak’s comment that they weren’t ready to skate with the Red Wings?

Let me make it crystal clear for everyone: the game is won and lost on goals scored for and against. The game isn’t won because you have good “energy” in the room prior to setting foot on the ice, or because you “competed hard”. Winning puck battles is indeed of importance, but only because winning puck battles leads to scoring goals. It doesn’t matter how much grit, jam or sandpaper a team displays (not that I thought the Oilers were outstanding in that regard yesterday) if you only manage three goals while your opposition scores eight. That doesn’t seem to be a concept that Craig MacTavish understands:

Even the first period, we made mistakes obviously, but we knew they were going to come hard at the start; they hadn’t been playing up to their standards and it’s been a bit of boot camp from what we understand, around here. We knew they were going to come hard, we were prepared for it. We battled hard, and we played hard, and our young guys really battled hard. Cogs, I thought really battled, as did Sam... Pouliot got involved a little bit tonight, scored a goal and got in a confrontation, which is something that we haven’t seen a lot out of him. It was unfortunate that they got the goal in the last six seconds of the second period to make it six nothing, and then all of a sudden we get three and if we don’t give up that goal late we’re back in the game. It’s a funny game – you just have to compete hard, every minute of every night, and I think that for a large part we did that tonight.

That’s right folks – despite the obvious mismatch in the respective teams’ play, if not for the unfortunate sixth goal against and that equally unfortunate seventh goal against, the Oilers would have been right in it. The Oilers were prepared and they battled hard, despite going down 5-0 in the first twenty minutes.

To sum up:

I think a lot of times when you get beat handily, it’s tough to respond the next day, but I think we’re going to be able to not take a step back, despite the loss.

I certainly hope this team doesn’t take a step back; it would be a real shame if all that effort the Oilers exerted to lose only 8-3 instead of 10-2 or 9-2 went to waste.

Why Gene Principe Rocks

Faced with the 8-3 loss, and seemingly unable to force his mouth to ask MacTavish to elaborate on the virtues of “battling hard”, Gene Principe needed to find some kind of Wellwood-soft question to lob at MacTavish. With his incredible ability to make clutch plays, he responded, leading to this interaction:

Principe: “Dwayne’s penalty looked like it was an accident on his part...”

MacTavish: “What happened - I didn’t even see it?”

Principe: “He just kinda... stuck his stick... up between his legs... with Cleary.”

He just kinda... accidentally... whacked Dan Cleary... in that spot between his legs. You can’t teach that kind of analysis. Sportsnet’s lucky to have him.

Oh Yeah, There’s A Game Today

Let’s look at the key ingredients for this afternoon’s game:

  • The Oilers are playing Minnesota in Minnesota (they’ve lost 8 straight at the Xcel Energy Center).
  • The Oilers are currently tied with Minnesota for the final playoff spot in the West, making this a textbook example of a four-point game.
  • The Oilers are coming off an 8-3 loss yesterday in which the captain and head coach were pleased with their effort.
  • Minnesota hasn’t played since Friday.

Let’s call it a 2-1 OT loss. Dustin Penner and Pierre-Marc Bouchard with regulation goals, and let’s chalk up the game winner to Marc-Andre Bergeron.

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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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#101 Mike L
February 08 2009, 10:01PM
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socaldave wrote:

when your coach thinks getting a D-man some highlights in front of his friends and family in the S/O is more important that actually winning…

Did you notice that Minnesota had TWO defencemen go out of their first three shots??? Who cares what position they are... I'm guessing Gilbert is good at them in practice, and being at home might have been an extra incentive. If he scores, you guys are all...WHAT a great call...Typical Oiler fan..complain when it goes wrong, and cheer if it is right...but don't choose which way you will go until the result it there...

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#102 David S
February 08 2009, 10:23PM
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Mike - There's alot of that around here.

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#103 Sing A Song For SingSing
February 08 2009, 10:37PM
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I think Mac threw him out there cuz he felt Gilbert had a lot to prove infront of family and friends, being that Minneapolis/St.Paul are his old stomping grounds. Let him have a go at it with the game on his stick.

That accompanied with the fact he's also a good player, slick puckhandler and has pretty good offensive instincts. The move he made on Backstrom wasn't that bad I thought, a little too much hesitation and towards the final few dekes Backstrom read him like a book and pretty much new he was going backhand with it.

No problem with selecting D in a shootout. If Visnovsky was in the line up I'd have him as a 3rd shooter, or 4th if you needed to go to extras. That guy is just smooth as a baby's ass.

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#104 Jack Bauer
February 09 2009, 12:13AM
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I dont even remember what I typed, but obviously it wasnt good since its been deleted hahah.

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#105 Rob
February 09 2009, 07:02AM
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Last fall I was 180 degress opposite from Jonathan Willis regarding the Oilers management, coaching and players. His last few posts have been right on. The Oil spin is B.S. They are believing their own B.S. and will have a hard time turning their fortunes around in my opinion because of it. He is saying what I think needs to be said at this point. Expression of his current thoughts are welcomed. I'm tired of sports commentators shouting down and insulting anyone who has an opinion differing from their own myopic point of view. His frankness is refreshing. He will not agree with the last comment here but I'm glad he's gone to rehab and is off the Oiler Kool-aid. Call it like it is.

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#106 Travis Dakin
February 09 2009, 08:04AM
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Jack Bauer wrote:

I dont even remember what I typed, but obviously it wasnt good since its been deleted hahah.

Lets just say it had something to do with a certain sportscastor and some ugly positions.

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#107 BruMAN
February 09 2009, 09:46AM
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Mike L wrote:

socaldave wrote: when your coach thinks getting a D-man some highlights in front of his friends and family in the S/O is more important that actually winning… Did you notice that Minnesota had TWO defencemen go out of their first three shots??? Who cares what position they are… I’m guessing Gilbert is good at them in practice, and being at home might have been an extra incentive. If he scores, you guys are all…WHAT a great call…Typical Oiler fan..complain when it goes wrong, and cheer if it is right…but don’t choose which way you will go until the result it there…

Give me a break! Im pretty sure 95% of oil fans were scratching thier head at that call before hew failed to score! Nice try for Gilbert.. but I feel many other players should of got the call before him..

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#108 BruMAN
February 09 2009, 09:46AM
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Is there a spell check??? lol..

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#109 David S
February 09 2009, 10:19AM
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In the end it didn't matter. Neither of Gagner, Nilsson nor Hemsky had any gas in the tank for that shootout. My guess is MacT was playing a hunch that Gilbert wanted to show off a bit in front of the hometown crowd - maybe that would have given him an edge. Either way, if none of our top three guys put it away, it becomes a crapshoot anyways.

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#110 Chaz
February 09 2009, 10:54AM
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@ David S: I disagree. It's only a crapshoot if your coach makes it one. Just because your top three guys don't score, you don't pick the next name out of a hat, or based on who might want to show off. You pick the player you think has the skill set that makes him most likely of all your players to score.

If Mac T honestly felt that was Gilbert, then all the power to him, but considering he almost didn't dress in Detroit due to a bad back I find it hard to believe he was the fourth best option on the bench.

Crawford must of had a hunch too when he went with Bourque over Gretzky. Doesn't make it any less of a bad decision in my mind.

That being said, Mac T made a nice move in calling the Time out early with the 5 on 3, and I thought he did a good job of giving late ice time to those who deserved it yesterday (IE: Gags and Penner). Some relatively rare praise for you there Mac T!

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#111 Travis Dakin
February 09 2009, 11:04AM
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Chaz wrote:

Crawford must of had a hunch too when he went with Bourque over Gretzky.

Sweet merciful crap that still boggles the mind. The only reason I will ever need to not have him as the coach of the Oilers.

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#112 Rick
February 09 2009, 11:14AM
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Chaz wrote:

, but considering he almost didn’t dress in Detroit due to a bad back I find it hard to believe he was the fourth best option on the bench.

What does this have to do with the shoot out?

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#113 BUCK75
February 09 2009, 11:23AM
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Either way - it would have been nicer to win it in regulation & not give up the extra point. We're neck & neck with the wild & they played their guts out. Giving up extra points isn't something a team fighting to get into the play-offs should be doing - especially when it might come down to us or them making it.

Point being win in regulation & there's no need to be second guessing shooters. Cogliano would have been my choice, but Gilbert is ahead of Penner, Moreau or even Souray in my books.

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#114 Chaz
February 09 2009, 11:24AM
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@ Rick: It has to do with who has the best chance to score in the S/O, and I would say a guy who is nursing an injury that limits his mobility (IE: Back spasm) is not a solid choice.

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#115 Rick
February 09 2009, 11:31AM
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Chaz wrote:

@ Rick: It has to do with who has the best chance to score in the S/O, and I would say a guy who is nursing an injury that limits his mobility (IE: Back spasm) is not a solid choice.

I think that's reaching.

It's a shoot out, it's not like he has to fight through 2 defenders on the way to the net. Besides, nursing a bad back or not he couldn't have been in that bad of shape considering he logged over 25 minutes in the actual game.

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#116 Jonathan Willis
February 09 2009, 11:37AM
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Rob wrote:

Last fall I was 180 degress opposite from Jonathan Willis regarding the Oilers management, coaching and players. His last few posts have been right on. The Oil spin is B.S. They are believing their own B.S. and will have a hard time turning their fortunes around in my opinion because of it. He is saying what I think needs to be said at this point. Expression of his current thoughts are welcomed. I’m tired of sports commentators shouting down and insulting anyone who has an opinion differing from their own myopic point of view. His frankness is refreshing. He will not agree with the last comment here but I’m glad he’s gone to rehab and is off the Oiler Kool-aid. Call it like it is.

Two points:

1) I don't operate under the same constraints as professional sports commentators; since I'm an amateur, there are no professional consequences to me taking potshots at the team or individual players. While I dod try to be responsible, I use that freedom much more than I would if I had worries about losing my access. Lord knows I wouldn't criticize Pete Peeters, because the consequences are rumoured to be ugly.

2) You can call it Kool-Aid if you'd like, but I've been honest with my criticism and opinions, regardless of how much flack I'll take from people who are convinced I'm wrong. People will disagree with me quite a bit but I do make a conscious effort to give an opinion unbiased by homerism or whatever. I'm not perfect so there's undoubtedly some bias, but I do try and filter it out and work with an open mind.

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#117 shakey
February 09 2009, 12:16PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Jonathon, up until a couple of weeks ago I would have swore you were an actual Sports writer. Your posts are accurate and I don't find them to contain 'homerism' or blind Oilers love. You certainly put in the work on the numbers side of things and it's not always my thing but I do find it interesting. Since I've been on this site I've found Jason Gregor and Robin to be pretty fair with their comments and I put you in that catagory as well. All of you guys have given me, a long time hockey fan, a different perspective than I'm used to from the usual 'canned' answers and questions in the paper and on TV. I have no clue what it's like in other cities but there seems to be a lot of fear/leg-humping/just-happy-to-be-here sports reporting when it comes to the Oilers. I like that you guys speak your minds and really like that you back it up based on more than blind love and emotion.

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#118 Sean
February 09 2009, 01:01PM
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So Jonathan, your MacT coaching an inferior Oilers team on the road in Detroit. Isn't your only hope for a win to get your team to outwork them? Surely you cant blast the team each night in the media.

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#119 Jonathan Willis
February 09 2009, 02:10PM
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@ Sean:

I think I would have said something like,

"While I appreciate the efforts of individual players, particularly later in the game, we didn't execute our game plan in the first period, and some assignments were missed. I'm not going to sugarcoat the loss; we had to play better, but the mistakes were generally in execution, not effort, and we just need to be sure we're better positionally against Minnesota tomorrow."

I certainly wouldn't claim that we were prepared for them to come out flying, given the 5-0 deficit after the first period.

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#120 Sean
February 09 2009, 04:46PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Mike Babcocks MO is that his players compete hard every night except he has a way better team.

What you said is basically what MacT said: we made mistakes obviously but We battled hard, and we played hard, and our young guys really battled hard

You just spun it differently...

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#121 David S
February 09 2009, 06:24PM
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Guys.

If Detroit came out with ringette sticks and Babcock's dog was in goal, we MIGHT have had a chance. No amount of try or jam or whatever you want to call it would have made that game any more winnable. Detroit was looking for a sacrificial lamb and came out playing their best period of the year. Of course, MacT can't say that (Moreau came close when he said said "Detroit is Detroit"), so he makes something up in the presser. Doesn't matter at the end of the day.

Whatever. Move on.

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