March 17 2009 03:11PM
While many of you are already at Ceili’s, O’Brynes or some other Irish pub pounding meal-in-a-glass Guinness and celebrating like you actually have some Irish blood in you, the Oilers are looking to avoid a 4th straight overtime loss. And if you’re an historian or a believer in fate, destiny or voodoo it doesn’t look good for the Edmonton Oilers tonight. Saint Patrick, prior to the 20th century was always depicted in blue rather than green, so with the Blues in town tonight they could have some historic luck on their side.
However, the Oilers have the best Irish name in the league -- Patty O’Sullivan -- so that might even things out. Much to my chagrin, O’Sullivan didn’t dye his hair green for the morning skate, and wasn’t planning on doing it tonight. Talk about missing out on a great PR opportunity.
Regardless, O’Sullivan is hoping to have the Luck of the Irish on his side when he lines up beside Horcoff and Hemsky tonight.
**While Liam is an Irish name, Reddox is in fact Scottish, so no extra luck from him.19 – 10 – 83 12 – 89 – 21 85 – 13 – 34 18 – 51 – 27
That’s how the Oilers will lineup tonight as they look to derail the surging Blues. The Blues are 10-5 in their last 15, and like the Oilers, are riding one goalie. Chris Mason will start his 21st straight game tonight, while the Colossal Fossil starts his 25th consecutive game.
The other change will see Ladislav Smid draw back in. Smid has had neck spasms since taking a hit to his neck and back of the head from Colby Armstrong. The spasms were causing headaches, but after some acupuncture and massage he’s good to go tonight.
The Oilers special teams have been anything but that this season, while the Blues excel at both. The Blues are 8th on the PP at 21%, while their PK is 11th at 82.5%. The Blues have scored the 5th most PP goals in the league, 62, compared to the Oilers 49.
The Blues’ offensive players are great on the PP, but horrendous five-on-five. Brad Boyes (-18), Keith Tkachuk (-14) and Andy McDonald (-10) are clearly weak at EV, so if MacTavish is smart, he plays Horcoff’s line against them as often as possible.
The Oilers will switch their PP tonight with Gagner working with Hemsky, Penner, Souray and Grebeshkov on the first unit and Horcoff, Nilsson, O’Sullivan, Gilbert and Kotalik on the 2nd unit.
PP has to produce
The first unit will stick with the unsuccessful and now very predictable look of Penner in front of the net, Hemsky on the left side boards and Gagner in the corner, while leaving the slot completely vacant.
Yesterday, I asked Horcoff why the Oilers don’t employ someone in the slot.
“We’re just doing what we are told to do really. That’s up to Mac. He likes to draw the plays up and he makes the decisions on what our set up is going to be. We go out there and try to execute to the best of our abilities, but if that (slot) is where the open ice is then it’s up to the guys on the ice to make the necessary adjustments and find the holes.”
Interesting that the 2nd PP unit was practicing a set up that would see Horcoff slide into the slot to get the shot away. Why did it take this long? The PP has been predictable all season, and only now they start to look at another set up to give the opposition another look. You won’t see this on the first unit, but expect it on the second Another option you might see tonight will be Kotalik, Hemsky and Penner up front. Kotalik will line up on the left wing with Hemsky down low and Penner in front.
“We have to be like Detroit. They have the most skill in the league, yet they shoot a lot. We need to shoot more,” said Nilsson.
The Oilers refusal to shoot is their biggest detriment, especially on the PP.
Creating lots with little
I’ve been stating for a long time the value of role players. Some are energy guys, others penalty killers, or shot blockers but the common denominator is that they find a way to be effective in limited minutes.
It’s hard to play seven to nine minutes a game and get noticed, or make an impact in the game, but Zack Stortini has mastered it. Stortini averages 7:20 a game and he has made his presence felt in most of them with either a fight, hit or the odd point.
Marc Pouliot played just over seven minutes in Saturday’s loss and many were surprised how little he accomplished. It’s hard to get in the flow of the game when you only get four or five shifts a period, and it is especially hard for a non-physical player.
I don’t blame Pouliot because he has never had to play that role. It’s hard to get used to. It’s difficult to stay mentally and physically involved when you don’t play. That’s why most effective 4th liners have to have a physical edge to their game, or be a penalty killer to keep them involved in the game.
Pouliot won’t be that guy here, and I don’t understand why the coaches ask him to be that guy. Pouliot has eight goals this season and his ice time in those games follows: 15:05, 10:49, 18:13, 12:10, 13:47, 13:28, 9:59 and 6:34.
Pouliot can contribute a bit when he gets minutes, but he is not a guy that will give you much in a limited role.
Like most players he needs more minutes to produce, even Stortini has shown more ability with more minutes. His five goals came in games where he played 8:07, 9:25, 11:00, 11:05 and 6:24. In fact, in the only six games that he has played more than ten minutes he has four points. He has shown the ability to score with limited minutes, and most importantly to make his presence felt.
Stortini adds a dimension that the Oilers drastically need: energy, emotion and the ability to get the crowd in the game. The Oilers have the fewest home wins of any team in the West division, and too often Rexall Place has lacked an atmosphere this season. Stortini has become a fan favourite similar to what Georges Laraque used to be.
Laraque could just go in on the forecheck and the building would get excited for a potential hit. While it has taken some time, the fans have started to sense the same in Stortini. The Huggy Bear catcalls have been replaced with appreciation, and that’s why it is perplexing that he finds himself in the pressbox for the third straight home game.
Most of Stortini’s contributions will never show up on the score sheet and he probably won’t ever become more than a 4th liner, but right now the Oilers need his energy, consistency and ability to spark the crowd while annoying the opposition. Why the coaching staff can’t see this is another case of mismanagement.