How He Scored His Goals: Sam Gagner

Jonathan Willis
September 03 2009 06:00AM

Sam Gagner scored 16 goals last season, an increase of three on his rookie year. Thanks to the magic of the NHL’s video portal, we can review them all to try and identify trends.

The Goals

April 4, 2009: Gagner takes the puck in his own end, skates up the right wing ahead of a lackadaisical Steve Bernier, and cuts between Bernier and Willie Mitchell to create a partial breakaway. He makes a simple deke and slides the puck in behind Roberto Luongo.

April 2, 2009: Robert Nilsson takes a pass (on the powerplay) and skates the puck in down as far as the right faceoff circle, and then backhands the puck to Gagner, who is entering the high slot with speed. Gagner, in the middle of the Sharks four-man box fires a wrist shot to the top corner, just over Nabokov’s blocker.

March 20, 2009: Robert Nilsson takes the puck behind his own net on the tail end of a powerplay while Gagner rushes up-ice. Nilsson comes around from behind the net and fires a pass to Gagner, who is just on the neutral zone side of the Chicago blueline. The Blackhawks had just made a line change and Gagner finds himself a half-step ahead of the last Chicago defenseman and well away from everyone else. He dekes before beating Nikolai Khabibulin fivehole.

March 19, 2009: Ales Kotalik carries the puck into the offensive zone on the right-side boards while his linemates (Horcoff and O’Sullivan) change. He skates around behind the net and pauses in the left corner as Robert Nilsson and Sam Gagner charge into the zone. Kotalik loses control of the puck, which goes behind the net to Nilsson. Nilsson sees Gagner sneaking in from the right side boards and passes him the puck from behind the net; Gagner one-times it passed Peter Budaj.

March 19, 2009: Ales Kotalik and Robert Nilsson muck it out behind the Colorado net with two defensemen. Nilsson ends up with the puck, and passes it through two Colorado defenseman to Gagner, who has been perched in the high slot. Gagner one-times the pass by Peter Budaj.

March 19, 2009: Ales Hemsky takes the puck on the powerplay and steams in along the right-side boards, circling the Colorado net and drawing three of the four penalty-killers towards him. Hemsky passes to Souray on the left point, who quickly flicks the puck to Kotalik on the right point. One Avalanche defenseman follows Penner to the right side of the net, while Gagner sneaks in behind Lawrence Nycholat. Kotalik fires the puck hard to the left side of the net, where Gagner tips it past Budaj.

March 10, 2009: Robert Nilsson makes a high-risk pass from the right side boards which somehow eludes Chris Higgins. The pass is too far to the side for its intended recipient, Denis Grebeshkov. Grebeshkov tips the puck, than gets to it quickly and performs a spin-o-rama, leaving Tom Kostopulos in his wake. With Kostopoulos behind him, Grebeshkov sneaks into the shot and lets a snap shot go which is screened by Marc Pouliot, who charges the net and bangs away at the puck. Pouliot is mauled by a pair of Canadiens, while Sam Gagner is tackled at the side of the net by Ryan O’Byrne. Somehow, Gagner gets his stick on the puck and pushes it across the goalline.

March 5, 2009: On the powerplay, Tom Gilbert takes the puck in his own end and passes it to Denis Grebeshkov. Grebeshkov skates it across the blueline and then makes a brilliant pass to Sam Gagner, who has reached the Ottawa blueline at full speed. Now on a breakaway, Gagner dekes once before scoring five-hole.

March 5, 2009: Steve Staios, inside his own zone on the right hand side, lobs the puck to Gagner, who is speeding towards the Ottawa blueline along the left-wing boards. Anton Volchenkov does a nice job of preventing him from moving in on the net, so as Gagner approaches the goal-line he backhands it quickly on net. Brian Elliot, unprepared for the bad angle shot, watches the puck go in five-hole.

March 3, 2009: With Nashville in the middle of a line change, Ladislav Smid takes the puck and charges the Nashville blueline. Two Predators focus on him, but he manages to chip the puck past to Gagner, who moving at full speed is a half-step ahead of the closest Predator on the right hand side of the slot. Gagner cuts in towards the middle as he closes in on the net, brings the puck to his backhand and puts it past Rinne, who covers the bottom of the net but can’t get over to cover the top of it.

February 11, 2009: With the Oilers on the powerplay, Robert Nilsson skates behind the Montreal net from the left side boards to the right side boards. He plays it in front to Cogliano, who can’t get a shot off, and the puck bounces to Gagner on the left-side boards. Gagner backhands it to Cogliano, who again can’t get a shot off, but fortunately the puck slides clear to Robert Nilsson, who is sneaking in from the right-side boards and who fires an excellent shot which is stopped by Price. The puck again comes to the left side of the net, where Gagner has closed in, and when Mike Komisarek cannot find the puck Gagner puts it in between his legs.

February 8, 2009: Robert Nilsson carries the puck right up the middle of the ice into the Minnesota zone and fakes a shot before passing to Ladislav Smid, who is skating at full speed along the left wing. With very little room, Smid fires a low shot which is kicked into the high slot by Backstrom. With Backstrom committed to the side of the net, Gagner fires a wrist shot into the vacant side.

January 11, 2009: Erik Cole takes the puck along the right side boards, cycling in the corner. With four St. Louis players down low and the only high forward committed to covering Steve Staios (who raised his stick to one-time a possible pass), Gagner is left alone in the high slot. As he fires the puck, Ryan Potulny makes his way to the front of the net. Manny Legace never even saw the shot.

December 28, 2008: A Gagner shot is kicked into the corner by Dan Ellis, where Gagner pursues. Under pressure, Radek Bonk rings the puck hard along the boards where it slides past Robert Nilsson and aa Nashville forward before reaching Lubomir Visnovsky on the point. Visnovsky fires the puck into a group in front (including Gagner and Erik Cole). The puck doesn’t get through, but Cole shoots and it goes in off Gagner’s stick.

December 17, 2008: Denis Grebeshkov takes the puck at the right point, then takes two strides towards centre before shoveling the puck back to Andrew Cogliano on the half boards, who in turn moves the puck to Robert Nilsson down near the goal line. Nilsson passes through a crowd to reach an open Ales Hemsky on the far side of the net, but Sanford gets across to block Hemsky’s shot. Hemsky, now past the goal line, gets the puck and pokes it towards the net past Sanford, at which point Gagner just pushes it across the red line.

November 13, 2008: Lubomir Visnovsky at the right point plays give-and-go with Hemsky (on the right half-boards). When Visnovsky gets the puck back he slides towards the middle of the ice, drawing the Leafs’ penalty-killer with him. He then passes back to Hemsky, who skates into the slot with the puck. The Toronto forward recovers and attempts to stick-check Hemsky, who abruptly turns and feeds Denis Grebeshkov, now alone in the slot, rather than shooting. Grebeshkov fires a shot which two Leafs attempt to block; the shot just squeaks through to Toskala who attempts to push it into the corner with his stick. Sam Gagner, however, has snuck in from the half boards and the puck lands right on his stick, and he easily puts it past the now out-of-position Toskala.

Summary

Tallying up those goals, we see that Gagner scored a lot from three basic locations:

  • Front of the net: 7
  • Side of the net: 5
  • High slot: 4

I don’t think there’s anything too enlightening in that; the slot and in close proximity to the net are the two areas where most players score their goals. Still, I was a little surprised that so many of Gagner’s goals were basically tap-ins; the guy hung out around the net a lot and scored some goals because of it. The other thing Gagner did well was one-time the puck; if he were a left-handed shot he might be a nice fit in Horcoff’s role on the first powerplay unit.

Gagner’s November 13th goal (skip to the 1:13 mark of the video above) featured a rather odd powerplay configuration, with Grebeshkov and Visnovsky on the points and Hemsky playing the role of shooter from the right half-boards (and Gagner sitting in Hemsky’s usual spot in the far left corner). It’s a configuration that makes some sense to me, although I don’t remember seeing it used much; Hemsky’s got a tremendous shot when he uses it and it might be worth trying him as one of the primary trigger-men on the powerplay. Gagner could play the Hemsky role as puck distributer, particularly since he shoots enough from the side of the net to keep the opposition honest.

Does anything else here jump out as significant?

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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 Hemmertime
September 03 2009, 12:19PM
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Chris. wrote:

I spent yesterday remembering Jason Smith, and lamenting how a character guy like that was moved for a putz like Pitkanen

Umm, ya, I long for the days of Tjanqvist as #1 D man, ya-freakin-hoo. Pick a different deal, Pitkanen could have been Visnovsky for us, didnt happen, and all that led to O'Sullivan, plus we had Staios to replace Smith - didnt turn out so well but OSullivan and a try with Pitkanen is not a bad deal.

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#52 Chris.
September 03 2009, 12:47PM
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@ Hemmertime:

I'm not going to debate the merit of each individual deal... In isloation, many of the trades/signings over the last three years make sense...

But when you step back, and look at how the makeup of the roster has drifted: there has clearly not been enough emphasis placed on replacing the grit, toughness, leadership, size, and CHARACTER of many of the guys who left. IMO, Guys like Reasoner, Stoll, Green, Smith, Smyth, and so on, may have moved on due to money, age, or whatever: but that doesn't excuse the fact that they have never been adequetly replaced.

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#53 Lofty
September 03 2009, 12:50PM
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Bob Cob wrote:

Our offence wasn’t the problem last year, it was our penalty killing and faceoff ability, both which would be adressed by bringing in Malhotra or Betts, not by adding another Smurf to the lineup

Scoring was the Oils problem last year... not to say that dont like Malhotra or Betts but the team needs more goals for.

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#54 Petr's Jofa
September 03 2009, 12:57PM
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@ Lofty:

2008-09 Edmonton Oilers Goals per game = 18th, 7th in west Goals against per game = 22nd, 11th in west

Both of which could be solved if the Oilers actually got control of the puck now and then.

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#55 Chris.
September 03 2009, 01:04PM
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Basic roster construction 101:

Most teams like to carry 14 forwards on a 23 man roster.

Out of those 14 forward roster spots; the number of spaces that should be reserved for small, "skilled", forwards, who put up less than 40 points a season total offence:

Zero. (The Oilers have Nilsson)

The number of spots that should be reserved for small "skilled" forwards who put up MORE than 40 points a season total offence:

Maximum of Three. (IMO)

The Oilers already have Gagner, and O'Sullivan. (Cogliano is close)

So why sign Comrie? Let's assume Comrie has a forty point season, and Nilsson and Schremp are put on waivers after camp... Is anyone comfortable moving one of Gags, Cogs, or O'Sully to make room for a PR experiment? Is anyone comfortable missing the playoffs skating through ANOTHER season with a poorly balanced roster? Oh, and; What about Brule?

If the Oilers keep Nilsson, sign Comrie, and elevate Brule: is it a good idea to have 6 smurfs in your top twelve? (Remember that at least three of the other six forwards play like surfs)

What about all the smurfs clogging the prospect ranks? Dump Schremp on waivers... fine. Elevate Brule... okay. But the Oilers top prospects include Eberle, Omark, Reddox, Rajala, and so on. There are also lots of smallish, more marginal players like Lerg, and Cornet trying to ply their trade...

Summary: I don't care if Comrie signs a one year deal for 600K... On the surface, barring a whole series of other moves: I couldn't imagine a worse possible fit for the Oilers than Mike Comrie. Throw a dart at the UFA board and at least twenty other signings would make more sense.

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#56 David S
September 03 2009, 01:16PM
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I know it's OT but...

VINDICATION FOR BROWNLEE!

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#57 allan
September 03 2009, 05:35PM
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i guess it pays to be dARRYL KATZ FRIENDS SON MIKE COMRIE GIVE ME A BREAK

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#58 Tayranchula
September 03 2009, 06:01PM
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Another common trend I noticed is that Robby Nilson is one of the names that pops up the most in those summaries. I know they played on the same line and that would make sense and all but does this mean Nilson makes Ganger better? Nilson could be Gangers set up man. Its funny how everybody (including myself) rips on Nilson but if he makes the soon to be "face of the franchise" better, shouldnt we relax on him and not believe what MacT has led up to believe? Im sure other people have commented on this to.

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#59 DangerMan
September 03 2009, 06:47PM
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Chris. wrote:

The number of spots that should be reserved for small “skilled” forwards who put up MORE than 40 points a season total offence: Maximum of Three. (IMO) The Oilers already have Gagner, and O’Sullivan. (Cogliano is close)

Wouldn't Hemsky qualify here as well?

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#60 Colin
September 03 2009, 07:49PM
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@ DangerMan:

Hemsky is 6', puts up 70+ points has a steal of a contract and plays at least 15-20lbs heavier than he is.

So No.

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September 27 2009, 05:13PM
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