Take it to the Limit

Lowetide
October 30 2010 08:03AM

Opening night, 2010-11. The Edmonton Oilers--coming off the worst season in their history--had three highly touted rookies and 82 games ahead to show what they could do. It didn't take long for the youngsters to take it to the limit. 

Before the first period of their first NHL game, Mike Milbury, Kelly Hrudey and Scott Oake were talking about Eberle, Hall and Pääjärvi. Milbury suggested before the game that survival was the key, and Hrudey said "I think (that nervousness) might be as long as 20 minutes."  20 minutes later the tone from Hrudey, Milbury and Oake was completely different.

Speed was mentioned about a dozen times in the between period comments and then Hrudey said this: "I thought I'd see more nervousness from him. The thing about these three young men is the way they think the game. I knew they had talent, but I didn't know they'd be that smart on the ice."

For Edmonton Oiler fans, the progress early in the season is coming in waves. Last night in Chicago, the kids (and veterans) took full advantage of a veteran goalie on a bad night and the Hawks depleted defense. The final tally for the three rookies was 2 goals, 4 assists over several miles and 60 minutes.

This morning, there are some impressive items for Oiler fans to ponder. The NHL leader in rookie points? Jordan Eberle. Pääjärvi is tied for 5th, Hall tied for 8th. In terms of TOI per game, Eberle is 1st among rookie NHL forwards, followed by Hall in 2nd and Pääjärvi in 7th.

Pääjärvi leads the group in 5x5 points-per-60 minutes:

  1. Pääjärvi 2.52
  2. Hall 1.94
  3. Eberle 1.53

Pääjärvi also leads the trio in Corsi relative to quality of competition and PDO. All of these numbers beg a few questions, so let's ask them.

  1. Who has been the most impressive? Eberle. If Pääjärvi is the rocket man and Hall is touched by God, Eberle plays the game with a combination of skill, smarts and determination seldom seen in a rookie. His positioning is exceptional, his anticipation off the charts and the words "quick stick" don't do justice to what the young man can do in all three zones. Intercepting passes, breaking up rushes by getting a piece of a pass, he's already a player the coach can count on in difficult circumstances.
  2. The Calder trophy? I'll vote Eberle but it's early. Hall is just finding the range and if he can post a strong number then Eberle (and others) will have to rip it up in order to win the thing. Pääjärvi will have to get increased minutes at both EV and PP in order to run with the other two as the season wears on.
  3. Injury? If every shift is a sortie then every successful flight means these players are settling in with the size and speed of the game. Pääjärvi has appeared to shy away from traffic in the last week or so after a Regehr hit (would they just trade his ass to Boston already?) and they've all taken big league hits. However, all three resume's imply durable young men and so far so good.
  4. What has been surprising about Eberle? We're not talking about Eberle's lack of foot speed and that was a topic before the season began. Also, I felt he would eventually be a "complete player" but he seems to be playing at that level now. This is early in his career and he could lose confidence, but watching him play it looks for all the world like he knows exactly what to do in all situations.
  5. What has been surprising about Hall? His composure. Look, Taylor Hall is a kid. Canadians like our best hockey players to say and do the right things and it must have been difficult for him early in the season when the puck wasn't going in the net. But in every interview (and there were a lot) he seemed sincere and confident. Sometimes you encounter people who are ready to meet high expectations on their way to greatness. Hall definitely looks like that type of person.
  6. What has been surprising about Pääjärvi? Well I knew he was fast but he's really, really fast. The young man is also efficient offensively (witness his 5x5/60 number above) and is already an expert on things like the give and go. I'm surprised he's so adaptable in terms of linemates, and he's very aware defensively if not effective yet.
  7. Is this group of three better than the 07-08 rookie group (Gagner, Cogliano, Brodziak)? This is the best F trio to play their first NHL season in Edmonton since 79-80 (Gretzky, Messier, Dave Hunter) and 80-81 (Kurri, Anderson, Tom Roulston).
  8. What is their overall weakness? Play away from the puck, but even with that there are promising signs. Eberle's overall effectiveness, Pääjärvi's eagerness to fall back and Hall's skill set which lend themselves to the defensive side of the puck.
  9. Will the Oilers get a lottery pick in 2011? Not at this rate. What are you going to do? You can't hold back the water.
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Lowetide has been one of the Oilogosphere's shining lights for over a century. You can check him out here at OilersNation and at lowetide.ca. He is also the host of Lowdown with Lowetide weekday mornings 10-noon on TSN 1260.
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#1 PabstBR55
October 30 2010, 09:12AM
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What a great week! A character-building comeback against CGY, a solid outing from Doobie in CBS, and the second squee-fest of the season in Chi-town.

This team will still lose games, mostly due to our awful defense corps, but at least this team is going to score goals.

5-4 losses are way more fun that 3-0 losses.

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#2 albertabeef
October 30 2010, 08:18AM
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I think I'm supposed to say FIST!

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#3 Bryzarro World
October 30 2010, 09:02AM
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I think they will still get a top 5 pick... Will be very streaky this year

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#4 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
October 30 2010, 09:44AM
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@NateInVegas wrote:

LT,

The Oilers seem willing to compete which is a change from the last 5...10 years

What concerns me is that #4 appears to like playing AWAY from Rexall too much, maybe a sign of things to come?

Either way if Edmonton wants a lotto pick Khabi's gotta be out before New Year's celebration.

Osteria de Medici anyone???

Nice reach trying to maintain your anti-Hall stance.

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#5 VK63
October 30 2010, 09:49AM
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@Crackenbury

Souray will lace em up as an Oiler under this ownership and management regime exactly three days after hell freezes over.

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#8 Spartacus
October 30 2010, 08:22AM
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I dunno, LT. To me, Renney's willingness to play Strudwick and Vandermeer still spells an attempt at a bottom five finish.

The intent seems clear when you play these guys yet have other, better options available.

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#10 reb98
October 30 2010, 08:50AM
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"9. Will the Oilers get a lottery pick in 2011? Not at this rate. What are you going to do? You can't hold back the water."

You'd have to think at some point that the trio of Eberle, Hall, & M.P. are going to go into a slump sometime during the season. If that does happen I'm not sure we'll be able win games if the defence continues to play the same.

On the flip side, have you ever seen a young trio that oozes the confidence that these three have(without a superstar in the line up with them)? It's also just 8 games in so there is room for the defence to improve somewhat. I'm not expecting them to turn into the best D core in the league but there is room for improvement with the current guys. Whitney & Gilbert can play better, maybe Foster to. Smid & Peckham have the potential to take the next step. What you see is what you get with Strudwick & Vandermeer.

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#11 @NateInVegas
October 30 2010, 09:03AM
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LT,

The Oilers seem willing to compete which is a change from the last 5...10 years

What concerns me is that #4 appears to like playing AWAY from Rexall too much, maybe a sign of things to come?

Either way if Edmonton wants a lotto pick Khabi's gotta be out before New Year's celebration.

Osteria de Medici anyone???

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#13 Crackenbury
October 30 2010, 09:11AM
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Is there any possibility the Oilers recall Souray immediately after he is ready to return from injury? Teams are probably wary of his salary and cap hit even at 1/2 price with his history of injury. Seems to me if the Oilers have any intent on ever bringing him back, the time is now. He would look pretty good on the back end right now. I'm thinking he must also be sufficiently humbled.

Other teams have buried problem players with high contracts in the minors, but the Oilers are the only team that have done it based on character and not playing ability that I'm aware of. It's time to kiss and make up.

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#14 madjam
October 30 2010, 09:23AM
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Oilers Halloween defence is scary at the best of times . Hard to know what our club might be look like or be capable of if we had a respectable defence . Nice to see Gags and Cog finally breakout of slumps and 4th line play decent . Watching our defence , however , makes you want to puke.

Poor goaltending on part of Hawks made for an entertaining game for Oiler fans . (tongue n cheek ) Stanley Cup here we come - right back to Edmonton !

Seeing as Oilers reluctant to bring up defensive help from farm , maybe they should claw back to 4 defencman and use 5-7 slots for more forwards playing defence and offence ?

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#15 Clarkenstein
October 30 2010, 09:33AM
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Fun watching these kids actually try to score when in the offensive end. Not much of the eye-glazing cycling anymore. The puck has to stay in the other end because it simply magnifies what is the worst D in the league and without doubt the worst D we have EVER seen in E-town. If we want the kids up front to learn on the job then why not a couple of D-men that are currently in OKC? Strudwick and Vandy major league?? You're kidding right?

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#16 loilfan
October 30 2010, 09:35AM
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"Seeing as Oilers reluctant to bring up defensive help from farm , maybe they should claw back to 4 defencman and use 5-7 slots for more forwards playing defence and offence ?"

You're suggesting the Oilers D average 30 min of ice time each?

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#17 bcarter4
October 30 2010, 09:36AM
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I think it is time to put Vandermeer on waiversand bring up belle I've never seen a worse player with the puck it looks like a bomb ready to go off each time, he is not being physical witch he needs to be. Time to say goodbye and get rid of him..

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#18 loilfan
October 30 2010, 09:41AM
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My understanding of bringing in Vandermeer was to be a big body presence to help protect the kids and make the Oil harder to play against - which I haven't really seen yet from him. If we are going to send him to OKC, he needs to be replaced with a big bodied, hard-nosed, gritty, veteran player - which we don't have down there. Renney needs to make sure he's playing the game he was brought here to do.

If you're committed to the rebuild, ignore what Struds is doing on the ice and concentrate on what he is probably teaching the younger d-men off the ice.

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#19 VK63
October 30 2010, 09:42AM
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I agree with most of the above but I temper my optimism with the game from exactly one week ago. Inside cerberus lives a cowardly lion.

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#21 Crackenbury
October 30 2010, 09:54AM
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VK63 wrote:

Souray will lace em up as an Oiler under this ownership and management regime exactly three days after hell freezes over.

That is certainly the way things look. Can't help but thinking it's a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

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#22 speeds
October 30 2010, 10:02AM
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LT:

There are some good signs, but I would still be kinda surprised to see this team finish out of the bottom 5.

Not only is the defence subpar, it's very thin. What happens if one of Gilbert or Whitney goes down for a couple of months? Obviously you can't predict injuries, but an injury in the top 2 hurts EDM a bunch.

The team has had great health so far up front as well, unlikely that continues all year long.

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#23 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
October 30 2010, 10:14AM
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speeds wrote:

LT:

There are some good signs, but I would still be kinda surprised to see this team finish out of the bottom 5.

Not only is the defence subpar, it's very thin. What happens if one of Gilbert or Whitney goes down for a couple of months? Obviously you can't predict injuries, but an injury in the top 2 hurts EDM a bunch.

The team has had great health so far up front as well, unlikely that continues all year long.

Good point, I took a quick look at the league injury report yesterday. Oil are one of, it not the healthiest in the league.

Wont be long before someone goes down and our (subpar)depth really gets tested.

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Even if the Oilers fall out of play for a lottery pick, a bottom ten finish (top ten finish in the draft) doesn't seem all that bad. Yes, they'll be out of the running for Larsson, but there's a boat load of forward talent that would fill holes we see on a per-game basis -- and to mention -- the other highly touted d-man, David Musil, out of Vancouver of the WHL.

Gabriel Landeskog (Kitchener Rangers) is one interesting character, btw.

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#25 The Other John
October 30 2010, 10:27AM
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Eberle reminds me of Jari Kurri. As a rookie, Kurri just understood how to play the game. Perfectly capable of reading the play and being in the right position on both sides of the puck. Agree completely on Eberle's speed not there in the past, more than adequate now.

Oil are, after last nights win in 26th place and have ridden Khabbibulin to get there. Play DD/JDD 25 times and we are an absolute lock for the lottery

What drives me nuts is we say we are developing our kids and then give meaningful minutes to Pinch Vndemmeer and Strudwick when we could use those spots to develop younger players

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#26 RLH
October 30 2010, 10:30AM
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Watching last night brought several thoughts to mind. I'll capture two of them here:

First, Chicago is so loaded with talent, even with injuries. Did they lose last night? Sure, but they are going back to the playoffs this year, and the Oil will miss the dance for yet another year.

Second, Oiler hockey is so much more entertaining this year than last. Puck movement. Guys blocking shots (though the D still sucks). Hits, breakaways, and steals. Eberle's brilliance. We'll lose a lot, but we'll learn, compete, and entertain.

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#28 Lofty
October 30 2010, 10:59AM
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Crackenbury wrote:

Is there any possibility the Oilers recall Souray immediately after he is ready to return from injury? Teams are probably wary of his salary and cap hit even at 1/2 price with his history of injury. Seems to me if the Oilers have any intent on ever bringing him back, the time is now. He would look pretty good on the back end right now. I'm thinking he must also be sufficiently humbled.

Other teams have buried problem players with high contracts in the minors, but the Oilers are the only team that have done it based on character and not playing ability that I'm aware of. It's time to kiss and make up.

NFW.

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#29 Lofty
October 30 2010, 11:01AM
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RLH wrote:

Watching last night brought several thoughts to mind. I'll capture two of them here:

First, Chicago is so loaded with talent, even with injuries. Did they lose last night? Sure, but they are going back to the playoffs this year, and the Oil will miss the dance for yet another year.

Second, Oiler hockey is so much more entertaining this year than last. Puck movement. Guys blocking shots (though the D still sucks). Hits, breakaways, and steals. Eberle's brilliance. We'll lose a lot, but we'll learn, compete, and entertain.

I love not having to watch Patrick O'Sullivan!!!

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#30 Chris.
October 30 2010, 11:13AM
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Will the Oilers get a lottery pick in 2011? Not at this rate. What are you going to do? You can't hold back the water.

Who cares? Paajarvi was a a tenth overall pick and Eberle a 22nd or 23rd pick... In Stu we trust. I'd like Hemsky to resign. I'd like this rebuild to progress at a pace faster than 7-8 years.

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#31 speeds
October 30 2010, 11:18AM
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Lowetide wrote:

The other side of that is that the club has a 3-4-2 record with possibly the worst defense I can recall.

(1) If you pro-rate that for 82 games, the team would ended up with ~73 points, which still would have been bad enough for worst in the NHL last season, excepting Edmonton.

(2) What reason is there to think the D will materially improve? If they wanted a better defence, whey wouldn't they have signed a Brett Clark type with some of the 10+ mil in cap room they have? I suppose it's impossible to say they didn't try to sign one of the following, but failed.

(3) The current record doesn't address how poorly the D is equipped to handle an injury, should one occur, to Whitney or Gilbert.

That said, one of the things discussed, long ago when everyone was at HF or when just a few blogs were starting to fire up as the HF days ended, was how forwards, not defencemen, drive results. I'm not sure what the baseline is for a passable defence (and I would way rather the Oilers continue to spend top 60 picks on forwards barring a D they like ranked WAY higher than the next best available forward) but I would guess the Oilers are below it.

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#32 andrewmk20
October 30 2010, 11:26AM
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I think this team will play like they did in Chicago all season but it's always going to be a major coin flip in terms of W's to L's. Really they were badly outplayed and should have lost 10-6 or something like that. But the bounces went their way and definitely didn't go Chicago's way. Not being pessimistic because the Oilers future looked great last night in Chicago but this team definitely needs a top defenceman to anchor the defence and there are major holes to plug up still.

The Oilers lack of defence will make this team a bottom 5 club. They may not get a top 3 pick but they will definitely be just outside the bottom 3 clubs.

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#33 Jamie B.
October 30 2010, 11:41AM
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Crackenbury wrote:

That is certainly the way things look. Can't help but thinking it's a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

If "spite" leads to another lottery pick, I'm pretty okay with it.

I like the way they're losing. Aside from the San Jose and second Calgary games, enough usually happens that they can take some positives from it and keep the kids' spirits up (and maybe vets too).

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#34 madjam
October 30 2010, 11:44AM
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Like to see Oilers maybe bring up Plante for some schooling - can't do any worse than a couple of elders we have now . Maybe bring up Petry and Belle as well to see what they might do . Wasted space with Struds and Vandemeer right now , and Peckham is still an adventure most shifts other than his physical presence .

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#35 Ryan14
October 30 2010, 11:50AM
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I think these Hall leaving asap theories are pretty baseless. Look at the players who have been here the longest, and/or allegedly want to stay here; hemsky, horcoff, Gilbert, Gagner. All started their career here. Now look at who has left under not so good terms; pronger, souray, POS. All were acquired. It seems to be a current NHL trend that players are more than likely to stay with the team that drafted them long term.

I still predict a bottom 5 team. To many holes and uncertainties in this team for them to be any better.

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#36 Crackenbury
October 30 2010, 12:00PM
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Jamie B. wrote:

If "spite" leads to another lottery pick, I'm pretty okay with it.

I like the way they're losing. Aside from the San Jose and second Calgary games, enough usually happens that they can take some positives from it and keep the kids' spirits up (and maybe vets too).

Talk of lottery picks is entertaining from a fans perspective, but pro athletes and organizations never think like that. It may be a rebuilding year, but I'm sure that the Oilers would like to win as many games as possible. Every player in the dressing room believes they are good enough to win. If they don't, they shouldn't be there. More losing, no matter how entertaining for the fans, won't benefit the current group of players. I expect some moves to be made around the 10-15 game mark if our team defense continues to stink.

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#37 Chris.
October 30 2010, 12:59PM
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Lowetide wrote:

Plante's path to the NHL is blocked (imo) my the continuing development of Peckham. Once he's established as an NHL defender it'll be easier to bring Plante (a very similar player) up to play.

But replacing Strudwick with Plante is probably not an improvement at this point. You're trading a fading veteran for a developing talent and the mistakes will continue.

Peckham, (for me) so far has been this season's most pleasent surprise. The kid is an absolute beauty.

Personally I'd like to see Plante up for at least 25 games this season. I'm not wild about Strudwick eating up that roster spot past the trade deadline.

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#39 David S
October 30 2010, 01:49PM
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Lowetide wrote:

Vandermeer's speed is gone (all those broken ankles and blocked shots) and he wasn't fast in the first place. Strudwick is here because he's such a good presence in the room, but the performance on the ice isn't good enough.

A good guess would be this is the final NHL season for both players. The question is how long does the organization run them? Remember, they're devoted to icing a strong AHL team.

An easy move would be to send one of them through waivers and recall Belle and that is probably under consideration. Then again, Strudwick in only -3 and Vandermeer is even for the season.

We're probably a few weeks away from anything. The Oilers move slowly at the start of each season, it's been that way since Lowe got here/

I think the better move would be to ditch one of the goalies, recall Belle and have Strudwick as the utility sub-in, a role he fits very well.

Alot of the pain we have seems to revolve around this three goalie conundrum. For the life of me I don't understand why this situation has been allowed to fester as long as it has. Do we really care so much if JDD is claimed? Really? I'd love for one of Jason or Robin to be able to ask Tambi (as he is affectionately known around these parts) straight up what's the deal with the three goalies.

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#40 common sense
October 30 2010, 03:20PM
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I know people like Lowetide like to boil down hockey into quantitative analysis like MLB but for me hockey remains a qualitative thing. I don't care if Paajarvi's corsi score is the best among the three because I see Eberle and Hall has playing better right now.

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#41 Chris.
October 30 2010, 03:28PM
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@Lowetide

I know this post is about the kids... but one kid who has finally arrived: Ales Hemsky.

I absolutely loved his game last night (and much of his season to date). He was Pking effectively, challenging people physically and winning puck battles, skating, scoring, managing the puck better than he ever has as an Oiler... I'm really impressed. (This is coming from a guy who has been very critical of Hemsky's somewhat enigmatic performances in the past)

Hemsky's emergence as a more complete player coupled with the impressive showing by the rookies= good times ahead for the Oiler top six... and not that far ahead!

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#42 Horcsky
October 30 2010, 03:41PM
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@David S

Gregor did ask Tambo about the 3 goalie situation sometime in the last 2 weeks, and Tambo dodged the question by making a bunch of vague hypothetical "what-if", "it's possible", and "that's an issue we're dealing with" statements.

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#43 Horcsky
October 30 2010, 03:43PM
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@Chris.

Agree with you on Hemsky, he's even thrown a few hits. Hasn't been as good as he was the first couple games, but overall a great start for Ales the Great.

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#44 Chris.
October 30 2010, 03:58PM
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@Horcsky

The hitting is noticable... and way cool. But it is Hemsky's improved puck management that has me the most excited. There have been way less patented Hemsky button hook routes just inside the opposition blueline for turnovers. I'm so happy.

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#45 Ryan2
October 30 2010, 04:02PM
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Lowetide wrote:

speeds: I'd prefer a lottery pick too, but this team seems to have a lot of firepower. They're going to be very streaky imo (young teams often are) so it'll be tough to get an accurate snapshot.

Also, I think management is unlikely to allow bleeding from that bottomg pairing like they did a year ago. They almost lost Chorney (jury is still out) and it was an awful season for just about everyone.

Part of a rebuild is progress. If your most veteran defensemen are the weakest link, then not addressing the problem is insane. I think it may take some time (and possibly more evidence, although that's probably giving Renney too little credit) but something will get done.

Their Dzone play has been ghastly.

I can't stand watching the defensive corps either, but I do not expect any changes to be made to the blueline for a while. I am/was against keeping Strudwick, but I guess if you are looking for vets that are considered "professionals" that can teach the younger d-men (Smid and Peckham) and forwards on what that means then that has some value on a rebuilding team. In addition, while Belle has the size and tools he seems to lack NHL hockey sense (basically, an AHL version of Janne Ninimaa), and Petiot is not as solid a puck moving d-man as Gilbert or Whitney. As a result, they will likely need an injury somewhere to be called up.

Right now the only young d-men with good to very good potential on the Barons are Plante and Petry, and it would be better for them to learn the game down in the AHL for the full season instead of being rushed like Chorney was last year. I expect to see Plante up at the end of the season for another short stint to see how he has progressed, and if Petry performs well he might see the same as well. The key for the Oilers is to be patient with them and help them to develop to be effective NHL d-men.

FWIW, here's hoping that MBS landed his stud young d-man in Marincin last year so the rebuild can be sped up by one year.

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#46 Matt Henderson
October 30 2010, 09:05PM
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@Lowetide

I'm with the group of Oiler fans that isnt convinced this isnt a lottery team. These guys might not be the worst team in the league anymore, but this group has been schizophrenic so far. In one play they look like world beaters, in another they look like kids against men.

The highs that this team has already accomplished, I think, hints at the potential just bubbling under the surface. I'm not ready to project finishing out of the lottery though. Too many question marks, too many shots against a night, as mentioned the defence is fragile, and the goaltending isnt that great either. Khabibulin's save % is a shade over .900 and his GAA is among the worst for starting goalies (those are JDD-Type numbers there).

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#47 Horcsky
October 30 2010, 10:34PM
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@Matt Henderson

Have to agree with most of what you say Arch, except for one thing I've been wondering about. Bulin's save percentage hasn't been that great, but watching him play, by the eye, he looks solid. I've been thinking that maybe his save percentage becomes a victim of a large number of high quality chances given up by the weak D.

Thoughts anyone?

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#48 Ryan2
October 31 2010, 12:01AM
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Horcsky wrote:

Have to agree with most of what you say Arch, except for one thing I've been wondering about. Bulin's save percentage hasn't been that great, but watching him play, by the eye, he looks solid. I've been thinking that maybe his save percentage becomes a victim of a large number of high quality chances given up by the weak D.

Thoughts anyone?

Khabibulin is decent positionally, but you can see that his reaction time is a bit slow. The book on him is out there - 5 hole or up high glove side. This is to be expected from a goalie that has missed most of a season due to injury AND is getting into the high 30s in age (look at Turco with the Hawks as an example of age issues).

That being said, the current d-corps does not help much either. I would guess that the scoring chances are coming from higher % areas this year so there should be more pucks finding the twine.

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#49 The Towel Boy
October 31 2010, 12:02AM
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#9 makes my Oiler kool-aid taste soooo much sweeter.

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#50 Matt Henderson
October 31 2010, 08:12AM
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Horcsky wrote:

Have to agree with most of what you say Arch, except for one thing I've been wondering about. Bulin's save percentage hasn't been that great, but watching him play, by the eye, he looks solid. I've been thinking that maybe his save percentage becomes a victim of a large number of high quality chances given up by the weak D.

Thoughts anyone?

I bet there is something to the thought that there have been a high number of chances against Khabi, but that doesnt change the fact that .901 is just not good enough. He either has to pull it together or the Oil can expect giving up 3+ goals a night. Tough to win when you have to score 4 a night, even with a team that has so much offensive talent.

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