A big hit and a great fourth line shift

Jonathan Willis
January 25 2013 10:16AM

It was a bizarre game last night, in a lot of ways. Both teams had power plays that were given a lot of rope by some extremely giving referees, and until Gagner scored on a 4-on-3 in overtime both teams were wildly ineffective on the man advantage. The goalies were superb. I really didn’t want to go back and review the refereeing again; seeing it once was enough (for me, and for both teams judging by their reactions).

Instead, I thought I’d highlight one of Mark Fistric’s big hits and how it impacted one shift.

The play starts in the Kings’ end of the ice. Two Oilers are deep, and all five Kings are in the defensive zone; Brad Richardson (15 for Los Angeles) has the puck. Jordan Eberle (14 for Edmonton) is watching from the point but can feel safe to engage, because there are two of his teammates behind him and no opponents.

Eberle engages, but Richardson sticks close to the boards – he gets the puck ahead and is in good shape to squeak through the check.

Linemate Jordan Nolan (71 for Los Angeles) picks up the puck. Mark Fistric (45 for Edmonton) sees it and has him lined up. Fistric isn’t known for letting opportunities to throw a hit go by, and besides that Nolan has had a target on him ever since he leveled Eberle (cleanly) in the first period – he fought Ladislav Smid and has already been hammered by Fistric once.

Fistric levels Nolan, something that should take both guys out of the play for a moment. Now there’s a loose puck sliding toward the Oilers zone, and a race is shaping up between Richardson and Ryan Whitney (6 for Edmonton).

As it starts off, the importance of Whitney winning this race and coming away with possession becomes clear. The Fistric hit didn’t work out quite as planned because Nolan managed to get himself out ahead of Fistric on the play. Behind them, Eberle and Colin Fraser (24 for Los Angeles) are roughly an equal distance away from helping out while Slava Voynov (25 for Los Angeles) could make things very difficult for the Oilers if he jumps into the play.

Whitney beats Richardson to the puck, but Richardson has made up a lot of space.

Since Richardson can’t have the puck, he settles for the next best thing – pushing Whitney off it and essentially making the race a draw. The problem with a draw is that Nolan recovered from the Fistric hit faster than Fistric did, so a draw favours the Kings.

Nolan collects the puck. Fistric is skating back into the play and Eberle is racing to the slot with an eye on the puck-carrier. Off-camera and further to Eberle’s right, Colin Fraser is also racing along as fast as he can.

Fraser takes the cross-ice pass. Eberle hasn’t stayed on him entering the zone, settling on trying to get to the slot as quickly as he can, which leaves Fraser with time and space at point blank range.

Fortunately for the Oilers, this is the Kings’ fourth line, and Colin Fraser isn’t Anze Kopitar or Jeff Carter or Justin Williams or Dustin Brown. Dubnyk makes a great save on a good Kings scoring chance.

The point here isn’t to blast anybody, least of all Fistric for throwing the big hit. After all a big part of the reason Fistric is around is to do things like that, and because Nolan had tagged Eberle earlier there was extra incentive, besides which he knew his defence partner was behind him. Too, if Nolan hadn’t been able to recover so quickly (Nolan enjoyed a superb game, actually, with an impact far out of proportion to the 5:30 he played on the night), this would not have been a problem.

Eberle might be criticized for not sticking to Fraser, but my suspicion is that Voynov was hanging back in the high slot area – off camera but close enough to get back into the play in a hurry. With two guys on the far side of the ice, Eberle is in a tough spot. He probably should have been a little closer to the net than he was but because we can’t see exactly where Voynov is on the play it is difficult to be too critical there. Where Eberle could have been better was back at the Kings’ blue line, since both Richardson and the puck got past him.

The biggest problem on this play is Whitney's speed. Watching him this year, it seems clear that he isn’t going to get back to the level of skating he once was at, and this is one of those situations where there was a lot of pressure on him to win a footrace. He didn’t win it cleanly, and he wasn’t able to even softly push the puck around to the far corner, which would have allowed the Oilers time to regroup. I’m honestly not sure what Whitney can do; he won’t win every puck battle and he isn’t likely to get faster – this just seems like a situation that’s going to happen from time to time.

Mostly, though, this was just a really nice shift for a depth line on the other team. Richardson is tenacious (a quality he also showed in last year’s playoffs), Nolan took a big hit but was back on his feet and in the play in a flash, and Fraser made for open ice just as fast as he could. Speed and grit allowed Richardson to beat Eberle and Whitney, and Nolan to outlast Fistric; it was a good example of exactly what a fourth line is supposed to do, particularly since the Oilers’ problems were less a bunch of glaring errors and more a defenceman who has lost some speed and another that saw the opportunity for a big hit and took it.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

NATIONDRAFTS

All week long the Alberta Nation Network will be pumping our first ever NationDrafts online draft. With over $10,000 in prizes to win and a portion of the proceeds going to local charities - it is the most fun you can legally have on the internet. Only $20 per team - Click here to enter.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
Avatar
#51 Lochenzo
January 25 2013, 02:38PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Watching Whitney's feet... noticed that he has a tough time pivoting on that one foot. He'll never be what he once was.

Dmen can step up to challenge if they have forwards on the back check. Eberle was there, but there were multiple Kings to cover and on this play, nobody was covering Colin Fraser. Tough read for a Dman. When you see a blue sweater coming back to cover you and you make that decision to step up. It's a quick decision.

Avatar
#52 Old Retired Guy
January 25 2013, 02:44PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

I’m not hating on Whitney…..I acutally agree with with JW and others

#43 Romulus' Apotheosis #48 Mikey

...when they talk about Whitney as a potential $1.5 million 5-6 and not being in a rush to move him…..I’m just saying he should be shopped and we should be ready to move him if the right deal comes along….whether to a team who is desperate now…..or at the deadline…just do what you can to maximize his value in the meantime….

Avatar
#53 Old Retired Guy
January 25 2013, 02:47PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

All of this is assuming that the we take Whitney at his word / assume that he is as recovered as he is ever going to be from his ankle injury.

Avatar
#55 Lochenzo
January 25 2013, 02:59PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Who's this goalie that the Oil picked up? Waiver wire pickup from Philly according to Darren Dreger.

Avatar
#56 Rama Lama
January 25 2013, 03:29PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props
Clyde Frog wrote:

So are you a proponent of bringing Zac Stortini back?

I did not mention Huggy Bear......he could do neither fight or skate.

I'm talking about guys like Eager or Clifford, guys who can skate and hit......in other words be a deterrent!

I like Eager except he is the one game wonder!

Avatar
#57 Romulus' Apotheosis
January 25 2013, 03:30PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props
Lochenzo wrote:

Who's this goalie that the Oil picked up? Waiver wire pickup from Philly according to Darren Dreger.

http://oilers.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=652402

@OLDRG

I don't think we disagree... Whitney isn't what he was or is being paid for and doesn't look like he ever will be. still he's valuable and maximizing him means playing him appropriately this season and trying to get a deal in place to keep him at a massive discount.

those are the best scenario options... if he wants $$ try a trade for anything at the deadline (if we have no chance at the postseason) or let him go try the free market.

Avatar
#58 Marc
January 25 2013, 04:34PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Just watched a replay of the game. After Dubnyk makes the save on this play you can see that Eberle is both relieved and pissed off. He goes straight to Whitney to talk to him, and he doesn't look happy.

Avatar
#59 nunyour
January 26 2013, 10:27AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props
Marc wrote:

Just watched a replay of the game. After Dubnyk makes the save on this play you can see that Eberle is both relieved and pissed off. He goes straight to Whitney to talk to him, and he doesn't look happy.

i didn't see this but i hope he gave him crap,between whitney,nik,hemsky,and horcoff,when was the last time any of these guys had a good year?

Comments are closed for this article.