Oilers top line hits a big bump in the Road

Jason Strudwick
October 25 2013 09:32AM

 

The Nuge, Yak and Ebs trio were taught a pretty stiff lesson last night by the Washington Capitals top line. Ovie and his two line mates outscored the Oilers top line and that was the difference in the game.

Nuge's line was minus four on the night. That really hurt the Oilers. For the most part that line was pretty solid but if they are going to match up against the top lines of the league they must recognize how dangerous these lines can be. Let’s take a look at the goals they were on for.

The first goal was a defensive zone face off to the left of Dubnyk. Nuge wins the draw but the puck ends up going right back to Ovie who is set up for the one timer in the slot. As Yakupov goes out to his point man it is his job to make sure Ovie doesn't get the puck. Yakupov goes behind Ovie and BOOM, one to nothing.

On the second goal I fault the pair of defencemen for the Oilers more than Nuge's line. The pairing of Anton Belov and Justin Sschultz need to box out at the net so that Dubnyk can see the shot. I will give a pass to Nuge's line.

On the third goal this line gets outmuscled by the Caps’ top line. It is a longer shift for the Oilers trio but those shifts happen and you need to be able to handle it. In the end Backstrom outmuscles Nuge for position in front of the net. He gets a perfect pass and it is an easy redirect for him with Nuge on the wrong side of his man. Nuge needs to battle to get better body position.

For their fourth minus of the night, Eberle takes a risk at the Caps blue line that doesn't work, it becomes a turnover. It is a two on two that isn't played well by the Oilers d pairing. It ends badly for the Oilers when Chimera gets a breakaway and scores.

Three of the four goals last night are a result of a direction action by each member of the Oilers top line. It takes only a split second for things to go badly and result in a goal.

Head coach Eakins can chalk this up to a rough night for this trio. Maybe it won't happen again, maybe. But at this point in this teams development these three need to see how razor thin the margin for victory is every night in the NHL.

If you take away these four goals a case can be made that they played a pretty good game. For the most part when out against the Caps top line they were able to contain them and even generate some chances and good offensive zone time. But you can't look at the game that way. If this trio is going to be playing against the top lines around the league they cannot be outscored. They need to win this battle within the game.

Each shift against top lines in the NHL is important. They can seemly be sleeping through a game and then explode for a quick goal out of nowhere. I remember playing against Brett Hull and thinking "wow this guy isn't that hard to play against?" He never really hit or forechecked. He would just hang around and then just when you thought he was totally asleep he would get a pass in the slot and score. He would push the snooze button and go back to sleep knowing he had just scored the winning goal.

These are lessons that can only be learned by playing the game. Someday Oilers fan should hope these young players are the ones doing the teaching.

The Power Play

The Oilers PP hasn't been clicking so far this season. I think they look to make one too many passes instead of just firing the puck at the net with traffic in front. There is no doubt that Eakins can put an extremely talented group on the ice for both PP groups but so can the Washington Capitals.

I was very impressed with the Caps PP last night. They are currently leading the league in percentage. Although they didn't score last night with the man advantage it is obvious why they have been successful.

Their goal is to get pucks to the net. They spend very little time dusting the puck off on the side way or the corner. They move the puck quickly with the purpose of getting the puck to the point. Once the puck is moving high, the low players attack the front of the net.

This isn't rocket science. The Caps have just as much skill as the Oilers do on their PP but they keep it much simpler.

Pitlick

I was part of the Oilers for his first camp and boy did he impress me. He has three things I like in forwards... size, a hard shot and good skating. I figured it would only be a matter of time until he was playing in the NHL.

So far his career path has gone slower than I expected. He is up with the team now and getting a chance to make an impression. In the games he has played he has been solid, doing what I expected from him. He is keeping the game simple by getting the puck out on the wall, dumping it in and getting in on the forecheck. These are all areas the Oilers need their bottom to lines to do.

Pitlick has been pretty good but I think he needs to add one more element to his game that could be the difference between his being a long term NHL’er and not. He needs to bring more edge and attitude to his game. Be a little cockier, chirpier and get underneath the other teams skin like a Brad Marchand or David Perron. If he can do this he NHL career path might be back on track.

5cf6b487166aced0cd781e41bfef915e
Jason hosts the Jason Strudwick show from 9pm to 12am, weeknights on the team 1260. He is an instructor at Mount Carmel Hockey Academy and loves working with the kids. Having played over 650 games in the NHL, Jason has some great stories and unique takes on life in the NHL. He loves Slurpees and Blizzards. Dislikes baggy clothes and close talkers.
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#1 sizzay
October 25 2013, 09:43AM
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Struds, what would you think of putting Pitlick on a line with Yak and Nuge?

I understand his offensive creativity doesn't warrant a top 6 role but maybe his simplified game is what that top line needs. Yak, Nuge, Hall and Ebs all try and carry the puck in. Nuge did dump it in a few times but still, that top line needs simplification.

Pitlick seems to know how to play a simple game and has been fairly decent in the short sample size playing on the defensive side of the puck. I mean, he has a hard shot (which has been commended since his draft year), he just maybe needs a chance to get it on net. Some guys turn out better NHLers than AHLers. Not that I'd hold my breath.

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#2 tileguy
October 25 2013, 09:50AM
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"This isn't rocket science. The Caps have just as much skill as the Oilers do on their PP but they keep it much simpler."

But the Caps have way more weight, can't crash the net when 220 is holding p 190. This is the major flaw of this team and will only get worse when we play teams like LA, Boston ect.

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#3 VK63
October 25 2013, 09:56AM
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Last time I checked... home ice advantage included the last change.

~must be the travel~

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#4 jake
October 25 2013, 10:12AM
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"But at this point in this teams development these three need to see how razor thin the margin for victory is every night in the NHL."

So true.

On the flip side of this, the Oil don't make other teams pay for their mistakes. The finish is not there nearly as much. Missing open nets, shooting at goalie's crests and gloves. Boy would a 2008-09 Souray on the point help this team right now to open up space down low, keep teams honest.

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#5 They're $hittie
October 25 2013, 10:16AM
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PP is missing Gagner

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#6 God
October 25 2013, 10:18AM
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I don't think I'd have been disappointed watching last night's game, had I watched. The Oil have been playing terribly against mediocre teams, true. Though watching them get outclassed by a great team, that I don't mind. As long as it's treated as a learning experience.

Nuge has a great hockey IQ, I hope he took notes from Backstrom.

Lose, learn, move on, win.

I want progress.

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#7 rob
October 25 2013, 10:19AM
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the hole team has hit a bump!time for Mact to get something BOLD done and help this gosh darn team!!!!(and fans)

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#8 Travis Sarvas
October 25 2013, 10:19AM
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Nuge and Ebs essentially played short-handed all night trying to cover for Yak. That's on Eakins to make the adjustment to get a defensively responsible winger on that line if he intends to go power vs. power.

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#9 Rob...
October 25 2013, 10:42AM
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Both Yak and Nick Schultz did not impress me last night. Eberle also seemed to have a bad night but I'll give him a pass because he couldn't rely on Yakupov to do anything but let the play die on his stick.

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#10 vetinari
October 25 2013, 10:55AM
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It's hard having 1/2 your lineup learning on the job, night after night, without more help from the veterans.

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#11 Serious Gord
October 25 2013, 10:56AM
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Did any of the wsh players get on the plane afterwards nursing injuries/bruises delivered by the oilers?

The oil are a bunch of creampuffs. While torts is a hard ass too an extreme - while in NY he insisted that every player Finish every check. I don't see anything approaching that kind attention to detail regarding physicality by Eakins.

The oil clearly need a physical presence on the 1/2 line one with some real experience and success in the nhl. Trading the likes of pitlick et al would be the way to go, but wait!! MacT has no cap room because he has surplus players - Smyth, gagner and hemsky - making a talent-only trade impossible.

A frustrating situation.

Meanwhile in buffalo according to Elliotte Friedman they have the same issue that the oil has: a single wealthy owner who is a fan of the old days and thus loves the GM Darcy Regher who should have been fired some time ago.

It is no co-inky-dink that both teams are at the bottom of their respective conferences.

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#12 Zarny
October 25 2013, 10:59AM
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Yak-Nuge-Eberle

Average NHL experience - 125 games.

Not surprising they struggle against equally skilled players with considerably more experience.

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#13 hallthetime
October 25 2013, 10:59AM
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Katz needs to sponsor TSN big time so that the annalists start talking up our 1st overalls all the time kind like they were all over Sid the kids d*** for years now he's the best in the game. Someone needs to get in the oilers heads in a positive way and who better then the media.

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#14 Mac962
October 25 2013, 11:01AM
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Its Early in his career , but Yakapov i fear is going to be a bust. Just a gut feeling and watching him and his attitude and basically the i dont care factor starting to show. I hope i am wrong but i dont think so. Lots to learn- he is young i know but......

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#15 Dave
October 25 2013, 11:05AM
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Not to mention the horrible decision to pinch on the second goal and Petry gets caught puck watching on the third goal when his man is wide open behind him, who in turn taps it over for a tap in goal. Lots of blame all over on these ones.

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#16 BGH
October 25 2013, 11:05AM
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Travis Sarvas wrote:

Nuge and Ebs essentially played short-handed all night trying to cover for Yak. That's on Eakins to make the adjustment to get a defensively responsible winger on that line if he intends to go power vs. power.

Pitlick has sure looked good defensively imo. Wonder how he would look skating with the Nuge and Ebs.

Leave Perron with Arco and Hemskey.

Put Samwise with Gordon and Jones.

4th line of Gazdic, Acton and Eager/Joensuu.

Guess that leaves Yak as the odd man out.

Wonder if Yak, Maricin (fill in with any of our d-prospects except Klef and Nurse) and our 2nd round pick is enough to get #1 defenseman (pipedream I know).

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#17 Dog Train
October 25 2013, 11:15AM
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Playing that line all night against the league's most dangerous goal scorer was a recipe for disaster right from the start. Eberle might be ready to go power vs. power but I don't think that the Nuge is and Yakupov certainly isn't. That line had some chances but for the most part they just got muscled off the puck and got nothing done. I liked the game of our bottom 6 last night but the guys we rely on to score goals didn't play particularly well with the exception of Perron.

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#18 Serious Gord
October 25 2013, 11:21AM
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Elliotte Friedman et al journos have made much of the stat that very few teams in the loser point era make it to the playoffs if they are five or more points out on NOV 1.

I wonder how many teams have made it to the playoffs when they were dead last in their conference on nov1? Has it ever happened?

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#19 neal
October 25 2013, 11:25AM
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Everyone can see that Yak is confused and has lost his confidence. Would it be so out of line to let him get it back with the Barons? Wouldn't that be better than sitting upstairs? Even Jones stated that going down and playing 22 min a game did wonders for his confidence. Instead of the big insult, wouldn't it be throwing him a life ring?

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#20 Serious Gord
October 25 2013, 11:31AM
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And further to my comment above, the oil is one point behind Dallas but Dallas also has two games at hand. The oil play three games between now and nov 1. Looks bleak.

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#21 RJ
October 25 2013, 11:33AM
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To me, Yak looks exactly like Dub did in his first couple games. It looks like he is getting beat by the mental side of the game. He's overthinking everything and it's causing his play to look forced. I really hope he can bag one sooner than later to help him get his mojo flowing again.

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#22 S cottV
October 25 2013, 11:46AM
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A good start was critical for the Oilers last night. Yak - missing his assignment off the faceoff which allowed OV to tee it up, is just plain dumb. It is basic d zone coverage, that he was to first cover off OV and then proceed to cover the point. This stuff is covered in PeeWee hockey for crying out loud. Hard to believe that he presumably forgot this basic, when it involved the most dangerous scorer in the NHL right now. Maybe Yak didnt notice it was OV out there? Scary....

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That third goal looked fishy to me when I caught it on thehilights. Outmuscled, for me, doesn't quite get to the bottom go it.

Nuge is sticking with his man, (who gets a decent scoring chance in tight) then skates through the crease to the other side of the net. Backstrom trips him with the stick, no call. When Nuge gets up, he looks a little stunned, and just kind of stands there, so Smid has to take his man. The puck goes cross ice, but now Smid is caught in no-man's land and Nuge is on the wrong side of his guy. At that point, he can't tie up the stick, and it's an easy tap-in.

Outmuscled suggests a lack of physical strength was Nuge's problem, and that the solution is gym time or maybe he gets himself in a Gatorade commercial doing crossfit. To me, the goal happened bc 1. Veteran play by backstroke on the subtle but very effective trip and 2. Nuge making a rookie(ish) play by seemingly forgetting to play D when he got back up. He's only out of it for a second or 2 but that's where the razor thin margin comes in.

Hope he learns from it, and I hope the zebras call that sort of thing. It was super obvious after watching the slow-mo replays 5 or 6 times. Rod Philips would have Flipped out!

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#24 Grzegorz Brzeczyszczykiewicz
October 25 2013, 11:51AM
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Another season without playoffs, unless MacT makes some moves and brings someone to play defense. Every time the opposing team enters our zone I cringe thinking that the puck will end up in our net. This team is long way from being able to compete every night and as a fan I am growing less and less patient. It's been four years since we started this re-build, and all that has been delivered by the management is empty promises. When are we going to be able to be proud of our team? Damn it!

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#25 HugThePost
October 25 2013, 11:53AM
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Hey Struds, I enjoy your posts here; with you and Sutherby, it's awesome to get the perspective from guys who have been there.

Would you agree with this perception that the Oil are still too unbalanced to be a top tier team?

ie:

too many small skilled forwards, not enough size/skilled guys

a top-loaded forward group with a pretty useless bottom line

not a real defensive stud who can control entire games at evens, PP and penalty kill

My concern also is the team doesn't seem to have their "guy"---the guy that a lot of nights will carry them and demand the same effort. You know, players like #99, 87, 66. We have blue chip talent, but doesn't seem like we have out of this stratosphere players. Case in point: Nuge's line having their show run when put head to head with ovechkin's line.

thanks for your great posts.

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#26 Serious Gord
October 25 2013, 11:57AM
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Grzegorz Brzeczyszczykiewicz wrote:

Another season without playoffs, unless MacT makes some moves and brings someone to play defense. Every time the opposing team enters our zone I cringe thinking that the puck will end up in our net. This team is long way from being able to compete every night and as a fan I am growing less and less patient. It's been four years since we started this re-build, and all that has been delivered by the management is empty promises. When are we going to be able to be proud of our team? Damn it!

It may already be too late to save this season - as per my comments/data above.

Thus MacT needs to cool his jets and work on more lasting - less risky/costly near-term in vain moves.

That and Katz needs to fire Lowe and this comfort fans be demonstrating that friends/idols will no longer be allowed to impede/impair the march towards a cup. THAT would be the most important move to make.

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#27 Joilers*
October 25 2013, 12:12PM
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At the game last night...

1) Am I the only one thought the play ended a lot with Yaks?

2) Perhaps J Schultz needs to sit a game or two?

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#28 Rocket
October 25 2013, 12:28PM
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sizzay wrote:

Struds, what would you think of putting Pitlick on a line with Yak and Nuge?

I understand his offensive creativity doesn't warrant a top 6 role but maybe his simplified game is what that top line needs. Yak, Nuge, Hall and Ebs all try and carry the puck in. Nuge did dump it in a few times but still, that top line needs simplification.

Pitlick seems to know how to play a simple game and has been fairly decent in the short sample size playing on the defensive side of the puck. I mean, he has a hard shot (which has been commended since his draft year), he just maybe needs a chance to get it on net. Some guys turn out better NHLers than AHLers. Not that I'd hold my breath.

J.F. Jacque

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#29 SM
October 25 2013, 12:29PM
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I was at the game last night, and even from section 220 you could see that we are too small.

Aside from Dubnyk and Gazdic, every single one of their players are bigger than every single one of our players. The difference was incredibly noticeable from the stands, can't imagine what it is like on the ice. You could see the confidence The Caps had with the puck--they knew they could box out/post up their smaller opponent and therefore were calm and collected with the puck. That's why they scored on pretty much all of their opportunities.

That's also why the Oilers don't score on all of their opportunities; we panic and rush and don't always make the best play because we know the puck will eventually be taken from us from the dude that is on average 25lbs heavier and 4" taller.

Bigger players and bigger teams have confidence with and without the puck. When they have it they know they will keep it, and when they don't have it they know they will be able to get it back.

Ya we played pretty good for the most part last night, but there is no way we would ever win a 7 games series against a team like that. We'd be lucky to win a game.

Our problem is very simple: we are too small to compete with 75% of the teams in this league.

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#30 TonyT
October 25 2013, 12:32PM
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I think offence is something we'd all like Pitlick to improve on, but if he can turn into a Cal Clutterbuck and get under the opposition's skin by finishing all his checks, that would add an element to this team not seen in sometime.

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#31 fatso
October 25 2013, 12:35PM
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I just purchased gamecenter I'm so close to finding a new team. come on oil

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#32 olderthendirt
October 25 2013, 12:39PM
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Watch the goals. Does Dubnyk go down to fast on 1 and 4. Not to take away from some solid shooting, he might have had one or both. On number 2 I felt Washington got away with a bump, it happens. goal 3 more fun when its our guys play tic tak toe.

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#33 2004Z06
October 25 2013, 12:55PM
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The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

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#34 TigerUnderGlass
October 25 2013, 12:58PM
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Only a defenseman would see a turnover at the far end of the rink causing a 2 on 2 as directly resulting in a goal against.

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#35 ryan
October 25 2013, 01:08PM
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Relax on yakapov

He has 32 points in 57 games in the NHL

Hall had 42- 65 games played his first year

Eberle had 43 - 69 games played

I think yakapaov will pick up some points over the next game and he will be almost on part with hall and eberle. Relax , this guy has yet to play a full season , and thinki positively he hasn't been hurt yet LOL

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#36 Mac962
October 25 2013, 01:31PM
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Everyone including me is frustrated as hell. We are tired of this rebuild going on so long with no real improvement. Yes, we can chalk it up to youth. But we are not the youngest team any longer. Look at The AV's, very similar teams for the most part.

We either be patient for as long is it takes, or one or two of our key pieces of youth will need to go to speed this up for good seasoned help on D or top notch bottom 6 , or bigger talented forwards.

Are you willing to wait for the "KIDS" to develop ? or do you want to win and compete now.

i am tired of being the laughing stock of the NHL, a year or 2 i could handle, no more. Do want needs to be done without mortgaging the entire future. The time for a competitive team is now. No more waiting.

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#37 Pouzar99
October 25 2013, 01:34PM
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Thanks Jason, great analysis. I would add that the mistakes made by different members of the top line were not equal. Yak's flyby of Ovi on the first goal is absolutely terrible, and the worst transgression by far, particularly because it creates the first goal of the game and because of who he skated and failed to check.

Nuge made a big mistake but it wasn't a question of being outmuscled. He simply went to the wrong place on the ice, leaving Smid two players to cover. When he realized his mistake he was on the wrong side of Backstrom and there was no time to get to the right side. It was a costly mistake but not as irresponsible as Yak's.

I would only say about Eberle's that down 3-0 with time ticking off a low percentage gamble to try and create something is somewhat understandable, in a way it would not be in a tied or one-goal game.

My question is, how does Eakins address these shortcomings, particularly the first two?

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#38 srbuhr
October 25 2013, 01:39PM
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@ryan

You haven't watched many games if your saying relax wrt to yak. Last night was possibly his worst game this year. I don't think the top line would have done much worse playing short handed in our defensive zone. Yak was generally out of position and if you watched the game standing still. Painful to watch and has to be frustrating to play with. I would send him to OKC but pretty sure he would simply say no and return to KHL. At this point his trade value isn't very high but when gagner returns he should me traded or demoted.

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#41 Soccer Steve
October 25 2013, 01:53PM
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I sometimes wonder how much influence (mostly negative) we - fans, message board posters, etc. - have on how bad this team performs.

Hearing how guys have rejected Edmonton in the past is starting to make a bit more sense to me now.

Yes, I understand, we are paying their wages and that gives us the right to say whatever we want, but maybe we should collectively take a deep breath for patience.

A large source of positive energy might do some good. It would certainly be better than dissecting every move a 20 year old Russian makes.

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#42 Larry
October 25 2013, 02:04PM
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I think the Oilers just gotta get pucks deep, play 110%, use the boards, play a full 60 minutes, take it one game at a time and they'll be fine.

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#43 Tim in Kelowna
October 25 2013, 02:05PM
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I don't understand all this talk about the Oilers power play. The Oilers aren't in last place in the West because their power play isn't clicking, the Oilers are in last place because they let in 4 goals every single night.

Does the power play suck? Yes. But it's the least of our worries. 43 goals against in 11 games is disgraceful. This team needs to learn how to keep the puck out of their own net.

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#44 terranq
October 25 2013, 02:06PM
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ryan wrote:

Relax on yakapov

He has 32 points in 57 games in the NHL

Hall had 42- 65 games played his first year

Eberle had 43 - 69 games played

I think yakapaov will pick up some points over the next game and he will be almost on part with hall and eberle. Relax , this guy has yet to play a full season , and thinki positively he hasn't been hurt yet LOL

It's not Yak's lack of points that's worrying, it's that he seems lost out on the ice. He's floating around waiting for the puck, and when he gets it he skates straight at the defenders and turns it over.

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#45 S cottV
October 25 2013, 02:07PM
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This whole run and gun, offence first, draft small scorers, swarm defence, and all that goes with it - to me, stems from a throwback to the historic glory years that the present day Oilers have to put far behind them. Hockey is a game of balance and patience, where appropriate risk and reward is woven into systems that players follow. Opposition teams will often beat themselves, if you build reasonable patience into a gameplan and dont do stupid things to beat yourself in the meantime. The Oilers seem to be in a hurry to lose 5 to 4 rather than to evolve into a team that can consistently win 3 to 2. One day in the future with considerable evolution, please bore us from time to time, with some locked down plain and simple wins.

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#46 hallthetime
October 25 2013, 02:32PM
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S cottV wrote:

This whole run and gun, offence first, draft small scorers, swarm defence, and all that goes with it - to me, stems from a throwback to the historic glory years that the present day Oilers have to put far behind them. Hockey is a game of balance and patience, where appropriate risk and reward is woven into systems that players follow. Opposition teams will often beat themselves, if you build reasonable patience into a gameplan and dont do stupid things to beat yourself in the meantime. The Oilers seem to be in a hurry to lose 5 to 4 rather than to evolve into a team that can consistently win 3 to 2. One day in the future with considerable evolution, please bore us from time to time, with some locked down plain and simple wins.

Your so right that's how the veteran teams get their wins. Van city, Sharks, Detroit, Pens, LA, Ducks, Boston and hemmer.

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#47 Oiler Al
October 25 2013, 02:43PM
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Jason, interesting that you take the time to only point out the short falls of forwards, or first line in this case. Are you suggesting that the D men and Goal tender played an outstanding game? As far as I am concerned Dubnyk had a clear view of Ovie taking his shot [first goal] and should have stopped in from 40 feet out. Time the D men learned to clear guys out infront of the net.

Yes needed more scoring, how about the second and third line popping a few goals.

Also the first line ran out of gas in third, they played 20 minutes , while Capitals team no one forward played more than 15 min.

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#48 The realist
October 25 2013, 03:04PM
Trash it!
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Cheers
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Do the Oiler have a coach? Eakins is horrible... Puts the 4th line on to respond to the 3rd Capital goal....

I think I could out strategize this guy.

This will go down as the worst Oiler season in history. There are more injuries coming, more poor play coming and more confusion coming.

Also, if they are sooo in shape on their doughnut free diets... why they always so gassed in the 3rd period of games.... Good job Eakins.

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#49 Sidney Frosby
October 25 2013, 03:15PM
Trash it!
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Cheers
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I expect the Oilers to lose the next two games...

You know why? Because they're losers.

Oh and the opposing coaches can coach their teams.

We're like 0/20 on the PP and can't kill a penalty.

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#50 madjam
October 25 2013, 03:36PM
Trash it!
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Cheers
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cheers

An 8 year rebuild that's gone nowhere . Took almost 4 years to call it what it was all along . Not the players fault , but you might want to look at whom is responsible for what talent is on this club . This year unlikely different from the last 7 years of futility .

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