December 11 2013 12:18PM
"Not all wins are pretty." That phrase is getting used quite a bit today.
Things were looking great when the Oil jumped out to 4-1 lead versus the Carolina Hurricanes. They were in the driver’s seat but eventually allowed the Canes back in the game, before pulling it out in overtime.
The Oilers have won 7 of their last 11 games and are far from being a legitimate contender, but at least they are getting some positive results. It was not the second half of the game you want to see but they still won the game.
They are inching closer to being a better team.
When this team gets room to skate it really is a treat to watch. For the first half of the game Carolina did not seem interested in playing a tight checking game at all. This allowed the Oilers skill with time and space, to take over. It was a perfect game for this team’s make-up.
Perron-Nugent-Hopkins-Eberle came out with a fantastic first shift to start the game and set the tone for what was to follow. On the next shift Yakupov makes a nifty little pass to find Gagner, he then slid a pass to Hall for just a beauty of a wrister. You couldn’t draw up a better response after Saturday’s game.
The pace was much higher than against Calgary and they scored goals a little different than usual. They chipped and chased and won races to pucks.
One area I have seen this team improve is turnovers heading into the offensive zone. There are still too many, but from the start of the season to this point, they have made some strides at the blue line.
Last night was a prime example of making higher percentage plays at the offensive blue line. They scored 3 goals because they decided instead of forcing a puck through the middle they were going to use the boards and go get it.
If you can gain the line with control of the puck, it’s great. If you have numbers and room to try and make a move on a d-man that’s the right time to try. Early in the season, the only mind set was to force everything at the blue line and it didn’t matter if they turned it over.
Dumping the puck doesn’t mean you just give it away to the defenseman going back for it, or rim it soft to the goalie. It means chipping it in a soft corner to your charging winger who can get it. It’s a hard rim to the winger on the far side; it’s making defenseman turn and hounding them with numbers to eventually create a turnover.
Making smart dumps with the intention and work ethic to get it back is a smart way to play the game and even more so with a lead. You can create offense this way if you are willing to work and more importantly you limit rush opportunities going back the other way.
It’s not what this team’s identity likely will be but you can see last night when dumps are smart and there is an effort to retrieve the puck, it can be very effective.
A FEW THOUGHTS
I liked his game last night and not just because he scored. You can see when he is moving his feet and trying to be involved away from the puck by hitting and fore-checking aggressively it helps his offensive game. When he’s floating he’s useless, except for the PP. It started late in the Colorado game and I thought he carried it into the Calgary game. He was rewarded last night.
Another guy that scored but he was noticeable even if he didn’t. He seemed energized and resembled more of the guy we saw early in the season. Perhaps his back has been acting up on him. If he is dealing with any kind of bulging disc or herniation, that is terrible news for him. It sure didn’t look like it last night though. He was engaged physically and was a big presence all night. It obviously helps when you have a good center and play more than 6-7 minutes. Hopefully he can be this guy on a more consistent basis.
Defensive zone struggles continue for him. No question he is one guy that has to make better decisions with the puck and find a way to be better in the defensive zone. His reads of where to go in the d-zone are frustrating. Guys like him have to play more of a two-way style for this team to put games like this to bed. It’s not just him, but his d-zone has been glaring at times and last night was no different.
His entire line looked good with him in the middle. A play I loved that probably went unnoticed by some, was in the first period when a defenseman pinched and gave up a 2 on 1. He went almost 200 feet and helped break it up. He was then the first guy back up the ice and drove the Carolina defenseman back opening up a great scoring chance for Hemsky who just couldn’t put it home. It was just pure hard work. More guys need to have that effort without the puck.
TAKE TWO AND LEARN
It wasn’t all roses last night. The blown lead was awful. D-zone turnovers and coverage still plague this group. We all know Eberle in a 4-2 game has to make a better decision on the power play, but he answered and they got it done.
If I’m Eakins I think this is a perfect opportunity to hammer home some things. When a team is losing and in a fragile state as they were early on, it can be tough to criticize because you don't want to push them down a worse path.
Now is the time with the team seemingly on an upward trend, to drive home the bad habits. It’s not the time to just pat everyone on the back and I don’t suspect that is happening behind closed doors. It doesn’t have to happen in the media for it to be happening.
It wasn’t a perfect win but you take the 2 points and grow. No one should feel complacent right now, especially with the Bruins up next.
That should be a fun test.