Ales Hemsky has a unique ability to take over games

Jonathan Willis
February 07 2013 09:13AM

The opening goal of last night's game was a remarkable thing, and showcased some of the (depth!) talent the Oilers have accumulated of late. Particularly brilliant was the goal-scorer, Ales Hemsky, who is in 2005-06 form after a rough go of things last season.

We start with the Oilers exiting their own zone. Sam Gagner (89) carries the puck over his own blue line with Nail Yakupov (64) on one wing and Ales Hemsky (83, off-screen) on the other. This is the second shift after a failed Dallas power play, and a time one often sees mismatches in the matchup game – Stars coach Glen Gulutzan rolled out line three and then line four, while Ralph Krueger went with a modified version of his top line (Paajarvi in for Eberle, as Eberle was out for the last shift of the penalty kill) and then deployed his second line. The Stars pictured are Antoine Roussel (60), Vern Fiddler (38) and Eric Nystrom (24).

Gagner has passed off to Yakupov, and Hemsky is at the other side of the ice waiting to enter the zone. Because the Dallas defence has backed off and Nystrom is the only Stars forward in any position to exert pressure, the Oilers gain the zone easily.

All five stars have collapsed into the defensive zone as Yakupov stops up with the puck on the half boards. Rather than try and thread a pass through multiple guys, Yakupov does the obvious thing and sends it back to the point.

Corey Potter (44) walks in and tries to thread a shot between Roussel’s legs, one that is blocked. Yakupov is in good position but needs to beat both Roussel and defenceman Brenden Dillon (4) for the loose puck.

Dillon takes a moment to react, so Yakupov grabs the puck and skates it into the slot for what looks like it’s going to be a shot.

Instead of shooting, Yakupov skates through – and the result is a relatively clear lane to Hemsky at the side of the net, with four Stars tied up in a tight little box in front of the net. Notable here too is Gagner, who knows that if Hemsky gets the puck at the side he’ll have a moment to thread it through the crease, so he’s getting to the other side of the net in a hurry. The play doesn’t work out, though – Dillon just manages to get his stick on the puck, deflecting the pass from Hemsky and into the corner.

Unperturbed, Hemsky retrieves the puck and starts to carry it out.

Hemsky cycles back toward the point, and Ladislav Smid (5) cycles down, ready for the handoff if Hemsky chooses to make one. Hemsky does not, though Stephane Robidas (3) gives Smid a bit of a bump anyway. A strong check by Nystrom here and this play is probably over, but he’s hesitant to engage and Hemsky blows past him.

Hesmky keeps going, and Nystrom turns to follow.

Hemsky could have passed off to Petry, but he just keeps going, zipping around Nystrom and coming in 1-on-1 with Roussel.

Hemsky zips past Roussel.

Looks like Hemsky has skated himself into and right back out of a danger area, but that’s only because Smid and Yakupov aren’t on screen.

Hemsky passes off to Smid, who gets a shot from a dangerous area. It’s easy to see what his circling has done to Dallas’ defence and fourth line – there are three guys all over Gagner, and one on Hemsky himself at the post, leaving the Oilers with a three-to-one advantage everywhere else in the zone.

Lehtonen makes a fine save, but Hemsky zips around the back of the net, retrieves the loose puck, and the gets ready to start the whole exercise over again.

Given the open lane, this time Hemsky cuts to the slot rather than to the outside. He looks like he might shoot but instead passes to Yakupov, who misses the puck.

Yakupov has time and space, so he retrieves the puck and comes out of the corner, even as Hemsky continues on past circling the other way.

Yakupov circles back toward the slot, and has two obvious options – a pass to Gagner or a chance to skate up and shoot. His safest pass is less obvious – Smid’s stick at the far left of the screen. Looking towards the net the entire time, Yakupov dishes the puck to Smid.

Smid skates low with it, and now is finally the time to use Gagner.

Smid makes a slap-pass to Gagner, who tips the puck just to the side of the net – a play that could very easily have been a goal and the Oilers’ second nice opportunity to score on this shift.

Yakupov retrieves the puck in the corner and makes a behind the back pass toward the front of the net.

Hemsky and Gagner both miss the puck, as do both Stars in the area – it actually ends up bouncing off Kari Lehtonen’s pad and in front of the net.

Gagner grabs the loose puck and sends it back to Yakupov, who has two really nice options – a pass to Hemsky at the side of the net or a shot from a prime scoring location. Yakupov shoots.

Yakupov hits the post for the Oilers’ third scoring opportunity. The puck bounces off and directly to Ales Hemsky at the side of the net.

Hemsky takes his time, then puts the puck high over the sprawling Lehtonen. At this point, Yakupov zips over to Hemsky and puts an arm around him, literally jumping up and down on the ice in excitement at the goal that was just scored.

There were a lot of great plays leading up to that goal, and the Hemsky line just put the boots to Dallas’ grinders. The obvious guy to highlight is Hemsky, because lopping through the zone the way he did opened up all kinds of opportunities as the Stars struggled to adgust. Yakupov too, though, deserves a lot of credit here – I particularly liked the way he sold the shot before passing off to Smid. For that matter, Smid stood out on this shift – he wasted no time cycling low when it became clear Hemsky was going to the point, and the slap-pass to Gagner was really a thing of beauty.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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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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#1 The Hall Way
February 07 2013, 09:23AM
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Loved that whole shift last night. This line has been brilliant for most of the season so far. If only the "top line" could get out of this funk, we would be lighting everyone up.... PS. Love the still frames

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#2 Romulus' Apotheosis
February 07 2013, 09:25AM
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Amen!

Hemsky's been one of the more consistent performers this year. The rumors of his return to form this year while playing in Czech are very much true.

He also had a great scoring chance off a sweet Yak hit in the neutral zone (see around 3:05):

http://video.oilers.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=4&id=199551&cmpid=embed-share-video

he was buzzing. all hail!

It was pretty great to watch Ray Ferraro (who is a great commentator most of the time) have to eat his own BS last night as he colored Hemsky's game... Those guys (including many in the EDM media) ripping on him last year are looking dumber by the day... and they looked pretty dumb last year!

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#3 roger
February 07 2013, 09:27AM
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the fact that whole segment was 5 on 5 was ridiculous. love hemsky.

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#4 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 09:28AM
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All around good job by that entire line. This team needs more of that.

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#5 The Towel Boy
February 07 2013, 09:29AM
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I loved Yak's excitement for Hemsky. The grin on his face was priceless. Just lovin' life.

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#6 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 09:33AM
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@Romulus' Apotheosis

I think a big part of the return to form is also because there is other top talent on the team so Hemsky isn't getting destroyed all the time. Its a hell of a lot easier to play good when your not getting plowed into the boards every time you get on the ice.

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#7 Romulus' Apotheosis
February 07 2013, 09:41AM
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Phixieus666 wrote:

I think a big part of the return to form is also because there is other top talent on the team so Hemsky isn't getting destroyed all the time. Its a hell of a lot easier to play good when your not getting plowed into the boards every time you get on the ice.

No doubt.

starting the season completely healthy doesn't hurt either...

not to mention he has never been as bad as his detractors make out.

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#8 Bruce McCudy
February 07 2013, 09:51AM
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Any sequence that burns Eric "Lgegbreaker" Nystrom and Antoine "Punk" Roussel is worth extra points in my book. EXPOSED!

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#9 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 09:52AM
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Romulus' Apotheosis wrote:

No doubt.

starting the season completely healthy doesn't hurt either...

not to mention he has never been as bad as his detractors make out.

Ya that's also what I was thinking with Whitney but so far he hasn't been able to tell them to shove it. I thought a whole summer of training was exactly what he needed but now he just seems slow at making plays or deciding what to do. He got stripped like 4 or 5 times last night behind his own net. Just awful for a Vet defense-man. And on top of that some really soft passes that were either no where near the target or just easily picked off. The guy makes me sad when hes on the ice.

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#11 sofarsogood
February 07 2013, 10:00AM
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A guy vacations for 8 days, (no cummunications) comes back and we have ahl centers. Wow! The injury bug has some correlation with size and strength. It is showing up every year. It is time to fix it. In the nextfew months gagner will need to be traded for a big center (getzlaf) along as he will sign a 3 year deal with the oilers. That shift by hemsky and co. was nice to watch. Yak is looking more confident and is starting to take the puck to the slot. BY the way I like gagner (not bad at more than a ppg) for a second line center, but its gotta be done.

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#12 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 10:04AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I've always felt that Yakupov's physical game tends to get underplayed because of his other skills - he's a little on the short side, but I'm not worried at all on that score.

I thought that penalty he took was bogus. Finally a little guy that hits and he gets a penalty for the effort.

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#13 106 and 106
February 07 2013, 10:05AM
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Does this mean Gagner is going to ask for a Captain's ransom (haha, get it - Horcoff) at his ppg pace?

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#15 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 10:08AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Ya I think all the Oilers should have to put a density plastic molding on the sides and heals of their skates.

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#17 sofarsogood
February 07 2013, 10:11AM
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Is there a study that can be done to see if size/strength has correlation? I believe it does, especially in playoffs.

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#18 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 10:16AM
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@Jonathan Willis

How would you describe the "Opps it should be offside but I'll pretend I didn't see it" or the "1, 2, 3, 4, 5 minus the 1 nope not too many men" calls last night.

Oh and the one that bugged me the most was the Smyth "I'll just kick your legs out and push you backwards thinking I wont get called" penalty. Smyth is a Vet he should know better. That's like crashing into a car getting out chugging the rest of your beer and throwing the can in the ditch while saying you hadn't been drinking.

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#19 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 10:18AM
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sofarsogood wrote:

Is there a study that can be done to see if size/strength has correlation? I believe it does, especially in playoffs.

Not when the injuries in question are being caused by blocking pucks.

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#21 Romulus' Apotheosis
February 07 2013, 10:19AM
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Phixieus666 wrote:

Ya that's also what I was thinking with Whitney but so far he hasn't been able to tell them to shove it. I thought a whole summer of training was exactly what he needed but now he just seems slow at making plays or deciding what to do. He got stripped like 4 or 5 times last night behind his own net. Just awful for a Vet defense-man. And on top of that some really soft passes that were either no where near the target or just easily picked off. The guy makes me sad when hes on the ice.

You never know how injuries are going to turn out...

Hemsky's shoulders could very well have derailed his career. Lucky for him, the Oil and us... looks like he's in great shape.

Whitney's feet seem to have taken their toll.

The players aren't to blame here. They can't control their health.

But the narratives that swirl around players need to be held in check.

Hemsky's been getting the gears from the media and the fans for years for a variety of BS with no relation to reality. Whitney's had the benefit of the doubt and the courtesy of not having his "body language" "heart" "effort" etc. routinely challenged.

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#23 Oiler Al
February 07 2013, 10:20AM
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I have to be honest, I was not impressed when they reupped #83 last year @ $5 million.But, he's playing like its 2006 again, even better. I suppose his shoulder issues have been corrected, but more importantly his linemates this year are not pluggers. The other thing about his game this year he is going to the net and shooting more. Gagner, Hemsky and Yakapov, have been a solid line, now only, if Gagner can get his F/O up in the mid 50's range.

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#24 oliveoilers
February 07 2013, 10:22AM
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I thought that was Yak's best game so far! It was his enthusiasm that fired the team, his line responded and Hemsky took it from there! 3rd line, particularly PRV also very effective. If only we could have capitalised! You wont see Ebs miss too many of those....

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#25 Romulus' Apotheosis
February 07 2013, 10:23AM
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@Phixieus666

The linesman was on the other side of the ice and Roy's (IIRC it was him right?) body was facing the wall, i.e., blocking the view of the puck.

sucks, but at game speed... honest mistake. the only way to address that is video review...

the too many men was blatant and was simply missed, or ignored for the sake of keeping OT moving... both are bad excuses, but hardly uncommon ones.

the Smyth slew-foot... correct call on the play... but I think you could argue he lost his footing on contact and took the Dallas player down by accident... still the right call though.

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#26 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 10:25AM
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I wanna see more of Hall taking faceoffs. I don't know why everyone seems to think you have to be a center to take faceoffs. He was so damn fast on the draw it was amazing. I want to see more.

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#27 Romulus' Apotheosis
February 07 2013, 10:27AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

These injuries - with the exception of the Nugent-Hopkins day-to-day thing - have no connection to size/strength.

Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger and Anton Lander could all be 6'7", 260lbs and it wouldn't have made any difference. The puck would still have busted Belanger's toes, Horcoff's knucks, and whatever awful thing it did to Lander's leg.

exactly.

these belong in the "freak play" category that comes with playing a contact sport on a slippery surface with a hard, fast object.

RNH fall last year and Hall's facial disaster are of the same caliber.

There is no way to avoid or plan for these kinds of things. and size, power, truculence, etc. have nothing to do with it.

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#28 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 10:29AM
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Romulus' Apotheosis wrote:

The linesman was on the other side of the ice and Roy's (IIRC it was him right?) body was facing the wall, i.e., blocking the view of the puck.

sucks, but at game speed... honest mistake. the only way to address that is video review...

the too many men was blatant and was simply missed, or ignored for the sake of keeping OT moving... both are bad excuses, but hardly uncommon ones.

the Smyth slew-foot... correct call on the play... but I think you could argue he lost his footing on contact and took the Dallas player down by accident... still the right call though.

Smyth's Penalty was clearly no accident. If they had decided to give him a double minor for that I don't think I could have argued. Its one thing if you take a penalty trying to send a physical message but that one was just ridiculous, I sure hope Kruger had something to say to him after that.

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#29 Romulus' Apotheosis
February 07 2013, 10:30AM
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Phixieus666 wrote:

I wanna see more of Hall taking faceoffs. I don't know why everyone seems to think you have to be a center to take faceoffs. He was so damn fast on the draw it was amazing. I want to see more.

see here for relevant discussions:

http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2012/12/04/edmonton-oilers-forward-taylor-hall-will-not-play-centre-for-the-foreseeable-future-is-that-the-right-call/

http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2012/11/15/taylor-hall-should-be-given-a-run-at-centre-in-oklahoma-city/

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#30 Release the Hounds
February 07 2013, 10:36AM
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Phixieus666 wrote:

How would you describe the "Opps it should be offside but I'll pretend I didn't see it" or the "1, 2, 3, 4, 5 minus the 1 nope not too many men" calls last night.

Oh and the one that bugged me the most was the Smyth "I'll just kick your legs out and push you backwards thinking I wont get called" penalty. Smyth is a Vet he should know better. That's like crashing into a car getting out chugging the rest of your beer and throwing the can in the ditch while saying you hadn't been drinking.

And also the Roussel "I'll hold Hemsky's stick and pull it in to my body to make the ref think I'm being hooked" play. The officiating has been sub-par again as it was last season and many of the calls seem to be having a larger impact on the outcome of games. For example:

Hooking call on #83 = PP goal Dallas

Missed offside call= PP goal Dallas

Missed two many men = lost opportunity for an Oiler PP = O/T winner Dallas

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#31 Lochenzo
February 07 2013, 10:37AM
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Great breakdown of the play. Of course, if I were Don Cherry, I would be talking more about the role of Gagner on this play, standing in front of the net. Most defenses collapse to the slot and this is especially true when they're tired or in trouble. You focus on the most obvious threat which is the guy standing in front. Lots of room for everybody else to skate around.

Second point to make, Sam Gagner is not giant, but he was obviously effective positioned in front of the net. It helps to have size to stand in there, but willpower and having a smart stick are more important. Oilers must do more of this.

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#32 Simpsonite
February 07 2013, 10:40AM
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When Hemsky was circling out of the corner at the beginning along the far boards when Smid went towards him and Hemsky cycled back to the point then circled allll the way around...when he was surrounded by those two Stars he made a little move with his stick and puck...he did this little fake backhand that froze both defenders...made it look like he was going to back hand it towards Yak who was following behind. That BUCKLED those two defenders and gave him that extra bit of space that got him out of it and able to circle. I must have watched it back four or five times...just a brilliant little move.

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#33 Will
February 07 2013, 10:43AM
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Good read. I really am enjoying these play break downs. This line has been impressive, but as demonstrated above, it's against softer competition.

Ho do you feel Arcabello did last night?

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#34 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 10:48AM
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Release the Hounds wrote:

And also the Roussel "I'll hold Hemsky's stick and pull it in to my body to make the ref think I'm being hooked" play. The officiating has been sub-par again as it was last season and many of the calls seem to be having a larger impact on the outcome of games. For example:

Hooking call on #83 = PP goal Dallas

Missed offside call= PP goal Dallas

Missed two many men = lost opportunity for an Oiler PP = O/T winner Dallas

Oh ya I forgot about that one. When you start to look back at this stuff you start to realize that the Oil could easily have had another 2-4 points this season and a couple other teams would be down 1-2 points. It would make a difference in the standings. People can say what they want about it being the same for other teams But I don't believe that to be true. There are certain teams that suffer and certain teams that benefit more than others.

Bring On Video replay

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#35 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 10:51AM
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Will wrote:

Good read. I really am enjoying these play break downs. This line has been impressive, but as demonstrated above, it's against softer competition.

Ho do you feel Arcabello did last night?

I thought he seemed faster than I thought he would be. Kept up with Hall there a couple of times. His positioning seemed decent to me, he always seemed to make sure to look for his man. I'd like to see him play another 4-5 games. But I'm no analyst so who knows maybe someone else saw his as shat.

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#36 Quicksilver ballet
February 07 2013, 10:57AM
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Dubnyk needs to release his inner Billy Smith. He must be getting tired of getting bulldozed and chopped at after the whistle. The heal on your goalie stick is double reinforced for a reason Devan. It is meant to withstand breaking an ankle or two every once in a while.

Change the name on your stick to Cracken, and release it every couple weeks. Mow your own lawn (Judge,jury and executioner of your own crease).

Dubnyk and Mike Smith at center ice could be the spark this team needs. When things arent going your way, brawling is a good way to switch things up. Oilers need a spark, doesnt matter where it comes from.

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#38 Jakethesnake
February 07 2013, 11:00AM
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I swear the fans that are trying to be like the Cannot fans are pissing me off big time. The doooob chats after saves are really getting to me. If u want to do that move to Vancouver please

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#40 Romulus' Apotheosis
February 07 2013, 11:02AM
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@Quicksilver ballet

There was one moment that I remember in the first (IIRC).

The stars had a play at the net, just one star on Dubs. he made the save and the whistle was blown. everyone skated away except the star who lingered in the crease until Dubs finally pushed him out... Whitney skated right by without blinking an eye... that ticked me off. not just him... where was the rest of the team?

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#41 Romulus' Apotheosis
February 07 2013, 11:04AM
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Jakethesnake wrote:

I swear the fans that are trying to be like the Cannot fans are pissing me off big time. The doooob chats after saves are really getting to me. If u want to do that move to Vancouver please

You are not alone... it's asinine.

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#42 Phixieus666
February 07 2013, 11:05AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I thought he looked pretty good on his first few shifts, but he got less impressive as the game went on. Not that he was awful or anything, but he seemed a little tired.

Adrenaline dump likely, usually what happens in a guys first game.

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#43 Quicksilver ballet
February 07 2013, 11:19AM
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@Romulus' Apotheosis

Feel a little bad for Whitney. He has lost everythng, his game, his confidence, his ability to remain humorous on Twitter.

He could be the guy to help snap himself and his teammates out of this slump. Brawling is a great opportunity to bond and draw a team closer together. As it sits now, everyone seams to be waiting for someone else to lead or do something. Release the rage and get suspended.

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#44 Rob...
February 07 2013, 11:27AM
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It would be truly awesome to see these objective analysis applied to refereeing. Homer'ism is probably rampant throughout the league, but I'm reminded of the quote 'Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me.'

I'm always blown away how something is a penalty one game, period or shift, but not the next.

Similarly, my perception is that Oilers face-off woes are partially due to permitted cheating by Oilers opponents. Most specifically "The visiting player shall place his stick within the designated white area first followed immediately by the home player." This should result in our opponents being kicked off the face-off dot and/or the face-off called back quite often, and they aren't. Our percentages would likely be better if the linesmen and refs DID THEIR JOB.

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#45 khlhfs
February 07 2013, 11:52AM
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I hate myself for bringing this up but..........How would everyone feel if the Oilers finally dealt Hemsky this deadline? He's finally playing at a level that everyone here knew he could play at and he would no doubt bring in a decent return. I only mention this because it seems very unlikely that they're are able to keep him when the team is paying all of the wonder kids full dime.

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#46 DieHard
February 07 2013, 12:23PM
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@khlhfs

Hemsky's price will come down, Cap will go up. Oiler for life.

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#47 A-Mc
February 07 2013, 12:40PM
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khlhfs wrote:

I hate myself for bringing this up but..........How would everyone feel if the Oilers finally dealt Hemsky this deadline? He's finally playing at a level that everyone here knew he could play at and he would no doubt bring in a decent return. I only mention this because it seems very unlikely that they're are able to keep him when the team is paying all of the wonder kids full dime.

The sad reality is that if we want a big, skilled centerman, then we're likely looking at having to move Hemsky and Gagner both in the same trade.

Hemsky and Gagner have been fantastic this year and it would sting immensely to trade them while they perform like this. But ignoring the fact that we need a big skilled centerman fairly quickly here, is only hurting the team imo.

Unless management wants to move Gagner to the 3rd line next year and Horc to the 4th, then He's likely part of a trade that brings in the bigger #2 centerman. UNLESS the management strategy is to maintain our current top 6, and bring in size for the bottom 6, hopefully with 1 of the centers being a #2b capable on nights we need it.

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#48 A-Mc
February 07 2013, 12:52PM
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This year's trade deadline is likely one of the most important ones for the oilers.

Key moves (if any) will really help to shape the oilers for either a playoff run this year (if we're still in it) or next year.

It has never been so important for Tambolini to get this right.

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#49 vetinari
February 07 2013, 12:56PM
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Hemsky (and Gagner) both look like new players under Krueger and I suspect that he's given them the green light to be creative on the attack so long as they are defensively responsible when the play shifts the other way.

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#50 Mikey
February 07 2013, 12:58PM
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Phixieus666 wrote:

Ya I think all the Oilers should have to put a density plastic molding on the sides and heals of their skates.

Anton Lander was wearing one of those. Not sure about Belanger, but I would bet he was.

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