March 11 2013 11:15AM
Shawn Horcoff has been a lightning rod for fans frustrations for the last few years. With the big contract he received from the Oilers has come a lot of abuse. In my opinion, it’s unfair.
Yes, his salary is higher than you would like, but has that salary had an impact on the Oilers salary cap? Have they been unable to re-sign other players due to salary cap issues? It wasn't like they were trying to sign big free agents and his deal got in the way. His contract has been an easy target. Defending his deal is not the purpose of this though.
Shawn Horcoff returned to the lineup in Chicago. The impact of his presence in the lineup was immediate. The balance in the lines jumped off the page! With him out of the lineup the third line has been a mess. Coach Krueger has tried many combos and none have had much success or chemistry.
One example of this was the Yakupov, Belanger and Jones line. This line got nothing accomplished. It is not that I don't think each player has some value, but they are each so different as players that chemistry never was going to develop.
Against Chicago, Horcoff was played between Hemsky and Hall. I liked the way this line looked. In his rookie season Hall had success playing with Horcoff. Hemsky has played with the captain many times in his career. All three are familiar with each other and bring a unique set of skills to the line. Hall is the passion and attack. Hemsky is the sexy and slick weapon. Horcoff brings tremendous hustle, will and defensive awareness that every line requires.
It was very interesting for me to see the line Krueger put out at the end of the game against Chicago to protect the one goal lead. It was Horcoff's line. Having Horcoff out there is a no-brainer, he is your strongest and best defensive center. Hemsky is a veteran that has done the job in the past. But Hall is the surprise.
This kind of ice time for Hall indicates to me how much confidence the coach has in Hall to make the smart plays with the puck. Hall still has a ways to go in my mind to fully understand how to protect the lead at the end of the game, but obviously Krueger sees the potential there.
Reports out of Chicago mention a meeting that Horcoff organized for the team Saturday night in the hotel. It is not unusual at all for the captain to call this type of meeting.
Horcoff would have started the meeting. I bet he discussed the way the team has been playing and what has been missing from the group. I am guessing he challenged each players' pride to raise their game up and to compete.
In these types of meetings anyone can speak after the captain. Usually it starts with the veterans and other captains. Not everyone likes to speak, but those who do speak very honestly. I have been in meetings were two guys got into a "F... You!" contest.
Meetings allow players to vent and usually clears the air in a dressing room. When a team is winning everyone is buddy-buddy. When a losing streak strikes players tend to go off into little groups and bitch about other players and their personal lack of ice time. If it continues unchecked it can really do damage in a room. Bitchy, whiny clicks are a telltale sign of a group of losers.
Don't get me wrong, this meeting isn't going to send the Oilers on a twenty-four game win streak. It is good, however, for the younger players that will be the only leaders at some point to see how to respond when the team is on the express of a losing streak.
The pairing of Potter and Whitney has not worked this year. They just don't complement each other. I can't quite put my finger on it,but they just seem to be more often than not working against one another rather than in unison. They shouldn't be playing together and were finally split.
I see improvement in Ryan Whitney's game. He has been producing points. In his mind he isn't contributing if he isn't getting points. His confidence should be on the mend and on the rise. This would be huge for the Oilers. The rest of his game should fill out if that happens.
I like what Krueger did in Chicago by splitting up Potter and Whitney and pairing them each with a Schultz. Justin S. played with Whitney, N. Schultz ended up with Potter. I thought Potter looked more relaxed with Nick. Sometimes playing with a guy like Whitney can throw a guy off. Whitney has been struggling and his body language has shown that. A guy like Potter can misinterpret that as being directed at him. He isn't sure enough of himself in the NHL to realize he is just got his own issues on the ice and that Whitney's frustration has nothing to do with him.
Overall I thought the pairings were better lat night than they had been in the last week, however, the bar wasn't set super high during that time. If Dubnyk is out for any amount of time, they will have to play their best defensive hockey of the year.
One Last Thing....
Did anyone else see those great retro uniforms the Kings were wearing on Saturday. I love those!