Maybe Forty Is Good Enough

Jonathan Willis
January 21 2014 11:44PM

 

The Edmonton Oilers fell 2-1 to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night. The Canucks held the edge in play and in scoring chances, particularly at even-strength. The Oilers kept the score close but could generate almost nothing offensively when the top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle were off the ice. 

After the game, head coach Dallas Eakins faced some rather pointed questions about the Oilers' physical play. And he replied with some equally pointed answers. 

The Press Conference

The video above has post-game clips from both coaches and some players, with Eakins coming on at around the 13:00 mark. He took a pretty inocuous question about physical play early and offered his take on when it made sense for his team to play the body and how he'd viewed them in that department against Vancouver:

Listen, you want to be physical as much as you can. But we definitely don’t want to run out of position to go get a hit; I’d much rather be on the right side of the puck. I didn’t have a real hard time with our physicality. I didn’t think we were being outhit badly, I didn’t look at the stats; usually the hit column is always an interesting one at home and on the road. On our forecheck we want to promote physicality, just to get the D to rush the puck, to rush their plays, but I didn’t feel it was a problem. I thought our guys were actually doing a pretty good job of it.

But the questions didn't stop. Reporters wondered why Zack Kassian was allowed to get away with 'running the Oilers show' in previous encounters. They questioned the Oilers' commitment to physical hockey in the game against Vancouver. Eakins continued in the same vein:

Do you know what the perfect game is? The perfect game is no hits. Do you know why that is? It’s because you have the puck. You don’t have to hit anybody; you have the puck. I don’t know; the stats sheet said we outhit them 28-to-13. Would I have liked more hits? I don’t know, I thought we were good tonight.

That wasn't all Eakins said. He referenced the Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore situation and made it plain he didn't ever want to see his team get into a position where they were hunting a specific opponent. He emphasized that the game was close and that he didn't get how taking a bad penalty was going to help the Oilers win it. He talked about his preference that fights arise organically out of the emotion of the game rather than ritualistically because two fighters happened to be on the ice at the same time.

 And he got snarky, in one exchange challenging a reporter who said the team's 28-13 hit count wasn't good enough with “Well, we’ll try to up that to 40-13. Would that be better for you, or would 40 not be enough? 60? No, I'm asking you!”

Some Context

There may be some who write off the Oilers' favourable hit count against Vancouver as a product of a friendly home scorer. That chart above should give them some pause. The NHL's real-time statistics are notoriusly prone to counter bias, and that bias can run in one direction or it can run in the other. To cancel out the bias, typically road-only numbers are used, and the Oilers' road numbers say something very different than their numbers at home.

At home, the Oilers rank 25th in the NHL in hits. On the road, they rank fourth. Only the New Jersey Devils have hits counted less frequently at home relative to on the road. Given that Eakins referenced the difference between home and road numbers, it's probably fair to say he noticed the trend. 

Maybe Edmonton plays a totally different game at home than they do on the road. More likely, the stats crew at Rexall undercounts hits relative to the league average. So when that incredibly pessimistic Rexall counter says the Oilers out-hit Vancouver by a 2:1 margin, that's something worth noting. 

Oh, and the other, unrelated, thing worth noting on this chart? If the road numbers are accurate, the Oilers have been landing a lot of hits. If Dallas Eakins is right, that suggests they've spent a lot of time without the puck away from Rexall. Personally, I think that sounds a lot like the season I've been watching.

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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#101 T-Roy
January 22 2014, 01:05PM
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Serious Gord wrote:

This season is lost. Losing to van for the sake of cleaning kassians clock would have been well worth it for this team - far more beneficial than a win IMO.

Easy to say if you aren't the one getting fined and suspended.

I am certain the league looks at people dropping the gloves right after a big hit (Lucic, Ference) and hunting down an unwilling fighter 4 months after the intial incident very differently.

I agree with Eakins. You can get in big trouble. And the same media that are currently deriding the Oilers for not fighting Kassian would be all over the Oilers if a Bertuzzi incident happened. Rishaug had a good point. Gazdig should have done more on camera to embarass Kassian. Glove his face, push him in the chest . Let everyone see that he is avoiding an altercation.

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#102 toprightcorner
January 22 2014, 01:07PM
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Serious Gord wrote:

This season is lost. Losing to van for the sake of cleaning kassians clock would have been well worth it for this team - far more beneficial than a win IMO.

Completely disagree.

The players need to learn to stand up for themselves right after it happens, that's what tells their opponents that this is unacceptable and there is a price to be paid.

Retribution 3 months later is just stupid and benefits nobody. By expecting your team to get even 3 months later you are instilling the idea that you don't need to stick up for each other immediately because we can always get them back later.

That's not intimidation that's trepidation with future revenge.

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#103 Eddie Shore
January 22 2014, 01:30PM
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Spector is a goof. I thought the exchange was hilarious.

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#104 Hat Pughes
January 22 2014, 01:46PM
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Serious Gord wrote:

there is much merit to the idea that the kassian injury to gagner was accidental - that kassian did not intend to break gagner's jaw. Thus no retribution moments after the incident is excusable.

What changed that was kassian's well-publicized gesture. From that moment - the game before last night's - it was ON.

Tonight was the night to have brought up the heavyweights and deal out some vengeance. Everyone knew that that was an underlying expectation for the game.

The oil didn't deliver.

The journos and the fans are calling them on it.

using the Bertuzzi/Moore incident is a feeble attempt to excuse the cowardice.

@Serious Gord - your making one huge assumption here.

Your assuming that the Oilers have the "horses" to engage in act of vengeance. Fact is they don't. They also don't even have the rats (like Bieksa and Burrows) who instigate and act tough and then pick their spots.

David Perron showed a propensity to take on the rat role earlier this year -- but when he's not supported it gets lost.

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#105 Ed in Edmonton
January 22 2014, 03:29PM
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I didn’t mind Eakins’ response at all. The media hounds have worked themselves into a lather on the Kassian issue. It almost reminded me of the questions posed to Bryzgalov when he showed up.

As noted by some others, the players and coaches must be careful of what they say or do, or they could end up like Bertuzzi and Crawford.

Ultimately this was one of the Oil’s better performances of the year, certainly much better than the first two goes vs the Canucks. Some in the media being fixated on Kassian seems over the top.

I also always like when question gets thrown back at the media, its good to see if they can think on their feet.

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#106 camdog
January 22 2014, 04:51PM
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Oiler Al wrote:

Gadzic is the most useless pcs of sheet on the ice. Cant play hockey and now he isnt doing what he is paid to do. Runs around chatting up guys, like Hordichuck, hoping they decline the invite.

In the meantime Jones has to do what Gadzic is paid to do... Gadzic didnt even have a hit last night. Ever since he score that goal, he thinks he is second coming of Crosby. Get this guy off the ice.

Man on man, Oilers can't even get this part of the game right. Colossal disaster this team.

To be fair a 1:40 of ice time per period, he really wasn't on the ice...

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#107 dougtheslug
January 22 2014, 05:06PM
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I'm surprised Eakins didn't blame Yakupov for the loss.

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#108 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
January 22 2014, 05:18PM
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toprightcorner wrote:

Completely disagree.

The players need to learn to stand up for themselves right after it happens, that's what tells their opponents that this is unacceptable and there is a price to be paid.

Retribution 3 months later is just stupid and benefits nobody. By expecting your team to get even 3 months later you are instilling the idea that you don't need to stick up for each other immediately because we can always get them back later.

That's not intimidation that's trepidation with future revenge.

Corporate PR Troll Alert

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#109 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
January 22 2014, 05:21PM
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T-Roy wrote:

Easy to say if you aren't the one getting fined and suspended.

I am certain the league looks at people dropping the gloves right after a big hit (Lucic, Ference) and hunting down an unwilling fighter 4 months after the intial incident very differently.

I agree with Eakins. You can get in big trouble. And the same media that are currently deriding the Oilers for not fighting Kassian would be all over the Oilers if a Bertuzzi incident happened. Rishaug had a good point. Gazdig should have done more on camera to embarass Kassian. Glove his face, push him in the chest . Let everyone see that he is avoiding an altercation.

Corporate PRTroll.Alert.

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#110 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
January 22 2014, 05:22PM
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Katz Trolls on the PR payroll popping up everywhere.

Freaky.

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#111 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
January 22 2014, 05:26PM
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Ed in Edmonton wrote:

I didn’t mind Eakins’ response at all. The media hounds have worked themselves into a lather on the Kassian issue. It almost reminded me of the questions posed to Bryzgalov when he showed up.

As noted by some others, the players and coaches must be careful of what they say or do, or they could end up like Bertuzzi and Crawford.

Ultimately this was one of the Oil’s better performances of the year, certainly much better than the first two goes vs the Canucks. Some in the media being fixated on Kassian seems over the top.

I also always like when question gets thrown back at the media, its good to see if they can think on their feet.

Corporate PR Troll Alert. >

Look at these three guys....never posted here before....all show up at the same time...speak the same language in the same tones...delivering essentially the same message. And look at their phony made up in a minute mundane names.

I'm not buying it!

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#112 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
January 22 2014, 05:35PM
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toprightcorner wrote:

It was awesome how Eakins shut up Mark Spector and his stupid questions about retribution on Kassian from 3 months ago and they have played each other since before last nights game.

I never liked Spec prior to his time on TEAM 1260 but then grew to like him more while he was on the air. Now that he has left and spends more time on Sportsnet TV coverage I has gone right back to being an antagonistic punk who makes an effort to say bad things about the Oilers.

Don't get me wrong, I dislike the homer media guys as well but Spec seems to enjoy being over the top with his negative acquisitions and it drives me crazy.

Corporate PR Troll Alert.

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#113 DrunkGuyTy
January 22 2014, 07:29PM
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@Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

Is this your new schtick? Are we going to have to sift through 25 comments like this on every blog now? Get over your paranoia.

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#114 Ed in Edmonton
January 22 2014, 07:31PM
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Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty) wrote:

Corporate PR Troll Alert. >

Look at these three guys....never posted here before....all show up at the same time...speak the same language in the same tones...delivering essentially the same message. And look at their phony made up in a minute mundane names.

I'm not buying it!

You haven't been paying attention.

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#115 RexHolez
January 22 2014, 09:25PM
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I'm sad, embarrassed and ashamed not only for the players but for anyone who's even remotely interested in this organization! Not only do we have fans promising to throw Jersey's only to disappoint, but we have poor media who's too busy obsessing about the hit counts than to cover the real story. We also have fans defending this lousy management group and coming up with new inventive ways to defend and explain this pathetic excuse of a rebuild.

I thought this was alberta? I thought this was oil country??? All I know is that if a rig drills for 4 years and doesn't strike oil they hire a new crew!!

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#116 Joel
January 22 2014, 10:59PM
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Ference was dead on about the media.

In the two weeks between Naslund getting elbowed by Moore, and the infamous Bertuzzi sucker punch, the two Vancouver sports radio stations were in a contest to see which could egg on the Canucks more to get revenge. Ditto for the two local papers.

And then once it actually happened, and went oh so wrong, a quick 180 and all the media are ripping the Canucks for doing exactly what they were told to do by the media.

Kinda like a bunch of kids chanting "fight, fight" around a pushing match, and then washing their hands of any responsibility if someone actually gets hurt.

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#117 Joel
January 22 2014, 11:04PM
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T-Roy wrote:

Easy to say if you aren't the one getting fined and suspended.

I am certain the league looks at people dropping the gloves right after a big hit (Lucic, Ference) and hunting down an unwilling fighter 4 months after the intial incident very differently.

I agree with Eakins. You can get in big trouble. And the same media that are currently deriding the Oilers for not fighting Kassian would be all over the Oilers if a Bertuzzi incident happened. Rishaug had a good point. Gazdig should have done more on camera to embarass Kassian. Glove his face, push him in the chest . Let everyone see that he is avoiding an altercation.

That, or at least challenge him openly off a draw.

The couple of times I noticed Gazdig coming up to Kassian, it was when he was fresh off the bench and Kassian was at the end of his shift.

Even in the pre-instigator era, most tough guys would decline that fight, and tell Gazdig to try again next shift. No loss of respect for declining the fight at particular time.

But if you are both fresh, ideally off a draw, then Kassian has no reason to not engage, and if he declines, then comes the ridicule.

Timing matters.

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#118 DrunkGuyTy
January 23 2014, 06:23AM
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What happened to all the talk about jersey tossing during the last game? I feel personally let down and taken advantage of after being promised that some people were going to make bold moves by throwing their jersey on the ice to show they weren't going to be patient any longer. They haven't even been trying to remove their jersey, let alone throw it. This makes you the absolute worst fans ever and I can't believe you call yourselves fans!! I don't know how much longer I can take it!

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#119 rickithebear
January 24 2014, 12:32PM
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Spector was trained by cypress, mcsorley, May.

Without the puck you say!

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