Playing the San Jose Sharks is a tough task any night, but facing them without your best player makes it even harder. Ales Hemsky will not play tomorrow night, but he did ride the bike last night and again today so he is slowly feeling better, and with Shawn Horcoff’s back still bothering him it could be a long night for the Oilers.
The Sharks played their worst game of the season Tuesday in Calgary, and with two days off since then, they will be looking to get back on track. But they’ll have to beat their nemesis, Dwayne Roloson. Roloson’s best games the past two years have come against the Sharks, and with the Oilers first line hurting, he better be ready for a barrage of shots from the Sharks.
The biggest problem with the Oilers last night was their inability to win a one-on-one battle. The first line PP unit was the worst. They had three consecutive power-plays in the first period and even with an extra man they never worked hard enough to get control of the puck. Outside of when Tom Gilbert missed the net from the slot and Andrew Cogliano missed on a one-timer, the PP generated nothing in the first period.
Your best players need to be your best players if you hope to win, excluding the rare games like the Islanders win where your fourth line makes a difference, so with Hemsky out and Horcoff hurting guys like Penner, Cole, Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson needed to step up.
Nilsson was the best of that bunch, while the rest didn’t do much. Too often this season the players have been outworked by their opponents, and that falls squarely on their shoulders. The coach can only motivate so much — the majority of preparation comes from the players, and this group doesn’t have enough guys that are ready to play on a consistent basis.
My other beef is what system do the Oilers play? They aren’t a puck-possession team, they don’t trap, they don’t dump and chase. They are a hybrid of nothing and that’s the problem. Either the players deviate too often from the system, or more likely they don’t truly know what it is and how to execute it.
It seems to me that most of the players don’t know. Every system should have a safe zone or starting point. When things start going wrong, or the momentum is lost, the players need to know what the basic starting point is and get back to it. To me that is one of the major issues with this team, and that falls on coaching.
Repetition is the only way for the players to understand this starting point. It has to happen in practice, in the film room, and essentially it needs to be beat into their brains. I don’t think they get a consistent enough message, and that needs to change.
The players and the coaches need to realize that both are at fault for the continual shortcomings of this team. The coaches need to deliver their message better, and the players need to be ready to play. If not, the never-ending-merry-go-round that has become the Oilers will continue to spin on the path of mediocrity.
Steve MacIntyre has been cleared to play and practiced without a visor today for the first time since Eric Godard busted his orbital bone in November. MacIntyre was giddy with the idea he would be exchanging bombs very soon. He won’t play tomorrow and probably not against St. Louis, but with Donald Brasher in Washington and the Bogeyman in Minnesota look for MacIntyre to lace them up early on the road trip next week.
Hemmer and Scorcoff improving
Ales Hemsky rode the bike last night and again this morning and is feeling better. He didn’t speak to the media, so it is tough to gauge how much better he is feeling, but his coach announced they are seeing progress.
“He’s feeling a little better. From what I understand talking to Kenny (Lowe) he made it through yesterday nicely and it looks good, but he is still a ways away.” So don’t expect to see #83 until the three-game road trip at the earliest.
Shawn Horcoff didn’t skate today, but said his back is feeling better. He doesn’t plan on skating on off days until he feels better.
“It’s getting better, but it’s not an injury you want re-occuring. It was bothering for a week until I hurt it last weekend. I’m not sure if I hurt it in the gym or during a game, but as long as we get it under control it won’t matter. Face-offs are the real problem right now. Skating doesn’t bother me, but hunching over seems to irritate it.”
The biggest problem for Horcoff is that there is no one else who can take the draws, so he will have to hope that the rest on off days is enough to make it heal.
It was impossible to tell what the lines will be for tomorrow night based on practice. Horcoff didn’t skate, but Penner and Cole did skate together at times. MacTavish’s thoughts on his lines:
“I like Cole with Gags, and based on one bad game I’m not sure I want to switch them up just yet. Nilsson has been playing well as of late on that line so we will see.”
If Penner is ready to play that makes a major difference. He needs to be a difference maker, and he has to be one more often, especially with Hemsky out of the line-up.