Effort Level Vs. Tangible Problems

Joanne Ireland’s column this morning focuses on the Oilers’ new motto: “Anything”. Given that I think mottos help players about as much as mission statements help my commitment to my day job, I brushed past that bit and got interested when the column started talking about effort level.

For example, Ethan Moreau supplied this gem:

 “There wasn’t a lack of effort. We haven’t had a game like that here in a while."

I know that it’s fashionable to chalk last season’s disastrous finish up to a lack of effort, a narrative which allows fans to pick on whichever goat they dislike the most. It’s great fun. Don’t like Shawn Horcoff? Well, it’s too bad he didn’t try last year. Perhaps you aren’t a fan of Tom Gilbert – if only he’d been more intense. It’s easy and it doesn’t need to make sense – everyone knows that the underdog can win if only he’d try just a little bit harder.

Let’s take a moment though and step away from the tremendously easy "he didn’t try hard enough" game and try looking at the problems from last year.

Last season’s penalty kill was among the worst in the NHL; something that perhaps isn’t overly surprising given that Craig MacTavish had exactly three forwards who played regularly (Horcoff, Brodziak, Moreau) and one of those was often in the box himself. The rest of the minutes went to Fernando Pisani (who missed more than half the season), Erik Cole (traded at the deadline), and minor-league call-up Liam Reddox.

Let’s just say that even if the coaching had been superb, this wasn’t going to be an elite group.

That penalty killing group allowed 76 goals against, and had they been even average it would have saved the team 13 goals. How much difference would 13 goals have made in the standings?

Of course, that weakness remained unaddressed during the offseason; Brodziak was sent away, nobody was brought in to take his place. Pisani is out (again) and on injured reserve, and in Game One Pat Quinn responded by giving ice-time to guys who have never killed penalties much in the big leagues – Andrew Cogliano led all forwards with 1:31 in ice-time, Ryan Stone played more than a minute and both Gilbert Brule and Jean-Francois Jacques filled in at times. The unit responded with a two-for-four night, and while it’s still too early to declare the experiment a failure, would it surprise anyone if that trend continued?

Another problem was the lack of qualified players to take defensive zone draws. Craig MacTavish generally doubled up on centres, sending out Shawn Horcoff and Kyle Brodziak with a winger (generally one of Moreau, Stortini or Reddox, given that Pisani was on the shelf or playing at less than 100% for most of the season). That decision was certainly a factor in crippling the offensive game of both players.

Again, the weakness remained unaddressed during the off-season (worsened actually, given the departure of Brodziak) and Quinn responded by sending out Gilbert Brule in the defensive zone and Shawn Horcoff everywhere. While Brule was good on the draw in the defensive zone (three for five) vs. Calgary he was a miserable 36% overall on the night, and has no track record of being an effective NHL faceoff man. How long can his luck in his own end hold out, and how much will it hurt the team if it doesn’t?

Yes, yesterday I said that it was far too early for one game to change anyone’s mind. These problems though are items that any rational observer would be concerned about – and no shift in effort level is going to fix them. There were encouraging signs last night – Moreau talks about physical intensity but both the shot clock and the faceoff count show that the Oilers also dominated territorially – and barring a goaltending imbalance that will help them win games.

The point here is that the problems last year extended well beyond effort; and even assuming that the team’s slogan remains fixed in mind and they continue to play with a physical edge through all 82 games, that won’t solve those underlying problems. Unless Pat Quinn can mold young and as-of-yet unqualified players to fit those roles, and do it quickly, this team will lose games and points in the standings because of it.

Just like they did against Calgary.

  • BarryS

    I don't know if anyone has mentioned this on the Nation yet,(I can only check in every couple of days) but as a goaltender in my youth, my thought would have been "Where is the rest of my team !!!" while skating out to the faceoff circle to retreve a puck that was rolling and bouncing and the only other player around was a Flame. Yeah The Wall mis played the puck but he shouldn't have to be put in that position….
    Over all, I thought the team played quite well, too early to make any judgements on the future…
    Go Oilers

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Biggest problem I seen was the lack of aggresivness from our forwards on the PK. Postioning is the biggest problem outside of faceoffs right now. We need one if we want to be in the top 20 and if we want to have a real solid PK we need both.

    • BarryS

      Actually, he was coasting along behind Moss. Watch the replay. he was beside moss at the blueline and never moved his feet after.

      Old goalies stick together.

      • Khabby clearly had time to handle to puck so Souray moved over to give him an outlet. Souray could not have picked Moss without risking a penalty, so he did the right thing. Old goalies seem to be to blame. 🙂

          • Eddie Shore

            Are you kidding me? That was Khabby's puck all the way. He screwed up. Gilbert is not going to risk taking a penalty with under a minute left in a tied game on a play like that. Give your head a shake man.

          • BarryS

            My head is shaking, at giving don't care defencemen the pass when had he cared and contested with Moss maybe Khabby doesn't even need to make the play. If Moss skated better than #77 then why was he on the ice. The point is, #77 had brain freeze beforbe Khabby did. It was shoot in, why was #77 coasting. It wasn't #44's job to come from the other point to go to the wrong corner.

            I know, there are more old forwards and defencemen than old goalies so who gets overlooked. when goalies are forced to come out to play the puck there is a defenceman being lazy:-)

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            I don't like the new quoting system. It doesn't offer an opportunity to respond to specific statements in long posts. The 'name' and 'e-mail address' fields don't pre-populate, either.

            Great site otherwise, guys. Nice touch with the graphic of the chunk of the cup that belongs to Edmonton.

          • Chris.

            Totally agree. A respondant really needs the ability to break doen a comment and respond to each individual statement… I loved that about the old site. It's something that needs to be fixed.

            For example: I'm only responding to the first sentence of the above post were Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things says: I don't like the new quoting system.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    So Gilbert makes the first mistake, but ultimately Bulin made the final mistake. He could've stayed in his net and took the shot.

      • Chris.

        See, I'm on the fence on this one. With Moss wide open, and with how much space Khabby had to make the play, I think he made the right choice. The main problem was that he fumbled the puck and Moss got extremely lucky with the direction of the puck after he poked it out.

        On the other hand, he would have been in a better position to make the save as Moss approached. I think about 90% of the time it's the right play, with 10% of the plays turning out like it did on Saturday night.

    • We all know it was Gilberts fault, it always is and always will be. The problem with Gilbert is he has other things on his mind, for instance his girly blog about 17 magazine or how Tab energy drinks really help with his cramps. Poor West Bulin Wall was left hanging.

  • Chris.

    Loved the game. Was entertained for the first time in years. Totally agree with Moreau's comments in the Ireland column where he said:
    "If you don't have a (physical presence) on every line, you can go five, six minutes without a hit, then everybody wonders why you're not playing hard," he continued, "but if you have somebody on every line, then it's contagious. Everybody follows, and it's a fun way to play."

    I think the boys will be all right for the first time in years. BTW: can someone please explain to me how to create distinct paragraphs in my comments? I am totally unimpressed with some of the new formating.

  • Hemmertime

    With the Heatley thing coming close I give Tambo some credit. However the glaring failures to do anything to fill these holes has me almost missing Lowe… almost.

  • stilldrinkingthekoolaid

    With the Heatley thing coming close I give Tambo some credit. However the glaring failures to do anything to fill these holes has me almost missing Lowe… almost

    Puhleeze

    • Hemmertime

      Lowes problem was he over compensated, dont have tough guys, now get ALL tough guys. No small talented forwards or offensive D… well you see where it leads.

      However he did bring us within 1 win of the cup, and there are 15 teams in the west and it took less than 15 years.

  • stilldrinkingthekoolaid

    I can honestly say, its been a least two years since I walked away from a game with a smile on my face. I mean yeah they lost in one of the most rediculous ways I've ever seen but still. Brule ficken ripped that puck. I think his confidence is gleaming right now, and of course Gags he had me standing the whole night!!

  • stilldrinkingthekoolaid

    @ cableguy:

    What's up with not showing up on Saturday? I had to hook up an antenna to my new LCD TV just to catch the game on Saturday. Fortunately for me it was on CBC.

  • BarryS

    I agree bulin should have stayed in his net. It takes time for a defence and goalie to mesh and trust each other. Can understand his trying to play defence and goal at the same time seeing how nobody touched glenX on the first goal and the defence accidently scored the third.

  • Jason Gregor

    JW,

    I find it interesting that when you talk about the PK you only mention minutes of the forwards. Their are two D-men on the ice as well. Why do you think it is only on the forwards to have a solid PK.

    You'll notice that Grebeshkov isn't in the top four PK anymore because he isn't tough enough in front of the net. He lost too many battles down low.

    A bad PK isn't just on the forwards when they are only half of the penalty killers.

    And faceoffs are EFFORT. It isn't just the centremen who win draws. The Oilers coaching staff wants the wingers to battle harder and help out.

    And the Oilers banged the Flames off of the puck more often than we've seen in a long time, thus they had the puck more leading to more shots.

    Rarely does a player flat out not work hard, but they often can not work smart, and thus be ineffective.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Gregor

    I agree with you and Quinn made it know that our d need to better positional players. I've said this for years, but finally it takes Quinn to figure this out? I did however like how Gilbert used his stick to cut down the opposition's angles. That is something else that Quinn wants fixed.

    On the wingers helping out. Doesn't that slow down the offence from breaking out or setting up in the offensive zone? I guess it could be a short term fix.