It’s quite amusing how after one blow-out loss to Vancouver, many thought the Avalanche bubble had burst, and they were destined for the bottom of the standings. I don’t think they will stay in the top two in the West division, but I don’t see them plummeting to the bottom either. They are 5-4-1 in their last ten, and if they play like that in ten game segments the rest of the year, they will be right in the mix.
Unlike the Oilers right now, the Avalanche understand and play the system their coach wants. They clog up the neutral zone if they get a lead, and while they give up a lot of shots, many come from the outside. And they don’t turn the puck over very often in the neutral zone.
The biggest surprise in Colorado has been Ryan O’Reilly. The second-round pick this past summer is in double digits in points (15) and +/- (12). The best way to describe his game is mature. He is just as good away from the puck as he is when he has it.
Pat Quinn, and his predecessor, has tried urging the Oilers younger players to realize that if they make smart plays in their own zone and away from the puck that it will ultimately lead to more offence. So far though, Quinn hasn’t been able to get the kids and some of his veterans to understand this concept.
When you watch the game tonight, take a few shifts and watch what O’Reilly does. Don’t watch the play, focus on O’Reilly. Then pick an Oiler and do the same. You might be surprised in the results.
The Oilers had an up-tempo morning skate. They had more jump than usual, and the pace was quicker. Speaking with them after practice it is clear they realize they need to be more aggressive and have more energy in their game.
The Oilers are 2-6-2 in the last ten and begin a five-game home stand tonight. After games against the Avs, Hawks, Coyotes, Kings and Sharks they head back on the road for six games. If they don’t get seven points out of ten at home, they could be in serious trouble heading on the road.
Pat Quinn shuffled his lines again this morning:
Penner — Horcoff — Hemsky
Reddox — O’Sullivan — Brule
Strudwick — Cogliano — Comrie
Moreau — Potulny — Stortini
Gilbert — Souray
Smid — Visnovsky
Staios — Arsene
Quinn has got to get some secondary scoring going so it is no surprise he has juggled the lines again. At this point I don’t think there is any combination that would give him a better chance, so he is going with completely new combinations.
It looks like he is reverting back to having some sort of grit/physical presence on his bottom three lines. Sam Gagner wasn’t in any of the lines, but I spoke to him after practice and he said he is ready to go. When I asked Quinn he admitted that Gagner is likely to play, so that will change the lineup.
If Gagner goes you have to think that Strudwick will move back to the blue line, unless Quinn wants more size up front. Mike Comrie still isn’t feeling right. His energy level isn’t where he wants it to be, but he said he is feeling a bit better today. That would explain why he has looked a step behind that past few games.
We could see a battle of the back ups tonight. Craig Anderson has played 20 games already for the Avalanche and last week Joe Sacco said he would try to get him some rest. When you consider the Oilers have faced a back up in 8 of their 21 games so far it wouldn’t surprise me if Peter Budaj gets the start tonight.
J.F Jacques skated this morning, but won’t return until Saturday at the earliest. Robert Nilsson wasn’t even on the ice this morning, and he is still suffering with concussion-like symptoms. Ryan Stone didn’t practice with the team and his still has soreness in his knee, so unfortunately he is at least another week away.