SHOOTING, FACEOFFS and LEARNING

The Oilers had yesterday off and today they did an off-ice workout and some film study. They will be back on the ice tomorrow at Millenium Place, SMACKDOWN is at Rexall, and you can bet that Tom Renney will be want to focus on a few areas. Faceoffs is an obvious weakness right now, but there are other areas that he need work.

The Oilers aren’t shooting the puck very often. Dustin Penner, 13, is the only forward in double digits in shots on goal, and Tom Renney feels his main priority still has to be getting his team  to understand how to play in their own zone and away from the puck. (You can watch his press conference at www.oilers.nhl.com this afternoon.)

The Oilers are averaging 25.5 shots/game, only the Dallas Stars have fired fewer at 22.5, but the Stars have three forwards with ten or more shots. The Oiler forwards aren’t being selfish enough right now. They are looking for the cute play, or hesitating and getting the shot blocked, but the most glaring weakness is they aren’t going to the net often enough to get rebounds.

"You don’t pass the puck into the net, you shoot it into the net and that is something we really, really have to do. The net is the end point no matter what you are doing, and we have to start making sure we have people there. Sometimes you don’t want to take the shot because it is just you and the goalie, and what is the point, but a pass off the goalie is a great pass if you have guys going to the net. It is something we have to play close attention to," said Renney.

While Sam Gagner has four assists in four games he only have five shots on goal and he is averaging 18:49 a game. He needs to get more pucks on net. Andrew Cogliano is playing 13:03 a night and he has five shots, while Gilbert Brule only has three in four games. Brule has a hell of a shot and he needs to start using it more. And it isn’t just the forwards. Ryan Whitney is playing over 26 minutes a night and he has a measly four shots. He has a good shot and a solid one-timer and it is imperative he starts using it more.

FACEOFFS WILL BE GROUP PROJECT

The Oilers have struggled in the dot for two years, finishing 25th in 2009 and a 30th last year. They aren’t much better through four games this year, and Renney was quick to point out that if they are going to improve in the dot it needs to be a team effort.

"As a coaching staff we have to place a premium on that every day. It is very disconcerting. Whether we are on the powerplay, where you have possesion in the offensive zone or on the penalty kill, and we all know where that starts, from a  static start in our zone, this is very, very dangerous territory for this team. With what we are trying to do, our faceoff play is not good, and has to improve dramatically over time, if not sooner.  

"A tie is a good as a win. We have to recognize that it (faceoff) isn’t just a finesse move or a skill move, it is a power move. You have to have strong hands, strong forearms and a real frame of mind that at the very least they (opposition) aren’t winning the draw. What we have a tendancy to forget is that the wingers, and even the defencemen have to pay as much attention to the linesman’s hand, and the puck, as the guy taking the draw. It is a five-man function, and if we aren’t one of those teams that has any of those personal attributes we have to win draws as a committee."

50% OR BUST

The Oilers won’t become a 50% team overnight, but they will need to pay more attention to every little detail in order to give themselves a fighting chance in the dot.

There is a lot of little things that Renney wants to improve, but he can’t do all of them at once. They will need to come in small doses, but I asked Renney which area has to be the main focus right now?

"We do have lots of small areas to work on and that is why most coaches will start with the defensive plan first. As we sort out our house offensively and learn that part of the game and how we are going to work collectively, because most of that is instinctively, at least initially. Let’s make sure we are on the same page defensively, and that is why most teams put a focus on defensive team play initially before offensive team play.

"We’ve tried to (work on offense) in the last week, and it came back to bite us a little bit. We tried to pay more attention to attack and as much as we are okay defensively, we aren’t great. We have a lot of work to do there and so we are coming back to that again this week. You will see that is how we will go about learning this game together."

This season will be a work in progress for the Oilers, and as long as Renney is seeing improvement in the areas that he is focusing on he’ll be happy. When the Oilers host the Wild on Thursday look for more attention to details in the specific areas Renney outlined. They can’t improve every area instantly, but he will demand he sees improvement in the areas that they are spending extra time working on. 

  • Chris.

    While Sam Gagner has four assists in four games he only have five shots on goal and he is averaging 18:49 a game. He needs to get more pucks on net.

    Totally agree. I’m not a Gagner hater…(Please don’t throw me into that negative and destructive debate) However, Gagner is playing on PP unit #1 and has the rare privledge of skating with the two absolute best wingers this team has to offer. Gagner mentioned several times that he spent a lot of the offseason working on his shot. Well lets see it already! Five shots in four games on that line is not acceptable. The PPG pace Gagner is on will have no chance to continue unless he forces the netminder to occasionally play the shot. (Let’s face it, Gagner isn’t always going to get credit every time Penner bounces one in off someones face.)

    I’m also concerned about the 34% in the dot.

    Renny Said, “What we have a tendancy to forget is that the wingers, and even the defencemen have to pay as much attention to the linesman’s hand, and the puck, as the guy taking the draw. It is a five-man function, and if we aren’t one of those teams that has any of those personal attributes we have to win draws as a committee.”

    Let’s not Forget that Horcoff is carrying two rookie wingers into that dot… Gagner has Penner and Hemsky: the 34% is particularly glaring when you consider that fact… and it’s not like this is the first season that Gagner has been taking draws.

    We are only four games in, but I’m guessing that despite already playing nearly 230 NHL games: this will probably be the single most important development year in Gagner’s young NHL career. I sure hope he responds well.

  • Dyckster

    Hey Gregor,

    Where was that picture taken? I’m guessing the boys on the floor are a hockey team of some sort stretching before or after a skate. The only thing I can see that may identify the place is a jersey with Canuck colors on the left hand side behind some glass.

    PLEASE don’t ridicule me if the answer is obvious to everyone but yours truly. :O

  • Shaun Doe

    I was watching TSN one night and the colour guy made a comment on one of the players winning a large portion of the draws. What this player (it was a while ago so can’t remember the name or team) would do is as the puck dropped he would slide his skate forward and sideways just ahead of the puck and block the other players stick from comming in. I imagine that lots of players have little tricks like this that they use but until I actually saw this I was pretty uninformed as to how much strategy could, and is used in the dot. Its an interesting little game within the game that us Oilers fans are starting to focus and understand alot more deeply the past few seasons.

    Has there been any evidence of certain players being taken aside to spend entire practices working on draws, or at least the bulk of a practice? Or is that fairly rare? Just a question for those with the opportunity to take in practice for someone living on the wrong side of the rockies (Hockey wise).

    • That joke is getting stale.
      Plus it seems to suggest that we not develop the kids and instead go out and get someone to solve our problems who will be an expensive addition to a team not ready to win yet. It was kind of funny a year ago.

      News flash Bar Qu: We will have alot of issues in our play this year. I’d rather develop the kids than snatch up a Malholtra who’s contract will be up by the time we’re ready to contend. I’m pretty sure ST’s “evaluation” covers this.

    • Mike from Canmore's illegitimate love child

      Its not an issue, its the issue. Its never going to change unless the coach and management get their heads out of their rear end and start making some smarter roster decisions. For instance put Gilbert Brule at center permanently, Cogliano can’t win a draw to save his life! Send a damn goalie down and bring up someone who has a history of winning faceoffs such O’Marra or Vande Velde.

      • D-Man

        I hear your frustration with Cogs in the dot… Brule would definitely be a better center. But where would you put O’Marra or Vande Velde in the lineup?? Keep in mind, a goalie will be sent down or traded, once Jacques is off the IR (which should be late Novemberish)…

        In the interim, although I don’t like having three goalies, I don’t know of anyone on the farm that we could bring up and give more ice-time too, than what they’re getting in OKC.