GDB 36.0: THE AVALANCHE STARTS TONIGHT?

Life without Ryan Whitney begins tonight for the Oilers, and it doesn’t seem likely that they will have the horses to stay competitive. Whitney has been Mr. Everything for the Oilers this year. He leads them in points, assists, plus/minus and icetime. He is +13 on a team where the other D-men are all minus, except Jim Vandermeer (+3), and are a combined -32. Whitney was having a career year, and the Oilers backend looks overmatched without him.

Maybe it is fitting the Oilers face the Avalanche tonight, because it seems they are destined to be plunging down the standings with Whitney on the injured list. Granted, the Oilers don’t have far to fall, with only the Islanders and Devils below them in the standings, but staying competitive in games will be much harder without the 5th overall pick in 2002.

The Avs have 13 players with five or more goals and lots of scoring depth. Chris Stewart was leading the Avs with 25 points in 23 games when he broke his hand, but the Avs haven’t missed a beat since he got hurt. Greg Sherman has quietly made some really good moves and after Stewart went down he acquired Tomas Fleishmann for an aging Scott Hannan. Fleishmann has 12 points in 12 games since coming over from Washington and when Stewart returns the Avs will be even more dangerous.

The Avs are the highest scoring team in the NHL right now, averaging 3.47 goals per game so this is not the most ideal matchup for Tom Renney in his first game without his best defenceman. The Avs are 29th in GAA though, while the Oilers are 30th. At first glance you might think the Oilers can run and gun with the Avs, but the main reason their GAA is so high is because their PK is horrific.

Colorado is 29th on the PK at 75.9%. They’ve given up 34 PP goals this year, and only the Oilers have surrendered more down a man at 36. Joe Sacco is quite happy with his team’s five-on-five play, but he is concerned about the PK. He acknowledged they don’t have a steady shut down defender and he’s been trying a variety of different combinations to find some guys he can rely on.

Sound familiar Oiler fans?

RUN AND GUN?

 

It would be great fun to watch the Oilers play firewagon hockey tonight against the Avalanche, but Renney didn’t seem like he wanted to just turn his troops lose tonight.

"I think we have to make sure we give ourselves a chance to win by playing within our system. I don’t think this is a trackmeet night. We have to pay attention to detail with and without the puck. They are an energetic team, they believe in their game plan, they play on their toes, they’re relentless and they don’t quit. We need to match their intensity."

While Renney is cautious to get into a game of run and gun with the Avs he won’t be cautious in giving Jeff Petry lots of opportunities in Whitney’s absence.

"Ah what the hell, bring him in and play him. That’s what he is here for. We aren’t going to protect guys from playing hockey. It’s a tough situation, but it’s an opportunity to look at our defencemen within the organization. It’s a great opportunity for Petes to see if he can contribute on our PP and our PK and we can see what type of a hockey player he is and how close he is to being a regular NHLer.”’

LINE UP CHANGES

Nikolai Khabibulin wasn’t great against Buffalo, so Devan Dubnyk will get another start tonight and he will be tested often by the Avs. The other changes will see Gilbert Brule and Zack Stortini draw in, while Linus Omark and JF Jacques will get a seat in the pressbox.

Brule will play with Ryan O’marra and Magnus Paajarvi, while Stortini will skate with Colin Fraser and Ryan Jones. I asked Renney what Stortini needs to do to become a regular in the lineup.

"If he could skate like Andrew Cogliano that’d be great. The game is happening fast and I love Storts’ ability to get in on the body, go hard to the net and be a real physical presence for us. He has a bit of a limitation when it comes to skating, but no limitations beyond his ability to think the game and his desire to play the game. He is a tough guy to scratch to be honest with you. He is a tough scratch for me because of the heart that he brings to this organization every single day. It is not an easy one to explain."

I understand that Stortini isn’t the greatest skater, but his intensity, desire and hockey sense are much better than Jacques at this point, and even though Jacques skates better he hasn’t been close to as effective as Stortini. Look for Stortini to be involved early in the game. He wants to grab Renney’s attention.

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers will be overmatched without Whitney and drop their fifth straight losing 5-3.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Both teams are brutal on the PK, and both will get a pair of PP goals. The Oilers will actually shoot the puck with some regularity tonight and Renney will implore them to do that more in future games.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: In the 2nd period Taylor Hall will register his 3rd shot of the game, and the PA announcer will let the fans know that that was Hall’s 100th shot of the season. The announcement will be sponsored by Joe’s Fish Emporium.

He will be the 2nd rookie to have 100 shots this year, and during the announcement the Oilers will drop 100 shot glasses (with parachutes of course) from the rafters as a late Christmas gift. One of the shot glasses will be autographed by Hall and the recipient will recieve a 40 of Jager as a prize. The subtle suggestion that fans might need alcohol to get through the final few months won’t be lost on anyone. 

    • Jodes

      They don’t want him anywhere near the kids.. PLUS they know that if they bring him up they’ll lose him on Re-entry waivers.

      Besides, even if they do call him up, its not like he’s tearing it up in the AHL..

      Let him stay there!

  • “Wild horses we,ll ride them someday.”In two years all the way to the cup final.But in the meantime is there any defense help avalible?Two much time in our zone waiting for the the puck to go in so the forwards can touch the puck again

  • Jason Gregor

    Storts was one third of the best fourth line ever to play hockey. Storts, Brodziak, GlenX. I say sign Huggy Bear to two years, 750K per. Bargain bin. Size, heart, determination, hitting, responsible defensive play. MacT believed in Storts, remember when he matched Storts up against Crosby? Loved the guy. A Smytty type. Even has the mullet.

  • Hemmertime

    The subtle suggestion that this team could use Jagr won’t be lost on anyone.
    Anyhoo, a young team that we wish to emulate. Take a good look tonite, that is the team we will be in 2 years, mmw.
    Closer one tonite, 4-3, Doobie looks dooberific.

  • Let's Rebuild

    One thing I like about tonight’s game is that Omark is sitting in the press box rather than sending him down. I’m sure Renney could have justified it saying that Hemsky was back so they decided to send him down. It sends the message that they still want to keep him in the show but they want him to tighten up some of the mistakes. I loved watching him and Hemsky together on the PP and I hope when he is back in the line-up they get a few more chances to develop chemisty.

  • Rob...

    Gregor – Random Question for you, that maybe you know or can find out. Is the Phillipe Dupuis playing for the Avs tonight related to Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis? The internet is giving me both yes and no as answers lol.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Aim for the goalies mask, if you miss, it should still goes in off the crossbar. Off the mask and in still counts doesn’t it?

    Old time hockey, 6-2 Avalanche this evening…let the biotching begin.

    I see 14 horses in that picture….

  • Horcsky

    It doesn’t really matter if the Oilers do shoot more if they don’t support it by getting traffic in front of the blue paint. This is something that they always talk about but rarely ever do. This is how a majority of the scoring is done in the league.

    It drives me crazy when I watch them and they always either have someone standing in the deep slot (surrounded by 2 or 3 guys) thinking they are going to get a pass and score top corner or something. Or they are standing off to the sides of the net allowing the goaltender to easily see the shot. The tender then easily stops the shot and the other team goes into transition.

    I don’t understand how getting traffic in front of the blue paint can’t be coached. Here’s one idea…tell the players that anyone standing in the deep slot thinking they are going to get a pass and score from there is benched for a few shifts.

    If you watch the best teams in the league (Vancouver, Detroit, Pittsburgh, etc) they always attack the net and just throw pucks there from anywhere on the ice. It causes the defense to collapse down lower and opens up the points.

  • Horcsky

    Solid FIST my jolly Pug friend!

    Gregor, Renney’s answer on Stortini seemed a little evasive. What were you reading between the lines while he was answering the question to your face?

    • Jason Gregor

      I thought he was fairly honest. He has concerns with Stortini’s skating and that is fair. But I sense there is something more than just his skating. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I do sense it is more than just his skating.

      Stortini seems way more involved in games than Jacques has at any point this season, but Renney clearly disagrees.