DEEP THOUGHTS XXIII: A LONG WINTER

The only thing as brutal as the Edmonton Oilers power play lately has been the weather around here. The good news is it’s supposed to stop snowing and warm up. As for the power play, not so much.

While the mercury is headed north in the next couple of days, the Oilers power play has gone south and stayed there over the past 11 games, a stretch of futility in which its gone zero-zippo-nada-no cigar in 38 straight attempts after an 0-for-5 hummer in a 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center Sunday.

It’s a headlong lurch into the tank that’s coincided, not surprisingly, with the loss of defenceman Ryan Whitney, who tore up his right ankle against the Buffalo Sabres back on Dec. 28.

Toss in the ongoing ineffectiveness of Kurtis Foster and you get what we’ve got. The Oilers couldn’t even get a sniff with a six-on-three against the Ducks late Sunday after they yanked Nikolai Khabibulin while already enjoying — wrong word, probably — a 5-on-3 advantage.

With Whitney likely done for the season — the Oilers won’t confirm it but my information is he’s having, or has already had, surgery on his ankle in Charlotte today — the outlook isn’t going to improve anytime soon.

After this 11-game toot into the porcelain, Edmonton’s power play has sunk to 29th in the NHL, book-ending nicely with the penalty killing, which is 30th.

THE WAY I SEE IT

— The Oilers will likely make an announcement about Whitney’s surgery after tomorrow’s morning skate in preparation for tomorrow night’s game with the Minnesota Wild.

Like I said, the Oilers wouldn’t confirm anything about surgery, but it makes absolutely no sense to have Whitney fly all the way to Charlotte to see the specialist-surgeon who has already worked on him, ship him home and then send him back to go under the knife.

— The Oilers would be in bigger trouble than they’re in now on the back end if rookie Jeff Petry hadn’t stepped in as impressively as he has since getting the call from Oklahoma City Dec. 27.

Petry, 23, played 23:25 against the Ducks and looked as solid as the Canadian dollar. Before Whitney was injured, he had a lot of good things to say about the kid, and we’re seeing some of those attributes now. Too bad for the Oilers we won’t see them together, at least not for the balance of this season.

— Speculation is Shawn Horcoff is just about ready to go after sitting out 17 games with a sprained MCL in his right knee. He is close and will skate again tomorrow, but my information is Horcoff hasn’t been medically cleared to play and likely won’t be ready against Minnesota. Best bet is Thursday against Dallas.

WHILE I’M AT IT . . .

— With Horcoff and Jordan Eberle due back this week, the Oilers need to make a decision up front. If the Oilers look at sending Linus Omark back to OKC instead of making a call between J.F. Jacques and Zack Stortini, they’re making a mistake.

I don’t know why, exactly, coach Tom Renney has lost confidence in Stortini, but if I had a vote, he’d be staying and Jacques would be on his way to the AHL. In any case, I want a longer look at Omark.

— Magnus Paajarvi played his backside off against the Ducks in what was easily his best game with the Oilers. Sam Gagner also showed a pulse after a tough stretch and Omark was on the go all night. I don’t know about the long-term viability of this trio as a line, but they likely bought another game together with Sunday’s showing..

— I’m underwhelmed with Ales Hemsky 10 games into his return from a tweaked groin in terms of his effect on the power play. He’s been very good 5-on-5, but he hasn’t been the catalyst I thought he would be with a man-advantage.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Seriously....Gord?

    I think that keeping JFJ is a waste of a roster spot. Skating ability is overrated as point of comparison so I’m baffled by T.R.’s comments about him being a better skater than Stortini.

    JFJ is a very one dimensional player at the NHL level. He doesn’t PK, PP, Score, Fight too much.

    Stortini can be physical, a pest and draw penalties, a little PK, score some dirty goals etc. He’s not on my list to go down.

  • Seriously....Gord?

    I do not believe that Quicksilver Ballet is giving genuine opinions; I think they are calculated to get a rise out of people.
    I do not begrudge him his good time.

  • Buchburgler

    Brownlee (or anyone really):

    Just looking at the powerplay and your comments about Hemsky … but I noticed since Hemmer and Hall got put on a line it has been Hall controlling the Puck on the halfboards and hemsky being sort of a ‘rover’.

    First of all I havent liked what ive seen from hall on the PP. He holds on to the puck too long and then often just gives it away. I would like to see hall in more of a shooters role (I think it would suit him better) and leave Hemsky to do what he is good at and control the play. Omark has also been awesome on the PP, the second unit seems to be doing ok and generating chances, they just don’t get sent out very much (and often peckham or smid are on D, try out chorney or a F maybe).

    Anyone else seeing what I am or am I just crazy?

  • This years draft is reported not to contain the elite talent of recent drafts, but is supposedly deeper (from what I have read).

    Regardless, the team can’t solely rely on the draft. The Oilers need to leverage strength to address weaknesses.

    Key weaknesses:
    1) top 2 centre positions. Gagner too small and weak defensively and in faceoffs to be a centre. Should be RW. Hope in the system for second line centre with Pitlick/Martindale after Horcoff goes

    2) Top pairing d-man who can clear the front of the net and punish forwards in the corners. Only real hitter now is Peckham and he is not top pairing material.

    Areas of depth:
    1) LW – Hall, MPS, Penner
    2) RW – Hemsky, Gagner, Omark
    3) Puck moving d-men – Whitney, Gilbert, Petry

    Targets:
    1) Brayden Schenn (LA, need to win now, struggling)
    2) Eric Gudbranson (FLA, contract squabbles)
    3) Joe Colbourne (BOS, possible if strong second half in AHL. Too much centre depth ahead of him in Savard, Bergeron, Kreji, and Seguin)

    Schenn and Gudbranson should be no brainers. If some of Hemsky, Penner, Gagner and Gilbert could be turned into those two players, the Oilers would be an elite team in 2 – 3 years. I wouldn’t offer as much for Colbourne as the others, but he should be gettable and should be pursued as well.

    Future line up:

    1st line: Hall – Schenn – Eberle
    2nd line: MPS – Horcoff/Pitlick/Martindale – Omark/Pitlick
    3rd line: Hamilton/Hartikainen – FA (Sutherby/Belanger types) – FA (Asham/ Upshall types)
    4th line: Van Velde plus anybody not named Jacques, Macintyre or Stortini

    1st pairing: Whitney – Gudbranson
    2nd pairing: Petry – Larsson
    3rd pairing: Peckham – Plante/Marincin

    Looks pretty good to me even if you had to spend all 4 (Hemsky, Penner, Gagner and Gilbert) to make it happen, though I doubt you would .

  • Buchburgler

    Robin,

    The Oilers already have lots of cap space this season, and if Whitney goes on LTIR, they’d have even more. Do you see them making any deals at the deadline to basically sell cap space, similar to the Malakhov deal years ago and the deal Toronto made last year? Maybe get a 2nd round pick to take on a bad contract that a team looking to make other deadline moves needs to rid themselves of.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I think the best thing we can do as Oiler fans to help the powerplay……

    …Always be yelling “shoot” regardless of the positioning, lanes, or scoring chance the player with the puck has.

    ~I mean,because us fans know better than the players ~

  • Bucknuck

    I believe that the coaching staff know that this season is now a write off. As a result I think they are trying a few things to see what happens. The powerplay has been a weak point for years, so playing around with what has happened before doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Hemsky on the halfboards was somewhat effective when he had multiple right handed options that could pull off a one time (Horcoff & Souray). Without those options I am not surprised that Hemsky is a little lost.

    I don’t think sending Omark to the minors is the end of the world, but sending him when JFJ is still with the big club seems pretty boneheaded to me. As long as he is getting decent minutes and seems to be learning with the big club then keep him up here if you can. I don’t want to lose assets to waivers in order to keep him up here, though. JF is hardly an asset in my mind, though.

  • Mitch

    @Brownlee

    Deep Thoughts

    Robin as I watch the oilers game after game,which really equals a whole pile of loses, what guys are buying into what the coach is selling? What we have here is a team that can’t score on the powerplay, has terrible pk stats, and doesn’t like to show up to a hockey game till it’s well out of reach most times. As a manager or a coach do you just sit back and say “were a young hockey team, we’ll be a heck of alot better next year.” Given the fact that we have another lottery pick coming, I don’t see a player that can step into the lineup and contribute from this draft. I’am concerned because I see to many repetive mistakes, at what point will a fan beable to say to himself this team is about to turn a corner? You can’t continually replace the coach and the players.