GDB 16.0: OIL CHANGE IN THE MOTOR CITY

It’s not very often the Edmonton Oilers find themselves looking down at the Detroit Red Wings in Western Conference standings in November, as is the situation going into tonight’s game at Joe Louis Arena. That’s a perspective that could change in a hurry.

The Oilers arrived in the Motor City with 20 points from a 9-4-2 record after a 6-3 loss to the Bruins on Thursday, five points clear of Detroit, 7-5-1, but the Red Wings are starting to roll after a 5-2 win over Colorado and a 5-0 waxing of the Anaheim Ducks.

While the Oilers are off to a much better start than anybody anticipated despite the setback in Boston, leaving them at 2-2 on this road trip, they have just one win to show for their last six visits to Detroit, a stretch in which they’ve been outscored 26-14 by the Red Wings. The Oilers are 20-30-3-3 in Detroit overall. Tough crowd.

CHANGES

As everybody expected, coach Tom Renney will tweak the line-up he skated in Boston against the Red Wings. The changes won’t, however, result in as much shuffling of the forward lines as we discussed here in a previous item.

— Up front, Ben Eager comes out and Magnus Paajarvi draws back in from the press box after being a healthy scratch. Paajarvi is expected to start the game on the fourth line.

— On the back end, Andy Sutton returns to the mix from a five-game suspension for Cam Barker, who suffered an ankle injury against the Bruins. Barker has returned to Edmonton to be examined.

— In goal, Nikolai Khabibulin, who boasts a 7-0-2 record with a 0.98 GAA and .964 saves percentage, makes his 10th appearance.

PROJECTED LINE-UP

HALL-NUGENT-HOPKINS-EBERLE

SMYTH-HORCOFF-HEMSKY

JONES-BELANGER-GAGNER

PAAJARVI-LANDER-PETRELL

SMID-GILBERT

SUTTON-POTTER

PECKHAM-PETRY

KHABIBULIN

DUBNYK

OF NOTE . . .

The Oilers might catch a break as Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg has a "middle-body" injury and will be a game-time decision after leaving the morning skate early . . . Johan Franzen has been hot for the Red Wings with six points (4-2-6) in his last two games . . . Ryan Smyth scored two goals in the loss to the Bruins and has eight points in his last five games (6-2-8) . . . Khabibulin career record against Detroit is 16-24-6.

LEST WE FORGET

Take a moment today in your own way to recognize the men and women who have given their lives serving our country in the military. There is no greater sacrifice.

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Red Wings continue to roll and make it three wins in a row with a 3-2 decision, sending the Oilers to Chicago needing a win to finish .500 on the road trip.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Kid Line of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle gets another lesson in guile, gamesmanship and experience from 41-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom and the rest of the Detroit defence. Lidstrom, who made his NHL debut with the Red Wings in 1991, two months before Hall was born, is off to another ridiculous start. He has scored 6-5-11 in 13 games.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The pre-game meal at The Joe is disrupted by a shouting match between Edmonton Sun beat writer Rob Tychkowski and Fox TV colour analyst Mickey Redmond. Redmond, still upset by disparaging remarks Tychkowski made about the city of Detroit in a game preview piece last season, tries to score brownie points with management by calling Tychkowski a hack.

Tychkowski fires back by suggesting Redmond’s two 50-goal seasons were a fluke and mocks Mickey’s hair transplant by placing a slice of Little Caesar’s pepperoni pizza on his head in the food line-up. Order is restored when Oiler radio man Bob Stauffer steps between the two and silences a crowd that is egging the pair on to fight by telling the story about the summer he worked as a tree-planter for the 974th time.

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

  • Crash

    A parade to the penalty box the last games has cost us dearly. Some of the calls last night were head scatchers. Regardless a win in Chicago will bring us to 3-3 on this roadtrip and would suffice to calm the nerves of most fans. It won’t be easy but I see Eberle Hall and RNH having a good game against a team that plays a similar style as the Oilers. Should be fun. Think of it this way.3 years from now the Oilers will no longer have to do these insane 6 game road trips when they have thier own building.

  • Mitch

    Renney has to get into Hall and Eberle’s kitchen so to speak because these guys are not at this momment pulling thier weight.

    Hall spends half the game trying to drive the puck wide only to be lit up hard on the boards or he is continually picking himself off the ice because he’s not strong enough on his skates. Instead of driving the play a 100mph he must slow the game down and go into the scoring area which is infront of the net and use his lighting quick release. A good summer with Gary Roberts is what he really needs.

    Eberle just needs to move his feet, if his feet don’t move he’s just another version of Sam Gagner with a little better finish. Gagner has done nothing to deserve anything but the pressbox.

    If I was the coaching staff I would rip into this team. There is enough veterans in the locker room. I say this because there not sticking to the simple game plan support the puck in all 3 zones. This has nothing to do with rookies and sophmores or experience.

    If you play and act like a 1st place team thats where you end up.

    The last couple games well, the look like the Columbus Blue Jackets with a little better goaltending.

    The bar must be set high.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Eberle has disappeared in my opinion the last 5 games (he only has one point, is -3 and is averaging a little over a shot a game). Hall is the opposite. Whenever he’s on the ice he looks like a one-man mission. He ignores his linemates and seems determined to force the issue… and predictably it isn’t working for him. Eberle needs to step up and Hall needs to calm down and rely on systems-play more.

      On this road trip we have definitely played like one would have expected at the beginning of the year. Solid, cohesive teams like Det. expose our youth, inexperience etc. That said, there have still been moments of pure wonder where we have seen where this team can be in 2-3 years.

  • Chris.

    I just think Hemsky needs top six minutes (Top six defined: forwards the coach leans on to play over 20 minutes a night)… Btw: I am comfortable placing a number on a line the same way many are comfortable placing a label on a line. (ie. Shutdown line, energy line, etc.) Same difference IMO.

    The top six barring injury are: RNH, Hall, Eberle, Horcoff, Smyth, and Hemsky. All six of those players are playing better than, and are more deserving of big minutes than Omark, Gagner, MPS, Jones, and whoever else you guys are lighting candles for.

    This team is turning a corner: it is now the players responsibility to get himself going for the coach, and NOT the coaches responsibility to get the player going for the team. This is a good thing. Besides I don’t remember Gagner and Hemsky ever having any kind of chemistry in the past.

  • Chris.

    I’ll go one step further and say that if I were Renny the next guy in the pressbox would be Sam Gagner. Every other player has been bringing something to the table: 3 of the four lines have been functioning well. Players on the troubled 3rd line (~So sorry for the label that has been used by analysts and pundits for 100 years~) include Belanger who has been stellar in the dot and effective on the PK; MPS who has at least been skating well on the backcheck and has been drawing some penalties with his speed; and the hard working Jones who brings a net presence and has unfortunately looked more dangerous offensively (than young Sam)… Gagner has done absolutely nothing. He’s 22… A brief stint in the press box won’t ruin his career. What I wouldn’t do, is preach accountability and then reward ineffective play with more minutes and better linemates.

    • Crash

      I would suggest that anyone that has been or is playing on the Belanger line has done absolutely nothing, well except for the faceoffs that Belanger has won…

      No one on that line is producing or contributing much offensively….and the one constant since the beginning of the season on that line is Belanger…so far his linemates (Omark, has been sent to AHL), (Paajarvi, sent to the pressbox) and now you suggest another one of Belangers linemates, (Gagner should be sent to the pressbox). Maybe the problem isn’t with the linemates, maybe it’s more the guy in the middle.

      The Lander line is also doing nothing…granted they are the so called 4th line as per minutes but they aren’t producing any offense…plus how is lander doing on the dot?…he’s horrid, yet no one mentions it…plus he only has 1 point, same with Petrell…I think Lander could benefit from some top six minutes in the AHL…

      It looks like the only guy on the entire team that might be able to do anything on the Belanger line is Ryan Smyth…Gagner has been producing chances and last night had quite a few decent chances and shots either on or toward Howard….he also set up Ryan Smyth all alone on the door step last night…he was also picked as the 4th star and hardest working player last night by Rob Brown on the radio broadcast….so don’t tell me he has done absolutely nothing.

      I’m less concerned with picking someone to sit out and more concerned about what needs to be put together to produce more offense because this team is not getting it done offensively. It needs more balance….there are two lines not contributing at all offensively….and it’s starting to filter down to the Kid Line…RNH, Hall and Eberle’s last 7 games haven’t produced much…should we pressbox them too? They can be shutdown because the Oilers don’t have another scoring line that anyone has to worry about. Gagner needs to be in the middle and he needs some linemates with some finish.

      As far as top six minutes…Hemsky doesn’t need to be on the Horcoff line in order to receive top six minutes…meaning that just because you play on that line doesn’t necessarily mean you are a top six guy, as you suggested.

      • Chris.

        Belanger has been a key contributer on special teams. Gagner has not been. Lander may well see some AHL minutes when Hordichuk comes off the IR. If this happens Sam will find himself back at center playing with Paajarvi. It’s wait and see time. My best guess: unless there are injuries, or Gagner suddenly turns a corner, Sam will not be centering a line that plays more than 12-14 minutes a night. IMO, playing Hemsky less than 16 minutes a night does not make sense to me. Whether or not you agree: Renny just isn’t going to play Gagner more than Horcoff. (And he probably shouldn’t)

          • Chris.

            And just so you know, Hemsky just got back from injury.(I can be a smartass too)

            But on the off chance this trend continues will you be happy about it? Aren’t you the one who was complaining about the lack of scoring?

            Edit: also Horcoff and Smyth kill penalties. Hemsky hasn’t been this year.

          • Crash

            You started this whole thing off by being a smartass with this statement…

            “(Don’t try and tell me that a Horcoff-Smyth-Player X line are not in the top six)”

          • Chris.

            Can you take down the vitriol just a notch Crash?

            Can you concede a minor difference of opinion about how the lines should be assembled isn’t worth all this bad blood Crash?

            I use terms like top six because the whole hockey world uses them. It is a quick and easy way to communicate. I’m sorry this is so offensive to you. Why not lobby McKenzie, Stauffer, Hrudey, and everyone else to register your displeasure with the term “top six”?

            Yes Crash… the Oilers need to score more. I think over time they will. (And you think I’m the pessimist) Paajarvi will rebound, and so will Belanger and Gagner. Eager might even pot six or seven. The Hall-Eberle-RNH combo scores well at home and will improve on the road as the year progresses.

            Sorry Crash: most people on planet earth believe that Horcoff is a ‘top six” forward. He plays on a line that is scoring. He leads all Oiler forwards in TOI. He is on the first unit powerplay and kills penalties. If you don’t feel that makes him a top six forward it is probably better we don’t even continue this debate. If you feel Horcoff is being misused: take it up with Renny.

            Sam Gagner had his best offensive season as a rookie playing on the wing. Right now, Renny needs Sam to be a scoring winger/depth offensive center (It’s nice to know Sam can slide over to the middle in the event of injury). This is the role Sam is being asked to play and he is failing to deliver. This is not an unreasonable role. Players with worse skill sets than Sam deliver in this role for their teams. Sam himself has played this role successfully in the past. Belanger also needs to regain his form. It’s curious you advocate a demotion for one player who struggles but think another player automatically should be given better linemates and a more prominate role.

            Gagner, Belanger, and Paajarvi all need to deliver more offensively. Renny can distibute these three players throught the other lines in hopes of sparking something… and maybe he will… but maintaining the status quo and letting these players play themselves back into form is also a legit option.

            Finally, No. I don’t like your proposed Gagner-MPS-Hemsky scoring line. The fact that they are not playing together is not a “head scratcher” it is a coaching decision. That trio looked absolutely terrible together last year the two or three games that Renny tried it. Nobody could regain possession of the puck.

          • Crash

            The vitriol was created by the condescending method you chose to join into the discussion.

            >

            So you’re idea for creating more offense was to leave things the way they are and just tell Belanger he needs to create more offense? And what about RNH in the FO circle?

            I’ve actually noticed that you’ve been far less pessimistic….and far less doom and gloom this year….every one of your GDP’s I believe has had the Oilers winning….

          • Chris.

            They won twice in Chicago last year… a .500 road trip sounds pretty solid to me. Tomorrow I will predict a glorious return to the win column complete with secondary scoring. Book it.

          • Crash

            I guess in the grand scheme of things…if they come back from this 6 game road trip at .500 it could probably be deemed a success…

            If you’re calling it (a win that is), I hope you’re right…and I do hope you’re right that the offense is going to turn it around…and soon.

          • Crash

            Is this a sign you’re starting to get it? No I wouldn’t be happy with Hemsky having reduced minutes….and I’m not happy that Horcoff gets as many minutes as he does….

            This team continues to struggle offensively and has for years now but yet they continue to do the same things with the same old personnel…

            Horcoff leads all forwards in ice time, plays on the 1st unit PP, PK and mega 5 on 5 time yet he is on pace for a 41 pt season…while Smyth with similar ice time is leading the team in scoring….

            So if Hemsky is not PKing, why not double shift him on PP’s instead of using Horcoff…and if Hemsky was on a line with Sam and Paajarvi the coach would be able to give that line more minutes…

            This isn’t rocket surgery

            So what is your idea to create more offense? Keep doing the same things they’re doing?

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            Not trying to horn in on this amazing clusterf#$k…

            just a point of order.

            Hemsky is only averaging less than 15 minutes per game if you include his second game in which he left after 7 shifts and 5:28mins due to injury. not fair to include in your stats. average of full games played is 16.47mins. (small sample size warning – only 4 games)

            that’s all… carry on

      • Agreed whole heartedly. Nicely said Crash.

        Belanger does not fit with talented and creative young players like Sam and PRV. Just doesn’t. While I’d agree Sam has been having some difficulties, from what I’ve seen he’s been dishing out opportunities and creating scoring chances more and more frequently. I can’t imagine the level of his frustration right about now.

        I was listening to the Team 1260 yesterday and one of the guests made a great point. In the past Sam was given decent minutes with above-average NHL’ers to work with and he played at his natural position (center). This year, those minutes and linemates are being doled out to other developing players and he’s now a wing. As a result Sam has been somewhat lost in the process and his production has been stalled. I’m pretty sure Renney knows this, which is why you probably won’t see him PB’d.

        Belanger is not a playmaking center, nor can he finish worth a crap. Sam can neither work with him nor trust he’ll convert anything he puts on his stick. Jones is an opportunist, but certainly not anywhere in the league of player Sam needs to generate steady offense.

        Sam needs to be a center. And he needs to work with guys who can develop plays with him and convert. They weren’t a great trio last year, but I’d bet some decent cash PRV/Gagner/Omark would give us a cracking third line. Failing that, subbing in Hemsky for Omark would work too and leave Jones with the old boys to check the h3ll out of the opposition.

        • Chris.

          Your contention is that Sam needs to play at center in a scoring role. (Hope I’m not misunderstanding)

          Two problems: 1) There simply are better options at center this year. Five minutes into his career RNH was already a better overall player than Sam Gagner… and Sam just isn’t good enough/strong enough to play on a power vs power line like Horcoff. He just isn’t. Sam playing the toughs = another lottery pick. 2) Gagner isn’t scoring. This isn’t a chicken and egg thing either: Sam needs to put up points on the powerplay if he is to give the coach reason to play him in a more offensive role 5 on 5. This isn’t rocket surgery. If Gagner can’t score playing with Hemsky on the PP what makes you think he’ll do better playing with Hemsky 5 on 5. (Don’t even get me started on faceoffs and puck possession)

          Everyone said going in that this was going to be an important year for Gagner… So far it has been a big disappointment.

          • Crash

            I see you’re having a tough time trying to grasp what we’re saying and you’re also having a tough time getting the fact that the Oilers aren’t producing offense with all of these better options you speak of.

            You make remarks such as “don’t get me started on faceoffs” and yet you give RNH and Lander a pass on that stat even though their FO’s are much worse than Sam’s ever were….

            Hemsky and Sam have played what? 3 games now together on the same PP unit? And it’s the 2nd unit no less…Smyth has some PP points in which I know Gagner has been on the ice for…..maybe he didn’t get one of the assists but I’ve seen him create opportunities like David S mentioned….as I said before he set Smyth up right on the doorstep yesterday but Symth didn’t convert that one.

            You’re right….this isn’t rocket surgery….This team NEEDS another scoring line….that’s what Gagner’s game is…offense…he needs to be in the middle and he needs other offensively talented players to play with….Belanger is not going to provide the Oilers with another scoring line.

            How do you not get this? What is it you don’t understand about the Oilers not being able to score as it stands the way things are now. Belanger can move down to the 4th line and still be a key contributor on special teams as long as you’re referring to the PK.

            Sam hasn’t taken a ton of FO’s this year but he’s currently sitting at 60% on the ones he has…why is it you write him off at age 22?….RNH is sitting at 32% yet you have the blinders on with him….the kids are also not producing on the road because the other team is shutting them down….how is it you can’t see this? In fact a case could possibly be made to move Sam up there with Hall and Eberle and move RNH onto a line with Paajarvi and Hemsky…

            So what you’re saying is you like the pace the Oilers are setting in the offensive end of things and you see no reason to change things at all other than remove Sam from the lineup? That’s your idea of how to create more offense?

          • Not sure if you’ve noticed, but Hemsky has been pretty much useless on the PP for some time now. Why I don’t know exactly, but perimeter muffin shots and continually losing the puck 5 feet inside the opponent’s blue-line might have something to do with it.

            We’ve seen the last few games that Horcoff’s line has been charged with going against the other team’s top guys. The kid line can’t do it because they’ve been stifled without favorable line matches, and, well, they’re kids. So you have an ineffective Kid line and the Horcoff line has to neutralize the major scoring threats. That they’ve been able to generate offense while doing so is a credit to their talent and experience.

            Problem is, secondary scoring has been an issue. Actually, it IS the issue. Playing Sam in his natural position and giving him skilled, offensively minded linemates would help us immensely because other teams would have to spread out their defending players.

            Right now we’re easy to defend against on the road. There were 16 scouts at our last home game. I bet they were all drawing up the same plan because the recent losses were all a result of the same playbook.

            What we’re seeing is other teams making adjustments to counter our offensive system. They’ve identified a weakness that we need to address or we’re in big trouble going forward.

          • Chris.

            I agree that Hemsky is another player that needs to get his offensive game going. I just don’t think playing him with Gagner (another player who is struggling) will do the trick.

            On a side note, the fans this year are treating Belanger in much the same manner they treated Peca. He’ll turn it around. It’s hard adjusting to a new team and a new city: at least Belanger is committed to this rebuild and hasn’t been a liability defensively.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Solid goaltending is a big part of your hockey club, lousy goaltending is your whole team. Renney dropped the ball starting Dubnyk against the Bruins. We’ll never know what a Nikolai Khabibulin at the top of his game would’ve done in Boston now, me thinks the Oilers would’ve thrown a blanket on them and come away with a 3-1 win. Instead, they start their backup who couldn’t stop a beachball.

    Yesterdays performance was just a sign of a club losing their confidence. It’s a different game when your goaltender can’t be counted on to make a save when needed. If Dubnyk gets the start against the Blackhawks, watch him get torched for another 6 or 7 goals.

  • Moving Belanger to the 4th line isn’t a demotion, it’s a re-deployment of assets. You’re putting lines together with complimentary talents for maximum gain given opposing strategy shifts. Something has to change.

    Bottom line is, Belanger does not work with young, offensively minded players. Just doesn’t. So where do you put him, assuming his FO skills are a desirable commodity?

    • Chris.

      We are going in circles. By your logic moving Gagner to the fourth line is not a demotion, it’s a re-deployment of assets. *wink*

      Seriously though, I just don’t like the proposed Gagner Hemsky combo. They both turn over the puck a lot, and they both aren’t that great at recovering it. Creative players turn over the puck (I get it)… but too much of the same on one line is as likely to be counterproductive as compliamentary. Given that as an option: I prefer the existing lines and hope that scoring improves. Detroit’s scoring came back after a slow start without massive linup shuffling. Besides, Belanger has played only 16 games as an Oiler… it’s a little early to burry him on the fourth line.

      There will be changes I’m sure… we can evaluate them as it happens. Should be fun.

  • Chris.

    After watching the Oilers v Red Wings game last night, we are being muscled off the puck, nuetral zone give aways and zero third or fourth line scoring or energy. Christmas is over people, we have too many of the same players in our bottom lines and we are destined for another top ten pick this year. When you see Belanger on our power play, we are in trouble.

  • Chris.

    hey does any one know of a good clear picture and sound free live stream for Oil games? stuck in camp without a good selection of chanels to choose from!!thanks in advance.