SIX GAMES AWAY: A DOSE OF REALITY

Flying high and feeling pretty good about themselves when they left town six games and a dozen days ago, the Edmonton Oilers have lost a little altitude and swagger since we last saw them.

If nothing else, a six-game swing provided the Oilers with a little more context than they had. They weren’t as good the 7-2-2 record they had when they started the road trip and they certainly aren’t as bad as they looked in a 6-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center that saw them wrap up their annual November jaunt with a 2-4-0 mark.

Losers of three straight games and four of their last five, the Oilers return home at 9-6-2 — nothing to sneeze at compared to a 4-10-3 start after 17 games in 2010-11 — and with, I’m guessing, a clearer understanding that there’s a long way to go to get where they want to be after they wilted in the Windy City.

If losses in Phoenix, Boston, Detroit and Chicago have served to make it abundantly clear the Oilers aren’t ready to romp to the top of the Western Conference, as it seemed many fans thought they were, they’ll come out of the trip a better team, as a group, if not in the standings.

You did see this coming, right?

ALONG THE WAY

The kids struggled as we thought they might, and is to be expected along the way. Nikolai Khabibulin, who left town with a gaudy saves percentage in the .960s, was merely mortal. The power play cooled off. The team continued to struggle to mount a consistent attack. The defence looked like we thought it would to start the season.

— Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went 2-1-3 on the trip. Jordan Eberle had a goal and an assist in Chicago, leaving him at 1-2-3, and Taylor Hall, struggling mightily, finished with 0-2-2 in six games.

— Coach Tom Renney broke up the Kid Line to start the game in Chicago, playing Hall and Nugent-Hopkins with Ales Hemsky and putting Eberle on the right side with Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff.

— Hall has gone eight games without a goal and Sam Gagner, who played between Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Jones, didn’t get sniff on the road and has gone 11 games without lighting the lamp.

— Edmonton’s power play cooled off in a big way. The Oilers finished up the trip going 2-for-19 with the man advantage.

— The Oilers allowed 20 goals on the trip, two more than they gave up in their first 11 games. They were outscored 20-14.

— The Oilers were outshot in 13 of 18 periods. In 12 of those periods, they didn’t manage to hit double-digits in shots.

LESSONS LEARNED?

There was good news, of course. While Khabibulin levelled off a little, Smyth continued to astound with his early season play. Smyth led the Oilers with 5-2-7 on the trip.

The other potential positive is that Renney’s shuffling of the lines might balance the attack. Gagner is back in the middle where he belongs and Jones is on the third line. Paajarvi still can’t get anything done with the puck, but I like his chances better with Gagner and Jones.

The bigger picture is the big slab of humble pie the Oilers have to digest between now and when they host Ottawa Thursday will serve them well, if it prompts them to re-focus and get back to work. Renney didn’t like the effort he got Sunday, especially late when the Blackhawks took it to his team good and plenty.

The Oilers still have a tough slate the rest of the month with four of their next six games on the road, but with games against the Senators and Chicago at Rexall Place, they’ll get a chance to re-assess and right themselves. They’d best take advantage of it.

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

  • Chris.

    Think back to the first 20 games of the Quinn season. Penner was absolutely killing it down low: putting up numbers, making plays in close, cycling the puck, and taking a lot of importants faceoffs… Consequently there was a growing buzz about the possibility of playing Penner at center. When asked, Quinn commented that that was an “interesting idea” but politely suggested Penner’s skating wasn’t where it needed to be for that to be a long term fit. Penner had the size, hands, defensive awareness, and for that breif stint he seemed to have the necessary level of commitment… (Heck there was even talk Penner might be considered for Team Canada at the Olympics); the Oilers were desperately thin down the middle; but in the NHL, at center, it always comes down to skating. I just don’t think Gagner moves well enough to play center particularly in the post lock-out NHL, and certainly not in a top offensive role. It’s my belief that the organization was hoping Sam’s skating would improve over time (and it has somewhat) but he is still not where he needs to be. (Poor Sam really does have lead feet for a smaller player).

    It’s not all bad though; when Gagner is on top of his game he moves the puck really well and can use his intelligence to usually arrive where he needs to be. I don’t think that puck distributers (ie Hemsky) necessarily need to play up the middle to be effective, and I don’t see Sam as a “natural center” at this level. He’s kind of a hard guy to figure out.

  • Good point, but Hemsky is a puck carrier and for all that is good about Gagner, he is not generally the primary puck carrier on his line.

    If they really couldnt play well together then I’d put Hemsky with Nuge and Hall, and Eberle would become the go to guy on a Gagner Paajarvi line.

    • Chris.

      Renny can shuffle lines every single game, and every other shift without positive effect. (As the saying goes: it’s like rearranging chairs on the Titanic). You, me, the media, and all our fellow ON commenters can spend the rest of the season debating proposed lines; but the simple fact is there are just too many players who aren’t playing well regardless of their role or who they are playing with. Belanger needs to be better. Gagner needs to be better. Omark wasn’t great before he was demoted. Eager has been iffy. MPS is struggling. Hemsky hasn’t been Hemskyish enough… The lines will function better when these guys play better. Good players produce no matter who they play with. The coach can then tweak things to maximize performance… There are just too many slumping forwards to hide right now.

      The good news is the team still has a winning record, we have a great looking top six, and many of the guys I mentioned will round back into form. The players that have exceeded expectations have done a nice job of carrying those who’ve struggled. Let’s hope they don’t struggle for too much longer.

      • Yeah, but it’s not as fun to say “just play better” as it is to figure out new and exciting ways to arrange the chairs on the Titanic.

        There’s a list of at least 6 guys who need to play better from the forward group alone (starting with Taylor Hall). Offense is dead after RNH and Smyth.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          Ya, I’d agree. The only forwards with passing grades this last trip would be Smyth (10/10) Horc (7/10) RNH (6/10)

          the rest have been sup par.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            I look at it two different ways. Sure he gets slack for being a rookie on one hand… and as a rookie he’s probably a 9 or 10 out of 10.

            But on the other hand, he’s a roster player playing big minutes in shelterd/PP situations… I’m looking for wins, not coddling…. so he should be judged accordingly in that light as well, to the exact same standards as the vets.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            Agreed. although, I would bump RNH up to 7 (rookie discount or not). I would also give Hemsky a modest 6/10… 3 points and even in 4 games is pretty decent coming off that injury. and those points we’re largely off the back of his play making.

            how about the d? Smid and Glibert slipped to about a 6.5-7 for me… the younger guys really struggled. Peckham has been terrible. Barker got off some nice shots on the PP but has continued to be middling to unimpressive

        • Chris.

          Props. Sorry I’m so poopy pantsy today. You can shuffle the 6 struggling guys any way you want… Just be grateful your name isn’t Renny. 6 struggling players = either 2 struggling lines or 4 struggling lines. Not sure what any coach can do about that. Time for these guys to step it up.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        I definitely hear what you are saying. Players need to step up no matter what the circumstances are. But coaches have jobs too and that job includes creating cohesive, productive lines to maximize the potential of your talent; recognizing situations in which lines and players have a better chance to be productive, etc.

        responsibility lies somewhere in the middle, probably heavier on the players side… abstracted out the players are raw potential and each player needs to try to maximize that potential in every given situation… but a coach has to be held accountable when the raw potential over which he lords fails to meet expectations… it’s his job to put players on a path to success.

        so… yea… players: be better… and a little line juggling speculation isn’t just fun; for Renney anyway it is an essential part of the job.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Hate to see a self induced slump like this. There would have been a totally different outcome to this trip had Renney started Khabibulin against the Bruins.

    A confident club with the worlds hottest goaltender going up against the struggling Stanley Cup Champions. Not sure where Renney’s head was thinking he could start his confirmed backup goaltender against the Bruins. With a lock/sure win over the Bruins with 35 in goal, a more confident group going into Detroit and Chicago, the club would’ve fared much better. I blame Renney for this 3 gm losing streak, yeah, thats it Renney.

    Oh look, it’s happy hour.

  • Chris.

    Oilers had a favorable schedule early to work on special things . It showed in early results but road trip has allowed other clubs to catch up . Now we find where we are likely to fit in over next ten games .

  • Chris.

    Horcoff isn’t the best player in the league. Nobody is saying he doesn’t make mistakes. It’s funny though he seems to be held to a higher standard sometimes.

    It’s pretty hard to reasonably argue against his play given the zonestarts and the fact his wingers are getting points and leading the offense despite the worst circumstances on the team. I think it’s fair to say his line has been our best overall.

    All of the other forwards benefit by getting easier ice time. If they can’t handle that it’s certainly not on Horcoff.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I guess I’m just not seeing it with Horcoff. Again, I have nothing personal against the guy and I think he could be a very effective 3rd line NHL center. He will get you 15-20 goals, about 40-45 points, can win faceoffs (although he is slightly below 50% for the season but I think it might be due to fatigue), and is decent at killing penalties.

    However, we have seen this before where Horcoff gets the most minutes and starts to wear down. He has been on the ice for over half of our goals against (21 so far). And I know he gets the “tough minutes” but I don’t think that was the case as much on the road.

    Just had to make a comment to counter the Horcoff “man-crushes” I see on here.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Well I think this whole conversation is really screwed up (i haven’t helped) largely because justwondering wrote that hugely overreaching comment. classic troll move.

      I’m not seeing anyone come close to his position (you are the closest so far and you are still miles away)… it just sucks to have the terms of our conversation set by such a ridiculous argument.

    • And I know he gets the “tough minutes” but I don’t think that was the case as much on the road.

      Here is the top 3 forwards and 2 Dmen Horcoff faced (in terms of TOI against) for the last 3 games:

      CHI:

      Stalberg 10.0 min

      Toews 9.8 min

      Hossa 9.6 min

      Keith 8.7 min

      Leddy 6.1

      DET:

      Fippula 8.5 min

      Zetterburg 8.0 min

      Franzen 7.5 min

      White 9.3 min

      Lidstrom 8.9 min

      BOS: (mentioning top 6 as they were all close)

      Lucic 6.3 min

      Seguin 6.5 min

      Krejci 6.5 min

      Bergeron 6.4 min

      Marchand 6.6 min

      Horton 5.7 min

      Boychuk 12.6 min

      Chara 10.6 min

      Perhaps you should watch the games.

      • Well, I’ll try and ignore your condescending attitude and use your numbers to make a useful argument.

        With the exception of Stalberg, Horcoff was on the ice for less than half the minutes of Toews, Hossa’s, Keith’s, and Leddy’s icetimes. So more than half of Horcoff’s icetime was against easier competition. Of particular note is Keith, who played 8.7 minutes against Horcoff and around 18 minutes against one of our other lines.

        If you take the total icetime of the top D-man on each team (Leddy, Chara, and Lidstrom in terms of minutes in those games), they played a total of 79.5 minutes. Horcoff played against them a total of 25.6 minutes…which means the top D-men from our opposition played over two-thirds of the game against players not named Horcoff.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          I bet when you add in names like Sharp, Kane and Zetterburg you’ll find that Horc was playing 75%+ of his time against the stars and quasi stars of the league.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            I would agree since a team’s top two lines play about two-thirds of the game. Of course the player with the most icetime on our team will play a significant portion of the game against the opposition’s players that have the most icetime.

            I would be interested to know how much icetime Leddy (who led the Hawks in icetime) played against the RNH line last night as a comparison.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            My argument is that on average, any line will have about 75% of his icetime against one of top two defensive pairings since they play about 75% of their team’s total minutes. So saying Horcoff has about 75% of his minutes against tough competition is about average for any player on the team. I know 75% looks like a big number (and I have no idea if that is actually the number for Horcoff), it really wouldn’t be in comparison with other players.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Well we are more conerned about what forward lines he is playing against then what defenders… ie you are alot more worried about “shutting down” Toews and Datsyuk then you are shutting down Seabrook and Chara.

            Anyways, I don’t know where to find it… but I bet you are WAY off. With Horc playing far more minutes against other teams best players then the other lines.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Ya…I don’t know where to find the numbers either. But take a look at the Boston numbers because those are the only numbers we have for the top two lines from any of the games.

            Seguin and Bergeron played a total of 12.9 minutes against Horcoff (or 62.3% or his total icetime). Seguin and Bergeron played a total of 38.3 minutes of the game (or 63.8% of their team’s total minutes).

            So on average, any Oiler forward would have played about 63.8% of their icetime against either Seguin or Bergeron. Horcoff only played 62.3% of his minutes against those two, so about average.

            So on this particular night, his minutes were no tougher than the average forward on the Oilers.

        • So more than half of Horcoff’s icetime was against easier competition. Of particular note is Keith, who played 8.7 minutes against Horcoff and around 18 minutes against one of our other lines.

          No.

          As you can see from the links, here is Keith’s TOI 5v5:

          N. KHABIBULIN 18.4

          J. EBERLE 9.5

          R. SMYTH 8.9

          S. HORCOFF 8.7

          T. PECKHAM 7.9

          C. POTTER 7.7

          J. PETRY 6.2

          R. NUGENT-HOPKINS 5.3

          T. HALL 5.3

          T. GILBERT 5.2

          A. SUTTON 5.1

          A. HEMSKY 4.6

          L. SMID 4.4

          S. GAGNER 2.7

          L. PETRELL 2.5

          E. BELANGER 2.5

          B. EAGER 2.3

          R. JONES 2.3

          M. PAAJARVI 2

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        And I know he gets the “tough minutes” but I don’t think that was the case as much on the road.

        Clarko can speak for himself, but I’m guessing the point he was making here was that Renney couldn’t line match on the road as much as he would have liked and therefore couldn’t use Horcoff against the top-tier talent as much…

        but then I’m confused because Clarko makes an altogether different argument, which to me doesn’t make much sense.

        the question isn’t does Horcoff play more against certain players/lines than the rest of the team as a whole, i.e. 51%+ of the time, but does he play significantly more than the rest of the team individually. ie. (random abstract numbers/not real stats) if he plays the best players 30% of the time but everyone else does only 15% or less he still plays the majority of the time against the best players.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          Sorry if I’m being confusing.

          I’ll use the example of Leddy who, again, played the most minutes for the Hawks last night. Horcoff played a total of 19.3 minutes last night and 6.1 of those were against Leddy (about 32% of Horcoff’s icetime).

          Now Leddy played a total of 27.3 minutes last night. So he was on the ice for 21.2 minutes that Horcoff wasn’t on for. Horcoff wasn’t on the ice for about 40.7 minutes last night.

          So Leddy played 52% of the time against all the other Oilers forwards on average and only 32% of the time against Horcoff.

          Clear as mud??

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            Ok… I was way off then…

            If i’m Chicago/boston/detroit/whoever i’m putting my stars against the kids every chance I get. they are creative, but create a lot of turnovers too and can be muscled easier. it’s a mismatch. I thought you meant because we were on the road, opposing teams were exploiting last change to take advantage of our kids.

            but… this other argument. just ask yourself (aside from Horc’s linemates) did anyone play against Leddy more than Horc? I think the answer to that question will tell you who is playing the most against who.

            also… are we talking 5×5 mins? surely special teams are there own beast, with their own matchups…

            But look… how relevant is this? if i’m right, then Horc’s numbers against top talent have decreased marginally so opposition can take advantage of mismatches (precisely because they would rather play against anyone but Horc and his line, because he is good).

            That said, he is still playing the tough mins. defensive starts, tough opposition. etc.

            That also said… let’s look at his play. Just look at FO on the trip. it has dropped significantly since the stellar beginning he had to the season:

            last five games: 44.4%; 35.3; 36.8; 47.4; 33.3

            just so we’re not picking on him how about our other regular Cs?

            Belanger has been pretty steady by comparison: 71.4%; 66.7; 62.5; 33.3; 53.3

            RNH has been all over the place: 37.5%; 60; 44.4; 20; 69.2

            Lander has been steady, but that means terrible, except for one great game: 28.6%; 20; 20; 80; HS

            anyway… Horcoff still playing tough opposition. But he was earlier in the season too… so that alone can’t account for his drop off in play (if we agree it has dropped off)

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            I’m not sure about special teams. Obviously Horcoff plays in all circumstances but I can’t be too sure about other players from other teams.

            I’ll admit that I don’t have all the stats, but I think my numbers from post 87 are pretty accurate.

          • You”re right, it was a bit of a dick comment. Not called for.

            I’m stuck in traffic right now, but I’ll post a link to the TOI site that I got my info from.

            You can punch in any NHL game number and get the info.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    What happened to the “team” toughness… Throw a bodycheck if your not going to score.. that goes for the kids aswell.. Hall no goals in 8 games… How about finish a check… We habe plaenty of guy that can do this…… no bite again… frustrating to watch..

    OILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Young team, long road trip. Last 3 games were particularly tough. Tail end of a long road trip, 3 games in 4 nights on the road, time zone changes, against 3 Stanley Cup contenders. Knew it would be tough to get points out of the last 3 games. I am more interested in seeing how these kids pick themselves up off the floor.

  • A-Mc

    The only lesson the Oilers need to learn is starring them in the face!

    Ryan Smyth…….puts harmless looking shots to the net and then goes for the rebound. It’s the ugly goals that win in today’s NHL. There is no time or space to execute pretty plays in the game today.

    Once you start scoring the ugly goals the pretty ones start to come.

  • A-Mc

    This last game was too jostled up for me. Too many changes (even if only a few) too soon for me.

    I didn’t think the kids were playing poorly enough to warrant moving them apart. I don’t understand the Hemsky move up there and I Don’t remember thinking that it was an overly effective move while watching the game.

    I was a little shocked that Lander sat out. There are other options that, IMO, would be far more deserving of a view from the press box.

    ps: not sure what to do about Prv. he gets chances, he’s taking shots, but he’s just not getting them in the net. I feel bad for the guy.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      ps: not sure what to do about Prv. he gets chances, he’s taking shots, but he’s just not getting them in the net. I feel bad for the guy.

      not sure that he is taking shots… not enough anyway… only 6 in his last five games and 0 in his last two (ie. the two games after being benched for two – hardly the way to impress after a public shaming)

      I think that kid needs some time in the A. I gather he has to clear waivers (after playing 95 NHL games??) but… he needs to brew a bit more imo

  • Quicksilver ballet

    it is clear that you can’t play the kid line on the road. maybe you can toss them together on the pp, but that is it. the best bet would be to protect hopkins with veterans on his wings instead of 100% offensive starts. Definitely Smyth, and RW is either Hemsky or Jones. Could be too many giveaways no matter which choice but maybe Jones can carry his weight on the Ryan line?
    Give Gagner a chance with top flight linemates to see if he will ever be anything near his draft position. Hall-Gagner-Hemsky.
    Let Horcoff carry Paajarvi/Eberle.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Might be a dumb question but can the Oilers send Paajarvi down? I assume they can but I was under the impression a team can send a guy down and call him up without putting the player on waiver if he is on his ELC? But then if Omark played 65 games he would have had to clear waivers?

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    As much as I want to see the kids bounce back, I even more want the coaching staff to bounce back and adjust. It’s not just the loss of line matching on the road, either.

    The system was shredded the last 3 games, yet if there is one thing that Renney can be counted on this season it’s his unwavering belief in the system, and giving playing time to certain players who work in the system despite a bad game, period or shift.

  • Vic Ferarri has done awesome things with the information that the NHL publishes from the game sheets.

    Head to Head TOI is just one thing he has done.

    Really cool stuff there.

    Here is the link to the CHI game:

    http://timeonice.com/H2H1112.html?GameNumber=20241&submit=Go

    DET:

    http://timeonice.com/H2H1112.html?GameNumber=20226&submit=Go

    BOS:

    http://timeonice.com/H2H1112.html?GameNumber=20214&submit=Go

    If you look at the url’s you will see all that all that changes is the game number (20241, 20226, 20214)

    You can get the NHL game number when you check the boxscore on the NHL website.

    For instance the CHI game url at the NHL website is:

    http://www.nhl.com/ice/boxscore.htm?id=2011020241

    You see the last 5 numbers are the NHL game number.

    Have fun with it.

    Vic Ferrari is awesome.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        So just to make sure I’m reading this right:

        Combined Kane line + Toews line:

        Horc played 9.8 minutes + 1.4 minutes

        RNH played 2.5 minutes + 2 minutes

        Belanger played .1 minute + 3.4 minutes

        Gagner playerd 1.2 minutes + 6 minutes

        In other words it’s pretty safe to say Horc is getting the tough minutes.

        • Pretty much.

          Its more pronounced at home with Renney having last change, but there is no question what he is asking 94-10-x to do.

          The fact that Smyth is +2 and Horcoff is 0 +/- is ridiculous given they are facing the best the NHL has to offer each night.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            and @OB1

            glad that is sorted out. that was certainly my impression… but the detour into the stats wrecked my internal equilibrium among other things.

            now let’s see if he rebounds from his little dip in play at home… I’ll be doubly impressed considering the challenge will be even tougher for his line at home.