For some players a 0.57 PPG (points per game) average would be great, but not for Ales Hemsky. In his previous six seasons Hemsky has been a 0.91 PPG player. He’s electrified Oiler fans with his exceptional offensive skills and his fearless attitude for the past six seasons, but those two qualities have been pretty much invisible so far this year.
For years Hemsky was the Oilers most dynamic player. He had to face the biggest, toughest and best D-men on a regular basis and he more than held his own. This year he finally isn’t on the first line. He doesn’t always have to face the Shea Webers and Nick Lidstroms of the world every night, but for some reason he has yet to take advantage of "better" matchups.
Is he playing cautious? I’m sure he’s sick of being on the IR, and at times he looks a bit hesitant. I’d suspect the fear or trepidation he has about going into the high traffic areas will fade and Hemsky will likely return to the player that goes to those areas.
Is he frustrated about not being on the #1 PP unit? I hope not. For most of the past five years he’s been saddled with guys who couldn’t see and play the game the way he does, but that’s not the case now. The Oilers have some legitimate top-six forwards, so he should be more productive.
Is he worried about his next contract? Many fans and some media believe a guy can just turn up his game in the final year of his contract, which of course isn’t the case. People only talk about it when a guy has a great final year, but no one mentions the players who don’t. Not having a contract does wear on some guys.
Is he rusty? He hasn’t played much in the past seven months so it could just be him needing to get his timing and conditioning back.
I asked Tom Renney about Hemsky’s game.
"Everyone would love all his work to equate into scoring of course, me included. I think he is shooting more, and he needs to do more of it, despite what he thinks of his shot; he needs to shoot more. I like the fact that he is not 2nd to pucks and isn’t afraid to go to the net. I’m off the impression and feeling that he is ready to burst out."
Whether it is rust, indifference or being hesitant Hemsky needs to find his game if the Oilers are going to stay in the playoff hunt.
- Comparing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to Gretzky is unfair and unrealistic. No one will ever put up those types of numbers, but if you want to think big, look at Nugent-Hopkins’ first 25 NHL games compared to Sidney Crosby.
GP G A PTS
Nugent-Hopkins 25 12 15 27
Crosby 25 12 16 28
The major difference between them was that Crosby had 90 shots to RNH’s 52. RNH was also +4 while Crosby was -5, but Crosby’s supporting cast was much worse. It’s Positive Friday so go ahead and dare to dream about what type of player Nugent-Hopkins might become. Ryan Whitney played with both of them in their rookie seasons, so I asked him about their differences and similarities.
"Their vision is similar, but they are different players. Crosby is so quick and powerful, while Nugent-Hopkins is more cerebral and uses his brain a little bit more out there…he’s still a great skater and great on his edges, but they are different players. When it comes to point production they are similar and you can’t overlook it. There is only one Crosby out there, but asking Eager he said he’s better than (Patrick) Kane was in his rookie year. It’s pretty scary to think what he’s going to be like in a couple years, yet alone now."
- Even thought they lost, the Oilers played one of their more energetic and gritty games of the year v. the Wild. They delivered more hits than they received, and the Wild were a little banged up because it. The Oilers have lots of speed, and I don’t expect them to become a hitting machine, but it is clear they have the ability to be more physical if need be.
- Jordan Eberle and Shawn Horcoff should be the first two shooters in any shoot out. Until one of them misses on three straight attempts I go with them. Both are over 50% in their careers. Renney can rotate the 3rd shooter if he wants to play a hunch, but there is no way 14 and 10 shouldn’t be the first two out every game.
- Shootouts matter. The Oilers are 0-3 v. the Wild this year. If that was reversed the Oilers would be in 3rd place this morning instead of 11th. When you have two of the best shootout guys in the league, you go with them and let the rest of the team battle for the 3rd spot.
- It is clear we all have a bias when we watch a game, and even moreso when it comes to specific players. Many fans, and even the odd coach, go into a game waiting for their goat to make a mistake. He could make ten good plays, but once he makes one bad one you are all over him. Theo Peckham seems to be many people’s whipping boy right now. When Peckham makes a mistake it is a major one, but he can go long stretches with many small, solid plays and no one notices; they just wait for the FIVE STAR mistake and are all over him. I think Peckham’s game has really improved the past few weeks. On the PK, especially when it is only 3 killers, he has been exceptional. Great positioning, getting in the shooting lanes and sacrificing his body to block shots. I think he makes way more solid plays than he gets credit for.
The only change will be in goal as Devan Dubnyk gets the start. Dubnyk will be looking to rebound after a bad 3rd period in Colorado last Saturday.
Smyth – RNH – Eberle
Gagner – Horcoff – Hemsky
Paajarvi – Belanger – Jones
Hordichuk – O’Marra – Petrell
Smid – Gilbert
Whitney – Petry
Peckham – Sutton
Renney was asked about Belanger on the 2nd unit PP and if Petry was a possible replacement. Renney said he wants Petry to get some PP time, but right now he wants a left shot in that spot. If that is the case I wonder if he’ll look at giving Paajarvi a shot back there at some point.
Nugent-Hopkins was named the NHL rookie of the month for the second straight month today. He tallied six goals and 16 points in 14 games and just beat out Devils’ rookie Adam Henrique who had 5-9-14. RNH is only the 2nd rookie in the last 20 years to be named rookie of the month for the first two months of the season. Evgeni Malkin did it in 2006.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Blue Jackets are finally getting some goaltending, but aren’t very good, and coming off a solid effort v. Minnesota the Oilers win 3-2. Call me crazy, but Magnus Paajarvi finally scores.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Even though Taylor Hall initiated the fight Derek Dorsett will have to answer for that tonight. Whether you think that’s right or not, he’ll likely have a dance with Darcy Hordichuk or Theo Peckham.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Flamesa are in town tomorrow, and after news broke that Cory Sarich asked for a trade (Seriously, how hilarious is that. Overpaid #6 D-men are usually a hot commodity), Jay Feaster will be seen chatting with Steve Tambellini on the catwalk tonight. None of us are lip readers, but we are positive we could read the words, "No thanks," and "Just because Darryl did it a few years ago doesn’t mean I owe you one," coming out of Tambellini’s mouth.
HELPING OTHERS BEGINS
Starting today until Thurday December 22nd, we will be "Helping Others" on the Nation and the Jason Gregor Show. Everyday during the show, 2 to 6 p.m. MST, we will be auctioning off a different package. Some will have a sports twist, others will include evenings out and hopefully all of them will pique someone’s interest.
All of the proceeds will go to charity. We will split up the proceeds from the 15 days between the Christmas Bureau, Santas Anonymous and the MS Society.
Today will be auctioning off the following package:
- Club seats to the Oilers/Red Wings game on February 04th. Could be Lidstrom’s last game in Edmonton. Between blueline and centre ice, row 16. Great seats.
- A Pint Party for 15…You will have dinner and drinks for 15 at the Pint Off Whtye. Big thanks to the Pint for the party and the great Oiler seats. If you stop in say hi to Courtney, she’s a big fan of the Nation, but she’s too scared to post a comment.
- A Ryan Nugent-Hopkins jersey…Courtesy of The Sports Closet in Sherwood Park. Great place to buy all your Oilers gear.
If you want to bid you can call 780.426.8326 or email firstname.lastname@example.org Bidding starts at 2 p.m and ends at 5:45 MST. Thanks in advance.