How do you feel the night before a road trip to Vegas, or a getaway to Cabo or somewhere else in Mexico? Excited, pumped, stoked or hungover for the hardcores, and if you have to work the day before you go, many of us "mail it in" spending the day planning where to go on the strip or daydreaming about doing nothing on the beach.
Admit it, that’s what you’d be doing, especially if things at work, or home weren’t great. Now factor in that you are playing the NW leading Vancouver Canucks on the tail end of a back-to-back set, so expecting a win tonight is asking for a lot.
I don’t know where any of the players are going, but based on past years, Vegas or a hot destination is a good bet, especially for the single guys. The Oilers are 7-2 in the front end of back-to-back sets, but they are only 2-6 on the second night. The Oilers were outshot 45-18 last night, although the Sharks were firing from everywhere, and they’ll have to play a similar style tonight if they want to upset the Canucks.
WHAT WERE YOU EXPECTING?
It seems most are in the camp that Tom Renney needs to go, but I’m curious what were your expectations of this team at the start of the season? I had the Oilers finishing 13th, so my expectations weren’t that high.
I’m curious what it is about Renney that has everyone believing he is the problem and not the solution. Eric Belanger on the 2nd unit PP seems to be a big beef, and it was very perplexing why he was there, however, the PP is top-three in the league so is that a reason to fire him?
The Oilers GAA has improved from last year, and they are much better in their GF/GA ratio from last year. Do you think another coach could have got better results with this blueline corps?
Maybe he could have played the kids two more minutes a night, and taken minutes from Horcoff and Smyth. It might have led to more wins, or it might have fatigued them, especially Nugent-Hopkins. When you look at Nugent-Hopkins’ production at home compared to on the road, it does seem clear that when Renney can protect him at home the kid produces more. It is fair to wonder if a few more minutes would have been beneficial, but it might have tired out the kids as well. No one truly knows.
I couldn’t find a scenario where an 18-year-old forward played 19-20 minutes a night on other teams recently, but I’m sure one or two have.
This is not a defence of Renney, but when the Oilers make a decision on their coach they better have a feel of how the three kids feel about him. On the record they will say they like him, he’s upbeat, he’s positive and he’s been good, but is that 100% the truth. I honestly don’t know, because it is hard to get a read, but at this point in the rebuild if those three, who will be the ones to lead this team out of the depths of despair, like him you have to consider bringing him back.
That conversation has to happen in my eyes. I know the players like Renney, because he has a likeable personality, but the organization has to dig deep and find out if they think he has the fire and drive to push the kids, and the complimentary players to reach their peak. Of course that isn’t the only factor, because Patrick Kane was devastated when Denis Savard was fired, but that ended up being the right move for the Hawks. That team was at the end of their rebuild, not near the middle, so still a different scenario.
The coaching decision needs to be looked at from every angle. It would be easy to bring in another coach, but there is no guarantee the next guy will be a better fit. The Oilers can’t afford to make a wrong move. The next few years are crucial in building the pillars of the future. Not only in developing the players, but developing an identity for the team.
When Jordan Eberle was asked on After Hours Satruday night what is the identity of the team, he responded with, "Our team speed." I’m sorry that isn’t an identity. There is no system called "team speed". I also realize that most teams with an identity are good teams. Most losing teams aren’t great in one area, so they don’t have a true identity. I doubt you can have a successful identity until you are truly a competitive team, but does this team have enough players willing to buy into an identity?
Will the organization find a coach who can inject that belief in the team?
Does Renney have the ability to mold them into an identity?
They need to find the answers.
SOMETHING ELSE I NOTICED
When I watched last night’s game I took notes at how many times the Oiler had complete control of the puck, with no one pressuring them, yet they would just get rid of the puck. I counted 27 times, with 24 of them coming in the neutral or defensive zone. Rather than look up to make a play, in 19 cases they just blindly moved the puck up the boards and essentially gave it back to the Sharks.
Trust me that isn’t coaching. I fully understand the game looks much easier from the pressbox, but while taking these notes I used two strides as the fair distance for "not being pressured." I was amazed at how often the players would just get rid of the puck. Very few of them seemed to have the confidence to make a play. Renney has asked this team to be a puck possession team, not always of course, because sometimes the right play is just to get it out of the zone, but last night made me wonder how often they just toss the puck away.
I will be monitoring that more closely the remainder of the way. It is much harder to do on TV, but I’ll keep you updated. I understand that some players are better at dumping and chasing, Ryan Jones, than carrying the puck, but they can’t continually just throw it off the boards in the neutral and defensive zones and expect to stay in games.
Ryan Whitney will play tonight. Whitney would like to see where he (the ankle) is at, but if he doesn’t feel good after the game, I think he might shut it down for the season. That is just my hunch, he hasn’t said so, but he didn’t sound overly confident in his ankle on Sunday. Moving forward Whitney’s health will play a major role in how fast this team progresses. He is the only legitimate top-pairing D-men they have, and finding one on the trade market is very difficult.
After Ryan Suter the rest of the potential 2012 UFA crop isn’t that enticing, unless you think Jean-Micheal Liles, Dennis Wideman, Pavel Kubina, Tim Gleason, Matt Carle or Brad Stuart is the answer. I doubt Stuart leaves Detroit, and with Pronger’s health a concern in Philly, Carle likely re-signs there.
The Oilers desperately need Whitney to get healthy if they expect to get some offence from their backend next year.
Dubnyk will get the start tonight. He needs to put together strong back-to-back performances. I outlined his struggles in that department last week, and I’m curious to see if he can finally put together two solid outings.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Nothing points in the direction of an Oiler win. Canucks win 4-2 in an entertaining game.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ladislav Smid and Alex Burrows have a spirited in-game battle, with Smid asking him to fight numerous times, and each time Burrows cowardly says, "No thanks."
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Fresh off his first collision that resulted in the other player getting hurt, Ales Hemksy has a great game. He feels a renewed sense of security and optimism, and start producing some points.