The Oilers are 4-4-2 in their last ten. They’ve been good, bad, great and awful in the ten-game stretch, and with only Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Theo Peckham/Corey Potter out of the lineup this is the healthiest they’ve been all season. Unfortunately, their play lately hasn’t shown much to make you believe that next year will be better. I know it has only been a short window of healthiness, and not having your #1 centre is a big void, but imagine this lineup with Nugent-Hopkins and without Ales Hemsky and will they be that much better?
If this team is going to improve it has to start within the NW, and especially against the despised Calgary Flames. The Flames have beaten the Oilers nine straight, and they’ve outscored them 37-19.
Since December 31st, 2008 the Flames are 18-2 v. the Oilers. The past 38 months of the Battle of Alberta (BOA) has been more one-sided than * The Battle of Omdurman. (pictured above)
I’d like to think the team is embarrassed by that stat, but their play doesn’t show it. The Flames clearly have a better goalie, but do they have more skill throughout their lineup? I don’t think so, but in the BOA the Flames work harder and smarter than the Oilers.
There always seems to be an excuse for the losses. The schedule wasn’t in their favour, or the Oilers haven’t had a full lineup, but the facts are they are 1-4 with Taylor Hall and 0-4 without him. The Oilers need to stop looking for excuses and recognize they simply need to bring more intensity, passion and desire when playing Calgary.
The Flames have the luxury of having a great goalie, who can steal games and make a team look better than they are, but they are 24-31 (OTL are losses in my books) v. the rest of the league, so clearly great goaltending can be defeated.
Sean Connery didn’t just get the ladies with his kick-ass accent, they also loved him because he was manly. Okay, this picture might not be the best example, but few guys wouldn’t even dare wear that outfit outside of the bedroom, yet Connery pulled it off.
I don’t want to hear about "playing smart" or "sticking to the system," I want to see the Oilers play with some damn emotion. The type of emotion that should come naturally in a BOA game. Play the players who are emotionally invested in the game. Either start Hall’s line or Ben Eager’s line.
Why not try something different and start Eager with Hall and Sam Gagner.
We can talk about icetime, line matchups, zone starts, scoring chances and +/- until we are blue in the face, but how about the coaching with some passion and emotion. The Oilers are in 29th @%*&%@@%^ place, it is clear their strategy of learning and playing the system isn’t working very well.
Nikolai Khabibulin injured his groin on Sunday and ended any talk of him getting traded. Yann Danis was recalled from OKC, but there is no reason Devan Dubnyk shouldn’t start every game until Khabibulin is back. If he struggles, let’s see if he’s mentally tough enough to put a bad game behind him.
It took a few games, but finally the coaches elected to give Anton Lander a shot with Magnus Paajarvi and Ales Hemsky, and it paid off with Paajariv’s 2nd goal of the season. We’ll see that trio again tonight. We’ll also see Darcy Hordichuk. He won’t add any offence, but at least he’ll try to hit someone and get some energy on the Oilers bench. Ryan Jones will take a seat in the pressbox tonight.
I’m guessing at what the lines will look like, but this is what I’d do: Don’t separate Hemsky and Paajarvi.
Hall – Gagner – Eberle
Smyth – Horcoff – Eager??
Paajarvi – Lander – Hemsky
Petrell- Belanger – Hordichuk
UPDATED… Here is what the lines will look like.
Smyth – Gagner – Eberle
Hall- Horcoff – Hemsky
Paajarvi – Belanger – Eager
Petrell- Lander – Hordichuk
Corey Potter will play tonight, but if he wasn’t I’d much rather see Peckham instead of Barker. Peckham plays with an edge and I thought he was playing much more consistent until his concussion. Barker, well, I can’t accurately describe how he is playing in the paragraph without introducing our young readers to words they should’t be reading.
Smid – Petry
Whitney – Gilbert
Sutton – Potter or Peckham…
Here are the point leaders since January 1st for the Oilers:
GP G A PTS
- Gagner 21 9 13 22
- Hall 19 10 8 18
- Eberle 17 9 7 16
- Hemsky 21 1 13 14
- Petry 21 1 10 11
- Horcoff 21 3 5 8
- Smyth 21 2 5 7
- Eager 19 5 1 6
- Sutton 19 2 4 6
- Potter 18 1 5 6
- Whitney 10 0 5 5
- Paajarvi 13 2 3 5
- Jones 21 1 4 5
- Lander 21 1 2 3
- Smid 21 0 3 3
- Gilbert 7 0 2 2
- Barker 1 1 0 1
- Petrell 10 0 1 1
- Belanger 20 0 1 1
The Oilers are 7-14 since Jan 1st and they’ve been outscored 72-51. Gagner, Hall and Eberle have scored 28 of the 51 goals (55%). They’ve scored 14 PP goals on 62 attempts (22.6%) and they’ve given up 13 PK goals on 66 attempts (80%).
The young kids are producing, but it is clear the supporting cast isn’t. The Oilers need Paajarvi and Lander to take a big step next year, or they have to find a top-six producing forward if they expect to make any significant improvements next season.
As I’ve stated for weeks, trading Ales Hemsky won’t make the Oilers better next season. I know it is a risk to sign him long-term due to his injury history, but it is just as big a risk, if not bigger, to trade him and not have any top-six forward available to replace him.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: You could say the odds are in the Oilers’ favour that they’ll win considering they’ve lost nine straight, but I don’t buy that. Until this team proves they can match the intenstinal fortitude of the Flames I can’t pick them to win. Phlegms win 3-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ryan Smyth turned 36 today, and his teammates will sing him happy birthday in the dressing room prior to the morning skate. Smyth will feel energized and he’ll score tonight on a deflection in front.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: While Wanye enjoys eating Tarantulas and watching people burn themselves, the Nation will be cursing his name for his idiotic bet with Flamesnation.ca He agreed to let the winning city of the previous game write the GDB for the next game. This rivalry has become so one-sided that even Kent Wilson is getting bored writing an entire article, so he’s only going to gloat for a paragraph or two. You can blame Wanye, but realistically his blind-faith is what got him in this mess. Even the most pessimistic Oiler fan would expect them to beat the Flames once a year.
* Read here if you don’t know what the Battle of Omdurman was. Yes, I’m a bit of a history geek.
The last time I wrote one of these things I was probably a bit too gracious towards The Perpetual Rebuilders up here in ol’ Stinktown. Afterall, Khabibulin had sobered up long enough to stand on his head for a few weeks and the Oil weren’t mining the barren depths of the Western Conference for a change.
Of course, as inevitable as the tides, every one eventually got injured, Khabilbulin fell off the wagon and Edmonton slid down the standings like a greased pig down a mud hill. With a quarter of the season still remaining, the Oilers fan’s gaze has turned, downcast, from the playoffs and any possibility of success and instead settled on the trade deadline and whether Ales Hemsky will join a long line of homegrown, legacy players run out of town.
When Hemsky is no doubt traded for a clutch of magic beans in the O’Marra, Nilsson category of worthless assets at the deadline, his discarded blue and copper jersey will join an ever growing pile of past stars who, once beloved, sacrificed many of their finest years at the feet of the organization in a seemingly endless, futile pursuit of a faded prominence that, at this point, is a memory faintly recalled.
Only to be ultimately cursed and discarded, of course.
I have to say, the relationship between fan and team in Edmonton strikes me as kind of abusive. I mean, you have the org constantly assuring the faithful they will change, that the recent pain is fleeting and anyway the fans probably brought it on themselves. Then there’s the cajoling, the apologies and the promises of the honeymoon period, now commonly referred to as "the offseason" in Edmonton.
Finally, another year starts, and aside from the occassional concillatory bouquet of an 8-point night or improbable win over a contender, the pain begins anew. The only salve being an enduring, unrewarded faith that somewhere over the horizon a fresh Oilers dynasty will dawn with a sunrise that never seems to arrive.
PS – There will be another Battle of Alberta live chat this evening. We’ll need a few ON regulars to moderate, so anyone interested please let me know via email, twitter, etc.