72 DOWN AND 10 TO GO

For me, the highlight of the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 shootout loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday was guffawing like a slobbering knucklehead when Sportsnet play-by-play man Kevin Quinn slipped on a Freudian banana peel and called Theo Peckham "Theo Pecker" during the first period.

Suffice to say, with 72 games in the books and the Oilers on the way to yet another lottery pick, my attention span is not what it should be, so Quinn’s gaffe provided a welcome distraction, as I noted on Twitter, just as several of you did in response.

It was bound to happen, of course, with Peckham being paired with Corey Potter by coach Tom Renney. Potter and Peckham. Potter and Peckham. Potham and Pecker. As a wiseguy calling himself Rascal Gas Tweeted, Sportsnet is probably thankful the Oilers don’t have Clitsome playing with Pitlick, but I digress . . .

The Oilers begin a four-game road swing through Nashville, Tampa Bay, Florida and Columbus with a record of 28-36-8 for 64 points. That puts them two better than the 62 points they managed the past two seasons (25-45-12 in 2010-11) and eight points ahead of the total they had last season through 72 games (23-39-10).

OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD

— I liked the overall physical response of the Oilers to the lick Cory Sarich laid on Taylor Hall in Friday’s 3-1 win over Calgary, but the old-school part of my brain insists somebody had to exact more telling retribution. Ryan Whitney pushing punches at Sarich, a barrage not even deemed worthy of a major, doesn’t count.

Hall getting starched was partly his own doing, of course, as he lost his footing fell into the check by the charging Sarich, who has spent his career playing with a physical edge (four seasons with 100-plus PIM). It didn’t help that Renney didn’t have Darcy Hordichuk or Ben Eager in the line-up. That said, I’d like to have seen somebody – hello, Teddy – demand a fistfight. Don’t ask Sarich, tell him.

— His scoring totals aside, Jordan Eberle is showing me something each and every time out of the gate these days. Aside from continuing to pile up the points, Eberle showed a lot of jam in the loss to Phoenix. He got rocked three times in that game and didn’t back-off even a little bit. Big talent. Big brass. And, as fanboy Wanye notes, he smells like cinnamon.

— I’m also liking the team-first approach Lennart Petrell has shown more than once this season, the last time being against the Coyotes in his scrap with Keith Yandle. Petrell, who has fit in nicely in the bottom six and quietly impressed with his willingness to take the body, has doffed the leather twice now. He can play in my bottom six any time.

— Ales Hemsky had a helluva game against the Coyotes. He’s looked like a different player for weeks now. It looks like those of us who wrote Hemsky off as having zoned out and looking for the next train out of town as the trade deadline approached were dead wrong. I know I mis-read him.

— In the nine games he’s played with the Minnesota Wild, Tom Gilbert has scored 0-2-2 and is minus-4. In 10 games with the Oilers, Nick Schultz has 0-4-4 and is plus-3. Might Schultz, characterized by some as an offensive downgrade from Gilbert, produce at the rate No. 77 did here playing in a more offensive-oriented system than in Minnesota?

BY THE NUMBERS

While the Oilers haven’t shown the degree of improvement in the standings a lot of fans anticipated going into this season, there are areas that suggest the team has made some substantial strides.

— The power play has shown the most marked improvement as it sits ranked third in the NHL at 21.1 per cent (51 goals on 242 attempts). The power play was ranked 27th in 2010-11 at 14.5 per cent (44 goals on 304 attempts).

— The penalty killing has also been on the uptick. It’s ranked No. 18 at 81.7 per cent (46 goals-against on 251 attempts). It was a black hole last season, finishing ranked 29th at 77 per cent (74 goals on 321 attempts).

— While even-strength scoring has been a weak spot, the Oilers have already scored 190 goals while allowing 213 for a team minus-23. They scored just 193 goals last season while allowing 269, a team minus-76.

— My best guess is the Oilers will pick up eight points from their final 10 games, which would give them 72 and bump them to a double-digit increase over last season. Good enough, when the other improvements are taken into account?

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

  • Mantooth

    It has to be a player who is not asked to do this job. That is the challenge. Hordichuk stands in, but is small and loses. Peckham doesn’t have the right thing, isn’t sure enough and also loses.

    It has to be a guy like Tulipov, who really is a big scary guy even to big scary guys, and protects. SMac is like that, but Tulipov is more aggressive in choice and action it seems and at least is a hockey player of some kind. The ultimate of course is a Lucic type player who protects, but that’s Hen’s teeth.

    The Oilers of old weren’t afraid to do things differently from the norm, and today it isn’t icing talent and speed that is new, it’s defending it that is. Although Sather did that back then too. As I understand he has acquired some cavemen again for his Rangers.

    Given his length of tenure in the league, and the recent lack of calls, I imagine he might have some kind of “insight”.

    Again I’ll state that if the NHL chooses to enter the professional level of refereeing of other major pro sports, it wouldn’t be necessary, and much much better for the game.

    Until then, take no quarter. And don’t mention the Red Wings because they have plenty of it, that’s why they don’t see it as much.

  • One of your best players, no more than a kid really, gets taken out by an older relatively underskilled bottom of the order type player on the other team. Do you as a team mate of the kid, a kid who will very likely go on to be the face of the franchise going forward, a kid who embodies the concept of ‘will to win,’ and team spirit:

    i) Skate around and ask the offending player to
    put up his dukes? (Marquis of Queensbury of
    course!) If he turns you down, persist at
    every opportunity, hoping your persistence
    will ultimately wear him down?
    ii) Do nothing on the ice and snarl while on the
    bench and in the dressing room? (All the
    while making the most horrible of threats as
    to what you’re going to do when you finally
    get hold of the guy)
    iii)Pull a Semenko, a Brown, a Probert or a
    Ferguson and beat the living daylights out
    of the offender, no questions asked? (You
    have it figured that NOBODY f…s with your
    players, NOBODY!)

    Hockey, perhaps more than any other professional sport, embodies intimidation. If someone is going to run one of your guys, run two of their guys in return. It’s just the way it is. And if Teddy Pecker or for that matter any other Oiler has to think twice about it, they shouldn’t be Oilers. (But one exception: Game 7 finals, one minute to go, opponent down 1 goal and pressing. Under this circumstance, discretion is the better part of valour)

  • intimidation is a big part of hockey.

    Hordichuk, a few games ago asked someone to go. He wouldn’t. So Hordy ran one of their players, then he got obliged.
    This is what I’d like to see from the Oilers. Not necessarily the fighting (which I enjoy) but the – if you run my guy, I’m going to run yours. Then I think some respect or fear becomes a big part of the game.

    • Darcy understands the role he plays and its place within the game.

      Having the two toughest players on opposing teams square off for no good reason has more to do with entertainment than enforcement. Letting an opponent know that every one of their players will become a target — and following through on it — if they do anything stupid to one of your guys is far more effective.

      You want to play? Fine. You want to f*ck around with our guys? OK, let’s get after it.

  • Spydyr

    Personally I despise the two tough guys talking at a face-off then dropping them for no reason.

    On the other hand after that hit on Hall you do not ask Sarich to fight.You pummel him.

    You continue to do that every time a kid gets a cheap shot.Like the one Ebs took against the coyotes.

    It goes on till the cheap shots stop.

    • Petr's Jofa

      No you don’t. You target the flame’s star players.

      Grabbing Sarich would have no purpose except it would give the oilers a 2 minute penalty to kill off.

      • Spydyr

        And targeting the flame’s star players won’t result in penalty’s?

        The purpose you serve is letting the league know you run our kids you pay the price.No questions asked.End of story.You cheap shot them you get punched in the head.

        Now is the time to do that,when the points don’t matter.

        Set the precedent.Why have a Eager or Hordichuk in the lineup if you don’t allow them to play their role.They are not there for goal scoring.

        • Spydyr

          I don’t think he meant slashing/elbows to the head. But it was the same in Phoenix. Klesla and Torres took liberties on Eberle and the Oilers couldn’t even finish hard checks on Ray Whitney and Vrbata, and it’s not like they’re unhittable. I saw at least a couple of instances where the Oilers could have finished both players hard but didn’t. I’m not sure what the Oilers have against finishing checks. It’s a good defensive move to make sure the player that just moved the puck isn’t going to move into a more advantageous position in really either zone and it slows them down and makes it easier to keep track of the player rather then turning your head to follow the puck and maybe losing that player behind you. The Oilers have long been following the puck too much and not paying attention to their defensive assignments.

          Also I don’t understand Renney either. You see your star player pasted 3 times and he barely played Hordichuk at all. It’s not exactly Hordichuk’s fault if he can’t really get on the ice.

          • Spydyr

            I agree it would be nice if the Oilers finished a few checks.The thing is tell me who is going to finish the checks.Hempsky,Ebs, Gagner,Omark?

            The forwards for the most part are to small.

            There are no big hitters on defense either.Once in a while Peckham will step up and throw a big hit.Do you even expect him to be back next year?

  • Spydyr

    Agreed. Sven Baertschi being helped off the ice is the only retribution to Hall getting clobbered.

    Unless the player comes back to scrap the guy who took the cheap shot, there’s no reason to jump him that second.