WEEKEND WRAP

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse being an Oiler fan, along came a weekend of high-scoring, high-intensity, fight-filled playoff hockey, and you could only sit hopelessly by and watch with real emotional interest.

After watching the last 72 hours I wonder how far away the Oilers truly are from being a playoff contender? We’ll debate that and much more today.

I’m fairly certain that some people are just wired to focus on the negative, but after a weekend of hockey that had fans in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto glued to their TVs, despite none of their teams playing, it seems some only want to focus on a few dumb plays, rather than talk about how intensely great the games were.

What I find astonishing is how some fans, media and bloggers expect players to ramp up their intensity, but remain perfectly controlled at all times. Sorry folks that is asking the impossible. In the heat of the moment some players, like the rest of us humans, will make the odd bad split-second decision.

The worst was Carl Hagelin, who took three strides and then delivered a blatant elbow to the head of Daniel Alfredsson. This was incredibly stupid, and well-deserving of a three game suspension. If playoff games are a 2:1 ratio to regular season games, then he got a six games. Duncan Keith got five, so why are people upset about the Hagelin suspension? Shanahan explains his ruling here.

Aaron Asham delived a cheap shot to the chest/neck area of Brayden Schenn after Schenn delivered a clean, hard hit late in the Flyers 8-4 romp. Asham will have a hearing later today, and I’m guessing he gets at least three games. It won’t matter cause the Pens are done, but it was a dumb play.  

Matt Carkner was suspended for one game, ruling here, for attacking Bryan Boyle. Carkner asked him to go and when Boyle didn’t respond, Carkner took matters into his own hands. In game one Boyle roughed up Sens star D-man Erik Karlsson and the Sens wanted to send a message that that wasn’t going to be tolerated moving forward.

I’m a fan of fights, I think they have their place in the game, but I’m not a fan of this type of fighting. I don’t have a problem with him being suspended and if he got two or three games I would have be fine with it as well. 

Another really dumb play was Brent Burns’ elbow to the back of Scott Nichol’s head. Nichols is an agitator and gets under guys skin at times, but this was just dumb. First of all you Burns was standing still and leaning forward so he wasn’t going to generate much force anyways, but a "chicken-wing" elbow should be outlawed from the game. That is not a natural body reaction, it is a clear conscious decision. I’d love the league to make the "chicken wing" elbow an automatic three game suspension, and likely more depending on the severity of it.

The other play didn’t involve an elbow or a cross-check, but according to Nick Kypreos James Neal will be having two separate hearings with Brendan Shanahan today. One involving a hit on Sean Couturier, where I’m sure the debate will be if Neal tried hard enough to avoid hitting Couturier. The other is a hit on Giroux (at 3:14 of video) where it looks like Neal tried to go after his head. The Giroux hit will likely earn him a suspension.

I’m sure some of you think there were other wrong decisions, but those were the major ones that people were talking about. The Neal/Couturier hit was borderline, but the rest should all be suspension worthy.

Okay so those incidents weren’t great. I think most fans would agree, however, do they need to be the focus of the weekend?

We saw just under 695 minutes of incredible intense playoff hockey, and those incidents totalled less than 45 seconds. Carkner raining punches is what made it longer than a combined 30 seconds.

So why do we focus on 45 seconds of 695 minutes?

Suspend the players and move on, but the game isn’t in disarray because of a few dumb plays.

Should the NHL be concerned? No way. There was 100 times more clean, hard hits than there was cheap ones, and the intensity this weekend was electrifying.

THOUGHT ONLY GOONS FOUGHT?

I was amazed at how many people were upset at the alleged brutality of some of the games. The Flyers and Pens clearly don’t like each other, and outside of the stupid play by Asham and Neal, which had nothing to do with fighting by the way, the game was incredibly entertaining.

I would argue that Marc-Andre Fleury’s goaltending was harder to stomach than watching a few scrums, tilts and the odd cheap shot, but some went as far as to say it was embarrassing for the NHL.

The anti-fighting brigade must be really agitated right now, because of the 21 fighting majors that were handed out, only one of them went to a "goon", Matt Carkner. The rest were guys who play, and in some cases are stars for their teams. Those in the anti-fighting camp will tell you fighting is bad for the game and the health of the players, yet of the 21 guys involved only one had an injury. A broken nose, which isn’t serious.

Here’s the list of fights:

  • Shea Weber v. Todd Bertuzzi…This happened early in Friday’s game and settled the score from game one.
     
  • Matt Carkner…Dumb play by Carkner, although did you notice the Sens killed off the major. Guys rally around penalties like that often it seems.
     
  • Brian Boyle v. Chris Neil…Boyle didn’t want the Sens to think he was scared, which is the mental battle in playoffs. No harm.
     
  • Joe Pavelski v. Kris Russell…Two surprising combatants…Not a bad tilt in the flyweight division.
     
  • Dominic Moore v. Vladimir Sobotka, Justin Braun v. Roman Polak and Doug Murray v. Barret Jackman. These three happened at the same time late in the Blues 3-0 win. Some will say needless, while others will say it is part of the battle. Moore suffered a broken nose, so the Sharks weren’t happy, but no serious injuries.
     
  • Sidney Crosby v. Claude Giroux and Kris Letang v. Kimmo Timonen. These happened at the same stoppage in the first period. Four unlikely combatants, and while Crosby and Giroux really didn’t throw many punches most fans were riveted because of the star power of those involved.
     
  • Scott Hartnell v. Craig Adams…It was late in the game and Adams was annoyed with Hartnell pestering Crosby.
     
  • Anze Kopitar v. Alex Burrows. Stemmed from a huge Dustin Brown hit on Henrik Sedin. Burrows and Kopitar are top-six forwards on both teams.

I also remember many saying fighting doesn’t happen in the playoffs, but I think we should change it to, "those who are only fighters won’t play in the playoffs," and I’ve always be fine with that. If guys who play legitimate minutes want to drop them, I’m all for it. It just adds a different element to the game.

I find the games more interesting when guys who play a lot get so fired up that they want to engage with another player of similar stature. You can say you don’t like fighting, and that’s your right, but those who play the game at the highest level aren’t opposed to it.

Not every game needs a fight to be exciting, but if we polled people right now I have a sneaking suspision that the Flyers/Pens game rated a lot higher than any of the other three games yesterday. It wasn’t just the fights of course, because they were only a small percentage of the game. It was the endless goals, the shoddy goaltending, the big hits, the non-stop energy of the building and the obvious animosity between the two rivals.

That was entertaining hockey.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

  • Unbelievable finishes in the first two games of the Chicago/Phoenix series. The Dogs and their fans had their hearts ripped out twice in the final 15 seconds. I wonder if Hawks fans love Brent Seabrook more than Duncan Keith right now. He was in on both game-tying goals.
     
  • It seemed clear to me Mike Smith wasn’t concussed when Andrew Shaw bumped him behind the net. Guys don’t usually have an immediate  "garage sale" after getting hit. Guys who are instantly concussed move very slow, if at all.
     
  • Raffi Torres is a cheaper version of Claude Lemieux. He sleep walks through most of the regular season, but shows up in the playoffs. When he plays with some fire he is very effective.
     
  • Paul Holmgren has to be executive of the year. He trades Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, but adds four solid contributors in Simmonds, Schenn, Couturier and Voracek. Signing Jagr has worked out great. All the kids are raving about how his work ethic has rubbed off on them. Bryzgalov’s signing will look awful in a few years, but in game two he made two huge saves when the Flyers were down 2-0 that allowed them to get back in the game.
     
  • The Flyers/Pens have scored 32 goals in three games. The other 14 teams have scored 74 goals in 16 games. I know some of the goals have been ugly in the Pens/Flyers series, but nothing is more exciting than goals in my opinion. It gives you a sense that the game is never over.
     
  • The Boston/Washington series has produced four goals, and while both games have gone to OT, those games have had long stretches of dreadfully boring hockey. I’ll take up-tempo offence over "safe team play" any day.
     
  • Despite the speed bump of the Blue Jackets, the Flyers and Kings are linked with the Carter and Richards deals, and both are leading 3-0. Can we say that both teams benefitted from those deals? The drama surrounding a Kings/Flyers Cup final would be great.
     
  • If the Canucks get swept I wonder if Alain Vigneault gets the axe. I’m not sure he is the problem in Vancouver, but he’ll likely be gone. The bigger problem is what the Canucks do with their goaltending. It is clear the organization doesn’t have faith in Roberto Luongo, but with 380 years left on his contract I don’t see how they get rid of him. They put themselves in this predicament by signing him to that asinine deal, and then playing Cory Schneider. Can you think of a team that would consider trading for Luongo?
     
  • As I watched most of the games over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think how far the Oilers need to go before they can compete. They have the high-end skill to compete in the future, but unless they drastically increase their size, grit and depth I think they are still a few years away. Maybe it’s just because the intensity has been dialed up so much (playoffs v. regular season) that it’s an unfair comparison, but I don’t see this team being playoff ready.
     
  • Can those who think Brent Sutter is an upgrade over Tom Renney please explain why? Sutter has never won an NHL playoff series and he’s missed the playoffs three straight years. If you think Renney needs to go, that is one thing, but I don’t see Sutter as an upgrade. Winning the world juniors, which is essentially an All-Star team, doesn’t mean he is great with kids. Renney has won more playoff series than Sutter, and if you think working with kids is important, look at how well Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins performed under Renney.
     
  • A big thank you to Century Casino and Farlie Travel for sponsoring my #MSCharityPoker tournaments this weekend. We raised $8,000 for MS. Also congrats and good luck to Greg and Charles. They both won a seat in the WSOP main event this June. Thanks to all of you who played, and hopefully you’ll play again next year.
  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    Best hit of the weekend bar none was watching the Nuckleheads go down 3 games to none & still standing at center ice whining they still had 1.2 seconds left! Too funny I could barely go to sleep after watching that!

  • Jason Gregor

    @Rama Lama

    Did you read my 2nd last paragraph…I said the Oilers need more grit, size and depth. They have the skill, now they need to add a few other pieces. All part of the process, sadly for fans, it takes a while….

    • toprightcorner

      Yes you did say that………good to hear! Any chance you could put the question to some of the insiders you correspond with on the Oilers?

      I would be very interested in Lowebellini thoughts in light of what has transpired in the playoffs? Lowe has been repeating his mantra of speed and skill required in the ” New NHL”………..although I agree with speed and skill I think it would be suicide to focus on this alone.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    Its not so much the sizeof the player but the nastiness in his game. Look at how much of an impact Dustin Brown has made. MPS is a big guy but he doesn’t play a big guys game. I would be willing to part with him if it meant getting a nasty guy with skill.

  • Reg Dunlop

    I agree, this should be a no Sutter zone. As for Renney, what if Tippet or Ruff are looking for work? Another season of Romper Room then?

    As far as the oil being playoff ready, we won’t know until we’re there. Philly and Pitt certainly didn’t play with this degree of desparation in the reg. season. But it does not look promising now with our vaginas on 3rd and 4th lines.

  • toprightcorner

    I like Renny, he has been patient not rushing the young guns and focusing on teaching them how to succeed in the NHL first. My guess is this was the plan all along from management and he did not deviate it even though the pressure of the fans wanted otherwise and took a lot of heat for it.

    I think next year he will have a different approach next year based on the rebuilding plan of having 3 great picks like PIT and CHI did.

    On the other hand, if Alain Vigneault or Todd McLellan gets fired for early exit, I would look at them as head coach and Renny as Associate Coach, that is more what Renny specializes in, teaching and communicating, which is why that was what he was originally hired to do.

    I think Renny has earned another contract by towing the company line.

  • toprightcorner

    Luongo trade destination: Tampa

    Tampa is desperate for a goalie. Luongo has a no-trade clause, but his wife is from Florida. Seems like the best possible fit.

  • toprightcorner

    Some exciting hockey to say the least, Although I am not a fan of cheap shots, and chargin, [ guys running half way across the ice with intent to injure. Should be suspened for 3/5 games automatically.. this where players get injured.

    I had the same taughts ” how in the world would the Oilers survive one of these games.. they would get killed. Thats part of the rebuild that Tambelini has not taught about… people have been calling this out long before these play offs. Many games this year they got knocked around and Hordicuk and Eager were pasted to the benche, game after game. Mind you these two guys didnt much on the ice skill or muscle wise..waste of time.
    Suter .. are you kidding me… Renney staying.. are you kidding me.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Maybe it has already been said, but I LOVE the reaction of Carkner on Boyle.

    Boyle was running around in the previous game going after the young star defenseman. He deserved the beat down.

  • Wax Man Riley

    The Oil just have to figure out how to take players out like Brown does.

    You watch until a player gets engaged with another player in a puck battle and then you level him as the third man to the area.This has become an art on the new NHL.

    I bet you would have to go thru a ton of video to find anything like it in the 80s and 90s.

  • Jason Gregor

    @Rama Lama,

    I know the answer…They are well aware they need to get bigger, but it isn’t easy to grab players with both size and skill. Watch how they draft this year…It will reflect that.

  • Talbot17

    First off as an immediate Oilers and Blackhawks fan that picture of the Hawks girls is..rather….yes…AHW-MAZING

    but i don’t think the Oilers are far off from the playoffs. I love seeing the Canucks down like this 0-3 to LA, but LA was built for the playoffs so to me it is not as shocking.

    If we were in the playoffs I think the Oil have a lot of players that wouldn’t hold back if fighting broke out (Jones, Hall, Gagner, Smyth, even Eberle maybe because he is passionate about the game) I hope next year were sitting at this time talking about the sick game we had against a team cause this weekend was unreal.

    • Did you just mention Jones, Eberle, Hall and Smyth as fighters or even hard to play against? Wow!
      Jones is the softest Oiler ever! Hall had one fight that ended a season! Eberle is a lady bing player and tell me if you recall Smyth ever fighting in the 06 run! Nope he didn’t!
      The Oilers are one of if the the softest teams in the NHL. I’ve been saying this all year, the Oilers have to get gritty, tough, mean skilled players to play with those donna’s you just mentioned.

  • bazmagoo

    “As I watched most of the games over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think how far the Oilers need to go before they can compete. They have the high-end skill to compete in the future, but unless they drastically increase their size, grit and depth I think they are still a few years away. Maybe it’s just because the intensity has been dialed up so much (playoffs v. regular season) that it’s an unfair comparison, but I don’t see this team being playoff ready.”

    Totally agree with the above sentiment. The Oilers need to be big, mean and skilled and have a better than average goaltending. We only have one out of four. I think of Rennie has the coaching equivalent of “soft”. Perhaps he will be here next year but I don’t see the Oilers succeeding to be an elite team anytime soon.

  • bazmagoo

    “As I watched most of the games over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think how far the Oilers need to go before they can compete. They have the high-end skill to compete in the future, but unless they drastically increase their size, grit and depth I think they are still a few years away. Maybe it’s just because the intensity has been dialed up so much (playoffs v. regular season) that it’s an unfair comparison, but I don’t see this team being playoff ready.”

    Totally agree with the above sentiment. The Oilers need to be big, mean and skilled and have a better than average goaltending. We only have one out of four. I think of Rennie has the coaching equivalent of “soft”. Perhaps he will be here next year but I don’t see the Oilers succeeding to be an elite team anytime soon.

  • bazmagoo

    I remember back in the 80’s when we played Keenan’s Broad Street Bullies & the Big Bad Bruins for the Cup & everybody used to say the Oilers would never stand up to the grind & physicality but guess what, speed & skill wins almost everytime! Yes we had some heavy’s to ride the range but they knew their job & performed it well & our skill guys were determined (Gretz, Kurri, Anderson, Messier, Tikkanen, Simpson etc)!

    I see that determination in Hall, Nuge, Ebs, Paajarvi & this Yakupov wants to win bad also, the troublesome spot for me is players like Eager must perform their roles better, create room & get the impact players on the other teams on their heels!

  • Time Travelling Sean

    Fighting doesn’t=tough imo. Do Smyth and Jones play gritty games? Yes. They don’t play like Maggie and so they are playing in the NHL.

    Is Neal tough? How many fights has he had. Same thing for Simmonds. Iggy? haven’t seen him fight all year.

    • Correct on playing tough and not fighting, so I give Smyth a pass, but there is no way on God’s green earth you can convince me that Jones in anyway shape or form is gritty or tough! Check his PM is that a guy who plays “Gritty” no way.

      Now, check a guy like Clowe out, almost same overall numbers as Jones, but while Jones has 40+ PM Clowe has 100+

      Iggy and Simmons both fight often through out the year and Simmons fought already in the playoffs.

  • Reg Dunlop

    A quick response to etownman: speed and skill win almost everytime IN THE REG. SEASON. Not in the playoffs. The glory teams in Edmonton were the toughest in the league. Semenko, McSorley, and then Dave Brown were the best fighters bar none. McClelland, Pat Hughes ,Hunter, Don Jackson, Linseman, the list goes on and on. All of them vicious with the stick, and unpredictable. The big bad bruins were no more by the mid 80’s, neither were the Broadstreet bullies.

    Right now the oil are the least agressive team in pro hockey. That has to change, starting with management’s approach to building the team and the coaches approach to ,specifically, the BOA. I am sick of watching my team lose but I am SICK of watching my team get pushed around like little bitches.

  • Reg Dunlop

    One more thing. Anyone remember how the oil won in ’90? They iced a 4th line of young, hungry, agressive rookies who continually dumped the puck into Ray Bourque’s corner and ran him THROUGH the boards. To his credit Bourque always was 1st to the puck even though he knew what was comming.

    Who on the present squad has that type of mentality, that internal make-up to physically bully an opponant?

  • Schmidty

    During the Pens/Flyers game I was thinking the exact same thing. If the Oilers could compete at the same level. I started looking at the size of the players in that game and then in the Canucks/Kings game.

    I was astonished at how small in stature but how big many of the gritty players played. Richards, Kesler, Burrows, Couturier are all under 200 lbs. Brown, Lapierre, Hartnell and Neal are all the same size as Jones. All these guys play bigger than their weight. We have no one who plays bigger than their weight.

    The bottom six, who are supposed to provide the grit, are all woefully soft. We have no hitters. Taking the body and hitting are two different things. Eager, supposedly a hitter, drove me nuts on how many times he’d turn away instead of finishing his check. THAT’S YOUR ONLY JOB!

    Running the same lineup out there and hoping the development of the kids takes us to playoff wins is looney. We need some hitters. We need to have personnel that the other team fears. The Oiler’s calling card of the 90’s was speed and agressive forechecking. Its been years since we’ve had the personnel to play that style.