With no training camp it looks to me that NHL teams are still disorganized in areas. Two areas that look out of sync for most of them are areas the Oilers are having success, the penalty kill and off the rush.
Discipline within the penalty kill is required to kill penalties. Skating in straight lines, having good sticks and good communication are just some essential elements needed to kill them off.
As you watch NHL hockey take a look at how players are swinging while killing penalties in zone instead of stopping and going straight back to position. This is a killer which the Oilers are taking advantage of. It opens up passing lanes for just a second to make a pass for a back door shot. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if the killers had their sticks in lanes which for the most part they don’t.
It isn’t often you see goals scored off the rush. Teams are just too strong at reading and reacting to the rush. Recognizing that it is a three vs. two or even-man rush early makes a big difference to stopping it. Right now it seems that teams are not quite at that place yet. How many times have we seen two players go to the same offensive player on the rush? That results in an odd man rush for someone else to cover up. This shouldn’t happen as often when players have had a full training camp or are in midseason form.
So far this season scoring even-strength goals has not been easy for the Oilers. They have one of the lowest totals in the league. With the power play firing on all cylinders it has not become a huge issue but at some point the PP will slow down or go through a cold streak. What happens then? Sooner or later they will need goal production during even strength play.
If they don’t find a way to score goals even strength than the losses could start to pile up. So what should they do?
Ralph Kreuger needs to get his forwards to focus on these three tasks.
1. Chip the puck in at the blueline.
Watching players fly through the neutral zone with the puck on their stick is fun to watch. Sometimes they are able to carry it right into the offensive. More often than not they run into a defencemen getting support from his partner and his center. This is when a player must chip the puck in behind the ‘D’, not to give it away but to go and get it again out of a dangerous area.
How many times have we seen the Oilers break out nicely, get speed on the attack through the middle zone, only to have the puck knocked off their stick? This always results in a quick counter attack, usually with an odd man rush.
Think back to this goal, the first goal of the game against last Saturday in Calgary.
Coaches get very frustrated with turnovers at the offensive blueline. So many chances against are a result of this giveaway. If you don’t get the puck into the offensive zone you will not score goals. The Oilers need to chip it in more often to have more offensive zone playing time.
2. Longer sustained offensive zone pressure shifts.
Cycling as a line well was something I always thought was impressive and important for teams to do. The ability to hold onto the puck in the offensive zone for thirty or forty seconds really contributes to the momentum of a game. It wears down the defensive players on the ice. It puts that whole team on their heels.
The Oilers love to try and score off the rush, which is great but hard to do. After that initial rush, they need more sustained pressure. Pressuring the defenceman to get the puck back and more pinching from the Oilers’ blue-liners are two things they need. It is very hard to make plays under pressure and to get the puck out as a forward if the offensive ‘D’ are pinching.
If they can do more of that they will get the chance to cycle and make plays in the offensive zone. If they don’t, the game can become an endless series of neutral zone regroups. That won’t create any pressure.
3. Take the puck to the net and stay there.
At times it almost seems like the Oilers are two different types of teams. When they are on the power play they attack the net. They take shots and then stay around the net to battle for loose pucks and rebounds.
Five on five I don’t see this as much. When they do cycle the puck and then take a shot they are more often than not on the outside of the play looking in. They need to fight for the inside position. Yes, that can hurt. No one likes to get slashed or hit but that is the price that must be paid to score goals at even strength. There are few beautiful goals scored at any time but especially at even strength.
Turn on your TV tonight and watch the highlights. How many tic-tac-toe goals will you see? How many dog piles in front will you see? Shots from the blue line with lots of traffic in front and then someone bangs home a rebound? There will be very few tic-tac-toe and lots of the rest.
The Oilers need to get gritty, dirty and yes, bloody if they want to start scoring at even strength!
We are all starting to realize how valuable a player like Ryan Jones is to this team. He provides that grease factor the Oilers need right now. Has he ever scored a goal from more than five feet from the blue paint? He can move up and down the lines as required and whack home the garbage.
Scoring at even strength is required for success. It is clear that the Oilers have a good PP but more is required. So Ralph, I know you read this… tell the boys these three things and you will have success! Chip the pucks in, cycle the puck and take the puck to the net!
An eye for an eye?
My first coach when I turned pro was a guy named Jimmy Roberts. He played for years in the NHL and was a coach for a long time after he finished playing. One night we were playing and a dirty player on the other team hurt one of our players with a hit from behind. I can’t remember the players name right now but I can remember what Jimmy said to us in the room later.
We all tried to get back at this player by hitting or getting him to fight but nothing worked. After the game, Jimmy sat us all down and said, “What that idiot did on the other team was stupid; we all know that. We couldn’t get him back tonight but trust me, somebody will at some point. You live by the sword, you die by the sword."
I will never forget that.
Patrick Kaleta is one of the dirtiest players in the NHL. He hits late and hits high. Tuesday night Mike Brown from the Leafs hit him hard and Kaleta was injured on the play. Check it out.
Call me a sick bastard but I had no issue with him getting hurt. He has hurt lots of guys. I actually caught myself chuckling!!! I don’t like to see players stay down but not this time, didn’t bother me for a second!
As soon as I saw the hit all I could think about was Jimmy saying "You live by the sword, you die by the sword."
I love it!!!