The intersection of creativity and elbow grease

Thursday night’s game against San Jose was thoroughly enjoyable – both teams played very well, there were numerous chances (and solid goaltending) at both ends, and for Oilers fans the fact that their team was able to force a shootout on the second night of back-to-back games against a very good Sharks team was an exceptional outcome.

The shift I have chosen to highlight was not a key one in the game – in fact, it did not even result in a scoring chance for either side – but I do think it’s one reflective of the effort the Oilers put in.

We start with Nail Yakupov (64 for Edmonton) in possession of the puck. He’s just taken a pass but he wasn’t really in flight at the time so he doesn’t have the speed to beat Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44 for San Jose) into the zone. Both Sam Gagner (89 for Edmonton) and Justin Schultz (19 for Edmonton) are back of the play so he doesn’t really have a pass option, either. Probably better than 90% of the time, the next move is obvious – dump the puck in hard and chase it down.

Yakupov decides to be more creative than that, however – he holds up and suddenly has a bunch of options.

Yakupov makes the pass to Hemsky (83 for the Oilers). Now, instead of a low percentage chip-and-chase play, the Oilers have possession and three guys on the centre-left (Hemsky, Gagner and Schultz the younger) with only Brad Stuart (7 for San Jose) lined up against them and Vlasic moving hard to get back into the play.

The Sharks are in decent position to defend, but are outnumbered in the zone by an Oilers’ team with possession.

Hemsky goes to the net with a nice move and almost beats Stuart, but Stuart gives him enough a shove that he loses his footing. Now Stuart is in good position to take possession behind the net.

Stuart does indeed get possession – Hemsky tries to get his stick on it from the ice but he isn’t in any position to out-muscle Stuart – and skates away. Sam Gagner, however, interjects himself between Stuart and the puck with a hit that’s low on flash and long on substance.

The puck comes free, but a mob races for the puck, and Gagner’s stuck trying to win a puck battle against Stuart, Scott Gomez and Logan Couture (7, 23 and 39 for San Jose, respectively).

Unsurprisingly, Couture emerges from the pack with the puck. At this point Ales Hemsky steps in, rubbing Couture out along the boards.

Now Gomez steps in, and he has position on Hemsky but Hemsky isn’t about to make it easy for him – the two tangle along the boards while Yakupov and the unfortunately named Ryane Clowe (29 for San Jose) watch.

Gomez wins the battle, Couture takes the puck and flips it out – but Yakupov has moved in along the boards and will block the attempt to clear the zone.

Yakupov fights for the puck with three Sharks around him, but manages to get possession and reverse it along the boards past Gomez.

Stuart deserves credit for being in good position, however – no sooner does Hemsky get the puck than Stuart shoves him hard into the boards.

Finally: three Sharks surround the puck, and only Ales Hemsky is close to it.

But as Hemsky and Gagner pressure, Stuart only manages to weakly push the puck towards the high slot.

Unsurprisingly, Yakupov is all over the loose puck.

Yakupov fires from the high slot, but Vlasic is able to get in front of the puck and block the shot.

Gagner manages to get to the loose puck before Vlasic can.

Gagner fires a blind backhand pass into the slot; Hemsky manages to stop it but it’s in his skates so he can’t get a quick shot away from point-blank range.

Hemsky can’t control the puck in his skates, and Couture takes it and skates it out.

Couture makes a quick pass to Gomez, who finally gains his own blue line with the puck.

Despite the fact that this shift didn’t result in a scoring chance – or even a shot through to net, as Yakupov’s lone attempt was blocked – I thought it was a worthwhile one to highlight because it showed the hard work of a line known more for skill. Not that skill wasn’t on display – Yakupov made a move in gaining the zone that the vast majority of players simply would not have made and Hemsky’s slick little move almost got him past Stuart – but most of this shift was hard work. Gagner hit Stuart behind the net, Hemsky hit Couture on the side boards, and those two as well as Yakupov fought tough battle for possession along the sideboards and in front of/behind the net.

In this instance, the hard work didn’t pay off. Lots of times, however, it will.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • JW,

    I’m loving these step by step articles your doing this year. It’s nice to see these plays broken down, I find myself breaking them down more during the games now too.. Plus, I like pictures! It’s like a pop up book in school..hooray!!

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    Great piece. It’s pretty easy to see how Hall drives the first line but Gagner quietly is becoming the driving force of that second line. Just needs to get a little better/harder in the defensive zone.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Good breakdown… I remember that shift well, because it was one of those rare treats when someone messes with Hemsky and he lets his emotion show… without doing something stupid.

    great shift.

    through the course of the year… that kind of forecheck is going to pay dividends.

  • vetinari

    I agree that the biggest differences with this year’s team and last year’s is the effort and fight being put in, shift after shift. Last year, the team would have accepted that the game was likely over by giving up two goals in 40 seconds but this year, they actually attacked in waves each shift after the SJ goals.

    I suspect that some of the change in attitude is a result of the change in coaching (Krueger v Renney), some of it is the result of new faces (J. Schultz & Yakupov) and some of it is the result of the kids adding muscle since last April and competing against men as men Eberle, Hall, RNH and even Gagner),

  • justDOit

    I’ll add my voice to the chorus and say nice analysis, JW (some part of me can’t accept calling it a ‘break-down’ – I’ve seen too many Oiler breakdowns in seasons past). I took notice of this play as well, and initially worried about Yakupov holding up before the blue line, but he didn’t turn the puck over.

    Gretzky was once quoted as saying something like ‘hard work beats skill, but skill and hard work will win every time’.

  • vetinari

    The oilers are finally coming together,they are starting to battle back in games and not give up when losing,They are playing like a team and they are not being intimidated by other teams.I thought that was there best game this year and enjoyed it,sometimes a great hard fought loss is more enjoyable than a boring half-assed win!.Although the are no where near lord stanley at least after 6 long years you can start to see POSITIVE progress for a change,and good things coming down the pike!Way to go oilers,the fans are proud of all of you(long time since we could say that)

  • oilerjed

    It seems to me that the oilers arent having quite the hard time with puck battles along the boards that was predicted of this undersized team. Almost every game this year both of our top lines seem to be competing quite well in the offensive and defensive end. Not many thundering body checks(some smaller but effective hits)but lots of busy sticks and hockey smarts seems to be paying off. Hopefully it will start to pay off with 5v5 goals to keep them motivated enough to keep it up. Go Oil Go!

    • jimmyc

      The exception though is Ryan Smyth. Is it just me but is anyone amazed at the number of times that Smytty gets pancaked straight to his back by the opposing Dman! In the Sharks game it happened at least 3x. I find it odd because a) he is usually in a big wide stance so hard to move and he has unbelievable vision when along the boards to avoid the check.

      Willis have you noticed this?

      Hit the weights Man!

  • oilerjed

    There’s something to be said about putting away the blender and running the same lines… there is/will be maturation on the performance.There will come a time shortly, when these young guys like Hall and Yak, will slow the game down [ not feet] but in their minds taking that extra second to make a pass or a shot eliminating open wing and blind passes… they will be amazing, not to mention carrying a few pounds of extra muscle.Will be hard to stop.

    They played a great game, and to be totally honest, Dubnyk as surprised me over the way he has played.

  • geoilersgist

    Last night was a good game minus about 1min around the two goals. I also see the huge difference in this team this year in comparison to last years team in that they are able to actually push back after being scored on and get back in the game.

  • Reality Check to the head

    I remember this shift because I like it when Hemsky gets a little angry. He has sometimes disappears, but has also shown his extraordinary skating ability (this year). I hope he keeps shooting that puck.

    Nice articles.

  • jimmyc

    Great breakdown of that shift, truly shows Krueger’s coaching style and that pressure isn’t always dependent upon size.
    One thing that bothers me about Gagner, and he is the teams worst offender, is the “blind pass’ you describe late in the shift. This drives coaches bonkers…the players are tired and throwing the puck away blindly usually results in a scoring chance the other way and immediateyl takes himself out of the play. Eat it Sam, or put it in the opposite corner!!

  • jimmyc

    Willis another good great piece which highlights a lot of Oiler strengths of what this hockey team is about – another name for this would be “Puck Pursuit on Steroids”.

    As well if I were a coach there is a piece in here that I have seen over and over with relatively the same result. Hemsky’s move on Stuart. If I was the Coach I would get Hemsky to work on rather than beat and go around the whole team I would get him to work on a low hard wrist shot in traffic just in front of the last defenceman (ala Mark Messier move). Goalies and D know Hemsky’s dangle MO – if he had this move I would predict a) he would score more b) with the speed the Oilers and defensive team so preoccupied with this speed that if he did not score the rebounds given up would be big and in this case Gagner would have a tap in from the offwing.

    He would need a longer stick though!!!