Ales Hemsky has a unique ability to take over games

The opening goal of last night’s game was a remarkable thing, and showcased some of the (depth!) talent the Oilers have accumulated of late. Particularly brilliant was the goal-scorer, Ales Hemsky, who is in 2005-06 form after a rough go of things last season.

We start with the Oilers exiting their own zone. Sam Gagner (89) carries the puck over his own blue line with Nail Yakupov (64) on one wing and Ales Hemsky (83, off-screen) on the other. This is the second shift after a failed Dallas power play, and a time one often sees mismatches in the matchup game – Stars coach Glen Gulutzan rolled out line three and then line four, while Ralph Krueger went with a modified version of his top line (Paajarvi in for Eberle, as Eberle was out for the last shift of the penalty kill) and then deployed his second line. The Stars pictured are Antoine Roussel (60), Vern Fiddler (38) and Eric Nystrom (24).

Gagner has passed off to Yakupov, and Hemsky is at the other side of the ice waiting to enter the zone. Because the Dallas defence has backed off and Nystrom is the only Stars forward in any position to exert pressure, the Oilers gain the zone easily.

All five stars have collapsed into the defensive zone as Yakupov stops up with the puck on the half boards. Rather than try and thread a pass through multiple guys, Yakupov does the obvious thing and sends it back to the point.

Corey Potter (44) walks in and tries to thread a shot between Roussel’s legs, one that is blocked. Yakupov is in good position but needs to beat both Roussel and defenceman Brenden Dillon (4) for the loose puck.

Dillon takes a moment to react, so Yakupov grabs the puck and skates it into the slot for what looks like it’s going to be a shot.

Instead of shooting, Yakupov skates through – and the result is a relatively clear lane to Hemsky at the side of the net, with four Stars tied up in a tight little box in front of the net. Notable here too is Gagner, who knows that if Hemsky gets the puck at the side he’ll have a moment to thread it through the crease, so he’s getting to the other side of the net in a hurry. The play doesn’t work out, though – Dillon just manages to get his stick on the puck, deflecting the pass from Hemsky and into the corner.

Unperturbed, Hemsky retrieves the puck and starts to carry it out.

Hemsky cycles back toward the point, and Ladislav Smid (5) cycles down, ready for the handoff if Hemsky chooses to make one. Hemsky does not, though Stephane Robidas (3) gives Smid a bit of a bump anyway. A strong check by Nystrom here and this play is probably over, but he’s hesitant to engage and Hemsky blows past him.

Hesmky keeps going, and Nystrom turns to follow.

Hemsky could have passed off to Petry, but he just keeps going, zipping around Nystrom and coming in 1-on-1 with Roussel.

Hemsky zips past Roussel.

Looks like Hemsky has skated himself into and right back out of a danger area, but that’s only because Smid and Yakupov aren’t on screen.

Hemsky passes off to Smid, who gets a shot from a dangerous area. It’s easy to see what his circling has done to Dallas’ defence and fourth line – there are three guys all over Gagner, and one on Hemsky himself at the post, leaving the Oilers with a three-to-one advantage everywhere else in the zone.

Lehtonen makes a fine save, but Hemsky zips around the back of the net, retrieves the loose puck, and the gets ready to start the whole exercise over again.

Given the open lane, this time Hemsky cuts to the slot rather than to the outside. He looks like he might shoot but instead passes to Yakupov, who misses the puck.

Yakupov has time and space, so he retrieves the puck and comes out of the corner, even as Hemsky continues on past circling the other way.

Yakupov circles back toward the slot, and has two obvious options – a pass to Gagner or a chance to skate up and shoot. His safest pass is less obvious – Smid’s stick at the far left of the screen. Looking towards the net the entire time, Yakupov dishes the puck to Smid.

Smid skates low with it, and now is finally the time to use Gagner.

Smid makes a slap-pass to Gagner, who tips the puck just to the side of the net – a play that could very easily have been a goal and the Oilers’ second nice opportunity to score on this shift.

Yakupov retrieves the puck in the corner and makes a behind the back pass toward the front of the net.

Hemsky and Gagner both miss the puck, as do both Stars in the area – it actually ends up bouncing off Kari Lehtonen’s pad and in front of the net.

Gagner grabs the loose puck and sends it back to Yakupov, who has two really nice options – a pass to Hemsky at the side of the net or a shot from a prime scoring location. Yakupov shoots.

Yakupov hits the post for the Oilers’ third scoring opportunity. The puck bounces off and directly to Ales Hemsky at the side of the net.

Hemsky takes his time, then puts the puck high over the sprawling Lehtonen. At this point, Yakupov zips over to Hemsky and puts an arm around him, literally jumping up and down on the ice in excitement at the goal that was just scored.

There were a lot of great plays leading up to that goal, and the Hemsky line just put the boots to Dallas’ grinders. The obvious guy to highlight is Hemsky, because lopping through the zone the way he did opened up all kinds of opportunities as the Stars struggled to adgust. Yakupov too, though, deserves a lot of credit here – I particularly liked the way he sold the shot before passing off to Smid. For that matter, Smid stood out on this shift – he wasted no time cycling low when it became clear Hemsky was going to the point, and the slap-pass to Gagner was really a thing of beauty.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

    • Beleive it or not, I don’t think that there is that much differnce of opinion on Gagner. I think we all see his value…some estimate a little higher or a little lower….but I don’t think the range is that large.

      What creates the persception of Gagner wars has more to do with different peoples opinion of the Oilers organizational needs.

      If you in the camp that thinks that more size and toughness is a neccessity (say to win the playoffs for example) then Gagner becomes a target for a trade.

      Whereas if your in the camp that thinks the Oilers just need to build around their nucleus (i.e. keep all their current talent) and add a few more role players that address specific needs, like win more faceoffs, or add a fighter, or another big bodied defensemen like Fistric, etc. Then free agency and the draft seem more logical than trading a Gagner.

      There are probably other camps our there with different overall strategies that I haven’t mentioned here. Point is, I think it has less to do with a like or dislike for a specific player and more to do with a differnce of opinion on organizational needs and how to achieve them. I’m in the camp that says keep the nucleus (Nuge, Hall, Eberle, Yak, and J Schultz) and build around them. EVERYONE else is expendable if the RIGHT deal is there.

  • Just trade Gagner and Hemsky for some more prospects. Sign Jason Arnott to center Yakupov, resign Whitney to a six year deal at $4 million per. Yes yess and hell yes!

    The hell is all this trade talk coming from? Last year we had a hot start and sucked therest of the way. 10 games in sitting 1 game below .500 with basically two lines providing consistent efforts. Nuge Ebs and Hall havent even clicked yet. Gagners line has been providing the snuff in lieu of their horrible start. Now you wanna trade two thirds of our line 1A?

    We here in Oil Country need a bit of patience, most nights we boo Horcoffs efforts with the puck now were missing him? Belanger was a whipping boy too last year but seems to have turnednthat around. This team is young and the consistency and bounces havent gone our way. Reffing has been bad as well, once the hockey gods smile on us and break Nuge and Ebs out of their slumps watch out. Every player gets snake bitten, how many times have we seen Ebs miss an open cage? Its like a Kardashian doing something decent.

  • No surprise that this has turned into a Sam Gagner debate. I was wondering when his critics would open their mouths. He’s small, sure, but he’s a lot tougher than he gets credit for.

    Sam Gagner is as tall as Danny Briere and weighs about 10 lbs. more than him. Danny Briere is a point per game player in the playoffs and he’s played in 108 playoff games. I’m not ready to say that Sam Gagner would get destroyed playing in the playoffs before he ever gets the chance to prove otherwise. I agree that this Sam needs to improve his faceoff work and defensive play but he is far from the biggest problem on this team.

    Nice to see Hemmer get back to his old self. For my money, he has been our best/most consistent forward this season.