It was great to see Ryan Jones back in the Oilers’ lineup Saturday versus the Phoenix Coyotes. His flow is looking good and after the eye injury he suffered during the lockout he is now wearing a shield. What he means to this lineup is more than just flow and visors though.
Jones’ impact was felt immediately. He is the player that brings energy and some ugliness (as in he does the ugly work required) to this group of top nine forwards. In his first couple of shifts he could have had a goal for sure. From where? About sixteen inches from the blue paint. I don’t think any of his seventeen goals last year were scored from any further away than five feet from the net. That is what the Oilers need, someone to clean up the garbage.
On the forecheck he has the ability to separate defenceman from the puck. This is an area the Oilers are weak in. Either they refuse to chip the puck in when confronted with no other choice or when they reach the puck retrieving defenceman they lack the ability to bump him off the puck.
think with Jones in the lineup the Oilers will have more offensive zone time. He has the ability to keep plays alive. He never gives up on the puck. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that with Jones in the lineup the team should run the table but he brings the dynamic the Oilers team has been missing. With Horcoff coming back at the end of the road trip or when they get home, those two will provide more grit and guts to the top nine. It still isn’t enough but it is a start.
I have said many times that this group of Oilers forwards try carry the puck in too much. Dumping in is required. You are not giving the puck away when you dump it in, you are advancing it into areas where your linemates with speed can recover it. I think Ralph has been listening to what I have been saying. Take a look at this goal from Saturday.
Smart dump by Gagner, great speed and attack by Yakupov. Then Eberle does what he does best…..finish.
The Power Play
Did anyone else notice the change in the look of the Oilers power play Saturday? The coaching staff had no choice but to insert another player with Hall suspended but they made it clear what they were looking for with the addition. Both Smyth and Hartikainen were planted right in front of the net. Asses in the face of Smith!
The other three set up in an umbrella. Eberle, Schultz and the Nuge were sliding it around looking for an open shot knowing the screens would be there. I like that they changed up the look of the power play. They are going along at 23.7% right now which is good for fifth in the league. But you have to keep the other teams guessing as to what to expect from you or else they can watch tape and adapt. Every team scours the video for ways to shut you down, without any wrinkles to the PP, they will figure it out.
It will be interesting to see when Hall comes back after the Chicago game how the PP looks. I would assume that the first unit will be as it was before he got suspended, four forwards and Justin Schultz. Maybe the second unit will become more of a bomb from the point and battle in front type of unit.
The Road Trip from Hell!
Nine game road trip! Wow! That is a long one. Two games against Chicago, the hottest team in the league. Only two teams that are below the Oilers in the standings, Colorado and Columbus. It doesn’t stack up as an easy road trip. They didn’t set the table for this trip very well with a record of two wins and three losses on this home stand. They need to have a strong road trip.
What is a strong road trip? Anything less than a 0.500 record on this road trip will hurt. When they get back they will have played twenty six games. Over half of this year’s forty-eight game season. Twenty-two games is quite a few games to make up points but keep in mind every team will be fighting for points. That means a lot of three point games. The Oilers will have to pass two or more teams to get into ninth. Not easy to do when teams are picking up points in those overtime losses.
For the most part the Oilers have been counting on the power play to win games. On the road they are at 16.7% on the PP. At home 28.3%. Without a lot of even strength production on the road they will be counting on their goalies to keep the games very low scoring, very low.
This is an ugly road trip to pack for. Nine games! That is a long time. Lots of meals for stains to hit your clothes. I bet the guys have very loaded bags heading out on this one.
I played with a guy who would only bring a toothbrush on road trips less than five days! Just a toothbrush in the suit jacket pocket. Every time I saw him I would start howling. He said if he ran into an issue with stains he could get them laundered overnight in the hotel or just buy something. He actually made a lot of sense.
My prediction for this road trip is pretty optimistic.
- Four wins
- Four losses
- One overtime loss.
What do you guys think?