I have been impressed with the play of both Ryan Jones and Ben Eager. Right now we are talking about a very small sample size. Jones has just gotten started this year and Eager has had injury problems as well. Could it be that the answer to the Oilers issues of size and aggression has been on the IR for most of this season?
At the skate today Jones was playing on a line with Sam Gagner and Hemsky. He brings what is needed to this line: physical play, net drive and defensive awareness. The question that needs to be answered is can Jones keep up and contribute with very offensive players?
He has scored close to twenty goals the past two seasons so he can clean up the garbage. It is different playing with highly skilled players. You need to read off of them. It is a challenge. Burrows has learned to do it well with the Sedin twins in Vancouver; Jones is a smart enough guy, if given a real chance maybe he can do the same for the Gagner line.
The way Ben Eager has played the last few games is exactly what was expected from him when he joined the Oilers. He is finishing all of his checks and getting in on the forecheck. The Oilers need him to do this for the whole season, not just a few games or a week. He is very noticeable during the game; can that be said for the whole Oilers lineup? Yes he takes penalties, and some are not good penalties at all. I can live with a few of those though for a while. He needs to learn to keep his stick on the ice and not take bad offensive zone penalties, they kill momentum!
When Horcoff gets back would the third line combo of Eager and Horcoff be a good start to a checking line? I think it would. The question becomes who joins them? Yakupov? Petrell? Paajarvi? Based on his recent play I would put Smyth in there. That spot could be rotated to different players depending on their play. With Smyth, the third line would be a veteran line, not sure how much offensive they would create but at least Ralph would know who to put out at the end of the game.
When everyone is healthy I would give these lines a hard look.
- 4 – 93 – 14
- 28 – 89 – 83
- 55 – 10 – 94
Hall is the biggest of the skilled group of forwards the Oilers have. He drives the net hard and creates chaos in the offensive zone. Jones would be the garbage man on the second line. Could these lines be a start to adding some nuts and guts to the Oilers top nine? When Horcoff comes back I would like to find out. They aren’t scoring with the current makeup of the lines five on five so what has the team got to lose?
This leaves Yakupov out of the mix. He is learning the NHL game on the fly. Not an easy thing to do. With so little practice time I am sure the coaches are using video as the teaching method of choice. He is a very dangerous player in the offensive zone. It is a treat to watch him shoot the puck. He is much quicker than I expected.
In the neutral and defensive zones he needs to learn about puck management. There is a big difference between making a pass and making a hope pass. You have all played the game. You know the difference. When you make a pass that is tape to tape without any risk you feel good about it. You know the result before you pass the puck, the puck will get to your teammate.
A hope pass is when you PRAY the puck makes it to your team mate. You need to get lucky or have a fortunate bounce. Maybe the defensive player misses the puck or falls down. These passes are great in rec leagues but not in the NHL. All young skilled forwards go through this growing pain; he will figure it out. A perfect example is Nazem Kadri with the Leafs. He seems to have it figured out this year.
This still leaves him on the fourth line but is that so bad? When was the last time the Oilers had a player this skilled on that line? Forever! I don’t believe he is being punished, there is just no room right now on the other lines. He will get his power play time and less even strength time. Not great for a young player but he needs to be patient.
If players in the top three lines struggle Ralph can move Yakupov into their spot. Internal competition! The team needs that. I guarantee the other players know he is there, waiting for his chance. It pushes them to go harder.
We can all agree that the Oilers need more grit in their top lines. Maybe just maybe, with Hall, Jones, Eager and a healthy Horcoff they are starting to get something that looks like a grittier top 9.
How to beat Dallas!
The Oilers got a point out of Chicago, something I did not expect. It is a bonus. They need to keep this point streak going through Dallas.
To beat Dallas they need to keep the pace very high. Out skate this team. After the game in Chicago, Ralph Kreuger mentioned that he was trying to get thirty shifts in the third period for his forwards. That is a lot of changing but it keeps the tempo of his team very quick. They should try to do this all game tomorrow, make Dallas try and keep up with them.
They need to skate Dallas into the ground. The defence needs to get back for pucks quicker. Make the first pass they see. The forwards need to be skating and not once turn the puck over in the neutral zone. When in doubt, chip the puck by the Dallas ‘D’ and go get it. Think of the goal Eberle scored on Saturday.
If they go with short, quick shifts and don’t turn the puck over in the neutral zone they will overwhelm the Stars. If they choose to take longer shifts and skate east to west with the puck, they will lose for sure.
I hope you are reading this Ralph because I just gave you your game plan for victory!