GDB 31.0: TWO-STEPPING IN NASHVILLE

The Oilers enter Nashville in the midst of a dangerous dance routine; one step forward, two steps sideways and one step back. They wrapped up a crucial four-game homestand with only one win and capped it off with a dreadful performance against the Blues.

Their only victory came against the Predators, and if the Oilers have any hope of staying in the playoff race, they will need a victory in Nashville tonight.

The Predators handed the Oilers their worst loss of the season, 6-0, back on March 8th, so if you combine that with their woeful effort on Saturday you’d expect the Oilers to put forth a much better effort tonight.

LINEUP

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins took the morning skate and he will play. In order to get him on the roster the Oilers had to send Teemu Hartikainen down to OKC.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

And with RNH coming back Lennart Petrell will come out of the lineup. I don’t think the line combinations matter as much as the Oilers finding a combination of hustle, smarts, effort and consistency.

Hall/Horcoff/Hemsky
Smyth/RNH/Yakupov
Paajarvi/Gagner/Eberle
Jones/Belanger/Brown

Smid/Petry
N.Schultz/J.Schultz
Fistric/Potter

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

YAKUPOV ICETIME

I asked Ralph Krueger to share his thoughts on how he uses Nail Yakupov in the 3rd period.

JG: Are you trying to protect Yakupov late in games, or are you concerned about his defensive awareness?

RK: He has our confidence. He’s an 18 year old, he’s going to be playing in this role, probably very similar, for the rest of the year. Not For lack of ability or will, he’s very responsible without the puck now. He’s trying to play the team game all of the time. We’re happy with him, but he’s an 18 year old and down the stretch the hierarchy has it in a way that we have more experience in other positions and other players. When you’re reduced to six to nine forwards and you’re trying to close games up and take them either into overtime or finish them with a lead, he understands that it’s just not his time yet. It was no different when we went back a few years to the roles that Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle had to now being able to play in those minutes.

But it’s nothing against Nail, we all know that putting a player of that age in the lineup has its unique challenges, and I think that we’ve been able to use him very well and we’re happy with the minutes that he’s played.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

JG: What about in overtime when it’s 4-on-4?

RK: We just have a lot of confidence in our penalty shooting ability. We’ve had some troubles 4-on-4 during the season, so we did have him playing if you think back. And there were some 4-on-4 breakdowns that cost us games that were extremely painful, and so we’ve kind of gone with more experience there. Those are gut feelings, whether you have 8 guys, or whether you end up going with 6. And he just wasn’t in the top 6 mix the last game, but he could be the next one. There’s nothing wrong with Nail playing there, but there’s a defensive element there and a risk reward. I’ve been in situations before where you play three forwards and one defenceman and just go for it.

But again, we believe in our ability also to win in penalty shots and we just felt the way that that game had been going, and the way that San Jose had been pushing us through the last part of the game that our chances might have been better. But we did play one of our best 4-on-4 periods, I thought, this season. They had 0 shots on our net and we had a couple of scoring chances, so I thought it was actually pretty good overtime period.

JG: How do you balance the feeling as a coach from game to game? You mentioned how right now you’ve got some veteran guys, and when it’s a tight game you’d lean towards them. Against San Jose after that shift in the third period when he had two big hits and got the crowd and bench energized, yet he didn’t see the ice again. How do you balance it? Is it just a gut feel, do you have a plan going into the 3rd period, or do you go from game to game and switch it that easy?

RK: I have all of the numbers and I’m a numbers man. I have them in my head and I’m working them down as the game evolves. I’ve got nine forwards in my head. On the one side I’ve got the green side; that means we need goals. The other side is the red side, we’re trying to shut a game or close it down, I’ve got nine forwards in my head and then going down to the last four minutes I’ve got six forwards. It’s a game to game thing. It really truly is conversations that we have with Bucky and Freddy between periods coming from above. It is final conversations with Steve (Smith) while we’re in those TV timeouts so I get some input from around me, and then the stomach just really takes you down the stretch. And you go with the players who really feel good that night for that situation. "

Yakupov was on the ice for two OT losses, on February 04th and 06th. He did lose his man, Tanev, vs. the Canucks but he made no mistake on the Jagr game-winner. We can agree or disagree with Krueger’s responses, but I respect him for taking the time to express his thoughts on Yakupov. I do agree with the coach on bringing him along slowly in regulation, but considering Krueger admitted Yakupov has worked extremely hard at becoming more responsible at ES, I’d look at giving him a shift in OT when there is more room to be creative.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

QUICK HITS

  • Why is Sam Gagner having his best NHL season? A big reason is because of a guy named Andy O’Brien. Read more here.
     
  • If you honestly believe the Oilers are better off moving out veterans and replacing them with unproven youth, then you can expect the Oilers to remain near the bottom of the western conference moving forward. The Oilers need to find PROVEN NHL players, not more "maybe," "might be," or "what if" type players.
     
  • I’m not saying the Oilers can’t move a veteran or two, but the return is likely more prospects and picks. These trades won’t fix the Oilers’ problems immediately. The Oilers need more experience, more consistency in their competitiveness and they need some size/skill in their top nine.
     
  • The Oilers will be competitive when their best players are equal to the best players on the other teams. The 4th line doesn’t win games for the Penguins, Blackhawks or Ducks. Their best players do, and until the Oilers best players are mature and have more experience the Oilers won’t win. That isn’t a knock on their young kids, it is just a fact. 
     
  • Case in point. The Capitals have won 5 of 7 and are suddenly two points out of the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin has 7 goals and 11 points in those 7 games. To win consistently in the NHL you need production from your top lines, top defenders and goalies. Focusing on the woes of the Oilers 4th line is a great distraction, but it isn’t the main problem in Edmonton.
     
  • A stellar quote from Ovechkin courtesy of Corey Masisak from NHL.com: "Right now I’m scoring goals and I’m king of the world. Couple weeks I was almost in the toilet. Maybe [they] forgot to flush me."
     
  • Today is the last day to help my hometown, New Sarepta, win the right to host a concert, but more importantly raise money to build a new arena. Do me a favour and take 30 seconds and vote here for New Sarepta. Thanks.
     
  • The Oilers play their remaining 18 games in a span of 34 days. They have four sets of back-to-back games and they only get two days off between games three times. The Oilers will have to play unbelievably well to have a shot at the playoffs.
     
  • If you were GM of the Oilers what moves would you make? Now you can show your intellect with www.websimhockey.com. It is a 100% web-based, multi-player hockey simulator. You take on the role of the General Manager of a virtual hockey team. You manage the various aspects of your team (drafts, trades, lineups, coach strategies, negotiations and contracts signings, arena construction, tickets, beer, hot dog and parking costs, and much more).  Properly managing your team and its finances will ensure your success.  The first 12 Nations readers who email [email protected] with "Nations promo" as the subject line will get a free trial. Good luck.  

  • This is an awesome beer commercial. I’m sure most of you have a buddy that reminds you of the guy brushing his teeth.
     

TONIGHT…

GAME DAY PREDICTION: In the last three meetings between these teams in Nashville one of them scored six goals. The Oilers got blanked 6-0 this year, but won 6-3 and 6-2 last year. I’m a fan of offence so I’m hoping that trend continues. The Oilers surprise us with a 6-3 win.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ales Hemsky scores twice thus heating up discussions over whether the Oilers should trade him before April 3rd.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: During intermission Sportsnet will feature "trade watch," and instead of Ryan Jones’ name coming across the prompter it will read Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Even though the hosts will say it was an error, many will take to twitter and blogs suggesting destinations for Nugent-Hopkins. Seriously, some will believe that moving RNH would be a good move.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR


  • yawto

    While I am in huge favour of signing Ladi Smid as soon as possible, watching the price Pittsburgh paid for Douglas Murray has me wondering what teams would offer for Smid. Being UFA makes it easier to move that player. I wouldn’t shop him, but I’d be willing to listen to offers.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Why is Teddy Peckham still here? Couldn’t that roster spot be better suited for a center?

    Which brings me to question 2, why don’t they take free centers like Hall and Halpern that dominate at the draw. We’ve had injuries all year at center, if they really wanted to we could eliminate that issue.

    Also that hat yesterday, statement? Thought you pulled it off, but just wondering if there is something more to it.

    • A-Mc

      Why is Teddy Peckham still here? Couldn’t that roster spot be better suited for a center?

      I Agree with the sentiment that Peckham isn’t being used so why is he here. Instead of going the route of moving him for a Center spot, i’m going to suggest that maybe Peckham play the rest of the season and Potter can sit out.

      Peckham has been with us for a number of years now and he hasn’t been getting used much. So what the hell is up with Mr Peckham!? use him or lose him.

      • Ducey

        If management is smart, they trade Whitney and give his ice to Peckham.

        That way they get something for Whitney and are able to evaluate Peckham to see if he can be relied upon for next year.

        • A-Mc

          If Whitney does get moved, then yes Peckham can take his spot.

          Unless something decent comes along, i’m not sure we’ll see Whitney moved at the trade deadline. It all depends how satisfied or defeated the management group is based on the Team performance this year. Unfortunately for us, management isn’t very open with the public.

          • outdoorzguy

            “If management is smart”. Really?? You think they’ve done anything to give you that impression?
            I don’t know how you can use the words smart and management in the same sentence when it comes to the Oilers. Incompetence comes at a high price.

  • Carlos Danger

    Moving some of vets out for picks and prospects comes into play in the summer when teams are looking to move bodies (shrinking cap) and picks have increased value. They could look to move some of those picks for NHL players in June. This team is not going to make the playoffs, with or without some of these guys.

    The use of Yakupov and the double-shifting of the 4th liners defies logic. Totally disagree here.

  • If you honestly believe the Oilers are better off moving out veterans and replacing them with unproven youth, then you can expect the Oilers to remain near the bottom of the western conference moving forward. The Oilers need to find PROVEN NHL players, not more “maybe,” “might be,” or “what if” type players.

    If I only wish I could surround this box with burning flames and siren sounds.

  • Ducey

    •If you honestly believe the Oilers are better off moving out veterans and replacing them with unproven youth, then you can expect the Oilers to remain near the bottom of the western conference moving forward. The Oilers need to find PROVEN NHL players, not more “maybe,” “might be,” or “what if” type players. •I’m not saying the Oilers can’t move a veteran or two, but the return is likely more prospects and picks. These trades won’t fix the Oilers’ problems. The Oilers need more experience, more consistency in their competitiveness and they need some size/skill in their top nine.

    Sorry, Jason, but you are out to lunch on this.

    San Jose trades Murray for two picks. Dallas trades Morrow for a pick and a prospect.

    These teams are AHEAD of the Oilers and they are selling.

    This simplistic notion that you can’t get rid of NHL players for picks or prospects defies logic.

    Whitney, Bulin and Belanger are done. Get rid of them. If you can get something good for Smyth or Hemsky trade them too.

    Good GM’s realize they are not going to make the playoffs, trade the pieces they can’t/ don’t want to keep – then load up in the offseason.

    • DSF

      This.

      All. Day. Long.

      As long as Oilers management keeps pretending they are still in a playoff race they won’t start taking the steps to improve the team for next season.

      As of this morning, they have an 8.2% chance of making the playoffs.

      If they were to win their next 5 straight, (Nashville, STL, Columbus, Vancouver and Calgary) which they won’t, they would still likely not be in the playoffs if Dallas wins 3 of 5 or any of San Jose, Nashville, Phoenix goes on any kind of a run.

      Considering that those teams will be playing each other and some of the games will be 3 pointers, the playoff ship has sailed.

      If there is a market of any kind for Whitney, Bulin, Belanger, Hemsky, Smyth, Peckham et al…now is the time to move them.

      With the cap dropping in the offseason there will be a glut of players who will be set free and the Oilers remainders won’t look vey attractive.

        • DSF

          If they were “average” players you would have a point,

          With the possible exception of Hemsky, they are all below average at their position.

          If you don’t believe you can improve the skill level of the players on one of the worst teams in the league you’ll stay on the big hamster wheel forever.

          If you examine what the much reviled Brian Burke did with a similarly incompetent bunch you’ll see he managed to move a very large number of unproductive flotsam and renew the franchise through shrewd trades and FA signings.

          That he isn’t around to reap the benefits is beside the point and, I could agree with an argument that the Lowe gang doesn’t have the ability to do the same but that doesn’t mean you stick withe the same gang of nincompoops just because you don’t think you can improve on them.

          It’s really important to note that while the Oilers kids keep getting the crap beat out of them, they are burning through ELC’s at a tremendous rate while the teams who are pointed to as models, Chicago, Pittsburgh etc. were winning cups while their young stars were still on their first contracts.

          I won’t bore everyone again with what Tallon did in Chicago but, if you are of a mind, go back and look at the transaction that occurred in Chicago in the 3 season leading up to their cup win…Sharp, Versteeg, etc. etc.

          Drafting high and getting young stars is the easy part.

          Surrounding them with veterans who can play at a high level is the hard part.

          And you won’t win unless you’re successful at the hard part.

          Which Oilers veterans can play at a high level?

    • Jason Gregor

      Which good GMs are you talking about that constantly miss the playoffs? Good GMs make the playoffs.

      And if you read slower, you’d see in the point you highlighted, I said they can trade and get picks and prospects, but that won’t make them better next year. If this team

      2nd round picks and later have about a 15% chance of working out…

      They need to replace the players with actual players.

      How many non-playoff teams load up in the off-season every year? Minnesota did, but the Oilers don’t have cap space to break the bank on two free agents, so tell me who they will load up with?

        • DSF

          Talk about missing the point.

          The Oilers need to stop the cycle of offloading for draftpicks and concentrate on improving the roster.

          The trade deadline should be used as one of the few transaction periods to do just that, even if making the playoffs this year are a pipe dream.

          Geez out of all the people that post here, you should be the one guy that is against the idea of shopping for picks with the dream of stocking up in free agency considering it is the Oilers we are talking about.

          • DSF

            Nonsense.

            I was talking about moving out unproductive vets and replacing them with better ones.

            But you can’t add players to a roster than is choked with flotsam and jetsam.

        • Jason Gregor

          That has no bearing on the point of trading veterans for draft picks. Of course the Oilers can trade some veterans, my point was that alone won’t make them better in the immediate future.

          And the Oilers could go sign two big name UFAs, but I don’t see any 27-29 year olds worth it… Then they’d have to move one of their kids, which wouldn’t be the worst scenario…but that is a completely different conversation.

          • DSF

            So, what you’re effectively sating is the Oilers have no chance of improving except through the draft.

            Amazingly, other teams like Toronto, Minnesota, Montreal, and Los Angeles have been able to accomplish their improvement through smart trades and FA acquisitions.

            You’re calling for status quo when it obviously is not working.

          • 106 and 106

            A quick scan of the Kings roster shows 11 of their players were drafted including key players such a doughty, brown. kopitar, clifford quick and bernier. 8 aquired by trade including key players such as richards, carter, williams. greene stoll and penner (he was a key last year). The only free agent of significance is Scuderi. Smart trades have helped the Kings but a succession of good early draft picks set the table.

            I won’t look at the other teams mentioned, but I suspect the story will be similar. You need good home grown talent to fill in around.

          • Jason Gregor

            Where did I say they should stick to status quo? I said they can change low-end guys, but that doesn’t alter the major weaknesses of the team. They have to switch key parts of their roster, not edge guys, if they want to improve.

            Toronto hasn’t made the playoffs in 7 years and now they are great. Okay.

            Montreal missed one year…they didn’t trade away veterans for picks, and have those picks help them. They signed Prust, brought in two rookies, shipped Cole for Ryder and got a healthy Markov.

            Which players did LA trade away for picks…They made hockey trades…Carter, Richard, Penner, Stoll, Greene… Also drafted Brown, Kopitar, Quick, Doughty…their key players.

            Minnesota made a big free agent splash…

            So your comparables have no bearing on your strategy to replace perimeter vets with better perimeter veterans. And unless the Oilers get vets who can play key roles, they won’t improve very quickly. You need vets who can make a difference not just 4th line guys or 3rd pairing defenders.

          • DSF

            Okay…I guess it’s time for rebuild 101.

            Lets take a look at what Dean Lombardi did in LA (and what Tallon did in Chicago although you can look up those transactions your self.

            Dean Lombardi took over the reins in LA in 2006.

            For those not inclined to look it up, that was 6 years before he won a cup.

            The team he inherited has finished out of the playoffs for 3 consevutive seasons and it took him a year to convoke LA management that he needed their support to burn it to the ground an rebuild.

            The team he inherited had the following roster:

            D:

            Lubomir Visnovsky

            Joe Corvo

            Brent Sopel

            Mattias Nordstrom

            Tim Gleason

            Nathan Dempsey

            Mike Weaver

            F:

            Craig Conroy

            Pavol Demitra

            Alex Frolov

            Mark Parrish

            Derek Armstrong

            Sean Avery

            Eric Belanger

            Dustin Brown (just drafted)

            Jeremy Roenick

            Tom Kotsopolous

            Jeff Cowan

            George Parros

            G:

            Mathieu Garon

            Jason Labarbera

            You will of course note that only one player on theta team, Dustin Brown, who was drafted in 2003, remained with the cup winning team.

            Jonathan Quick was drafted in 2005, a year before Lombardi took over but was hardly a sure bet at that time.

            Anze Kopitar was also in the system after being drafted 11th overall in 2005.

            Once Lombardi had convinced his ownership that a full rebuild was necessary, he began stockpiling picks, some his own but he also started moving out underperforming veterans for picks and younger players.

            He selected the following players with his multiple draft picks.
            (I’ll only include players who have had some impact in the NHL

            2006 – Jonathan Bernier, Trevor Lewis

            2007 – Thomas Hickey (oops), Wayne Simmonds, Alec Martinez, Dwight King

            2008 – Drew Doughty, Colten Teubert, Slava Voynov, Andrei Lokitonov

            A this point Lombardi (3 years after taking over) had stockpiled enough picks at key positions (C.D.G) that he started totally revamping the team.

            I won’t go through all the transactions since it would take too long but you’ll note there is not ONE veteran player on the cup winning roster from when Lombardi took over.

            Tallon did the same thing.

          • So what are they supposed to do then? Just stand around and hope another Shultz lands in their lap? Trading veterans for veterans? Our veterans suck, how can we get proven guys back? Seriously, what is the plan?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    [quote Jason Gregor]

    If you honestly believe the Oilers are better off moving out veterans and replacing them with unproven youth, then you can expect the Oilers to remain near the bottom of the western conference moving forward. The Oilers need to find PROVEN NHL players, not more “maybe,” “might be,” or “what if” type players.

    This type of thinking is part of the problem. These kids are on their own, on their own to lead this team out of the gutter, with minimal or no help from the so called veterans on this team. Can anyone say without a doubt that any of the veterans on this team (soon to be UFA, or UFA eligable) is performing to the level they are getting paid? Smid perhaps, till next yr, and then he’ll fall in the overpaid category as well.

    The deadwood on this team demand to be paid as per best case scenario. What the Edmonton faithful receive for their dollars is far from that locked in reality. 5.5 for Whitney, 6 for Horcoff, 3.75 for Khabibulin… where does the insanity end. Whoever is responsible for signing/accepting responsibilty for these deals is incompetent.Till the Halls,Hopkins,Eberles,Yakupovs and Justin Schultzs of this team lead this team every night, Oiler fans are screwed. Proven NHL veterans my arse, Edmonton is on their own to grow their own, lets start calling a spade, a spade here.

    5-2 Predators

    • Jason Gregor

      Totally agree with you, other than the odd face off, and a bit of defensive work,you could ship out all these so called girzzled vets and not miss to much. Team needs scoring in a big way and it isnt coming from the vets:

      Hemsky – 8
      Whitney -3
      SMyth – 2
      Horcoff – 4 [ ok he only played 13 gms.]
      Petry – 3
      Belanger – 0
      Smid – 0
      Fistric – 0
      Brown – 1

      Total of 21 goals, less than one per game, whats to miss.

  • OilerLand

    The following cements my opinion on Ralph Krueger and it’s not a good one:

    JG: What about in overtime when it’s 4-on-4?

    RK: We just have a lot of confidence in our penalty shooting ability.

    • A-Mc

      If the coach believes they have a higher chance of winning in the shootout as opposed to going for it in OT, What is there to fault him on?

      Defensive weaknesses aren’t exposed in the shootout, and lets be honest about what the real issues are with the Oil..

  • Carlos Danger

    Read the write up on Gagner summer training yesterday, very interesting and impressive.
    It appears it has helped him tremendously, based on the year that he is having, and playing better hockey. Now he just needs to get rid of his peewee stick.. would be better at checking defensively.

    I think some of the other youngum’s could use this training. Hall seems to be on his butt a lot, might have the blanace issue as well. RHN could use some upper body work.
    A similar program worked for Stmakos in his second year , when he took on the Gary Roberts program. NOt sure if not enough guys in the NHL dont get involved in this type of training. Could mean millions of dollars to them

    Now all we need is someone to train them to shoot more.[seriously ]

  • outdoorzguy

    Jason, “The Oilers will be competitive when their best players are equal to the best players on the other teams. The 4th line doesn’t win games for the Penguins, Blackhawks or Ducks. Their best players do, and until the Oilers best players are mature and have more experience the Oilers won’t win. That isn’t a knock on their young kids, it is just a fact.”

    This is where your distinction falls short. There 4th lines don’t lose hockey games for them. I think we have all played enough sports to know what it feels like when you have players that are killing your chances to win. It kills your spirit and will to win.

  • Marc.C1971

    Forget the trades! The biggest problem for my Oilers is work ethic. The coach lays out a chip and chase strategy and the guys are too stubborn to follow it. They’ve shown this year they can play that style and that it works. If you can’t play a structured, hard working game for 19 minutes a night…. I’m sorry but you don’t belong
    on my team. I will also suggest Taylor Hall think before he speaks. After the St.Louis debacle he informed the Edmonton fans during a post game interview that he felt the Oilers had in Fact, a pretty good home stand!!!

    Obviously the culture of losing (and how you lose) is still alive and well with this bunch. Better start learning some of these 4 year questions soon! If not then an outside protest at Rexall should be in the near future.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Well said sir. We all seen the difference when Brown played his first games as an Oiler. There was an urgency/pace to his effort that stood out. He actually looked like one of the best Oiler player for his first couple games. A forth liner leads the way.

      The Oilers don’t practice at game pace anyways, so it’s no wonder they’re falling short most games. Kreugers kinder gentler coaching methods are just enabling his players to fall short. This is what we get without sufficient veteran support along with getting outworked most nights.

  • OilerLand

    blowing the two goal lead all the time in the 3rd isnt the kids fault, its coaching, they change coaching tactics in the 3rd, they sit offensive talent and they play the vetrans more which cost us, play the same game all game and dont sit on the lead, at that point its coaching, the coach says he isnt changing, but he is, we are not stupid, we can see it in the 3rd when when nail gets sat, they say he needs defencive work yet he isnt even playing when the lead gets blown, free nail