A big hit and a great fourth line shift

It was a bizarre game last night, in a lot of ways. Both teams had power plays that were given a lot of rope by some extremely giving referees, and until Gagner scored on a 4-on-3 in overtime both teams were wildly ineffective on the man advantage. The goalies were superb. I really didn’t want to go back and review the refereeing again; seeing it once was enough (for me, and for both teams judging by their reactions).

Instead, I thought I’d highlight one of Mark Fistric’s big hits and how it impacted one shift.

The play starts in the Kings’ end of the ice. Two Oilers are deep, and all five Kings are in the defensive zone; Brad Richardson (15 for Los Angeles) has the puck. Jordan Eberle (14 for Edmonton) is watching from the point but can feel safe to engage, because there are two of his teammates behind him and no opponents.

Eberle engages, but Richardson sticks close to the boards – he gets the puck ahead and is in good shape to squeak through the check.

Linemate Jordan Nolan (71 for Los Angeles) picks up the puck. Mark Fistric (45 for Edmonton) sees it and has him lined up. Fistric isn’t known for letting opportunities to throw a hit go by, and besides that Nolan has had a target on him ever since he leveled Eberle (cleanly) in the first period – he fought Ladislav Smid and has already been hammered by Fistric once.

Fistric levels Nolan, something that should take both guys out of the play for a moment. Now there’s a loose puck sliding toward the Oilers zone, and a race is shaping up between Richardson and Ryan Whitney (6 for Edmonton).

As it starts off, the importance of Whitney winning this race and coming away with possession becomes clear. The Fistric hit didn’t work out quite as planned because Nolan managed to get himself out ahead of Fistric on the play. Behind them, Eberle and Colin Fraser (24 for Los Angeles) are roughly an equal distance away from helping out while Slava Voynov (25 for Los Angeles) could make things very difficult for the Oilers if he jumps into the play.

Whitney beats Richardson to the puck, but Richardson has made up a lot of space.

Since Richardson can’t have the puck, he settles for the next best thing – pushing Whitney off it and essentially making the race a draw. The problem with a draw is that Nolan recovered from the Fistric hit faster than Fistric did, so a draw favours the Kings.

Nolan collects the puck. Fistric is skating back into the play and Eberle is racing to the slot with an eye on the puck-carrier. Off-camera and further to Eberle’s right, Colin Fraser is also racing along as fast as he can.

Fraser takes the cross-ice pass. Eberle hasn’t stayed on him entering the zone, settling on trying to get to the slot as quickly as he can, which leaves Fraser with time and space at point blank range.

Fortunately for the Oilers, this is the Kings’ fourth line, and Colin Fraser isn’t Anze Kopitar or Jeff Carter or Justin Williams or Dustin Brown. Dubnyk makes a great save on a good Kings scoring chance.

The point here isn’t to blast anybody, least of all Fistric for throwing the big hit. After all a big part of the reason Fistric is around is to do things like that, and because Nolan had tagged Eberle earlier there was extra incentive, besides which he knew his defence partner was behind him. Too, if Nolan hadn’t been able to recover so quickly (Nolan enjoyed a superb game, actually, with an impact far out of proportion to the 5:30 he played on the night), this would not have been a problem.

Eberle might be criticized for not sticking to Fraser, but my suspicion is that Voynov was hanging back in the high slot area – off camera but close enough to get back into the play in a hurry. With two guys on the far side of the ice, Eberle is in a tough spot. He probably should have been a little closer to the net than he was but because we can’t see exactly where Voynov is on the play it is difficult to be too critical there. Where Eberle could have been better was back at the Kings’ blue line, since both Richardson and the puck got past him.

The biggest problem on this play is Whitney’s speed. Watching him this year, it seems clear that he isn’t going to get back to the level of skating he once was at, and this is one of those situations where there was a lot of pressure on him to win a footrace. He didn’t win it cleanly, and he wasn’t able to even softly push the puck around to the far corner, which would have allowed the Oilers time to regroup. I’m honestly not sure what Whitney can do; he won’t win every puck battle and he isn’t likely to get faster – this just seems like a situation that’s going to happen from time to time.

Mostly, though, this was just a really nice shift for a depth line on the other team. Richardson is tenacious (a quality he also showed in last year’s playoffs), Nolan took a big hit but was back on his feet and in the play in a flash, and Fraser made for open ice just as fast as he could. Speed and grit allowed Richardson to beat Eberle and Whitney, and Nolan to outlast Fistric; it was a good example of exactly what a fourth line is supposed to do, particularly since the Oilers’ problems were less a bunch of glaring errors and more a defenceman who has lost some speed and another that saw the opportunity for a big hit and took it.

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  • Quicksilver ballet

    In all honesty Jonathan, couldn’t we just have a prequel to Wanyes GDB 4 instead? Lets get the ball rolling early on this momentus occasion.

    A win is a win is a win.

  • 106 and 106

    JW, is Whitney still effective as a top 3 defender? Or is that loss of foot-speed enough of a difference maker (if that were the top 6 Kings forwards) to mean consistent minus’es for him?

    • MarcusBillius

      I would figure the question would be “is Whitney at least above par on the bottom pairing?” He is just painfully slow, and it’s tragic because he was a phenomenal player for us when healthy.

      • Phixieus666

        I too am not sure about the Whitney situation. He says he had a good off season of training and such but he doesn’t look any faster than last season. Could he be taking too much time making decisions having not played for soo long???

        Lots ? for a guy we at least thought would be equal to if not a little better than last season. So far hes been worse. With the way Schultz has played, Whitney is expendable and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him moved at the deadline to a team having trouble icing defense man as a rental.

        What could you get for him??
        A good 4th liner and a pick?
        Hmmmmm.

        • Quicksilver ballet

          There will certainly be demand and an opportunity there, with him being a UFA this summer.

          Might even land a late first rounder for him. If they want to keep Smid, Whitney could be the sacrificial lamb, especially if they continue to go fishing for a young potential #1 or #2 blueliner (Gudbranson type). I’m sure the Oilers must have 2 or 3 lures in the water on this front.

        • MarcusBillius

          It depends, if he can establish himself as a powerplay specialist (unlikely if the Oilers are using 4 forwards – you’d need a defenceman to cover Whitney’s lack of speed), then he could be worth a 3rd or 4th round pick.

          From what we’ve seen so far, though, I don’t think he’d get much more than a 6th or 7th. There are just too many players better than him, and some of them will be available at the deadline.

          Plus, I think it’d be a classy move to let him play out his contract here. The man’s suffered enough and been a great presence in Edmonton. Unless he wants to go to a Cup-contender, be nice.

          • Phixieus666

            I believe that teams were almost offering up a 2 rounder for Sutton last season at the deadline. I think Whitney maybe worth more by the deadline if he stays healthy. Just not a first rounder.

          • MarcusBillius

            I think Sutton is what teams want in playoffs – defensively sound, big, and MEAN.

            In my mind, Whitney is no longer defensively sound, he’s kinda big but can’t really use the size, and he isn’t mean. Unless he proves his worth on the power play, he’s bait for a bag of pucks.

      • MarcusBillius

        I agree that Whitney is no longer a Top 4 Dman. His foot speed is gone. He literally is playing himself into a 5-6 role. That said.What are our options? If you have decided he is 5-6 guy moving forward do you trade him now for an asset. You use Smid and Petry as your 1-2 and J and N and your 3-4.With Fistric and Potter/Peckham as your 5-6. If I am Gm I would try to move Whitney right away for asset. If he depreciated any more as the season wore on you risk devaluing him further. Expected return? A late 2cd/3rd round pick. Possible trade partners. LA and Detroit.

  • MarcusBillius

    Not dressing and enforcer against the second largest most physical team in the NHL is just plain stupid!!!

    Krueger is a good coach but needs to understand that team in the NHL notice when there is no physical deterrent and play accordingly. We are just lucky that LA did not run our small players through the boards.

    We need Steve Mac back!

    • Those referees last night would have had a field day with Steve MacIntyre.

      I actually thought the response to the Eberle hit was really good. Nolan hit him cleanly, had to fight Smid and got hammered by Fistric twice in limited minutes – he had a target on him from the moment he hit Eberle. I don’t think anything more was needed on a clean hit.

      • Phixieus666

        Agree, One reason my feel that the response to the Eberle hit was inadequate is because of the stupid instigator, which in my opinion was a load of horse sh*t. How can you instigate when the other guy drops the gloves first. I thought the reaction was perfect, just over shadowed by the refs as was almost the entire game.

        JW, is there a formal process in place for filing complaints for games like last night? Might be something to add to the next CBA me thinks.

        • I’m actually not sure what the official process is for whining about the referees as an NHL team – but I’m sure both clubs will be making their displeasure known.

          I really disliked the instigator call on Smid. Technically, the referees can justify their actions by saying Smid skated over and initaited the confrontation, but referees have lots of discretion in assessing the instigator rule and the combination of Nolan dropping his gloves first, Smid not really being a frequent fighter, and the mountain of PIMs they were about to drop on his head meant that the best course of action was to assess five minutes each and let it go – the penalties were way out of proportion to the actions.

    • justDOit

      It’s amazing how SMac’s ineffectiveness is so quickly forgotten. The Kids still got run when he was on the team (well, the bench for the most part – he can’t skate well enough to be on the ice).

      After he ended Ivannin’s career, he couldn’t even find an enforcer to dance with. Useless player.

  • I feel the need to point out that after Fistric’s big hit he also drew a lot of physical attention to himself for the rest of the game. It really did pull the heat off Eberle and the others. Nolan went after Fistric on at least two other occasions after this, which sure beats him going after Ebs.

  • Phixieus666

    Curious why you highlight this sequence?

    Are you trying to show that Fistric shouldn’t hit people?

    That Whitney is slow? You’ve stated you’d rather play Potter ahead of Fistric and you don’t like Whitney. I respect that, but after last night’s game this is what you focus on. We know who you like and don’t like.

    Was there nothing positive about the Oilers game that you couldn’t highlight. Why didn’t you break down Fistric’s best hit?

    Maybe it is just me, but it seems lately you’d rather point out negatives. Hate arena deal, how not to kill a penalty and now how great the other team’s 4th line is.

    For years we’ve had lots to complain about, and after last’s night’s game I would have loved a breakdown on Yak’s goal…

    Again just my thoughts, not meant as an attack.

    • Not taken as an attack at all; I’m just surprised someone can read this and think I meant Fistric shouldn’t do things like this. From the piece:

      The point here isn’t to blast anybody, least of all Fistric for throwing the big hit. After all a big part of the reason Fistric is around is to do things like that, and because Nolan had tagged Eberle earlier there was extra incentive, besides which he knew his defence partner was behind him. Too, if Nolan hadn’t been able to recover so quickly (Nolan enjoyed a superb game, actually, with an impact far out of proportion to the 5:30 he played on the night), this would not have been a problem.

      As for why this sequence, simply because I liked it. I admired the way the Kings fourth line operated, and I’ve been looking for a situation like this to make a particular point about Whitney – that even when he’s at the top of his game mentally and positionally, sometimes he’s going to be put in spots where his foot speed gets him into trouble no matter what he does.

      It was a sloppy, bizarre game and this was just the sequence at the end that stood out in my mind for this sort of treatment – the Yakupov goal was more a combination of clean faceoff win and wicked hand-eye coordination; all good things but not that fascinating tactically, and the other goals had similar issues – the LA goal was basically just a bad play by one guy (Schultz the elder) and the Gagner goal came in that exceedingly rare 4v3 time.

    • It may come down to that. I think that Montreal and P.K. are so far apart that each side is not going to blink. Can Montreal afford to let P.K. sit? The animosity that reared itself last season between P.k. and some of his teammates may have an impact on on the bargaining. What would be the asking price? Good question. Its not Hemsky that is for certain. Montreal would want Hemsky and something else. I imagine atleast an A rated prospect like Oscar Klefbom and a pick/B rated prospect(Pitlick). The price will be high regardless. There will be alot of interest for Subban if/when he comes available. Which I think he will. When is the question.

      If its me doing the Trading.I would rather offer one of my first round picks this year than give up Klefbom.

  • Phixieus666

    It is sad Whitney went from a top 2 guy to a struggling bottom 6 guy. I think that set the Oilers rebuild back a bit, as they didn’t count on having to replace a nearly un replaceable player. Thank goodness for the emergence of Petry (who is looking so good this year) and the signing of Schultz. Fingers crossed for Klefbomb.

  • MarcusBillius

    I hope that Whitney will not be an Oiler by trade deadline. With the shortage of D and if the other GM doesn’t realize he has one ankle, maybe they can even get another second for the draft. Honestly I’d take pretty much anything because I don’t want him resigned. That outlet pass is only so good if he can’t move. I’d slot him as 7D on the current lineup with Taylor Fedun catching up quickly, but I doubt he’ll sit, making too much dough

  • MarcusBillius

    So far I have liked the way the team has responded to teams taking runs at our skilled players. Its a shame Eager is hurt agian because a healthy Eager can do alot of the heavy lifting in this area and still be a contributing player in the game. Sadly is seems when ever he steps up he gets a concussion which is scary. The rest of the Team is going to have to follow Smids example this year. Even if its not a full on fight after a clean hit, there has to be some measure of response.

      • justDOit

        Agreed. Last season, I really soured on him, but he was ok until getting hurt against Van. I’m sure Krueger would have dressed him last night, had he been ready. This must say a lot about what K thinks of Hordi. ?

    • We need a legit enforcer who can play like Clifford from LA……..you draft these guys, teams do not trade them generally.

      If you want our non-fighters fighting, expect a lot of injuries!

      JW suggesting that Smid ( our best defensive defneseman) fighting is good, just highlights how deficient we are for tough guys on this team.

      What if SMID broke his hand in the fight…….then what????

        • Bonvie

          Zach Stortini does’nt even know how to throw a punch properly. He is basically swinging his fist around. The guy was a hard worker, and a relative effective fourth liner, but his fighting was embarassing.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          I did not mention Huggy Bear……he could do neither fight or skate.

          I’m talking about guys like Eager or Clifford, guys who can skate and hit……in other words be a deterrent!

          I like Eager except he is the one game wonder!

      • Bonvie

        Are’nt Clifford and Eager pretty much identical. I have seen Clifford take some tremendous beatings. I like Dwight King myself from my hometown hasn’t taken the punishment of some lopsided beatdowns like Clifford, but believe me this guy can fight. He also is a much better player he has some great skills to go with his strength and size. This guy actually has potential to move up in the lineup to top 6.

  • justDOit

    Anyone else notice that when Nolan hit Eberle, it wasn’t only Ebs who went flying – Nolan was knocked off course considerably. Stout little prairie boy!

  • On trading Whitney – honestly, I think the Oilers should hang on to him. He seems like a good soldier, they can use him on the third pairing, and at the deadline they can decide. If they’re in the playoff hunt, they might as well hang on to him rather than swap him for a pick; if it looks like they’re going to miss the post-season I’d bet they could get a second or third-round pick from a contender looking to add some experienced depth.

    Games tighten up in the playoffs, too – Whitney’s footspeed won’t be as much of a factor when everybody gets ultraconservative.

  • Clyde Frog

    I cannot imagine the Oilers going into the playoffs with the team they have presently!
    Everyone knows [ except Tambelini I guess ] that
    its a new game when the playoffs start.
    I dont care how much skill they have, the Oilers would get run out of the rink on the first series.

    You have to have size and toughness on your first two lines, you have to have the same on your first D pairings.

    This having bunch of goons running around on the 4th line is not the answer.[playing 6 min. a game]

    Quick, didnt hurt, but L.A. ran the Canucks out of building last year of because of size, some skill, and some speed.

    Oilers problem is that the skill guys dont have the size, and the size guys have almost zero skill worthy of 4 th line side shows.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    couple of notes…

    I don’t think JW is trying to be a downer. This isn’t a “whoo-hoo” kind of post. All his breakdowns are designed to find moments people might ignore, or not see all sides of, and do a shot-by-shot analysis.

    This is a perfect example for this game. There were lots of crazy things that happened that aren’t going to be repeated. Finding a straightforward, evens play illustrates something about the hockey clubs going forward.

    SMAC is the worst possible idea ever.

    Hemsky isn’t going to get you Subban unless you pile on a lot more.

    Whitney’s time as a top 4 are done.

    But, you don’t trade D away 3 games in, esp. when you are short staffed already. If they tank the season by the deadline, trade him for a pick when his value is highest.

    Otherwise, his expensive contract expires this year… so either re-sign at a considerable discount (he’d be a great #6 offensive specialist, upgrade on Potter), or let him sail on.

    • Right on with the remarks regaurding Whitney. If he is willing to sign, a two-three year deal at say 1.5/year ish, that would be great. So he isnt a top D anymore, it sucks, doesn’t mean he isnt valuable.

      Or you could replace him with yet another rookie….

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I have a high regard for Smid as a top 4 d-man and I appreciate him stepping up for his teammates…..but I’m worried that he exposed himself as a non-fighter……It wasn’t as bad as Semin in last years girl fight…..but it wasn’t good. Perhaps NHL teams should have fighting coaches like they have goalie coaches etc….Smid needs some lessons.

    As for Whitney, forget the stuff about “good soldiers” and “he’s put his time in here” …hockey is a business…give him easy minutes where you can….some PP time and move him if you can get reasonable value….there are several teams that are desperate for Dmen right now…

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I wasn’t watching that closley given all the shinanigans going on all over the ice, refs and others……but it looked to me like Fistric had a pretty good first game as an Oiler….Better than Whitney and perhaps even better than Nick Shultz……..Yes? No?

  • Marc

    Watching Whitney’s feet… noticed that he has a tough time pivoting on that one foot. He’ll never be what he once was.

    Dmen can step up to challenge if they have forwards on the back check. Eberle was there, but there were multiple Kings to cover and on this play, nobody was covering Colin Fraser. Tough read for a Dman. When you see a blue sweater coming back to cover you and you make that decision to step up. It’s a quick decision.

    • I think your point about these things happening quickly is a good one to keep in mind when doing these exercises.

      That’s what makes NHL’ers as good as they are – their ability to process these situations in split seconds and make decisions.

  • I’m not hating on Whitney…..I acutally agree with with JW and others

    #43 Romulus’ Apotheosis
    #48 Mikey

    …when they talk about Whitney as a potential $1.5 million 5-6 and not being in a rush to move him…..I’m just saying he should be shopped and we should be ready to move him if the right deal comes along….whether to a team who is desperate now…..or at the deadline…just do what you can to maximize his value in the meantime….

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      http://oilers.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=652402

      @OLDRG

      I don’t think we disagree… Whitney isn’t what he was or is being paid for and doesn’t look like he ever will be. still he’s valuable and maximizing him means playing him appropriately this season and trying to get a deal in place to keep him at a massive discount.

      those are the best scenario options… if he wants $$ try a trade for anything at the deadline (if we have no chance at the postseason) or let him go try the free market.

  • Marc

    Just watched a replay of the game. After Dubnyk makes the save on this play you can see that Eberle is both relieved and pissed off. He goes straight to Whitney to talk to him, and he doesn’t look happy.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      i didn’t see this but i hope he gave him crap,between whitney,nik,hemsky,and horcoff,when was the last time any of these guys had a good year?