GDB 06: ROAD TRIP….

The first stop on a three-game-in-three-and-a-half-days-road-trip is tonight in Phoenix, in front of 8,000-10,000 fans. The Coyotes might not be in Phoenix long-term, because the crowds only come in the playoffs, but they are here now and Dave Tippett always has them well prepared.

When you look down the Coyotes’ roster you wonder why they are 6th in goals for, yet 26th in goals against average. On paper their blueline is the strength of their team.

Vermette-Doan-Sullivan
Gordon-Moss-Korpikoski
Bolduc-Vrbata-Boedker
Chipchura-Johnson-Bissonnette

Martin Hanzal might play tonight, and if he does he’ll slot in with Vrbata while Matthew Lombardi is out indefinitely.

Morris-Yandle
Michalek-Ekman-Larsson
Rundblad-Schlemko

They also have Rostislav Klesla, but he’s only played two of their six games.

Johnson

Mike Smith is back skating, and he might be ready for the weekend, so the Oilers PP should be licking their chops facing Chad Johnson who only has five career NHL starts, and Monday was his first NHL start in three years.

Historically, a Tippett-coached team is built on solid defence and hard work, but so far this season the Coyotes have struggled defensively.

Much of those struggles can be attributed to below average play from Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera between the pipes. In four starts (two each) they allowed 19 goals and produced a woeful .850 SV%. LaBarbera did play well after Smith got injured 11 minutes into their game v. Columbus, but he was awful in the his next two starts.

Tippett turned to former AJHL goalie, Johnson, on Monday night and Johnson was perfect. He picked up his first career NHL shutout stopping all 21 shots.

While Phoenix has struggled to keep the puck out of their net, they’ve been surprisingly productive offensively. The Coyotes are 6th in goals scored, 3.5/game, and they are 3rd in ES goals with 14, but they’ve also allowed the 2nd most ES goals with 15.

If they Oilers are going to awake from their five-on-five scoring drought, tonight could be the night.

ES WOES

It is only five games, and likely too early to go crazy, but the Oilers only have two 5-on-5 goals thus far. The good news is that the Hall/RNH/Eberle line is producing lots of chances and shots, but they, like every other line, is not generating many quality second or third chances.

The Oilers need to start going to the net and they need some guys willing to stand battle for some greasy goals. They can’t expect to score all their goals off the rush. They need to start creating scoring chances closer to the net.

The Oilers can get away with below-average ES scoring due to their exceptional powerplay. The Oilers lead the NHL with a sizzling 35.7% efficiency with 10 goals on 28 chances. The NHL record for highest PP% was 31.9% set by Montreal in 1977, so you can expect their % to drop.

The best PP in the last decade was 25.5% by the 2009 Detroit Red Wings. The Washington Capitals had a 25.2% rating in both 2009 and 2010, so it is possible the Oilers, with their young PP specialists, could hover around the 24-27% range.

The Oilers PK has also been very good. Outside of the dreadful first period against San Jose, when the Sharks went 3-for-3, the Oilers have killed off 23 of 24 penalties. 

Their special teams have been very good, but just like last season, if the Oilers can’t play even at five-on-five it will be difficult to win.

I’ve seen some suggest the Oilers ES scoring isn’t a concern, because it is only five games, but I’d suggest they recognize that this has been an issue for more than five games.

Over the past three seasons the Oilers have been outscored 516-410 at 5-on-5. Last season they improved, and were only outscored 153-139, but don’t tell me this five-game window is "a small sample size." It has been a problem for years, and while they improved last season, they need to be better this year if they want to become a playoff contender.

LINEUP

Hall-RNH-Eberle
Yakupov-Gagner-Hemsky
Smyth-Horcoff-Petrell
Hartikainen-Belanger-Paajarvi

It will be interesting to see how Krueger allocates icetime tonight. The 56/20/91 combo had more ES icetime than Horcoff’s line last game and basically the same as Gagner’s line.

Smid-Petry
N.Schultz- J.Schultz
Whitney-Potter

Dubnyk

Yann Danis cleared waivers, no surprise, and Nikolai Khabibulin will dress and sit on the bench, rather than in the pressbox, which is a good thing considering what happened a few years ago when he was in Phoenix.

QUICK HITS

  • I’m not sure why people still feel the need to question why Shawn Horcoff is on the first powerplay unit. He played there last year and they finished 3rd in the league. He’s on it this year and they are first. When the Oilers PP% starts to drop, please refrain from being the clown who wants to blame Horcoff. His role is to win draws and stay in front of the net. The formula has worked for well for over a year, why does it have to change? Because he makes to much money? Seriously, give it a rest already.
     
  • I like Krueger’s willingness to role four lines and not spend too much time matching them. Tippett loves to match lines, so I’ll be curious to see how, or if, Krueger responds.
     
  • I spoke to Taylor Hall after the Colorado win and he shared a story about Krueger. In the Calgary game Hall had tried numerous toe-drags, but none of them worked. "They weren’t shy to point that out, over an over again (laughs), in our film work this morning. The message was clear, only do those if you are confident you won’t turn over the puck." Hall is a quick learner because you didn’t see him try any v. Colorado. That doesn’t mean he won’t try them again, nor does it mean if one fails he’s in the doghouse, but the message was received. The Oilers need to cut down on turnovers.
     
  • I wonder if Nail Yakupov will do the same? Yakupov really struggled v. Colorado, especially with turnovers. Krueger wants to see how the young players react after a bad outing. I suspect Yakupov will protect the puck better tonight.
     
  • The Oilers are 2nd in the NHL in turnovers. I know it isn’t the most accurate stat, because each building marks them differently, but I didn’t need to look at the NHL website to realize the Oilers are turning it over too often. I suspect they will always be near the top, because they are more of a puck possession team, but they have to avoid the 5-star giveaways at the offensive blueline.
     
  • Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid weren’t great in Calgary and were average v. Colorado. They seemed to be a split-second off and got caught in between attacking or sitting back in their own zone. Defensive zone timing is crucial for defenders, and with no training camp it will take some time to get that timing where they want it. I expect them to get better in their own zone with more game action.
     
  • Justin Schultz has been better than I expected in his own end. He clearly has loads of offensive confidence, but he’s looked solid in his own zone. Playing with a veteran like Nick Schultz helps. The senior Schultz is rarely out of position, and outside of one brutal pass at the offensive blueline, he rarely makes bad decisions.
     
  • I watched Oil Change last night and it was too bad they had to squeeze six months into one episode. Aquila Productions had to make some tough decisions on what to take out, and I was told there was some interesting stuff from the draft that got left on the cutting room floor. Too bad. Another casualty of the lockout.

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Without Smith the Oilers PP continues to produce as they win 4-2. Nugent-Hopkins become 8th Oiler to score and then Hartikainen becomes the 9th.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ales Hemsky has a goal and as assist. Hemsky has 34 career points in 29 games v. the Coyotes. He lights them up more than any team other than the lowly Blue Jackets.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Gene Principe will do numerous stand up hits from the stands tonight. The Coyotes will ask him and his camera man to watch the game from the stands to make the arena look fuller. Gene will end up crushing three hot dogs, and accidently spill some mustard on his suit. So for his final hit, he will do it with one of the Coyotes dance team so all the viewers will focus on her and not his suit. Veteran move.

SUPER BOWL

 If you want to reserve a great seat for the Super Bowl and be at the best party, send Alley a tweet, or contact The Pint. Alley is a great host and you’ll have a blast watching the Ravens and 49ers.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

  • There’s really no issue with having Horcoff on the power play, in fact I think Horc has been a very important player to our team this year. Sure his cap hit is high, but his value is still important enough to (slightly) justify his paycheck.

    GDP: Oilers win 5-2, Goals from Eberle, Paajarvi, Hall (2), and Petry.

  • I hope Krueger is finally the coach that gets Hemsky to break that bad habit of button hooking at the blue line.

    He loses the puck more then any player, with Yakupov on that line Hemsky has to be better defensively, Yakupov is going to make a lot of mistakes.

  • Jason Gregor

    I just want the Coyotes to go away. We have been waiting for the Oilers’ scoring to ‘go off’ and I am calling for that tonight. 6-3 Oilers. Goals by Nuge, Eberle, Gagner, J. Schultz and two goals by Hemmer. GO OILERS GO!!

  • Phixieus666

    OGP – Oilers win getting 3 PP goals.

    NSOGDP – PHX is surprised by Whitney’s performance against them and eventually works out a trade with the Oil sending Yandle to Edm.

  • StHenriOilBomb

    “I’m not sure why people still feel the need to question why Shawn Horcoff is on the first powerplay unit. He played there last year and they finished 3rd in the league. He’s on it this year and they are first. When the Oilers PP% starts to drop, please refrain from being the clown who wants to blame Horcoff. His role is to win draws and stay in front of the net. The formula has worked for well for over a year, why does it have to change? Because he makes to much money? Seriously, give it a rest already.”

    Well said. I will add that it doesn’t really matter what he makes this year. The Oilers are not going to reach the cap, so we all may as well cheer him on until summer as a big part of our veteran group.

    “it is possible the Oilers, with their young PP specialists, could hover around the 24-27% range.”

    I would be extremely surprised if the PP ended up with 24%, let alone 27%

  • Horc is my goat, but honestly I chose wrong. He’s doing his job exactly the way I expect from him. He was responsible for a couple PP goals because of his work in front of the net.

    I hope they buy him out this summer then re-sign him for 1/3 of what he is making. He earns the same money but his Cap hit remains in line with the role he has on the club.

    I have always had a sneaking suspicion that the Giveaway stat was not really indicative of how “bad” a guy is playing, but rather how much he carried the puck. Many other team’s notable puck carriers finish the year leading the NHL in give aways.

    Look at last year’s top give away artists, its a who’s who of offensive players:

    1. Ilya Kovalchuk

    2. Ryan Getzlaf

    3. Joe Thornton

    4. John Carlson

    5. Jeff Petry

    6. P.K. Subban

    7. Erik Karlsson

    8. Jason Spezza

    9. Phil Kessel

    10. Dion Phaneuf

        • Unless you find a team with the same issue, make a trade salary for salary buy both out and there old respective teams re-sign them.

          An example- Tor trades Komiserik to Edm for Horcoff

          EDM buys out Komiserik TOR buys out Horcoff

          Tor re-signs Komiserik Edm re-signs Horcoff.

          So far I can’t find a rule against this, but it will be closed once it happens.

          • Phixieus666

            Oh yes that is something to totally think about. I would be willing to do something like that. But what is the exact wording I’m wondering does it say anything like “player unavailable to respective team providing that player was employed during the season of which the buyout occurs” or something to that effect. Its always about the wording with legal BS. I doubt the player would care, really he just ends up making more money in the end.

  • Jason Gregor

    Oil win 4-2 tonight, breaking the streak of alternating wins and losses so far.

    Very nice NSOGDP haha

    On a side note, because I can’t wait until the next time we play the nucks, but hey DSF how is Jason Garrison doing so far LOL!!!

      • Wax Man Riley

        Jason Garrison 6GP, 0-0-0, +2

        Justin Schultz 5GP, 2-3-5, +1

        Solid as a rock? Maybe, but not the offensive juggernaut he is made out to be. And not for $4.6M

          • Wax Man Riley

            Hahahahaa!! Whitney’s $4M is looking like a pile of stinking awful!

            Terrible, terrible trade. The only pass Tamby(?) gets is that Visnovsky, as we now see, in Visnovskian fashion, wouldn’t play in Edmonton because he has Lauren Pronger disease. Biatch.

            But Gillis’ big off season, boo hoo “OMG, what? Schultz didn’t want to sign here and chose Edmonton instead???” acquisition is looking like a bit of a flop.

            If Garrison was the D-Man he was billed to be, he could help that PP.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            you’re not going to win or anything against DSF by hating his preferred players (regardless of the reason he prefers them).

            Garrison had an incredible PP year last year. He had 9 PP goals and was 3rd in the league in shooting % for D.

            The year before he was 55th.

            My guess is he winds up in between there. It’s worth noting that last year was a total goal breakout for him, mostly on the PP.

            Could be a blip. Either way he’s nothing to sneeze at.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis
          • The Goalie 1976

            Whitney is a good comp.

            I’d say Whitney, Garrison, and Wideman are the 3 most overrated and over-paid defensemen in the Western Conference.

            Thankfully Whitney is a UFA after this season :p

          • book¡e

            That’s a lame arguement the oilers acquired Ryan Whitney before he got injured and he was a stud. Definately giving a lot for making 4million a season. Very worth it. Then he gets injured and isn’t the same. That has nothing to do with the Oilers management.

          • DSF

            Nonsense.

            Whitney had already had 2 surgeries on his feet and ankles when he was acquired..

            His condition is congenital.

            I realize you may have to kook that up.

          • Phixieus666

            I think it was only on one foot before coming to Edm. But regardless he was still a stud before he ended up gone for almost a whole season. It was a good trade just didn’t work out well in the end. That sh*t happens, no reason to think it was a bad move at the time.

          • Phixieus666

            Sorry man but there was nothing to suggest he would get badly injured. He basically had 4 seasons of 40 or more points, he had never played less than 48 games before the Oilers got him, even after his surgery he was playing great. He was playing great for the Oil until he got hurt with 38 points in 54 games. All arrows were pointing up even after his surgery. I can’t buy the “they should have known” argument.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            It really depends on what you mean by “injury”… Whitney’s problem was/is latent within him… not caused by some event.

            What led to the first surgery ultimately led to the second.

            The Oil either ignored signs, or bet that surgery had and would again resolve a congenital defect.

            If the former, they effed up bad. If the latter… well that’s hockey. You make a lot of bad bets and hope to learn from them.

            All I can grant you is hindsight — things certainly looked like they had a better chance of working out then than they obviously do now.

          • Phixieus666

            He could still get back to. Looking at his stats I would say it almost took a year for him to put the points up again. The lockout probably effed that up a bit but you never know by the end of the season maybe he will be back into form. If not they just don’t need to sign him or try and trade him away at the deadline.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            The problem Whitney has — as exposed from last year and this — is that the things he’s struggling with aren’t the kind of things that improve or are typically overcome.

            He has trouble pivoting, turning and moving with speed. He still has his decision making, shot and his passing.

            If he is going to be effective… he’ll have to hone those skills to no end and carve a niche somewhere as an offensively-minded 6 or 7 D somewhere… basically Corey Potter.

            I could be totally wrong mind you… but the consensus I’m reading and what I’m seeing from him tell me the hopes of the long off season repairing him have been sadly mislaid.

            sucks for him, sucks for the oil.

          • Phixieus666

            See and I view his problems differently. There have been foot races he has won against some fast players this season and the pivots don’t seem as bad as everyone says. I think its his reading the play and decision making that is hurting him. And because he is taking to long to react it makes him look slow or unable to change direction in time. And like you I may be totally wrong on that. One of the best sources to ask may be Stauffer. He is usually dead on with those type of things.

          • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

            or how some people can toss out 10 year predictions on playoff dates shortly after 2 UFAs are signed?

            you know… 60 home playoff dates as a reasonable expectation.

            some people be trippin’

          • Clyde Frog

            Wiping a bead of sweat off his forehead DSF sighs…

            How can these fools possibly think they have a right to judge Garrison!? I have carefully studied each and every variable for his entire hockey career… YET THEY DARE TO JUDGE MY WORK…

            Some days he cannot help but question his life’s mission, he has shown them why they should hate the Petry; he shown them why their lineup shall never succeed; he has given statistic after statistic to support this, some of them were even related!

            If there was ever a time for his cape, this would be it. He had commissioned Mother to make it several weeks ago, as the lockout came to a close; he needed a badge of authority, something that would show all who witnessed him that his genius was undeniable.

            Striding over to the closet he feels a small thrill of anticipation, the pure joy of the woolen fabric, the electric feeling of striking a commanding pose; knowing that he is THE arbitrator of people’s ability to enjoy/hate something on the internet.

            While admiring himself in the mirror he notices the Cheeto stain from last night, marring the capes intrinsic beauty…. How could he have been so lax in letting Jefff try it on? Invisible or not he is obviously the one to blame!

            Making a mental note to give Jefff a stern lecture on proper cape etiquette, he sits back down. Obviously Garrison is an amazing defenceman, did not his math say so? If people on the internet are disliking him it must be related to bad comparables! I’ll simply level set his performance in a nice, non-contrary way!

            Tossing his head to make his cape flutter majestically, he starts typing like mad! I will save you Garrison, if no-one else can prevent this pathetic witch hunt, I will!

          • Dirk Dangler

            Whitney’s $4 mil looks TERRIBLE. Gladly its over in a few short months. But every single person here knew he has never been the same since his injury, but he was well worth the money before.

            Now if he was just signed to a brand new fat long term mega deal, then you’d have a nice comparison.

            As I predicted, a response filled with rational thought.

          • DSF

            Whitney was damaged goods when he arrived. A terrible trade.

            You and others must be really out to lunch ig you think garrisons deal is ” mega”

            If you want a real comparison with Schultz, I’d take a look at Jonas Brodin.

            3 GP 2P +. 0

  • Rob...

    GDP: 5 to 3 for the Oilers. Justin Schultz has a goal and 2 assists. Eberle keeps it up by sniping yet another beauty, top left corner.

    OGDP: Krueger teases Hall pre-game about becoming too predictable with the hold-up and pass to Eberle. Hall adjusts and blows by defender after defender who forget how fast he can be.

    NSOGDP: Hordichuck borrows Khabibulin’s car, and gets caught by photo-radar doing 30 over on the freeway. Next time the Oilers visit Phoenix the local sheriff have an extended talk with Nikolai as to his whereabouts on January 30th.

  • Jason Gregor

    @mark,

    Yes a typo, have 42 shots on the PP…Was thinking one, typed the other…And sorry for deleting post, hit delete instead of reply accidentally.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        I think we can all agree that madjam is the only one responsible enough around here that we can all trust to have that power and not abuse it.

        Also, Garrison made one bad play against the Kings the other night that cost them the game…

        still just because our favorite troll is such a fan of forced comparisons doesn’t mean we have to dislike the guy, or expect/cheer his failure.

        Until he pulls some Bieka like moves, he’s just another great player on the most hated team in sports. good for him!

  • BRHLBryce

    My tickets for Saturdays game here in Denver were $35 apiece. lower bowl, corner seats, 18 rows up.

    While I miss my Oiler season tickets, there’s no reason to buy them here, when you can find the seats so cheap, and below market price, for almost any game.

  • A-Mc

    Including me, I’m betting there are close to 13-14000 fans tonight. Every Edmontonian in the Valley of the Sun will be there as they only play here once this year. My ticket, by the way, 11 rows up behind the Oiler bench was US$122.00. GOilers

  • vetinari

    I see no problem with having Horcoff on the PP– I just want to ensure that his legs are fresh when he’s running the PK. We can generally find some others (Hartikanien, Smyth) to stand in front of the net and to win offensive zone draws (Gagner, RNH) but I like to see Belanger and Horcoff fresh for the PK because they are typically our most defensively responsible forwards.

    GDP: Oilers break the win/lose cycle and down the Yotes 4-3.

    OGDP: The PP accounts for at least 50% of the Oilers goal total, win or lose.

    NSOGDP: Whitney comes to the rink mad as a hatter and goes for a Gordie Howe Hat-trick– all in the first period!

  • A-Mc

    The next two games are going to be weirdness incarnate. I’m going to predict the oil LOSE tonight but WIN tomorrow.

    GDP: Oil lose 4-2 to the coyotes.

    OGDP: Getting down 2-0 quickly in the game, the kids revert to old habits of trying to look too fancy; Turn overs. Lots of them.

    NSOGDP: Hortichuk is right pissed off for being in the press box again. For fun, he finds a drunk Coyotes fan in the parking lot and punches him out.

    • book¡e

      NSOGDP: Hortichuk is right pissed off for being in the press box again. For fun, he finds a drunk Coyotes fan in the parking lot and punches him out.

      Ok, NSOGDP are supposed to be highly improbable, not impossible. Finding a Bigfoot in Phoenix is highly improbable, finding a Coyotes fan in Phoenix is impossible.

  • You’re right that 5-on-5 scoring has been a concern for years; as one of the guys preaching small sample size for the last five games I know the only point I’m making is that it isn’t as bad as we’ve seen in the early going.

    The Oilers’ shot rates are up *slightly* from last season where they were outscored 139-154. That’s not good, but it’s not apocalyptic. +4/-10, where they are this year, projects to be apocalyptic, and that won’t last.

    • Jason Gregor

      You are counting the extra attacker goals of Gagner and Yakupov in the final seconds. Those aren’t 5-on-5 goals. The NHL should have an EA category like they do in Lacrosse.

      The Oilers have scored two goals while playing 5-on-5 this year. Not good enough.

      • That’s fair enough; I hadn’t cropped out ENG’s from last year so I left them in for this year, too. Point is: their shots roughly mirror last year’s totals (they’re a tiny bit better) so they aren’t going to keep getting outscored 2-to-1 at evens, let alone 5-1.

        Should there be concern? Sure. More than there was prior to Game 1? I’m not convinced of that.

  • OilClog

    Why couldn’t they of done two episodes with their 6 month supply.. I as a fan.. I am now angered. Not a casualty.. It’s a cheating!

    Oilers 6-3 Nuge 2 goals, MPS 1.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Has he sulked or moaned? I am not aware of this. He signed knowing he had a diminished role. Hes been a proffessional. Guys had a slow start, but when he pots one I hope you don’t cheer. He will come around.

      When they hang the his royalties jersey the rafters, don’t buy a ticket to the game.