Two areas of concern for the Oilers

Saturday night’s game in Vancouver against the Canucks was an early season opportunity for the Oilers to show on Hockey Night in Canada that this is a new team. A team poised ready to make the next step and become a playoff team. The game did not leave that impression on Canada or the rest of the NHL.

The Obvious Stuff

It is very early in this NHL season. The Oilers are playing without their two top centers, and as a result they’re pretty green. Mark Arcobello played his third game as an NHL center Saturday, Will Acton his second and Taylor Hall his second this season after briefly playing the position as a rookie. That’s not a lot of experience down the middle for the Oil.

It was obvious Saturday that those three were not ready for the challenge of taking on two of the top centers in the NHL. Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler are very, very good centermen. I don’t care if you hate them, you have to respect their ability. Kesler was the best player of the ice. The young Oilers centers will have learned a lot from the game and matching up with those two.

So far this season Dubnyk hasn’t played the way he would have wanted. The two long bombs and a couple of weaker goals have gotten him off to a questionable start. To me he looks like he is pressing and not relaxed between the pipes. I think he will get into a groove. He is a solid goalie. Two rough appearances to start this season are not making me think the Oilers should run out and make a move for a goalie. That being said I would give him the night off against the Devils. Let him and goalie coach Fred Chabot clean up a few issues. He will be ready mentally and physically for the game versus the Habs on Thursday.

The centers and the goaltending are the obvious issues. On both post games shows so far I have done these have been hot button topics. They have been issues but I see two areas the Oilers can clear up quickly and they don’t involve either the centers or the goalies.

The Less Obvious Stuff

It was obvious this off season that general manager Craig MacTavish wanted a puck-moving group of defensemen. He wanted d-men that would get back quickly to the puck and pass it up to the swift skating group of forwards the Oilers have. It makes sense in theory; it’s better to play in the neutral and offensive zones rather than in your own end. But last night I saw the problem.

As a group the d-men were far too passive in their own zone. A defenceman’s first responsibility is to play defence. Far too often last night the ‘D’ were not being aggressive and taking the puck-carrying forward of the Canucks into the wall. Eliminating or pinning the puck carrier in the defensive zone should be job one for this group. It looked to me like they were following this player around, water-skiing or just containing. That doesn’t work.

I know some forwards are big and maybe the strength isn’t there to man handle the guy. I get it. But then you better figure out a different approach that works. Duncan Keith isn’t a giant but he is great at playing angles, using his stick and taking away time and space. These are skills the smaller guys will have to perfect. The Oilers spent too much time in their own zone; it is the job of the ‘D’ to snub out the opposition’s forecheck.

When the d-men did either pin the Canuck forward to the wall or take the puck away, too often the strong side winger was not ready for the pass. When under pressure the d-man will not always be able to make the perfect pass. The winger must be ready to not only handle the pass but make a play with it.

The winger must get his ass on the wall and stick in the middle to show a target. He cannot take his time getting into position. The defenceman has a split second to make a play, he cannot wait for the winger to slowly get into position. Once the pass is made the winger must make a strong play. Most likely the opposition blueliner will pinch down to pressure him. He MUST get the puck out. This is not a situation where fifty/fifty is good enough.

The winger has to get the puck out. He can chip it out or reverse pinch on the defence. It doesn’t matter how – what does matter is that is gets done. Early in the game on the road or when the opposition has the full court press on the pressure is relieved by that puck getting out.

There is no doubt that Dubnyk has to be better and that the inexperience at center has been hard on the Oilers. Those are easy fixes. The work on the wall by the wingers and in zone play by the D are two areas that need to be cleaned up. These are habits that playoffs teams have.

If I am Eakins I crack out the old VCR today. I show specific examples of guys not getting the job done Saturday night. You don’t do it to embarrass players; you do it so they see with their own eyes what they are missing.

BATTLE OF THE BLADES

I am back at it tonight. Second round of Battle of the Blades. You wouldn’t believe the amount of work that makes one routine go. I am really enjoying it and proud to be skating for my charity Inner City Children’s Program. You can check it out at iccp.ca or follow them on twitter and @iccpinfo

Take a second to vote for my beautiful partner Violetta and I after the show

Thanks!

  • Big Cap

    When Dubnyk is in goal, the team plays with less confidence & grips their sticks a little harder! When Labarbera came in & after a skirmish in front of the net in which he controlled the rebound & killed play, it was interesting to see Hemmer skate by him & slap his pads! If Dubnyk could consistently make the routine plays good NHL goalies make we wouldn’t be talking so much about him, but he doesn’t & it hurts his team a lot!

    • TeddyTurnbuckle

      Let face it the whole team is in disarray, they suck, have sucked and continue to suck in performance. They dont even deserve to play at the NHL level.
      Goal tending ??? Is embarrassing , saves that should be stopped when you get paid to play at this level, professionally. Period…. My Grandmother could do better

      What needs to be done:

      1. kevin lowe – GONE!!! no question is accountable for how many years of disappointment.
      2. Goalie – trade for quality performance
      3. Stock the defense – trade for performance even if we have to give up offence for it!
      4. If you cant play like an NHLer sit down and let others, even rookies show how its done.
      (ie hemsky)… lets see how much they are worth when nobody sees them play!
      5. teach defense to all players ( after all the best offence is the best defense )

      more later

      • TeddyTurnbuckle

        How have you not been hired by an NHL team to run their entire organization yet? Your comments are so apt, knowledgeable and well-articulated. Teach defence to ALL players?? Man, what a notion…I think you have some groundbreaking stuff right there. I bet Eakins would love to hear about your philosophy. In fact, maybe even the Olympic team would like to know more about the idea of teaching professional players how to play defence….

        Insert face-palm emoticion here.

  • Big Cap

    I wonder if all the comments MacT made about Dubnyk this summer got into Dubnyk’s head. Goalies are a quirky bunch.

    Is anyone really surprised this team has sucked out the gate? MacT stubbornly refused to address depth issues at centre. He loaded up on ahl players instead on NHL players at forward, and his answers to the team’s defensive woes all came with question marks. Then he added a rookie coach to the mix.

    This is exactly what we should have expected.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    By god they better start Labarbarra next game

    And if he looks good, play him till he doesn’t

    The team has to stop just giving players a free ride and make them accountable by sitting them, if we have legitimate other options

    It’s pretty obvious Dubnyk has been poor, and we can’t afford to just play him till he finds his game, if he ever will

    to just put Dubnyk in again because he’s our starter, makes no sense to me, and will just prove that all this talk about accountability is lip service

    which frankly has been oilers for most of the rebuild, which isn’t really a surprise you could argue since lip service comes from the owner and president for years

  • Craig1981

    Great read; we all know the goaltending has been weak and we lack center experience, but the insight regarding the other areas of concern is interesting.
    It sounds like more of the same really; we’re just not willing/able to compete at the same level as other teams.
    Eakins better find a way to reach these guys, and fast.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Why play every shift like it’s your last, when you’re your team has confirmed what you’re worth without ever having to do that? It’s a little late to hope for better after they’re locked in pulling down 6 mill per for the next half dozen years. This losing was our best option management (the last 4 yrs) style is really biting them in the arse now.

    Lowe knows how to wreck things, but he’s shown he knows diddly squat about rebuilding a team. Good thing Lowe had hall of Fame team mates to put those six rings on his fingers.

    • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

      Now , now , lets not be to hard on Lowe , as he knows how to fill the stands with a team Oiler fans like to enjoy even if they seem to enjoy/prefer a loser hockey team . Mind you , Eskimo attendance is starting to take a big tumble – maybe he should be worried it might spill onto hockey team ?

  • Sean17

    What was Yakupov doing on Kesler’s goal? That is the video that needs to be watched…

    Another area of concern should be fan apathy…. I’m a big fan, went to the home opener, watched last night and already starting to care less and less… I have better things to do for 3 hours – 6 hours if you count driving in from Red Deer. At least I wasn’t like the guy beside me who drove from Grande Prairie….

  • Spydyr

    someone want to let me know why smyth plays…he is such a liabilitu on the ice. I used to have the upmost respect for him but the game has changes alot since he was a rookie…he no longer fits in…..he dosnt block shots, hes always a step behind….its disappointing to watch….fans paying thousands to watch and they play someone like smyth….the oilers will not win games till smyth is out of the line up….

  • Spydyr

    Jason, your a former player, I have a question?

    There are lots of arguments going that weak goals have no effects on the team? I totally disagree with this.

    I know the oilers played poorly last night and the game wasn’t all Dubby’s fault but these weak goals IMO are affecting the rest of the team.

    Any insight on this?

      • Craig1981

        The argument is…..2 equal goalies play a season and face the EXACT same shots and let the EXACT same # of goals in. Goalie #1 lets no soft goals in, but make not insane saves. Goalie #2 make 20 highlight reel saves, but lets 20 soft ones in……….is one better than the other?

        I don’t think there is an easy answer on this and too would like a little Strudwick or Sutherby insight.

  • Spydyr

    Same Old, Same Old…yes that sounds right, exactly my thoughts while watching the game. Last year I started tracking Own Zone Turnovers (OZTs)which is a loss of possession in your own defensive end when the defensive team has possession. It did look like “Old Times” as you and the other commentors stated. Here are the stats for your interest! -Oilers OZTs 41, SAAs due to OZTs 19, GA due to OZTs 3. -Canucks OZTs 13, SAAs due to turnovers 5, GA due to OZTs 0. The Oilers gave up 3 times as many OZTs and 3 goals due to them! Yep, Same Old, Same Old. Who were the bad actors: -5 OZTs – #2, 19, 21 -4 OZTs – #4 -3 OZTs – 15, 57, 83. Of the defenseman Belov was the only one without a OZT. One area of improvement I’ve seen from last year is 0 OZTs by Dubnyk in the first two (1 1/2 ) games. Last year he was bad.

  • 24% body fat

    Said it before and I will say it again,

    Watching one of the best wingers in the game struggle at center really makes you appreciate what RNH and Gagner do for this team.

    Dont try to control him at center. UNLEASH him on the wing.

    • Craig1981

      I’m with you 100% percent. I think you could even relay that to respect for Arcobello. I hear people saying Hall is better then Arcobello and they should send Mark down.

      Personally I think, if you move Hall over it massively improves the 1st line as RNH is far better at center than Hall PLUS Hall is far better at wing than Smyth. You upgrade 2 positions significantly instead of just one.

  • Locksmithluke

    Eakins should make Dubby watch the game he just played………..exactly when did “dropping and flopping”, on every shot become a part of Dubby’s game.

    This reminds me of Tommy Salo…….the king of drop and flop! Stand up Dubby and play your angles. The idea of pucks deflecting causing goals is laughable. If you watch these re-plays Dubby is on the ice before the puck is even shot!

    Where is the goaltender coach during the game??

  • Jay Gray

    All great points Struds. The long and short of it is everyone needs to settle the F down, it’s two games.

    But if this last the first 8 or 9…I’ll be officially worried and disappointed.

      • Jay Gray

        I honestly didn’t expect the playoffs anytime in the last 7 years like I do this year. And IF they get in, I’ll assume they’ll just sneak in. If they don’t make it this year, it’s not the end of the world. They main part of the core is under 22 years old! I’m frustrated, but I think there’s quite a few of you that need to settle down, step away from the bridge and learn how to relax.

    • Big Cap

      It’s Only ONE game. Its only TWO games. Its only the first MONTH. Its only the first HALF. Finally, Its a another rebuild SEASON.

      These types of EXCUSES must end.

      ENOUGH IS A ENOUGH – There is NO excuse for last night’s effort.

    • Spydyr

      You might want to add coaching and management to that list if more results like last night occur very frequently . Did we really expect a green GM and coach to make much difference ? Hope is creeping out the backdoor rapidly .

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      I’ll go with compete and winning.

      * followed closely by size and grit, in third place coaching and management

      But other than that, things are headed in the right direction!

      • Spydyr

        You are right. I was just trying to make a funny. It is better to laugh than to cry. After this long lots of people are getting fed up with the groundhog day rebuild.

  • Locksmithluke

    Fist… Presumably the exact opposite of where the Oilers may find themselves in the standings if they don’t fix a few gaping holes! I’m hoping they do something about Dubnyk to begin with, in my opinion he really isn’t a NHL starter. And it also seems to be quite a few others opinion as well. Addressing a week Center and backend position(s) is also a primary objective I would assume. It just doesn’t look as if there’s enough substance there.