GDB 17.0: BRACING FOR THE BOLTS

When you are a 28th place team every game is tough. Two days after a 4-3 OT victory over the 27th place Florida Panthers, the Oilers at least have some momentum heading into a showdown with the 10th place Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Oilers, most likely Andrew Ference and Jeff Petry, will have the pleasure of trying to shut down the dangerous duo of Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. Stamkos is 2nd in NHL scoring with 20 points, while St. Louis is tied for 17th with 16.

Those two have scored 40% of Tampa Bay’s goals, and only twice this season have both of them been held pointless. The Bolts lost both games, 3-1 and 5-0, and both losses came against the Bruins.

The Oilers don’t have a Zdeno Chara, so it is unlikely the Oilers can shut out Stamkos and St. Louis, but they will need to contain them.

The Bolts have five players with 4+ goals, while the Oilers only have two, Gordon and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Twenty different players have scored a goal for the Oilers this year, but they need get a few more players scoring consistently. It is difficult to win regularly without a few go-to players, but the Oilers will get a huge boost as Taylor Hall returns to the lineup.

LINEUP…

Hemsky-RNH-Eberle
Hall-Gagner-Yakupov
Omark-Gordon-Arcobello
Jones-Smyth-Gazdic

Hall will play his first game since being injured in Ottawa and Eakins is hoping Hall can jumpstart two struggling players, Gagner and Yakupov. Hall is the best option to do that.

The only aspect of the line juggling that I question is moving Ryan Smyth to centre. Smyth struggled mightily last season playing in the middle. He excels on the wall, not in the middle of the ice. You can’t expect him to contribute when he is playing centre.

There is no way you could demote Mark Arcobello or Boyd Gordon to the 4th line. They’ve arguably been the two most consistent forwards all year. There is no way Eakins could retain respect within the room if you demoted them, yet played struggling players like Yakupov, Gagner, and recently recalled Linus Omark ahead of them in the top-nine.

Smyth at centre has to be a short-term experiment. He is better on the wall.

I’m most interested to see who Eakins will use to try and contain Stamkos and St. Louis. Gordon is his best defensive forward, but with his wingers I’m not sure that is a matchup Eakins wants to run. I’m guessing he’ll try to get the RNH line out against them.

Ference-Petry
Smid-Larsen
N.Schultz-Fedun

There is no reason to switch up the D pairs. Petry and Ference are the Oilers best option to face 91/26. I liked Larsen’s game in Florida, especially on the PP. Fedun and Schultz won’t outmuscle many players, but both play smart, positional defence.

Dubnyk

Tampa Bay is getting solid goaltending. Dubnyk needs to match Ben Bishop’s play to give the Oilers a chance. 

YAK SUPPORT….

Yesterday head coach Dallas Eakins and Craig MacTavish made it clear that Nail Yakupov wasn’t being shopped.

“Nail Yakupov is not being shopped, he’s not going anywhere and I wanted him to hear that from me, look me in my eye, and let him know that we’re attached at the hip," Eakins said after he had a heart-to-heart chat with Yakupov on the ice in Tampa Bay that had some speculating the first pick in 2012 might be a healthy scratch.

While scouting the Rangers/Pengiuns game, MacTavish said this to the media, "We very much believe Nail will evolve to become that dynamic, electric player — become one of the most entertaining guys in the game. I told that to Igor (Larionov) (Yakupov’s agent) and I told that to Yak. Development is very rarely a straight line. It has ups and downs.”

It was smart for the coach to tell a young player who is struggling he believes in him, but the harsh reality of pro sports is that if you aren’t performing you likely won’t be playing much. Yakupov didn’t see the ice for the final 9:30 or regulation, and the 1:55 of OT, while the Oilers were trying, unsuccessfully, to protect a lead.

That isn’t surprising, considering he’s not a defensive stalwart just yet, but if he continues to sit for long stretches, and continues to struggle offensively, will the Oilers consider a stint in OKC?

MacTavish wisely said development is rarely a straight line. Yakupov isn’t the first sophomore to struggle, but due to his age they could let him gain some confidence in OKC. Yakupov has high-end skills, so he could score tonight and no one will worry about his offence, but if his slump continues the Oilers should consider OKC a viable option.

QUICK HITS…

  • Unless they acquire another goalie the Oilers need to stick with Devan Dubnyk. Jason LaBarbera is not going to perform better, so tell Dubnyk he’s your guy, and tell him to stay focused the entire game. Challenge him to be consistent.  
     
  • The Oilers have actually played pretty well at ES on the road this year outscoring teams 26-25. They’ve been decent at ES, but they’ve been outscored 9-3 on PP. Their PP is only 9.4% on the road. Their PP looked much better in Florida, and if it can get going, they might start to pull out some wins away from Rexall.
     

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Four of the last five games between these two teams in Tampa have ended in 3-2 scores with each team winning twice. In those four games Oilers won, Tampa won, Oilers won and Tampa won, so based on extensive scientific research (none whatsoever) the Oilers continue that trend tonight with a 3-2 victory.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Omark scores, because Oilersnation thrives on drama/debate.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: After opening the Florida broadcast with a muscle shirt and shorts, Mean Gene Principe starts his segment standing along the boards at the zamboni entrance. He does a quick spin-o-rama then walks towards the camera talking about the return of Hall and Omark’s recall from OKC. As he gets closer, he tosses it upstairs to two guys who are "classy" and "no joke", Louis Debrusk and Kevin Quinn, and then stares into the camera and drops the mic. BOOM.

** Principe was playing off the words of the Tampa Bay Lightning players after Omark’s infamous SO goal on December 10th, 2010, when they whined about his move being a joke and Dan "cancelled my twitter account" Ellis claimed it "wasn’t very classy."

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

  • Reg Dunlop

    The lightning rely heavily on their top line. The oil don’t have a Chara. So what? Has everyone forgotten the concept of shadowing? Assign Gordon and MarkArc to wear Stamkos and StLouis like hair shirts. Forgo any offence to shut down Tampa’s threats. Follow them EVERYWHERE, scrum it up with them every whistle.

    The oil won’t do this and will lose 5-1.

    Yak is here to stay. At least until he joins his doppelganger Nik Zherdev in USSR. Hello lottery.

  • Reg Dunlop

    I don’t get why if you got four centers that why you play a guy outta position who plays well on the boards. Eakins has enough horses to roll four lines 5×5. Play your top two lines consistently, and make your 3/4 lines battle it out who will play more down the stretch.

    Instead you got Gagner who is non-existent on the dot, who will probably go 2-14. Stamkos will get this match-up and the Oilers will get roasted in their own zone. The fourth line will continue to play 5 minutes, with Smyth getting a shift on the PP, and a few on the penalty kill. Tampa’s got two Oiler lines to destroy tonight. I’m predicting a 5-4 Oiler loss, with Stamkos with the trick.

  • pkam

    I am still a bit disappointed that we didn’t get Jon Cooper to coach the Oilers.

    He has been a winner everywhere. Never get fired even once, just moved up the ladder from one job to another. I don’t know how he did it, I just know he did it every single time.

    Tampa was 2nd last in the East last season, now they are 2nd best in the East. Under his coaching, Lightning will probably win the cup in a few years.

    • Zarny

      Eakins didn’t win an AHL championship but had equally as impressive records as Cooper.

      So why do you think Cooper would be any better than Eakins?

      You don’t think Cooper would be trying to get the kids to play 200 ft hockey?

      You think the kids would be any better at playing mistake free hockey under Cooper than Eakins?

      Not likely.

      The Oilers problems aren’t coaching. Eakins is a good coach. The young kids simply haven’t accepted the fact that all of the top lines have players as good as they are and they can’t make mistakes or get caught cheating trying to score goals.

      • pkam

        I never say Eakins or Nelson is not a good coach. But Cooper’s track record is better.

        He joined the Lightnings organization 3 years ago. Norfolk Admirals had missed the playoff 3 years in a row. He lead the Admirals to Calder cup in 2 years, and Admirals had a lot of small and skill forwards which was similar to the Oilers in many ways.

        Before he joined the Lightnings, he coached the Green Bay Gamblers in 2008-09 and 09-10. Green Bay was dead last in USHL the year before. He lead them to win the Championship in 09-10.

        Tampa finished 2nd last in the East and 3rd last overall last season, they are 2nd in the east at this moment and 1st in their division. How did he do that?

        Can he make the kids to play 200 ft hockey? I don’t know, perhaps he can.

        But one thing no one can deny, he had turned bad teams into championship teams in a very short duration.

    • pkam

      Had a good coach in OKC who almost made it to the Calder Cup playoffs. I think if Nelson made it to the final dance he would of gotten consideration with the Oilers this year. Frankly he appears to be the only decent coach we have in the organization.

      • pkam

        I am not sure who is better between Eakins and Nelson. My guess is they are very close.

        But most interesting, Jon Cooper lead the Norfolk Admirals to Calder cup 2 years ago. A team with many small but skillful players just like the Oilers, where many posters here will consider it a midget team.

  • Spydyr

    I also think tonight will be another night of how many goals do the Oilers need to actually win a game. Here’s a question, what is the lowest amount of goals the oilers needed to win a game.

    Why do I get the feeling the answer is 4.

  • reaperfunkss

    Dubnyks problems are not mental lapses. They are the deficiencies in his game such as he does not track the puck exceptionally well. Has little to no reflex speed. Depends totally on his size so in this it is not so much him making the save as it is the puck hitting him.

    When challenged with a shot that takes skill to stop he more often than not fails. Eakins knows this i think MacT knows this but Lowe needs Dubnyk to come through and so he can prove himself right.

    The foundation of this organization is so busted that management spends more time “selling us” on how good they are than proving how good they are by having a competitive team.

    I am hoping for the best tonight but history doesnt give me much hope

    Side note Just saw the 30 on 30 about Spanos and the Islanders and found the state of the islander fans very interesting.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I think Stamkos is gonna ventilate Dubey tonight. I hate to say it, but he’s lighting it up (as usual), and that half hearted wave Dubnyk made on the tying goal last game has me worried.

    Here’s hoping Hall comes out flying, if he and Yak can get it going we should be able to roll with the Bolts.

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    The broadcasting crews for radio and TV are so bad that I always watch the opponent’s broadcast. It’s the only way to keep me sane.

    Gene Principe = Buzz Killington

    Bob Staufer = Mediterranean Chicken

    • Derian Hatcher

      Stauffer is so busy pumping his own tires….”I was the only media guy after 2006 to state that the Oilers needed to tear it down and do a complete rebuild”….”The minute I looked at the schedule, I said the Oilers would get off to a rough start..”….”I played on the same line with Guy Gadowsky with SSAC” .”I said, I said, I said., I , I, I, ..blah blah blah….Bob and KLowe….both seem to know about winning – “if there’s ever a concern”.

      Agree – Bob was much more objective before Rexall boy started signing his cheques. Come on Bob, less about you and what you said and more from qualified guests.

    • Dallylamma

      Principe’s schtick is extremely stale at this point. I feel bad for the rest of the guys in the crew because you know Gene spends all day trying out bits on them.

      Bob is ok…but ever since he got on the Oilers corporate tit his objectivity is non-existent. He’s a totally different guy compared to the Bob of a few years ago who was usually one of the only media voices holding the team accountable.

  • Hemmercules

    I would swap Arco and Gagner in those lines. I was never crazy about Gagner at centre, a rusty Gagner at centre is even worse. Break him in on the wing with some shelter and reward arco for his hard work.

    Snipers feast on Dubnyk, facing Stamkos and co. is scary. Oil compete tonight but fall 5-4.

  • Oiler63

    So Dallas Eakins, like Kreuger, thinks Smyth can play well at center? Wait a minute, who is the real coach here? Why could two different coaches (assuming they are both smart people) come out with the same stupid idea? Is this Lowe coaching again?

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    — Albert Einstein

  • Word to the Bird

    You don’t realize how bad of shape we’re in until you realize that even on a 5 game winning streak we’d still have a losing record.

    Still, the time is now to go game by game.

  • Rocket

    I’m amping to see how Stamkos lights The Oilers up. Watching him play against Hall (maybe) should be fun to watch.

    Also, I wonder how Hedman is doing? He was drafted high but since then I haven’t really heared much about him.

      • pkam

        Don’t disagree with your statement on Hedman, pretty solid defenseman but in today’s NHL cannot be a number 1 D-man because of the lack of offence. Everyone is caught up on the catch phrase of this decade and that is “puck moving D-man”. Hedman would be a good number 2 guy.