AT THE QUARTER MARK

At the quarter pole (figuratively, not in racing terms) of this abbreviated NHL season the Oilers find themselves on the cusp of a playoff spot. While many are lamenting the state of the Oilers, and I understand there are many areas of concern, the fact is the Oilers are in the playoff hunt.

While the Oilers are giving up way too many shots, can’t score five-on-five, have injuries down the middle, are struggling in the faceoff circle and seemingly can’t knock the opposition off the puck, they are in a decent position in the standings.

Imagine if the Oilers find a way to start scoring ES and actually play with the puck more than chase it; they could actually be dangerous.

Here is where they have stood at the quarter pole since the lockout. Keep in mind that they only have 36 games left this season, compared to 60-62 in previous years.

2006… 8th in western conference. Made the playoffs finishing 8th.
2007… 7th in the west. Finished 12th.
2008… 15th in the west. Finished 9th.
2009… 12th in the west. Finished 11th.
2010… 13th in the west. Finished last.
2011… 15th in the west. Finished last.
2012… 9th in the west. Finished 14th.

Where they stood in those years has no bearing on where they will finish this season, but while many of you are concerned over their play, especially after yesterday’s dreadful performance in Columbus, excluding Devan Dubnyk’s stellar play, the good news is that the Oilers haven’t played themselves out of the playoff race.

The Oilers sit in 9th, just like they did last year, and most would agree the Oilers haven’t played that great so far. Their special teams and goaltending are the main reasons they have 13 points in 12 games.

You’d expect Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle to start burying more of their quality chances, and the Oilers as a team need to start hitting the net more. I don’t see Dubnyk faltering, so if the Oilers can wake up offensively and come close to breaking even in time of possession they should be able to stay in the playoff mix.

QUICK HITS

  • The Oilers need to stop taking lazy, stupid stick penalties. The Oilers are the most penalized team in the league, and it isn’t because they are intimidating. They’ve had exactly 101 minutes of PK time this year. They have had to kill off 20 minutes more of PK time than every other team except, Colorado (82:56), Detroit (87:21), Pittsburgh (88:35), Montreal (89:21), New Jersey (91:05) and Dallas (93:55).
     
  • At some point Ralph Krueger is going to have to staple someone’s ass to the bench after a bad penalty. The most frustrating part is that the forwards have taken way too many minor penalties. Ryan Smyth has taken 8 minors, Gagner and Yakupov (5), Hall, Hemsky and Belanger (4). Only Smid (5) (two of those were for instigating) and Petry (4) are close. The Oilers need to stop taking needless stick penalties.
     
  • After watching him rip one top-shelf for the game winner v. Columbus I wonder why Magnus Paajarvi doesn’t shoot more. That was a hell of a shot.
     
  • The Oilers need to work on hitting the net. They are continually missing the goal on some of their best scoring opportunities.
     
  • Ryan Jones is still two weeks away from playing, but the Oilers still put  Darcy Hordichuk on waivers. Clearly they didn’t plan on carrying Hordichuk as a 13th forward any longer, because Krueger has shown he won’t play him. They can recall Vande Velde or maybe they have a minor trade in the works.
     
  • One of the most underappreciated players in the league is David Clarkson. He scored 30 goals last year, and with the departure of Zack Parise he’s producing even more this year, with 9 goals in 12 games. He’s one of the best power forwards in the game. He’s likely going to get a big raise from his $2.67 million cap hit.
     
  • Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau each had 14 points in their first 6 games, however, neither has picked up a point in their last five.
     
  • Devan Dubnyk is tied for 6th in the league in SV% (.928%) amongst goalies with at least six starts. However, he has faced between 63-132 more shots than the other six goalies. He’s had an incredible start to the season, and if he continues to play this way the Oilers will have a bonafide #1. 

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

  • Wax Man Riley

    I love the fact that MPS know his weaknesses………and more importantly wants to change it, as evidenced by his last two interviews.

    I’m a little tired of players that develop slower than some of their peers………and then are shipped off to other teams, only to blossom. We have had enough of those situations and should avoid MPS being the victim of ” late bloomers disease”.

    All he need is to drive to the net like Harti……..once he incorporates this into his game he will be a top six guy. He is close to accomplishing this……..we need to keep him!

  • Zamboni Driver

    Just sayin,…
    And only using Bertuzzi as an example [ he is almost done]
    Adding one or 2 Large men or those with true grit to
    this lineup makes the rest of this group play bigger.

    Yes, i know these are not easy to find, but first you have to find
    one, and may have to pay for him, next year you find # 2
    and so on, based on where we draft again this year and realistically
    we all know its probably going to be top 10 as much as i hate to
    say it.

    We are not going to win the cup this year we all know that. We want playoff hockey badly but we wan the cup and to be a legit contender
    more. Its a 2-3 year plan yet and that is if we have those responsibe
    for making these acquisitions on top of their game…or perhaps
    its time for one of them to be traded or just out and out fired.

    It is not in Taylor Halls nor Jordan Eberle nor Nuge nor Yak nor Hemskys Power to bring in these pieces. It is you Kevin Lowe, you Steve Tambellini to do this, and perhaps its time for you guys to
    put up or get out. Or at very least address us the fans as to your intentions. Its the Very least you can do. Failure brought
    us the draft picks, not you and you know it yet you want to
    lok like heros, This is Edmonton Gents, we are just a little smarter than
    your average fan.

  • Jimmeh

    MP.Slow but steady increase in confidence has started to see MP improve his play in all zones. His play recently has shown the steady influence of Ralph Kreuger and the rest of the coaching staff. MP has taken that faith andd built upon it game after game. He is driving to the net.Playing a vital role on the Pk.His forechecking is leading to turnovers and penalties. He in my opinion has been one of two(Belanger) who have benfited from the coaching change. His game is moving towards more of what we saw 2 years ago. Credit that to his hard work and willingness to learn. and to coaching who believe in him.I like what I see.

    Gregor. Can Chicago maintain this pace? Wait till they play at home.Where they are good. Wow what a start.

  • MrCondor

    The shots are very concerning but it’s the lack of urgency when they have the puck and don’t. Other teams are more desperate to do anything to create shots and chances and that’s something that Edmonton doesn’t do that often. Once Edmonton starts playing with a lot more fire in there guts, I believe the shots will come along with the chances and along with the goals. Plain and simple, these are growing pains but with due time, this team will be a amazing team to watch and cheer for in the upcoming years…

  • Jimmeh

    PRV should snipe the corners when he goes on his patented left wing burst, shoot from along the boards at the top of the circle. Instead of shooting it right at the goalie’s chest. Make the goalie work more and try to produce rebounds to the slot.

  • MrCondor

    There were so, so many question marks heading into this season. Of all those, the ones that are positive have been very positive, some have stayed flat, and others have turned out negative. Dubnyk as our number one, is a huge positive. Whitney not returning to form is a huge negative, but expected. Schultz exceeding the impossibly high expectations is such a huge positive. Hemsky back to form, Gagner shutting up his critics, and prospects like Hartikinen and Magnus finding a game they can be effective in is another big bonus, as is Belangier being an effective player for what he’s been asked to do.

    Nuge playing hurt, Smyth taking a dive, our defence having a tough go, and our complete lack of scoring 5 on 5 are things that will likely improve (not Whitney, he’s gonna be replaced by someone).

    I guess what I’m trying to say is I’d take our success because of a good goalie, and great power play, over hearing we can’t win because even though we’re scoring lots, we can’t keep the puck out of the net.

    I think building through the daft is over, now its about building around the pieces and shoring up the ship.

  • Jason Gregor

    MPS’s shot appears much more dangerous from the middle of the ice rather than the wing. i.e., it seems to be more about accuracy than power. When he is on the wing the options are fewer and the shot doesn’t seem to have the zip to go in.

    Which makes you wonder if they shouldn’t give him a try at centre for a while and see what happens.

    • Jimmeh

      Switch him to RW if you want to see that type of shot more often, but moving him to center would be disastrous. The reads are completely different, not to mention that Paajarvi has had no reason to work on skills like faceoffs thus far in his career. In the vast majority of cases a position shift like this doesn’t work.

      • DSF

        Hands?

        Are you kidding me?

        His career shooting percentage is 6.5.

        There are currently 72 NHL DEFENSEMEN with a better shooting percentage this season.

        Kid scores one goal and all of a sudden he has “hands”?

        Good grief.

  • MrCondor

    @Jason

    It’d be interesting to see some analysis of where teams were at with 36 games remaining last season. This would be good to look at every 12 games as well.

  • Another problem with the Oilers is they are likely the softest team in the league. It doesn’t have to be devastating open ice hits or hooliganism. But mixing in some grit and physicality would give this team a more dynamic dimension. It also gives guys a little bit more room out there and if everyone is hitting, it keeps everyone in the game. I see far too much cutesie hockey out there, which has it place, especially given the skill set of our best players. But cute passing plays aren’t enough to string together winning streaks.

  • Toe-Dragger

    Hopefully we can squeak into the playoffs this year but the vast majority of our problem players should be cleared with one foul swoop this off-season. Let Whitney expire, then buy-out Smyth and Horcoff. You have freed up huge $$’s that you are getting no return on.

    People are too worried about “replacing” these guys…there is nothing to replace. Van de Velde is a better player than either of the fowards and I’d bet Fedun is a better D-man than Whitney at this point. Ideally you get some bonafide NHL’ers in free agency but this is simple addition by subtraction.

  • @ Jason Gregor – Based on your interaction with the team, how is Ryan Smyth taking his reduced role this year? I did not agree with bringing him back a couple of years ago as I figured he was done then, and he is struggling even more now. From your perspective, is the physical toll catching up to him or is it more of a mental issue with him being a bottom 6 player on the team now?

    Also, props for putting Spector on the spot last week regarding media bashing of Hemsky last season. While he did not own up to all of the bashing he did, at least he kinda sorta acknowledged it while dodging the question a bit. LOL

    • Jason Gregor

      Smyth is fine with his role. Of course he’d like to play more, but his icetime isn’t that much so I don’t see conditioning/physical play being a problem.

      I’m a bit surprised he isn’t on the 2nd PP unit in front of the net, because every successful PP has someone willing and good at standing in front.

      But since he is on top PK unit, he can’t play every situation. I’d slot him in on PP now and again.

    • Zamboni Driver

      Hemsky DESERVED every bit of the bashing that he got last year.

      Heartless all year.

      This year, he’s better – people are saying that now too.

      It’s actually okay to say that someone is playing crappy*

      *Except Smytty for some reason.

      • Jimmeh

        @ Zamboni Driver

        I have no problem calling out a player when he is playing crappy for a season or two, but a few months in a season coming back from surgery is kind of asinine. Hemsky deserved some of it, but not all of the crap that was being spewed about him (especially some of the nonsense that the Oilers PR department of Stauffer and Tencer were trying to stir up). There was one segment on Gregor’s show last year where Spector went off on a Hemsky sucks, Hemsky hates the media, Hemsky is a whiner, Hemsky is heartless rant that was embarrassing to be honest. It was way out of line IMHO, and I do not blame Hemsky for not talking to a tool like that going forward (or Jim Matheson and Terry Jones for their asinine articles last year either when he told them to f-off).

        As far as him being heartless all year, did you watch the second half of the season when he started feeling better physically? He still went back to the tough areas like he always did in the past, but the points were not there. He is doing the same thing this season and now the pucks are going in.

        The thing I have always found funny about Oilers fans over the past few seasons is how fickle they are. What happened to the old rule of thumb that it takes one season to recover from a season lost due to a shoulder or knee injury that required surgery? In Hemmers case, he had two seasons in a row lost due to shoulder surgeries, came back and struggled as expected. He likely had confidence issues as well since the recovery was not going well. How many times have we heard confidence and Whitney being an issue this season as an excuse?

        FWIW, I am starting to hear more “Hall is overrated” comments now since he is not scoring as much. While I looked at this season as a write-off for him due to coming back from a long layoff due to shoulder surgery, other fans seem to think that he would just jump right back into peak form. Wait for all of the Nuge bashing to start in a bit if he does not start to score as well. Right now his shoulder is obviously hindering him, but another couple of weeks of no/low production and the Oilers fanbase will jump on him as well.

        As far as Ryan Smyth, he has been done since the end of his stint in Colorado and the Oilers should have just signed him for a day for a retirement ceremony after his contract with the Kings was up. The media like him so he gets a pass. Hopefully Kruger holds him accountable for his horrific play so far this season.

      • Jason Gregor

        Your suggestion that he is heartless is inaccurate. Playing when you aren’t healthy isn’t heartless, it usually just means a player isn’t as effective.

        • Zamboni Driver

          Played pretty heartless all last year in my view. Pouted when he was no longer the go-to guy (even though I don’t think he ever wanted to be that), and even when he was playing lousy, still did the “first off the ice” and “no talk to media” bit.

          What I meant was Spector and others were absolutely within their right to rip him.

          Like I said though, he is MUCH better this year.

          I would still move him, but I won’t be as excited as I would have been last year.