Ales Hemsky has a unique ability to take over games

The opening goal of last night’s game was a remarkable thing, and showcased some of the (depth!) talent the Oilers have accumulated of late. Particularly brilliant was the goal-scorer, Ales Hemsky, who is in 2005-06 form after a rough go of things last season.

We start with the Oilers exiting their own zone. Sam Gagner (89) carries the puck over his own blue line with Nail Yakupov (64) on one wing and Ales Hemsky (83, off-screen) on the other. This is the second shift after a failed Dallas power play, and a time one often sees mismatches in the matchup game – Stars coach Glen Gulutzan rolled out line three and then line four, while Ralph Krueger went with a modified version of his top line (Paajarvi in for Eberle, as Eberle was out for the last shift of the penalty kill) and then deployed his second line. The Stars pictured are Antoine Roussel (60), Vern Fiddler (38) and Eric Nystrom (24).

Gagner has passed off to Yakupov, and Hemsky is at the other side of the ice waiting to enter the zone. Because the Dallas defence has backed off and Nystrom is the only Stars forward in any position to exert pressure, the Oilers gain the zone easily.

All five stars have collapsed into the defensive zone as Yakupov stops up with the puck on the half boards. Rather than try and thread a pass through multiple guys, Yakupov does the obvious thing and sends it back to the point.

Corey Potter (44) walks in and tries to thread a shot between Roussel’s legs, one that is blocked. Yakupov is in good position but needs to beat both Roussel and defenceman Brenden Dillon (4) for the loose puck.

Dillon takes a moment to react, so Yakupov grabs the puck and skates it into the slot for what looks like it’s going to be a shot.

Instead of shooting, Yakupov skates through – and the result is a relatively clear lane to Hemsky at the side of the net, with four Stars tied up in a tight little box in front of the net. Notable here too is Gagner, who knows that if Hemsky gets the puck at the side he’ll have a moment to thread it through the crease, so he’s getting to the other side of the net in a hurry. The play doesn’t work out, though – Dillon just manages to get his stick on the puck, deflecting the pass from Hemsky and into the corner.

Unperturbed, Hemsky retrieves the puck and starts to carry it out.

Hemsky cycles back toward the point, and Ladislav Smid (5) cycles down, ready for the handoff if Hemsky chooses to make one. Hemsky does not, though Stephane Robidas (3) gives Smid a bit of a bump anyway. A strong check by Nystrom here and this play is probably over, but he’s hesitant to engage and Hemsky blows past him.

Hesmky keeps going, and Nystrom turns to follow.

Hemsky could have passed off to Petry, but he just keeps going, zipping around Nystrom and coming in 1-on-1 with Roussel.

Hemsky zips past Roussel.

Looks like Hemsky has skated himself into and right back out of a danger area, but that’s only because Smid and Yakupov aren’t on screen.

Hemsky passes off to Smid, who gets a shot from a dangerous area. It’s easy to see what his circling has done to Dallas’ defence and fourth line – there are three guys all over Gagner, and one on Hemsky himself at the post, leaving the Oilers with a three-to-one advantage everywhere else in the zone.

Lehtonen makes a fine save, but Hemsky zips around the back of the net, retrieves the loose puck, and the gets ready to start the whole exercise over again.

Given the open lane, this time Hemsky cuts to the slot rather than to the outside. He looks like he might shoot but instead passes to Yakupov, who misses the puck.

Yakupov has time and space, so he retrieves the puck and comes out of the corner, even as Hemsky continues on past circling the other way.

Yakupov circles back toward the slot, and has two obvious options – a pass to Gagner or a chance to skate up and shoot. His safest pass is less obvious – Smid’s stick at the far left of the screen. Looking towards the net the entire time, Yakupov dishes the puck to Smid.

Smid skates low with it, and now is finally the time to use Gagner.

Smid makes a slap-pass to Gagner, who tips the puck just to the side of the net – a play that could very easily have been a goal and the Oilers’ second nice opportunity to score on this shift.

Yakupov retrieves the puck in the corner and makes a behind the back pass toward the front of the net.

Hemsky and Gagner both miss the puck, as do both Stars in the area – it actually ends up bouncing off Kari Lehtonen’s pad and in front of the net.

Gagner grabs the loose puck and sends it back to Yakupov, who has two really nice options – a pass to Hemsky at the side of the net or a shot from a prime scoring location. Yakupov shoots.

Yakupov hits the post for the Oilers’ third scoring opportunity. The puck bounces off and directly to Ales Hemsky at the side of the net.

Hemsky takes his time, then puts the puck high over the sprawling Lehtonen. At this point, Yakupov zips over to Hemsky and puts an arm around him, literally jumping up and down on the ice in excitement at the goal that was just scored.

There were a lot of great plays leading up to that goal, and the Hemsky line just put the boots to Dallas’ grinders. The obvious guy to highlight is Hemsky, because lopping through the zone the way he did opened up all kinds of opportunities as the Stars struggled to adgust. Yakupov too, though, deserves a lot of credit here – I particularly liked the way he sold the shot before passing off to Smid. For that matter, Smid stood out on this shift – he wasted no time cycling low when it became clear Hemsky was going to the point, and the slap-pass to Gagner was really a thing of beauty.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • I have to be honest, I was not impressed when they reupped #83 last year @ $5 million.But, he’s playing like its 2006 again, even better. I suppose his shoulder issues have been corrected, but more importantly his linemates this year are not pluggers. The other thing about his game this year he is going to the net and shooting more.
    Gagner, Hemsky and Yakapov, have been a solid line, now only, if Gagner can get his F/O up in the mid 50’s range.

  • sofarsogood

    A guy vacations for 8 days, (no cummunications) comes back and we have ahl centers. Wow! The injury bug has some correlation with size and strength. It is showing up every year. It is time to fix it. In the nextfew months gagner will need to be traded for a big center (getzlaf) along as he will sign a 3 year deal with the oilers. That shift by hemsky and co. was nice to watch. Yak is looking more confident and is starting to take the puck to the slot. BY the way I like gagner (not bad at more than a ppg) for a second line center, but its gotta be done.

    • Bucknuck

      Look at the injury bug a little more closely. The guys getting hurt are mostly the big ones. There has been no correlation between size and injuries for the Oilers.

      Andy Sutton is 6 foot 6

      Ryan Whitney (Mr. Injury) is 6 foot 4

      Mark Fistric is 6 foot 2 and built like a truck (233 lbs)

      Ben Eager is 6 foot 2 and also built like a truck (236 lbs)

      Ryan Jones and Horcoff aren’t exactly little either. Both are 6 foot 1 and over 200 lbs.

      And why trade for Getzlaf when he would be an Unrestricted FA this summer (Perry would too). I wouldn’t trade for him just to lose him, when the Oilers could sign him for nothing.

      • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

        Whatever man, all those injuries to the big guys are all flukes. The small guys get injured because they’re small! Being an effective hockey player has absolutely nothing to do with how Oiler fans should evaluate their players. They just need to be big. Let’s trade Gagner, he’s too small. Let’s trade Hemsky, he’s too soft. Let’s trade RNH, he’s too small and will always get injured. We need big centres like Eric Lindros, Eric Daze, Keith Primeau, those guys never got injured.

    • These injuries – with the exception of the Nugent-Hopkins day-to-day thing – have no connection to size/strength.

      Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger and Anton Lander could all be 6’7″, 260lbs and it wouldn’t have made any difference. The puck would still have busted Belanger’s toes, Horcoff’s knucks, and whatever awful thing it did to Lander’s leg.

      • I’m not sure about these injuries……but the Oilers have suffered more injuries than most teams over the last several years. And there is no doubt that size and skill have a lot to do with it.

        Size for the obvious reasons….where size means small frames that come up against immovable objects like big frames (or with a really young frame like Nuge, he can fall into the boards on his own and come up injured)…young frames (that are not fully developed) that come up against old frames that are hard and grizeled…and inexperienced frames that don’t know enough about how to protect themselves in a variety of situations…taking a hit…giving a hit….taking a pass with your head down, etc.

        But also skill…..for years the Oilers were an underskilled team who tried to compensate for that with hard work and dedication….other teams could simply focus on hitting our 2 or 3 skilled players…so guys like Hemsky would take the brunt of it….and then the pluggers would be in over their heads and would have to OVER Extend themselves…opening them up to an increased risk of injury. So….things like size and team skill do matter when it comes to injury stats.

        Lets not forget that its a new era in hockey….you never used to see 18 year olds playing in the bigs….now its pretty common.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        exactly.

        these belong in the “freak play” category that comes with playing a contact sport on a slippery surface with a hard, fast object.

        RNH fall last year and Hall’s facial disaster are of the same caliber.

        There is no way to avoid or plan for these kinds of things. and size, power, truculence, etc. have nothing to do with it.

    • Marcus

      Didn’t watch the game due to work. The last screen shot after the goal is scored still burns me, ie: Roussel cheapshot to Gagner’s ribs.

      Hordichuk should have been given a 20 second shift shortly thereafter to remind Roussel about that, i.e: clobber the punk. I doubt it happened.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Amen!

    Hemsky’s been one of the more consistent performers this year. The rumors of his return to form this year while playing in Czech are very much true.

    He also had a great scoring chance off a sweet Yak hit in the neutral zone (see around 3:05):

    http://video.oilers.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=4&id=199551&cmpid=embed-share-video

    he was buzzing. all hail!

    It was pretty great to watch Ray Ferraro (who is a great commentator most of the time) have to eat his own BS last night as he colored Hemsky’s game… Those guys (including many in the EDM media) ripping on him last year are looking dumber by the day… and they looked pretty dumb last year!

    • The guys ripping on Hemsky had to be doing so out of pure frustration or perhaps to sell newspapers (personally I found that the misperceptions about Hemsky were more from out of province media)

      Most Oilers fans and media know that Hemmer has been the best Oiler for many years. They know he is talented and tough ( not soft) and is somewhat injury prone and also playing on a team that relies too heavily on him resulting in additional risk taking.

      There is a basic reality with a guy like this who is now 27 and in his prime…..if it looks like Hemsky..its Hemsky…..if it doesn’t look like Hemsky…then he’s playing hurt.

          • Phixieus666

            How would you describe the “Opps it should be offside but I’ll pretend I didn’t see it” or the “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 minus the 1 nope not too many men” calls last night.

            Oh and the one that bugged me the most was the Smyth “I’ll just kick your legs out and push you backwards thinking I wont get called” penalty. Smyth is a Vet he should know better. That’s like crashing into a car getting out chugging the rest of your beer and throwing the can in the ditch while saying you hadn’t been drinking.

          • Release the Hounds

            And also the Roussel “I’ll hold Hemsky’s stick and pull it in to my body to make the ref think I’m being hooked” play. The officiating has been sub-par again as it was last season and many of the calls seem to be having a larger impact on the outcome of games. For example:

            Hooking call on #83 = PP goal Dallas

            Missed offside call= PP goal Dallas

            Missed two many men = lost opportunity for an Oiler PP = O/T winner Dallas

          • Phixieus666

            Oh ya I forgot about that one. When you start to look back at this stuff you start to realize that the Oil could easily have had another 2-4 points this season and a couple other teams would be down 1-2 points. It would make a difference in the standings. People can say what they want about it being the same for other teams But I don’t believe that to be true. There are certain teams that suffer and certain teams that benefit more than others.

            Bring On Video replay

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            The linesman was on the other side of the ice and Roy’s (IIRC it was him right?) body was facing the wall, i.e., blocking the view of the puck.

            sucks, but at game speed… honest mistake. the only way to address that is video review…

            the too many men was blatant and was simply missed, or ignored for the sake of keeping OT moving… both are bad excuses, but hardly uncommon ones.

            the Smyth slew-foot… correct call on the play… but I think you could argue he lost his footing on contact and took the Dallas player down by accident… still the right call though.

          • Phixieus666

            Smyth’s Penalty was clearly no accident. If they had decided to give him a double minor for that I don’t think I could have argued. Its one thing if you take a penalty trying to send a physical message but that one was just ridiculous, I sure hope Kruger had something to say to him after that.

          • Drunk Farmer

            Agreed Smyth almost never sets the correct tone for himself or the young guys. It’s almost like he has the attitude – half the salary and diminished role will get the Oilers half an effort.

            Rarely have I ever seen a player placed so high in the opinions of some fans and contribute so little. Watch the first two goals by Dallas last night and keep an eye on Smyth leading up to those goals.

            On the first goal its criminal how ineffective Smyth is in his own zone and on the 2nd goal guys like Petrell and others block the shot from the point, Smyth on the other hand stays out of the shooting lanes, and mostly he likes to wave his stick.

            Everyone here will have different opinions about different players but what strikes me the most about the Oilers team 10 games in is that they don’t play for each other. The culture needs to change.

            There’s allot of ego on this team and some of the players appear to play mostly for themselves.

            Yakupov is a pure shooter and his one-timers are in the elite category. Ten games in and his centre-men hasn’t yet been able to get him the puck in a shooting position. The Nuge would be feathering Yakopov the puck for a one-timer so often the opposing goalies would be begging for a seat on the bench.

            So the question is – Is Gagner not able to get Yak the puck when he’s calling for it or does Gagner chose not to?

            Smyth we’re stuck with until is contract ends but Gagner’s stock is about a high as it’s ever going to be. Getzlaff would be the perfect fit for this hockey team in so many ways. Whatever it costs the Oilers would be money well spent – additional playoff revenue add up quickly.

          • A-Mc

            “So the question is – Is Gagner not able to get Yak the puck when he’s calling for it or does Gagner chose not to?”
            -I made the comment a while ago in another posting that i saw this very same scenario but with Whitney and Yakupov on the PP. It blows my mind that Whitney time after time will choose to pass to the more congested side when Yakupov (who has the best shot on the ice) is standing there wide open with his stick raised ready to unleash the fury.

            I dont know what’s going on there but i notice it Every. Single. Game.

            If Yak isnt getting himself into the passing lanes then Ralph really needs to work on that with him. (on TV, he looks fine, but view from the ice may be different)

          • I mentioned this a few time’s already, then it dawned on me………Whitney can’t make the pass.

            The reason is when Yakupov is facing Whitney’s back side, Whitney can’t pivot, cross turn his feetand body while maintaining his balance and movement….Basically he can’t turn and keep moving due to his inability to actually pivot.

            In order to make the pass Whitney has to stop move his feet and body toward Yakupov then pass.

            This action during a PP is called telegraphing your pass and subsequently will be picked off and catch Whitney flat footed (literally) pun intended.

            So Whitney is forced to make ridicules passes into a congested area.

          • Walter Wes you are 100% correct, Whitney would have to make a “cross body ” pass to Yak,which means shifting his body. With the quick passiing involved with power plays , Whitney takes the easier route out. With his ankle problems , shifting quickly is not happening.

          • Phixieus666

            Yakapov has fantastic instinct for the game/scoring goals. Believe me he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. Gagner is the weak link and that isn’t going to change.

            Watch Gagner’s feet when he has the puck, they don’t move too much.

            Gagner always looks like he’s skating in quick-sand to me. Smyth and Gagner should have a race from blue-line to blue-line, I’d by tickets to watch that..

    • Phixieus666

      I think a big part of the return to form is also because there is other top talent on the team so Hemsky isn’t getting destroyed all the time. Its a hell of a lot easier to play good when your not getting plowed into the boards every time you get on the ice.

        • Phixieus666

          Ya that’s also what I was thinking with Whitney but so far he hasn’t been able to tell them to shove it. I thought a whole summer of training was exactly what he needed but now he just seems slow at making plays or deciding what to do. He got stripped like 4 or 5 times last night behind his own net. Just awful for a Vet defense-man. And on top of that some really soft passes that were either no where near the target or just easily picked off. The guy makes me sad when hes on the ice.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            You never know how injuries are going to turn out…

            Hemsky’s shoulders could very well have derailed his career. Lucky for him, the Oil and us… looks like he’s in great shape.

            Whitney’s feet seem to have taken their toll.

            The players aren’t to blame here. They can’t control their health.

            But the narratives that swirl around players need to be held in check.

            Hemsky’s been getting the gears from the media and the fans for years for a variety of BS with no relation to reality. Whitney’s had the benefit of the doubt and the courtesy of not having his “body language” “heart” “effort” etc. routinely challenged.

  • The Hall Way

    Loved that whole shift last night. This line has been brilliant for most of the season so far. If only the “top line” could get out of this funk, we would be lighting everyone up…. PS. Love the still frames