The Light at the End of the Tunnel

In the summer after taking over as GM, MacT said he wanted to change up the look of his bottom six forwards. He wanted them to make a positive difference in the game rather than – at best – to have been a neural influence on the game. His changes have been slower to work than most had hoped but I think we are starting to get there.

The bottom six lined up like this last night.

  • Jones – Gordon – Hendricks
  • Gazdic – Smyth – Joensuu

That is four new players in this group from last year. Gordon, Hendricks, Gazdic and Joensuu are all big guys. They all play hard (I am giving Joensuu the benefit of the doubt here). Dallas Eakins needs to have players that are predictable, pillars. With Gordon, Hendricks and Gazdic he has that predictability. It is not that their games are not played without mistakes. He just knows they will go hard every night.

Both lines have played well but I really like the Gordon line. This line can all kill penalties, gets in on the forecheck and are responsible defensively. Often you see Eakins putting them out there against the top line of the opponent.

I especially like their ability to cycle the puck in the offensive zone. They work it in the corner, cycle around and have been getting scoring chances. The momentum they create with those types of shifts is huge. Something the Oilers have been lacking in recent years. It sets the table for the next line and puts an opponent on their heels.

The truth of the matter is that this type of line is the fourth line and not the third line of Stanley Cup contending teams. That is due to the depth of high caliber teams. The Oilers are not at that level yet but it give you an idea of what the Oilers require.

I think that next year there could be up to three new players in this group. Younger, faster and more consistent players will find their way in this group. Expect Tyler Pitlick to get a long chance to prove he can be one of those guys after the Olympic break.

Yakkity Yak

I have found it hard to praise Nail Yakupov this season. The defensive lapses and giveaways have been the reason. Lately he is starting to give me reason to change the way I see him.

He has been more responsible with the puck. He has not been holding on to it so long that he gets smothered and coughs it up. He is using he team mates more, something they will appreciate, and is getting the puck back in open areas.

When Yak is playing well he is emotionally connected to the game. His play improves when he is playing with passion. Passion lets his game flow, he is not thinking as much. He doesn’t look frozen with indecision.

He is at his best when playing with an edge. He is chirping the other team and at times being dirty. Last night he hit Ryan Stanton from the Canucks from behind and it should have been a penalty. It draws a crowd and gets Van off their game. We saw it earlier this season against the Jets. Two of their leaders, including their captain Ladd, were distracted by him.

Yakupov needs to play this way. He is at his best and the other team gets off their game. When he is in this mode he also moves his feet when he has the puck. Too often we have seen him stand still with the puck, it doesn’t work for him. He needs to attack with speed and take the puck to the net.

We saw this last night on Perron’s second goal. He drove the net with the puck, shoots which creates a nice rebound for Perron. Sounds simple to do but skilled players like to slow the game down. I don’t think Yakupov is at that place right now.

Back to Back

If I were a coach and management team I would want to see what a newly acquired player was made of. Ben Scrivens played Sunday night at home versus the Predators and Eakins went with Bryzgalov in Vancouver Monday.

I know that the stats for playing goalies back to back do not suggest it is a good idea. At this point of this rough season for the Oilers I would have gone against the stats and played Scivens.

Can he handle playing back to back games? Eakins might know because he coached him before but what about the management or his teammates? Don’t you the fans want to know?

The situation may come up where the Oilers need to win a pair of back-to-back games. Maybe the he is your starter next year or the other goalie is hurt. Can the Oilers count on him to know how to handle that work load and preparation?

As a teammate I wanted to know the answer to that question? This weekend was the perfect time to find out.

  • BC BOY

    Hopkins has been looking great of late! skating awesome and looks stronger! lets hope Yak and Perron find chemistry then we will have two solid pairs of Hall/Hopkins and Yak/Perron

  • Serious Gord

    I won’t give joensuu the benefit of the doubt and that brings it down to three players going into next year hoping that smyth and jones are gone and that two come up from the minors and macT can find another elsewhere.

    I think that hendricks will be a bust by around mid-season next year or even in sept – TOO slow, so that’s another need, dropping MacT to just two players he’s found that will be around next season (IMO) Not exactly an excellent job.

    Yak is indeed coming around. He’s getting enough minutes with a spunky player in Perron who seems to have a similar attitude to yak and is fast enough and physical.

    Gagner continues to embarrass himself and his chief benefactor MacT. But at least he is fast enough to keep up with the play unlike smyth.

    Signing Gagner is most definitely the biggest mistake MacT has made as GM on the actions side of the ledger. His inactions in not buying out hemsky and not getting a bonafide starting goalie (he still hasn’t) rival that action for first overall of the many mistakes MacT has made thus far (and god knows he is going to have ample opportunity to make more in the next few months).

    ….

    I think most of the league knows that Scrivens is a backup goalie – not a starter. I’m not sure that the oilers management got the memo. He’s a FOE so that may well be impairing their judgement just as it was with Acton.

    • Zarny

      Gord, I really think you should take a breath.

      Your assumption on Hendricks seems based on nothing beyond the bile for all things done the MacT that have not proven to be unarguable successes (Perron trade, Gordon signing). Hendricks has been effective so far and had shown enough in his NHL career to be sought after last year as a UFA for a 3rd or 4th line role. How can you assume he will be totally unproductive next year? Your assumption seems totally baseless.

      I wouldn’t count Jones out yet. But the Oil should only offer him a 2 way minimum wage contract, he won’t get any better offers.

      Gagner is regressing to his norm. About 0.7 ppg, good offensive ability but weak in most other areas of the game. The Perron-Gags-Yak line has been good for the last 2 games so lets see how this progresses. No doubt that 4.8M for Gagner is a blunder that MacT will need manager around as best he can.

      There is no way the Oil can assume Scrivens is their answer regardless of how well he might play from here on in. He is auditioning for a back-up role either in Edmonton or somewhere else in the NHL. I’m not saying Scrivens will never be a number 1, just that a 30 game audition isn’t enough to stake next year on.

      • I’ve read at least two articles today saying Gagner’s D game is really coming around, Yak too.

        If Gagner is “regressing” to .7PPG and helping Yak discover his game with sweet saucers like we’ve seen lately, I’ll take that hard working 60 point 2C any day.

        Jeez man. Just exactly who do you think we could trade for that would be as good as Gagner in that 2C role? And if you’re passing judgement on Sam’s performance so far this year outside of the last ten games or so, you’re not doing it right.

        Face it. He’s got some value for sure but he’s not going to get you that juicy 1D or 2C. But take heart. Maybe you can still get Shea Weber in NHL14.

        • Zarny

          When I used the term “regressing” I meant in the sense of “regressing to the norm”. i.e. moving to his long term average. He has obviously scoring more reliably lately.

    • Randaman

      I agree on Gagner but how does a back-up become a starter? By playing and earning it. Has Scrivens had that opportunity? NO! Not every goalie is Roy or Brodeur but we may have a diamond in the rough here. He has obviously had excellent coaching in L.A. Ranford knows a thing or two about winning. No?

    • “most of the league knows that Scrivens is a backup goalie…”

      Where did you get this impression?

      The jury is still out on Scrivens. I heard Strudwick say he spoke with some goalie coaches that preferred Dubnyk’s game to scrivens’ but that’s not exactly a line in the sand.

      Scrivens’ NHL career looks like this:

      2011-12 Leafs 12 GP .902 sv%

      2012-13 Leafs 20 GP .915 sv%

      2013-14 Kings 19 GP .931 sv%

      2013-14 Oilers 3 GP .926 sv%

      Average of .918 over 54 games…Same as Carey Price this year. Not to compare the two, but you get the point.

      … He was a call-up in Toronto, then was given a back up chance in LA, and now is being given a shot as a starter. I’d say that Scrivens’ ability as an NHL goalie is still undetermined, and he is working his way up.

      Let’s wait further before judging, but if he maintains the pace he’s had over the last 54 NHL games he’s not only a starter, but he’s an above average starter. Especially if he does so behind d cores like that of the oilers and the leafs.

    • A-Mc

      Agree with most of your points. Looking now I think it would have been a mistake to buy out Hemsky especially with Yak’s slumps throughout the season. (I think they should have acquired someone else to fill that role better but that’s a different conversation entirely). There may be some value for Hemsky now at deadline considering he’s been reasonably healthy and a good performance at the Olympics could gather more interest.

      My hope with Scrivens is management knows he is a backup, albeit one who could push another average starter such as a Lehtonen or a Holtby… key word being hope.

  • Spydyr

    It is still groundhog day. This happens every year. When the games mean nothing the team wins a few with the pressure off. As soon as the playoff teams start ramping it up for the playoffs the Oilers will once again end the season with a whimper.

    Eight years have shown this to be true.

    • Rick Stroppel

      THIS WILL NOT BE AS BAD AS PEOPLE THINK

      IMHO, two things will benefit the Oilers down the stretch:

      1. Many of the top teams are sending 8 or 10 players to the Olympics. Jet lag, pressure-packed games, more jet lag, and possibly emotional let-down. For all of the Oilers (except three?) this is an excellent opportunity to regroup and recharge. Speaking of which, what are the limitations on practices and other team activities during the break?

      2. I am not sure how the new playoff system works, I think the division leaders and the other top two teams may be locked into home advantage. Those very good teams may have nothing to gain or lose down the stretch, they may be playing back-up goalies and resting players.

      PS: I am old-fashioned and I do not think that any professional team should EVER lose deliberately. That is not the Oiler way.

    • A-Mc

      I’m a little concerned about that as well. I want that Ekblad pick… The Oilers stunk it up so well that i think it’s only deserving that we pick the guy we want! lol.

      BUT losing is bad and all that crap. *sigh*

    • bazmagoo

      I think Ekblad looks like a stud, but losing is rarely the answer my friend. The team needs to build some confidence and get some wins under their belt. Really impressed with the Oil since the Hendricks trade, looking like another MacT miracle. Could the team actually be playing for Eakins as well? Wow!

      • I kind of agree with Oilbaron that we still want in the running (losing) for Ekblad. My reasoning is that I don’t want to see him in Flames silks. I still don’t buy into the fact that teams learn to lose. Most of these guys didn’t make it to the NHL because they lack perseverance.

      • BLAKPOO

        Agreed. Winning is what the guys we have now need. I’ll take current team confidence over a few spots in the draft any day of the week.

        Even if we happen to drop to a 3rd overall pick, Sam Bennett is that hard-working, chippy, 200-ft centre that fills Gagner’s spot perfectly. Assuming, of course, that Ekblad’s off the board by #3.