Post 15: A step in the right direction

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The unpredictability of sports is what makes them so exciting. The Oilers dominated the Flames for close to 40 minutes on opening night, but the couldn’t score at EV and ended up losing the game. Last night, the Oilers played decent, got outshot 43-29, mainly due to six consecutive penalties, but they came away with a point.

I think we’d all agree, including the Oilers, that playing well, and “learning a lesson”, but losing is not what this team needs. They are past the point of moral victories that don’t result in two points. They need victories. Ugly ones, pretty ones, unearned ones or deserved ones; they need simply need wins.

The Oilers will lose games they deserved to win and they will win some games they deserve to lose. It happens, and I understand that, but five consecutive really bad losing seasons has cast a large shadow over this team, and I believe they need some early success to remain positive.

The Oilers haven’t played bad through the first two games, but they only have one point, and they have been outscored 4-0 in the third period. They’ve only been outshot 27-26 in the third frames, but the third period cost them the game against Calgary, and last night Vancouver forced OT with their third period goal.

As Eskimos Wall of Honour member and current U of A Bears football coach, Chris Morris, said recently on my show, “If you want to win games, you need to take them. No one gives you victories.”

Learning to win is difficult, and while the Oilers have played well for two games, they’ve let two victories slip through their fingers instead of grabbing them and holding on.

15 next-day thoughts

  • Nail Yakupov worked on his skating this summer and his top-end speed is much better. His first few steps have always been explosive, but his top-end speed didn’t scare many defenders. That isn’t the case now. He has learned to accelerate with each stride, and he used his improved speed to score his first goal of the year. His improved speed, and much better defensive zone awareness has made him a much better player. He deserves credit for putting in the work in the off-season.
  • Very few will give him credit, but it looks like Eakins’ decision to work extra hard with Yakupov on his defensive game has paid off. The Oilers of the 1980s didn’t always like Glen Sather’s approach, but they realized later that it helped make them better. Yakupov seems to be falling into the same category. Certain times a coach has to be hard on a player to get him to understand. Tough love can work, and Yakupov’s overall game looks much better. Both he and the coach deserve credit for that.
  • It is difficult to win any hockey game when you take six consecutive penalties. Eberle, Hall, Hendricks, Fayne, Ference and Pouliot went to the box over a span of 21:32. The Oilers managed a shorthanded goal during Hall’s double minor, but the Canucks replied later in that man advantage, and then tied the game on Pouliot’s third period penalty. You simply can’t take that man penalties in a row and expect to win.
  • I like Pouliot’s aggressiveness, but he’s taken two third period penalties in the offensive zone, and the opposition has scored on both powerplays. Granted his penalty against Calgary came very late when the game was essentially over, but last night’s penalty was needless. He hammered Matthias square from behind, right in the numbers, and got an interference call. I’m sure he had seen RNH get hammered seconds earlier and wanted to stick up for him, but he hit the wrong guy and if you are going to defend your teammate you have to do it in a smarter fashion.
  • I love how Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stood up for himself. Hamhuis rocked him and RNH got in his face and didn’t back down. The Nuge did fine in that tilt, but more importantly he proved he won’t be intimidated. Who would have thought the Oilers first fight of 2014/2015 was going to be #93, good for him in that situation. I’m amazed at the “he could have been hurt” argument. He could also get hurt delivering a body check, or blocking a shot. Crosby fights once a year. Toews, Thornton, Getzlaf all fight now and again. You need to stand up for yourself, and RNH was smart enough to fight a non-fighter. I loved it. You can watch it here.

  • I believe fighting will always be a part of the game. I have no problem with the league getting rid of the designated fighters. At Hockeyfights.com the fighting log so far this year includes the likes of: RNH, Hamhuis, Chris Krieder, Jack Skille, Simon Despres, James Van Riemsdyk, Shane Doan, Blake Wheeler, Mats Zuccarello and TJ Oshie. There is nothing wrong with fights when they occur in the heat of the moment, rather than just off a faceoff. That is why I believe you will never see fighting banned.
  • Eberle had a bad night. He looked borderline lethargic and I wonder if he had some sort of injury. He just looked out of sorts. If he is healthy, then he needs to be much better on Tuesday. Your best players need to be more engaged in the game.
  • The Sedins were scary all night, both on the powerplay and at even strength. The are wizards on the PP. They move the puck quickly, but they are always in constant motion. They rarely stand still and that makes life difficult for the penalty killers.
  • Draisaitl and Yakupov didn’t play much for one simple reason; too many penalties. The Oilers were shorthanded for 11:56. Taking too many penalties allows the other team to gain momentum, but it also hurts players who don’t kill penalties. It is hard to stay in the flow of the game. The Oilers simply can’t take six minor penalties in a span of 21 minutes.
  • Brad Hunt is a very dangerous shooter. There is no arguing that. My concern is his footspeed. If I can pick up on it, you know the video coaches will be on it. Teams spend hours looking for weaknesses of a team and how to expose them. They will target Hunt at EV. I like Hunt’s ability to move the puck. I like that he isn’t afraid to shoot, but his speed will be an issue. He’ll need to produce a lot of points to stay in the lineup, because the speed of the games only increase as the season progresses.
  • Hunt really struggled at EV, and so did Ference. The captain will need to play better. He likely gets a few more games to get up to speed after sitting out in the preseason, but if his play doesn’t improve it will be interesting to see how Ramsay/Eakins handle his icetime.
  • Fayne had a nice bounce back game. If you are an advocate of Corsi, he and Nikitin played well. Niktin was +1 in Corsi while Fayne was -1 and much of that came against the Sedins. Fayne was better than Nikitin, in my opinion, but if you only look at Corsi it says Nikitin was better. I don’t always agree with the stats. I thought all three right D-men, Fayne, Petry and Schultz were the Oilers top defenders.
  • Purcell, Perron and Arcobello are developing some good chemistry. I thought Perron was excellent at controlling the puck down low and keeping the play alive.
  • The Oilers allowed nine goals in their first two games last year and they’ve done the same this year. They need to tighten up defensively or it will be another long season.
  • Kudos to Mark Donnelly. The Canucks anthem singer had an epic wipe out earlier this week when he sang the anthem while skating around the ice during a Penticton Vees game. I love how he poked fun at himself by signing yesterday with skates draped around his neck. We all need to laugh at ourselves sometimes. Good for you Mr. Donnelly and thanks for the laughs. This video is awesome, but it shows what a pro Donnelly is. He never misses a word. AWESOME. I credit the players right in front of Donnelly for containing their laughter. I’m not sure I could have. #21 biting his glove is classic.

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  • Serious Gord

    How can you even make an argument about the first line playing too much? Eakins most definetly made the right decision playing them, teams live or die based on the play of their top players. So how could you possibly justify not giving them the ice time in the crucial moments of that game?

    They give you the absolute best chance of not only scoring, but winning the game. Our first line will win you games in similar situations this year. To sit there and actually argue that the ice time they were given was not justified is insane.

    Teams lose games. Oiler fans need to suck it up. It’s a process and there have definetly been improvements since last year. Making improvements day to day is how a team becomes better, and the constant bitching and moaning of oiler fans is ridiculous.

    I’m sick of hearing how fans are justified to be angry and frustrated from missing the playoffs for 8 years. You are not at all justified, if you are a fan show up and support your team. These years have been a disappointment, but to start a new year with pessimism like this year has is a disgrace. How can you expect this team to focus on improvement with a mindset like this? Growth is born on the process of making mistakes!

    Hockey is cyclical and it takes a long time to build a foundation on which the organization can really start to excel. This is happening right now and oiler fans need to start taking enjoyment in seeing the improvements finally starting to add up, and the focus needs to be on the process instead of the result

    • Serious Gord

      What a load of bollocks.

      Fans are humans – not sheep.

      They are entitled to criticize a team – their team if they so choose.

      And you are talking out of both sides of your mouth when you say somehow we are to wipe pessimism clean yet say that recovery is a multi-year cyclical affair.

      Growth is achieved by making substantive significant change and this team still has the same head management in place for eight years now.

      And it is not happening right now. Eberle looks to be going backwards. Shultz is still late in his development and may not be getting better at all. And still no strength at centre nor improvement in team toughness.

      They have one point out of a possible four and looking at the next eight games likely won’t do much better unless BIG changes happen in several areas.

      That’s not pessimism. That’s realism. To be cheered by these first two games is to be in denial. To be an enabler of managements incompetence. You are an impediment to growth.

  • Craig1981

    If this is Ference’s level of play, it’s a problem. If it’s because he’s playing injured, why is he playing injured with Nurse and Klefbom on the roster?

  • Serious Gord

    First off : It will take close to 20 games for new members to gain any type of chemistry together , just like it generally does for trade line acquisitions . Because of that , unfamiliarity mistakes are being made that probably would not otherwise .

    Secondly and still pronounced : Oilers lineup to start the season is not keeping opposition from running us just like in the past . They still play us that way because it still works on our lineup . We have the bodies but not the mindset to use them as yet . It worked in our favor against same 2 clubs in preseason . If they had a bigger lineup rather than going with Arco , Hunt and Ference then I doubt opposition would still be using and having success that tactic other than on our first line . Breaking one off from top line I would recommend even with bigger bodies . Even Gretzky line had a deterrent in Tikkanen and Semenko . I thought Oilers were going to size up better from MacT.’s indicators , not just go with skill despite size . New ones presently are maybe bigger , but little deterrent so they are still running us despite that small increase . Increase it more to neutralize it’s effects upon our club .

    Upsize, change dynamic of first line and allow them to gain chemistry over next 10 games . We need a lineup capable of neutralizing what teams are throwing at us and this lineup now , even after gaining chemistry will unlikely not be able to do it.

    • Serious Gord

      The “new chemistry” excuse applies to all of the other teams as well and is thus generally moot.

      In the two specific cases of CGY and van, both had huge changes arguably more wrenching the the oil have had.

  • Pinoy-ler

    Oiler fans are like insecure girls that have been in a long-term abusive relationship.
    Each new season brings a new hope, but the Oilers have failed us each time. Now we just assume the worst. We’re pessimistic because we don’t want to be hurt again. #pleasemeetmehalfway

  • Can our first line be effective other than on power play without a deterrent physical force on that line ? I doubt it , and you get tired of opposition playing smash up derby with them 5 on 5 . Pouliot and Purcell are not that type despite being bigger . Opposition runs them into boards at every opportunity , obviously discouraging them over the course of a game 5 on 5 . They can take it for only so long 5 on 5 , but are not the type of players you want to also be dishing it out consistently . Intimidation works unfortunately against us still , as in the past . I don’t blame the players for this , but the composition of the line 5 on 5 . Defensive deterrent has shown little , now or in the past , to make other teams back off running first line as it is now .

  • Great game to watch. I would of chose yak, Jesse and hall to shoot because they were having a good game. Perron I’m fine with to shoot but why Eberle and poliot? Ebs was not in the game and pouliots percentage is poor.

  • Anton CP

    Can we have Pocklington back in charge? At least the team will either be good or the team will be bad in somewhere else. Either way, it will be much less stressful for fans in Edmonton.

  • Serious Gord

    Good read until I got to the 2nd paragraph and nearly tossed my cookies,thank goodness Gregors sanity returned and walked him through the rest of the article in fine form.

    But that 2nd paragraph was simply repulsive.

    Eakins has done nothing but screw Nail in the ear,and anything he HAS done has been done with a big Russian Gun to his head, Yakupov was a standout last game and was still screwed with.

    I am sorry Gregor but there will be no Kadri BS story with Yakupov,Dallas isnt pulling it off twice.Eakins didnt help Kadris development with his bully tactics,not at all,and he didnt help Yakupovs either.

    Dallas did not “teach” Nail to be more defensive , Dallas CHANGED WHAT HE WAS DOING because he was the catalyst behind Nails development challenges and he was taken to task for it,you dont need to try to spin-doctor the situation here man.

    What do you think,everyone will jump on the “Dallses defensive crap really paid off” BS Bandwagon,forget it,what was done is done and you cant rewrite history.

    Dallas is just lucky Nail is a Standup man with some class who is working his but off again this season which seems to be Nails trademrk,he never stops trying and always gives 100%.

    No Jason,no way you get to simply wash away the past and paint an entirely new picture.

    Dallses defensive over-focus has been a disaster in the making and Nail has EARNED AND LEARNED his way to where he is against more formiddable odds than his teammates who came before him,Dallas mis-handled Nail and others and still would be if it werent for serious and truculent interventions.

    Dallas is still on very thin ice in terms of being able to properly support and develop players,Nail was nearly his ultimate fail and Dallas barely saved his own arse by changing HIS approach this year,if Nail had wanted to be a problem child and fry him he could of but Yakupov is NOT THAT TYPE OF MAN…he is a proud stand-up type of individual.

    This was Dallases wrong,let him have it and move on,let him own it and move forward.What are you trying to prove by re-hashing the past and trying to re-write it in a less than accurate way?

    Nail isnt Kadri and Dallas didnt do any majic with Kadri he simply bullied him and he tried to do it to Nail but it didnt work out for him,get over it already.

    • BillHK

      Agreed, and Dallas can get the credit for showing Martincin the error of his ways and gaining 10 pounds in the he off season, by sendoling him down to OKC. Tough love is his trademark and shows how much smarter he is than Kruger or Nelson.

      Perhaps he will also be credited with keeping Nurse and Klefbom in the press box since he so much smarter than other coaches and knows that young players need to see more games rather than playing in them.