More positives than negatives

Better

The Oilers lost to a better hockey club last night, but unlike the past few seasons they were not completely overwhelmed.

The Oilers were on their heels for the first 10 minutes, and Cam Talbot kept them in the game with some very good saves, but once they got their feet under them I thought the Oilers showed many positive signs that should lead to more wins this season.

St. Louis is one of the top-five worst matchups for the Oilers. They are simply a better team who are bigger, heavier and more experienced. 

I don’t expect the Oilers to make the playoffs, so a loss like last night wasn’t surprising to me. The great part about sports is that it evokes passion from fans, and in many sporting instances the line between passion and anger is extremely thin.

With more technology and access to games I find people are analyzing the game more closely. That can be good, but I’ve also noticed it leads to us always wanting to find a culprit or someone to blame when the opposing team scores. Mistakes are part of the game, and if you want to find them there readily available to critique, but not all errors are the equal. And in many cases a goal is scored because the offensive team made a great play, instead of the defence making a bad play.

Last night the Oilers made some mistakes, but they also made some good plays.

Here is what I liked from team:

  • Their puck support and positional support was much improved. The forwards gave D-men better outlets. They were closer together.
  • Their puck pressure in the offensive zone was vastly improved. The were not spread out, and often they had sticks in lanes to deflect passes and disrupt the Blues breakout. The Blues did not have an easy night. The Blues played very well, but unlike past years the Oilers made the Blues earn their chances.
  • The stood up for each other. When the odd scrum occurred they weren’t outnumbered. They didn’t have players circling around or looking down at the ice not willing to engage. This team needs to be more cohesive.
  • The fourth line was effective. They had a few good chances, mainly Matt Hendricks, but they also drew a penalty that lead to a PP. Todd McLellan has stated he believes Luke Gazdic can be effective, rather than just a puncher, and Gazdic looked decent. The more he plays he should gain more confidence handling the puck.
  • Reinhart and Gryba were a solid pair. They have been paired together for almost a month and it showed. Both were strong along the boards and despite not being speedsters, their positioning was good and the Blues never exposed them.
  • Talbot was very good. He made some big saves early to keep the Oilers in the game. His rebound control was excellent and he tracked the puck comfortably all night.
  • What else did you like?

Breakdowns…


My thoughts on the first goal was Purcell can’t turn that puck over. He had complete control heading in the zone. The defence wanted to change, and he has to get it deep or maintain control. Jonathan Willis sent out a tweet saying he felt Klefbom was to blame for “lollygagging” to the bench. I hadn’t seen that, so I went back and watched it again. It is good to get different perspectives.

I felt Klefbom was at the end of a shift, and in that situation, especially with the long change, it is imperative the winger puts the puck deep or keeps it on his stick. The change was not great, it seemed Sekera got off the bench a little late, possibly due to Klefbom not yelling he was coming off, but if I was placing blame on someone, it was Purcell. It was strange he lost possession before being pressured, considering his puck handling skills are one of his best attributes. Purcell is good when he has the puck. The play he made shorthanded to set up Hendricks was great, but this was a bad play.

I asked former Oiler Ryan Smyth his thoughts on the play.

“As a defenceman you are relying on your forward, thinking he has the puck, he has full possession, I can change now. When he turns it over, the mistake is on the forward. This team has had troubles with those types of turnovers for years. You can’t turn those over. Recognize the D has been out there and get it deep. Those are the things the forwards have to recognize,” said Smyth.

I asked about the Klefbom change.

“Usually, at least from the dots out you are coasting to the bench. You don’t hard ass it off the ice in a situation like that. You trust your teammate to maintain possession. Maybe, Klefbom could have been a bit quicker, but the onus is on Teddy. Even if Klefbom gets off a stride quicker Sekera still wasn’t catching Tarasenko. He was three strides ahead,” continued Smyth.

2nd goal…

On the second Blues goal the play that stood out for me was Lehtera’s ridiculous backhand pass to Fabbri. It was a broken play and that is usually when you see players scramble out of position. Take one wrong stride and it can leave a player open and that is what happened. Klefbom looked a bit slow to react, and both Schultz and RNH went to Lehtera. It was a bang-bang play, but Lehtera’s pass was world class. I’m sure McLellan will talk about positioning and not having three guys go to one player.

It might not sound great, but considering what we’ve watched in previous years, I thought the Oilers defensive zone coverage was much improved. Of course they had a few breakdowns, like the second goal, but those types of miscues used to happen every second shift, and last night we saw fewer of them.

The Oilers will have some rough nights, but last night looked like progress in many areas.

Of course a few Oilers struggled.

Klefbom had a tough game. His timing was off and he seemed a half step behind. But when you realize he hadn’t played since September 26th, it makes sense that he was a bit behind. He didn’t get to play the final two preseason games when the pace of play was quicker. We often forget just how quick the game is, and if a player’s reaction time isn’t game ready, he can look out of place. I like Klefbom’s game, so I will give him a bit of rope before I get too concerned. If in five games he still looks behind, then I can understand people being concerned with his play.

The Oilers’ top three lines did not generate much offence. I give the Blues some credit for that, but the forwards need to be better in the offensive zone. They had a few chances, but not enough. Hall can produce more chances and McLellan has been telling us since the start of training camp he expects it to take 10 or 20 games for him to see which players work best.

He had new lines at practice today and I’m sure we will see a few different combos in the coming month.

Hall-RNH-Purcell
Pouliot-McDavid-Korpikoski
Yakupov-Lander-Slepyshev
Hendricks-Letestu-Gazdic

You always want to win, and watching Connor McDavid’s post game interview it was clear he wasn’t satisfied with the loss, but I was impressed by the change in their overall competitive level and their attention to detail on the subtle aspects of the game.

They have a long way to go to become a contender, but I saw progress in areas of their game that I haven’t seen in years. Maybe it’s because my expectations are low on how much they can improve in the standings, but I saw more positives than negatives last night.

Without me asking Smyth added this before he hung up the phone, “I liked the Oilers game. I’m a bit biased (he laughs), but I thought
they were much better along the boards and were good in the tough areas
of the ice.”

Smyth made a living excelling in those areas, so if he saw improvement there it has to be a good thing.

Recently by Jason Gregor:         

  • For Pete's Sake!

    I for one am relieved the Hall-McDavid experiment finally looks like it’s over, all throughout the preseason and last night I saw no chemistry between them.

    I just don’t understand what Yakupov has to do to at least get a crack at being in the top 6. Has korpikoski really shown that much better than him to be given a spot on McDavids right side.

    Yak never seems to get any love, yeah okay his damn defensive game still needs some work, yeah I saw that bad pass last night too, but, I also saw him work his ass of to try and get back in that play and he was lucky it didn’t go in but you know what I also saw him hard on the forecheck and stripping multiple blues players of the puck.

    Just give the kid a shot what more does he have to do.

  • Oil City Roller

    I know it was just one game and they played alright. I am not pushing the panic button at all. However, it seems like people are saying “Well the Blues are good, you can’t expect the Oilers to win”.

    I don’t care about progress, or moral victories, I don’t care that the Oilers defence is garbage. I only care about wins. Maybe that’s unfair or unrealistic but I don’t care. I will never cheer for anyone other than the Oilers but I am done with their losing ways and the excuses that go with it.

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      I think it is unrealistic.

      This isn’t the year. We aren’t a playoff team on paper. All I want is the players trying hard every shift, a chance to win games and meaningful hockey beyond October.

      The last 2 years we started off very similar winning like 4 out of 20 games and digging ourselves a big enough hole that there was no chance to come back.

      Im not pushing the panic button until i see a bigger sample size and I’m not gonna place unrealistic expectations that they should go from a lottery pick team to a winning organization. Todd will hold them accountable.

  • Randaman

    So Smyth had to retire [ Loved that guy ] because he got slow, he aged.

    I still say he could Beat “Teddy” in a race. He has some skill , i do not deny

    that however, he is way to slow for this team.

    Tired of commenting on him. I’d live with Leon or other Youth and their

    mistakes rather than Teddy not being able to keep up.

    Go play for the Devils.

  • #97TRAIN

    Yes, Klefbom had some trying moments during the game, but at least he is TRYING!, that’s more than you can say about Purcells, and Pouliots game !

    It’s concerning that with all the high draft picks in the lineup, the team could not score a single goal.

    Hall, Nuge, McDavid and Eberle are the only real top six players on this team, every other forward on a decent team is a third and fourth liner… lets be honest.

    1

  • #97TRAIN

    I have thought Yak looks hungry for the puck, especially in the offensive end. His fore checking is getting to be very good. He knocks a lot of guys off the puck when he is bearing down on them.

    I think he deserves a chance too, but I also think we need to wait until McDavid figures out his game first. Then maybe throw Yak with him. Putting Pouliot and Korpikoski, I think is a good move at this point. Giving 2 solid 2 way wingers to McDavid should support him better. Who knows, maybe Yak can get some Russian magic going with Slepyshev.

  • #97TRAIN

    I do wish we get to see a Yak and McDavid line in the near future. Nail has the Shot and McDavid is well McDavid. Plus I would like to see a McDavid, Nail and Hall line too…

    But really what ever line is made I am going to be fine with because I fully trust McLellan. And personally I think he is smart enough to know what kinda lines to make. We are just fans, we don’t get to see the practices, locker room stuff, and what the players say as well… or even his system of play.

    But watching McDavid (Shift by Shift)… anyone can quickly see He is an amazing player. That Young and playing a really solid game on both ends.

    here is where you can watch the “Shift by Shift”

    https://www.youtube.com/user/XIBNQM5

    I wish this site would do Shift by Shift for all the core players… Hall, McDavid, Ebs, RNH, Yak, etc… That would be killer!

    • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

      The only part of your post that I disagree with is the Yakupov part.

      As a big fan of Yakupov two things come to mind.

      You can’t play a player as defensively irresponsible as Yakupov with a rookie in his first NHL game.

      Wether that is Hall -McDavid-Yakupov that’s still to many cheaters on one line.

      Yakupov has still got to figure this game out, starts-stops, banging, digging and that’s in his own zone.

      I ever see the big loops he takes? What the hell is that all about.

      Ever see him on the PP? He sticks to the slot right in the middle and I have zero idea what he’s looking for? He’s not moving his feet looking and anticipating open ice.

      He needs development time and if he’s not going to the AHL or the KHL he’s best to learn from the bench on that third line.

  • Oilersman

    I was still disappointed after that first loss. (just like every other game) But that really means something… Disappointed because we now have a team that can win at any given night. Can’t wait for the break out night that Connor is going to have soon.

  • Oil_Thick

    How does Mark Fayne get a free pass from any guilt on the Tarasenko break away? He knows Klefbom is gonna change and he damn well better have known Tarasenko was on the ice being tied for 5th in goals last year!

    How does he not realize breaking the blue line on that rush is a huge risk with Tarasenko on the ice and then decide he might try to catch him skating backwards. He shouldn’t have been that deep, he shouldn’t have been that far to the right and should have recognized the threat (his mistake) 2 seconds earlier and been on his broken horse skating forwards to get back ahead of the pass.

    It was a bad play by Purcel, and lazy change by Klefbom, but IMO it’s Fayne that carries the lion’s share of the blame for that goal.

    Positional play away from the puck is still the biggest cause of mistakes.

    But they did look better than they have in a long time! Could the McBias though!

  • For Pete's Sake!

    I liked that the fans and commenters laid into Willis last night for writing that piece. People are being held accountable for their performances. Good start.

  • Jaxon

    I like the new lines. I was hoping they’d put McDavid with Pouliot and Eberle this summer. With Eberle out, they’re part way there. I was also hoping for Hall/Nugent-Hopkins/Yakupov on the top line. both to draw top competition away from McDavid and to give Yakupov a shot. I still don’t think it is fair/right to saddle McDavid with Yakupov (yet). Maybe later in the year or next year you go to Hall/McDavid/Yakupov and Pouliot/Nugent-Hopkins/Eberle. But not yet.

  • Jaxon

    I also didn’t think it was Klefbom’s fault on the 2nd goal. At least not the majority of it. He tied up the man with the puck giving Purcell a chance to steal the puck, but Purcell just jultzed it by waving his stick and not moving his feet. With his back to Klefbom, the Blues player dished it into the slot. Not much he could have done there. The rest of the goal was due to Blues players buzzing the O-zone without being picked up by Schultz and Nuge. They all looked a bit lost and it was a great play by the Blues.

  • Hall-RNH-Purcell
    Pouliot-McDavid-Korpikoski
    Yakupov-Lander-Slepyshev
    Hendricks-Letestu-Gazdic

    Re: new line combinations, I think all of Yak-City should be excited to see him have the opportunity to develop a scoring line with Slepyshev and Lander. Especially with the language barrier it’s crazy to pair Slepy with anybody else. Keep them outside of the top-6, allow them to get strong against lower-level competition.

    Pairing McDavid up with veterans (not that Hall isn’t one) is a solid plan, although does anybody else worry about rotating line combinations so soon? Or do you play roulette until there’s a bullet in the chamber?

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    Also, Hall is a notorious slow starter, he’s fast, McDavid is fast once the loosen up and get solid practice time as a line they’ll start clicking.

    I actually think Halls putting a lot of pressure on himself to take pressure off the kid on the ice, he wants McDavid to succeed and I think this is good for Hall.

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    Let’s preach patience again. Every time a new coach takes over the team it’s gonna take a while. Even when Crosby got a hundred points his first year the pens didn’t make the playoffs. we have four first overalls because we suck. It’ll take some time.

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    I just watched pvr’d Oilers in 60.

    The take away I have from that is that for a team with offensively gifted forwards, we need more offense. We’re not going to win any games without scoring.

    Talbot looked excellent. Nice to see some puck handling back there.

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    Jason – your comments about negatively dissecting the game are interesting.

    I think it’s normal to apply a criticism to a loss, of which we’ve had much opportunity to do these past many seasons.

    Here’s hoping the Oil will get more deserved wins this season allowing for more kudos and gloating.