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?
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.
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.
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.
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