Monday Musings: 10 things I see

WatchingYou

The NHL season is five days old and there have already been many great individual performances. We have seen 19 three-point (or more) performances thus far. Connor McDavid has two while 17 other players including Leon Draisaitl have one. Brad Marchand had a five-point game, Auston Matthews had a four-goal performance while Ryan O’Reilly and David Pastrnak each had a 2-2-4 performance. 

It has been fun to watch and hopefully the offence continues.

TEN THINGS I SAW

1. The Oilers are so much better at breaking the puck out of the zone this year. Rarely do we see passes in skates, or high up on glass and out. We haven’t seen them hemmed in for lengthy periods every second or third shift, which is what occurred often last season. I know some stats suggested Kris Russell struggled on zone exits, but his outlet passing has been great. I like how when Sekera sets up behind net with time, Russell slides over to left side so he has better passing lanes. He’s shown really good hockey sense, and he’s also not being asked to block a lot of shots, which helps him showcase his best skills.

2. Tyler Pitlick looks like a completely different player. He’s playing with a lot of confidence and he’s using his size and speed every game. He ran over Johan Larsson last night and in his limited minutes he’s looked good.

3. The Oilers are clearly not a dominant team yet. Sweeping Calgary was a great way to start the season, but the Oilers laid an egg last night versus the Sabres. The loss was met with extreme nervousness among many in Oilersnation. I understand your concern, considering you’ve witnessed ten years of losing, but I wouldn’t be too worried until I see how they play on Tuesday. 

Every team will have a bad game, but the good ones respond in their next game. In previous years the Oilers would be brutal for weeks, but I don’t expect we will see that this year. They will have losing streaks, of course, but I wouldn’t be asking to fire the coach, trade the goalie or trade half the team after one bad loss. The frustrating aspect is it seems every time they taste success then end up throwing it up soon after. 

4. Benoit Pouliot’s six minor penalties in seven periods is not good. He didn’t play a shift in the second or third period yesterday and missed a few shifts in Calgary as well. He has to find the fine line between forechecking aggressively and making dumb plays. The rest of the team will take notice when a coach benches a veteran, especially after Pouliot scored in the first period. He took his second penatly a few shifts after his goal and didn’t see the ice again. It’s a tough decision for a coach to bench a veteran, but McLellan doing it this early in the season was the right move. 

The Oilers need Pouliot. He does more good than bad, and historically he has drawn more penalties than he’s taken. However, through seven periods this year it was clearly one-sided in favour of him making trips to the sin bin. This benching was about the past two games, nothing more. I believe Pouliot will help the Oilers and the coach sent him, and the team, a reminder they must avoid losing habits.

5. Pouliot didn’t hide after the game. I, as well as Ryan Rishaug, asked for him to come out and talk and he did. “I had it coming to me,” he started. “I know I can’t do that. For me my game is my stick and being first on the forecheck, but it is about being smarter. I don’t want to be less aggressive. It is a big part of my game, but I don’t want to play on my heels. Next game I will be fine,” he said.

“I knew it was coming to be honest. It is tough. It sucks. You see a coach do that to any player and you don’t want to be in that situation. It was the right message to send,” Pouliot replied when I asked him about the timing of the benching so early in the season.

It was the right move by the coach. Benching a second line player carries much more weight and gets the attention of the team much more than sitting a fourth line player. The Oilers need Pouliot and he’ll be motivated to show his coach he can be aggressive and smart at the same time.

6. Russell has been the Oilers best D-man though three games. He has been good in both ends. His passing has been stellar, and he isn’t being asked to block a lot of shots. It allows him to play to his strength — puck skills. His skating has also been a huge addition to Oilers blueline. He gets to pucks quickly and has consistently been making tape-to-tape passes.

7. Milan Lucic was signed to add some experience and skill to this team. He said this about the performance.

“It is on us as players. We didn’t come to play like we did in the first two games where we played with emotion and excitement. It is nice we got the first two wins, but we need to realize there is a long way to go before we get our game where we really need to be. It doesn’t come down to systems or anything like that, tonight it was more about not having emotion and not being ready to play,” said Milan Lucic.

Lucic wasn’t irate, at least not outwardly, when I spoke with him after the game.  He was disappointed of course, but he wasn’t ranting and raving. He spoke calmly, like a veteran who has seen his team soil the sheets before, but he sounded more interested in how they would respond moving forward.

“Come ready to play like we did in the first two games. It was fun, it is nice to play with excitement, emotion and intensity. You have to be willing to look yourself in the mirror and know the mistakes you made in a game like this, but you have to have short-term memory and turn the page and be ready to play the next one. That is what character teams do. It is what winning teams do and teams who have an identity do. It is something you have to build, and it is not something that happens overnight. We are still learning as a group and today was a learning lesson on how not to play,” said Lucic.

8. Head coach Todd McLellan was not impressed and was very clear what irked him the most.

“The preparation. We looked like the Bad News Bears. We had a five o’clock game and we had guys falling all over the place, we didn’t execute, our passing was poor, positionally from the goalie thru to the forwards no one was ready to play. I think you learn lessons from each and every game, and we learnt we aren’t quite ready to take a step, we can’t handle prosperity yet. We just got kicked right between the legs and we deserved it.”

He was open about why he benched Pouliot.

“He took three penalties in Calgary in a 15-minute span and he took two in about a 12-minute span. I don’t want to be out there if I’m penalty killing, blocking shots all the time for him for stupid penalties. He can sit and watch, pretty simple. We have some foundation or fabric things that we have to continue to fix as an organization and stupidity is one of them.”

He wasn’t buying you could blame the loss on Talbot.

“Or would a better team recover from it (bad third goal by Talbot) and help him out, because I saw him save 22 in Calgary in the first period and save our asses. Cam struggled immensely, but sometimes the team bails out the goaltender,” McLellan said.

How will the Oilers work on being more consistent come Tuesday when Carolina is in town?

“Well, I have to get the emotion out of me and the coaching staff. We are part of the problem, we didn’t have the team prepared so I have to take a lot of the responsibility myself. The preparation and competitiveness was most concerning for me.

9. We saw the first situation of an NHL spotter decide a player needs to leave the game and be evaluated. Adam Larsson slid into the neck/head of Jonas Gustavsson and the Oilers goalie stayed down. He was attended to by Oilers trainer TD Forss, and stayed in the game. Gustavsson was moving his neck side-to-side as it took the clear brunt of contact. He stayed in the game, but a few minutes later the NHL spotter ordered him out and he went to the evaluation room.

“It was phoned to our trainer that he had to come out,” explained McLellan. I asked McLellan if Gustavsson was cleared to return after being looked at during the second intermission. “In this situation (after evaluation) we kept him out,” was his response.

The NHL is obviously very leery of head injuries, and sometimes a blow to the neck can lead to concussion symptoms so the spotter decided he would come out. Why they waited so long is the only question I have. What did the spotter see in the minutes after play resumed to make them decide Gustavsson needed to come out?

It will be interesting to watch how the system unfolds during the season. 

10. The Anaheim Ducks are off to another slow start, 0-2-1, and the longer Hampus Lindholm sits out the better their chances of NOT making the playoffs become. The Ducks overcome a brutal 1-9 start last season, but if they dig a deep hole again this year they won’t be climbing out of it. Lindholm and his agent gain more bargaining strength with every Ducks loss.

PARTING SHOT

Shots

  • I don’t understand why some people were so up in arms about the Oilers moving their mandated day off from today to Wednesday. If the players agree it is allowed. They knew they played like crap and the captains, along with the coaching staff, agreed to practice today instead. 

    One underlying potential benefit of moving the day off to Wednesday is it allowed Cam Talbot to get some practice time in. He and his wife will be having their twins on Wednesday. She will be induced and he would have missed Wednesdays practice, so this allowed him to avoid going four days without a practice. 

  • We are having another hockey draft for Tuesday night’s games. It is free to enter and you win cash if your team has the most points. It is exclusive for Gregor Show listeners and Oilersnation readers. You can enter to play at draftkings.com/gregor1260. Good luck.

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  • GDB -2.0: Final pieces of the puzzle
      • I am Batman

        Nope, I am with you. He is a goalie and he gets paid to stop the puck, we all have personal lives and we still make ends meet.

        I have 2 kids, and my wife went through 3 pregnancies ( we lost our first one). And yes, I know you go through hardship but again, I do not know if that is a valid excuse. I’d rather have people say “he had a bad game” than this, because this means that every time he has an issue at home…. he is going to be terrible… especially NOW becoming a new father….

        In saying that, if Talbot is off his game because of his wife’s pregnancy, he should be transparent and open to the coaching staff and ask that he does not play. I’d rather have someone tell me “I cannot do it tonight” than go in and deliver a poor performance.

        Now, if he is in, he is in to play and give his best.

        • Jason Gregor

          What does his wife having a baby on Wednesday have to do with how he played on Sunday?

          Nothing. No one is using it as excuse.

          I said the one benefit of having Wed as off day is that it allows Talbot to practice today. It wasn’t the reason practice was moved, but it is a small bonus. That is all. No one, including Talbot, has said having twins on Wednesday is an issue.

          • A-Mc

            The comment that Batman replied to, suggests that Cam had a rough night because he was distracted due to his wife’s imminent delivery.

            Baby brain, as it were.

          • I am Batman

            I did not say you said it Jason.

            As far as “no one”: there are a bunch of readers from yesterday’s blog that mention Talbot having babies as an acceptable excuse. They were quite adamant about it too.

            Not everything is about you my friend !

            • Jason Gregor

              Help me understand where I said it?

              Only thing I mentioned was the potential benefit of Talbot getting a practice today because he was scheduled to have day off Wed due to child birth.

              No where did I say the pending twins was excuse or issue. Talbot never used it. Has been very excited in fact. Has family in town to support him and wife.

              You said it was issue and compared your life to his, and suggested he was using it as excuse. He never has.

            • I am Batman

              You did not say it.

              He did not say it.

              A bunch of readers and comments between yesterday and today were asking us “mean fans” to cut some slack to Talbot because he is having babies and “his mind is somewhere else”.

              This irritated a few of us (me included). But, again: NO, you did not say it and I did not hear anybody within the organization say it. It was a bunch of fans, my response was to those fans, so was the guy’s asking for no excuses.

              Clear as mud? 🙂

          • I’ve been saying all summer that Talbot having twins was a foreseeable issue.

            I found a few of my comments about it here: http://oilersnation.com/2016/7/31/tc-2015-flashback-who-is-gone

            It is commendable that Talbot isn’t using it as an excuse, nor should he. He’s a pro and of course he will “man up”… if there’s an issue I’m sure he wouldn’t even recognize it. Hockey players have a hard enough time reporting concussion symptoms – he’s not going to go to the coach and ask for a game off just because he is excitedly expecting twins and has a boatload of family around the house.

            Nevertheless, he is clearly struggling and the reason likely has to do with the space between his ears. He plays a position where he has to be focused an entire game. He doesn’t seem focused to me and there has to be some reason for it.

            He gets paid well to rise above any distractions and I’m sure he’s trying whatever he can to get his game back to where it should be. He’s a solid G and he will get back on track… however we need to win games right now.

            On the other hand, Chiarelli’s job is to understand risks to the team and this was an obvious one for a long time. So was the risk that Gustavsson would get injured or be an underwhelming backup. Chia should have covered some bases by signing another depth G and/or picking up Berra from waivers after pre-season.

            In short – the fact that Talbot is struggling is on him and there are no excuses. The fact that nothing has been done to protect against the foreseeable risk of Talbot struggling early this season is on Chiarelli. There shouldn’t be excuses for that either.

            • Drew R. Fan

              Lol. You’ve really got this all figured out hey? The oilers didn’t show up Sunday night. That’s all. Is klefbom having a baby too? Is that why he had a crappy game? Is Mcdavid having one too? Give it a rest about the baby thing. Talbot started slow last year too. It happens to athletes. And exactly how many goalies do you think the oilers should have signed in the summer? 5? 6? There’s only so much cap space and spending 10 mill on goalies “just in case” one gets injured is absolutely ridiculous.

            • Oh good – sounds like you’ve got it figured out and it was one bad game. Thanks for setting me straight. I’m happy to hear that Talbot will be rock-solid the rest of the year.

              For the record – nowhere did I say that we should sign 5 or 6 goalies at $10 million. I suggested some AHL depth insurance along the lines of one of Danis or Emery, and Berra when he became available. I think all that’s needed is 1 extra goalie in the $500k -$950k budget range, so he can be sent down without impacting the cap.

              We have room to sign Mark Fraser for veteran depth on D, but didn’t find it necessary in goal. Last year we had Nilsson and Scrivens until the team knew that the former could handle things.

              Apparently you think the Oilers’ goaltending situation is perfect and you wouldn’t spend an extra dime if you were them. Fair enough, you sound smart.

    • So far a pretty interesting season. I was really hoping we wouldn’t have to see the Talbot who needs time to warm up. Ultimately there’s a lot of new chemistry going on. It sucks to see them lose so bad to a team they really should beat, even if both squads were at full strength. It could be worse, Calgary just lost to Vancouver. bleh!

    • Oiler Al

      Its only 3 games, but I am not crazy about Nuge’s game. Yes, he covers defensively etc , but you have a $6 million 2 nd line center , that you’d expect more from. The way he is contributing, you can get out of Letesu for 1/3 the fare.

      • Nuge hasn’t been put into much of a position to succeed so far. He’s playing with penalty magnet Pouliot and Kassian on the RW. Therefore most of the time he is either killing penalties or playing second fiddle to CMD on the 2nd unit power play. I have been encouraged with Nuge’s play so far I think he just needs to find the range with his linemates, perhaps the addition of Caggiula will help as I’m not convinced Kass is a suitable 2nd line RW for Nuge.

      • Hockeydude1995

        Cant believe this got trashed lol people love the little elf nugey and wont hear anything bad about his game but he is god awful out there, has he put on any muscle since his draft year? Cant wait till hes gone how many years left on his terrible contract anyway?

    • RJ

      Hey Gregor;

      Good comment on controlled zone exits.

      One of the biggest differences is that Fayne isn’t playing. He has been consistently awful. No defenceman is going to be 100%, but Fayne has been brutal for a long time. Glad to see there is finally an emphasis on this stat.

    • godot10

      A couple of interesting articles about Dak Prescott in Peter King’s MMQB and SI:

      (Note: Kanye played Rogers Place Saturday night, and the Oilers stunk out the joint on an early Sunday start. I wonder what the boys were doing Saturday night.)

      http://mmqb.si.com/mmqb/2016/10/16/dak-prescott-dallas-cowboys-week-6-nfl-ben-roethlisberger-surgery

      There was a cool story about Prescott last week by Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel, who described a Thursday night in Dallas before Week 3. Kanye West was playing in town, and Prescott had tickets. But he decided not to go. He knew he’d get home after midnight and just didn’t want to interrupt the routine he’d made for himself.

      “I thought that showed the importance of taking the job seriously,” he said. “I love the game. I love to prepare. I study my butt off, and I have to, because these guys are so good.”

      http://www.si.com/nfl/2016/10/11/dak-prescott-dallas-cowboys-rookie-quarterback

      On the Thursday before his third NFL start, an eventual 31–17 devastation of the Bears, Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott parked his Escalade in his driveway and entered his three-story, three-bedroom suburban condominium. After an early-bird 5:30 p.m. dinner he faced the type of dilemma familiar to burgeoning NFL stars: Kanye West was playing in downtown Dallas at the American Airlines Center, and one of the few companies Prescott endorses had sent him some sweet seats in Section 105, just left of stage.

      Prescott did the math aloud: Kanye will go on after 9. The show will last a few hours, which means getting home after midnight. The decision was clear. He ­offered the tickets to his childhood friend, Cobi Griffin, who declined. So Dak kicked back in a recliner, Cobi sprawled on the couch and the two spent the night flipping between a Texans–Patriots game and Clemson–Georgia Tech. “I wanted to go a little bit,” Prescott said of the concert. “But I just think about the perception of it all. And I love my sleep.”

      • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

        I really don’t get the point your making?

        Because a few players went to a concert they sucked? You really believe that’?

        Here’s a “cheat sheet” for ya, the Oilers played at 5pm the Cowboys play at 11:00am.

        Even if the concert goes to midnight, that’s over 12 hours before they even have to think about getting ready for the game, they still have another 5 hours after that.

        This is absolutely a terrible excuse to use as a reason the Oilers played poorly.

    • Word to the Bird

      Gregor, I was wondering if you have any thoughts on Draisaitl’s performance so far. He’s quietly put up 5 points in 3 games and looks so calm and collected on the ice. I honestly believe he is the second best player on the team behind 97. What do you think of Leon’s game?

    • Serious Gord

      Jason:

      Almost a certainty that the union will either grieve or protest the rescheduling of the practice to a mandated off-day.

      And they are correct to do so.

      The potential for management coercion and meddling is huge. And it may have been in action in this case.

      I doubt it will ever happen again.

      • ComeAtMeDog

        Of course Gord goes all union rep on us …. Pfft Gord
        You should be bettmans b….h,

        U a fan of the oilers ?? They needed this . Don’t be all politician . Negative nancy . Probably the kid who wasn’t allowed to get wet in the park as a child during a water fight

    • Shameless Plugger

      What I saw was a certain journalist who couldn’t put his phone down or stop playing on his computer during the national anthems. People die for those flags. Is it to much to ask for three minutes of undivided attention?

      • Señor Frijoles

        Personally, I’ve never understood the connection between sports and nationalism/patriotism. I don’t see any reason to play anthems at sporting events.

    • Drew R. Fan

      Is this a days of our lives blog, or a hockey blog?? Yeesh. He had a bad night. It’s the oilers for crying out loud. Does everyone forget they were a last place team last year? These guys aren’t gonna go undefeated this year, FYI. Can we just forget about it and move on to the next game like I’m sure cam is doing and leave his personal life out of it?? Wow.

    • The thing that really pisses me off? This years club is pretty damn good. They aren’t great, but they sure in the hell aren’t terrible. The problem? Their are 5 or so really, really good teams. The next 5 clubs are very good. The Oilers are in the area of 12-15 clubs that pretty damn good. This Club has to play ‘pretty’ damn good against teams like themselves just to have a 50/50 chance to win. In other words? They have to go out every practice, every shift, every game and play their asses off to give themselves a chance to WIN. If they don’t? The result from last night is the perfect example. The Sabres are the ‘bottom’ Clubs but they are moving up fast. We can think of 10 or so teams that will make the Playoffs and it is the ‘pretty damn good teams’ that will fight it out every night to figure out the rest of the playoff picture. This Oilers Club can not afford to have a ‘off’ night, it will lead to bad habits and that is where you get a 4 or 5 game losing streak….Anyway, that is what pissed me off about last night: One Shift. One Period. One Game! Play. Your. Ass. OFF. Go OIlers!

      • Spydyr

        You cannot play 84 games like every shift is your last. Good teams find a way to beat the teams they should. The Oilers are not (yet) a good team. The have not learned how to win yet but they still know how to lose. Last nights game is a case in point.

      • Drew R. Fan

        Please elaborate on how you have come to the conclusion after a whopping 3 games that the oilers are a “pretty damn good” team and buffalo is a “bottom” team that the oilers should no doubt beat. While you’re at it, maybe just remind me where the 2 teams finished in the standings last year….. oilersnation needs to reel it in a bit and let the season play out a bit so we can actually see what the oilers have. Man them 2 wins against the flamers have really gone to some people’s heads.

    • tileguy

      With Drake coming on stream (not sure if he is the real deal yet) I am sure Nuge might be shopped. Perhaps Trouba, although we will need a sweetner as well as taking back a bad contract.

      Oh Gregor, look what you have started by suggesting 97 and 29 are a one two punch.

    • RJ

      McDavid is a legit #1C. Drai is a legit #2C with size.

      The only real problem with this equation is that the Oilers are paying their third-best centre $6m/AAV. It wouldn’t be so bad if Nuge kept getting better. But I don’t see it.

      He’s not getting all the cherry TOI anymore, so his offence has stagnated, even though he’s facing weaker opponents. His FO% is abysmal, and doesn’t get any better.

      Time to convert Nuge to a winger and be done with it.

      • Garnett

        Finally a good problem. RNH has one of the highest hockey IQ’s on the team. I just wish he’d assert himself a bit more. He follows the the play so well, but there’s like this bubble he won’t break into, one too many times he avoids contact. To be honest it drives me a little crazy. The way the game is heading I feel his size becomes less and less of an issue. I would trade RNH before I moved him to wing. Too smart to play wing, and too good the 3C. Maybe his impact this season comes in the form of the possible return in a trade.

        • RJ

          I read other blogs and they’ve talked about trading for Nuge. One of the biggest problems is that he is paid too much relative to his production.

          Three years into his seven year deal, and he’s making the same AAV$ as the top two UFAs (Lucic and Okposo). It was supposed to become a value deal at some point, but it’s not there yet. It is less than Stamkos but Stammer’s career production is far superior.

          Cap hits matter in figuring out trade value. If Nuge was a $4m AAV, then nearly every team in the NHL would want him. Adding Nuge at $6m is a tall order mid-season.

          The other issue is PC. At the end of last season, they were talking about trading Hall. The targets were Pietrangelo or Shattenkirk. Elite RHD. Larsson has been decent in his first three games, but there is still a big gap between him and those Blues dmen. When they traded Yak, they gave him away for a 3. What kind of return do you think PC would get for Nuge? It would be terrible.

          • Spiel

            Agree that RNH is not producing offense at a level commensurate to his contract. When Draisaitl is due for a new contract this summer, his agent will be looking at RNH’s $6M per season as a baseline.

            In terms of trade value, RNH is a center, and centers carry more value than wingers, so PC would likely get a nice return.

    • Serious Gord

      Re: point 9 and the delay in getting the call from the spotter to take Gustafson out of the game.

      I think it had to do with a decision lag with the spotter communicating with Toronto to get approval to remove the player – Not anything that Gustafson did after play had resumed.

      Perhaps the spotter just assumed Gustafson would be taken out after the four or five minutes the trainer spent on the ice with Gustafson. And when he wasn’t he’d was forced to take the matter in hand.

      Regardless the incident will have repercussions – Gustafson should have been taken off the ice for a more complete assessment. IMO the protocol for head/neck injuries to goalies needs to be tightened up. If the trainer needs to come out to see the goalie the goalie should be required to sit out at least for whistle or two to get a better quality assessment and, if needed, treatment.

      • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

        So are you intimately connected to the protocols of this and how the whole thing works or are you just writing to sound knowable while really making up the whole thing? Just wondering as you quote nothing but sound as if you “Know” what you are talking about. Yet all the negative responces make me wonder????

        • srelio

          Well he starts his sentences with “perhaps”, “i think” and “IMO” so assuming he knows how english works its just speculation. Also some bureaucracy bs does seem like the most obvious reason for the delay.

      • BlueHairedApe

        The articles I read today in the Journal and the Sun said there was no rules in the CBA that weren’t followed. From what I gathered as long as the players and coaching staff are in agreement and there is a day off taken in lieu of there shouldn’t be an issue. Having said that, and maybe what you’re suggesting here, is that the NHL and PA back track on things every once in awhile. Also, the Oilers have had difficulty with CBA interpretations in the past so nothing would surprise me actually.

        • Serious Gord

          Someone on sportsnet read the actual section of the CBA and it seemed pretty clear that it was violated. Rescheduling mandatory days off is only allowed for extreme circumstances – they were listed in general terms – and having a bad game the day before wasn’t one of them.

          • BlueHairedApe

            The way I understood this is when the players and coaches reach an agreement beforehand it would preclude any of the rules you mention. You may be right, this is just the way I interpreted what I read today.

          • BlueHairedApe

            So if this is the case the players would also be subject to disciplinary measures as well no? They all agreed to do it so both parties would be at fault.

            • Serious Gord

              That is true. I doubt there will anything more than a reprimand of some sort and a warning to all teams not to do it in the future.

              One silver lining to the whole thing is perhaps it demonstrates that both oil Mgmt and the players were truly pissed at their performance and that they truly want to win.

            • madjam

              Letetue is the union rep I believe , and maybe he had no say or comprehension in the matter. Did Letestue get permission from union to alter day – I doubt it . Management ,Letetue , coaches and perhaps the captains and co captains overstepped the contract here . Rest of players just follow them , so it’s hard to blame them if they have no knowledge given or otherwise.

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      How often have veterans been given a “Get out of Jail free” card in the last ten years. The whole incident with Benoit Pouliot’s penalty mess was music to my ears.