Saturday, 7 April 2012

Playoff Primer: Boston Bruins

Bears are awesome

The Goods
Ask any guy which team most resembles a bear, and, besides the above picture, they'll pick this one.

They've got a soft "honey" heart with Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin. They dazzle you with speed and their plus-minus. They've got skill to boot. 

But the exterior of this team is built like a tank. Lucic. Thomas. And "Tiny Norris" CHARA. They'll maul you if you get close (i.e. Vancouver last year), and hell, they're very good at it. The core of this team is the same that lifted Lord Stanley last year, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

This bear is not broken.

The Bads
But there's a small problematic question that much of the universe is dying to answer: What did Boston do to keep up with the rest of the league?

Vancouver adapted to Boston, Philly and Pittsburgh did too. New York became the new Boston, and St. Louis is trying to too. 

Is this team still the watermark for success? Or is this team, just a year old, a relic of the past? May the Bruins have lost at their own game?

Tuuka Rask's injury, after he outplayed Vezina Trophy holder Thomas most of the year, does not bode well. Marty Turco, here we go.

The Bruins win the Cup if...
Thomas still has enough in the tank to play like last year, Philly/Pittsburgh beat each other up enough to be weak in the East, and the Western representative isn't a particularly physical one.
The chances of all three happening are rare, to say the least, but history does occur in patterns.

Playoff Primer: Vancouver Canucks

Van City
Did not know about the bottom one. On the fence about it...

Vancouver came within three periods of lifting the cup last season. They had more skill than essentially rest of the league. Unfortunately, they ran into a wall. A very physical wall that broke them in half. And had a highly unorthodox style of goaltending.

The Goods
Henrik Sedin! Ryan Kesler! The scoring ability on this team is ridiculous. Seriously, it's disturbing. The twins operate on another level, then they send out their second line and then they send out their fourth line against your top line, and they're the best shutdown line in hockey. This forward corps is likely the best in the West. They've also got depth in large amounts with the acquisition of Pahlsson.

They realized the twins got ran by Lucic and Bergeron (Bergeron! Running people!), so they went and got Zach Kassian. Boom. They'll float like a butterfly, and then sting like a 4 by 4.

Also, the defence and the goaltending hasn't changed from their stature last year - it's either better or at the same level of excellence it was in the Cup Run.

The Bads
The pieces have gotten a little better... but is this team any different, or any better, than it was last year? The major difference through the season was three bonafide scoring lines, with Sedin, Kesler and Hodgson, but Vancouver clearly believes it was the lack of physical toughness, not the lack of scoring, that beat them in Boston last year (it was neither - it was Thomas outplaying Luongo) and traded Hodgson, who some people saw as the next Linden, for Kassian, whom the jury is still out on.

Schneider's gotten better. Luongo's still Luongo. The defence is healthier - but Daniel Sedin, half of the twin dynamos, isn't. That's very very bad.

They win the Cup if...
Daniel Sedin returns heroically in at least the second round, if not the first, and puts up staggering numbers alongside Henrik Sedin again. Luongo/Schneider need to bring their best, especially against Boston, Pittsburgh and Philly, if they make it out of the West.
All in all, this team should beat everyone in the West - on paper, it's got the elements to do it. The question remains if they will.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Playoff Primer: St. Louis Blues

I didn't know such a logo existed. Now I do!

This is one of the other 3 teams in contention for the President's Trophy. Astute fans will remember their last run to the President's Trophy, that was followed by a first-round playoff exit and years of wallowing in the also-ran pile.

Things clicked when Jack-Adams obviousnominee Ken Hitchcock looked at this team and quite plainly said - "You guys shouldn't suck". This team has David Backes, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo, Barret Jackman, and in the ludicrous trade with the Avalanche, Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart. Just looking at that list, it's formidable.

But the St. Louis Blues would not be where they are without what might be the best single-season tandem in history, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot. You think I'm being generous? Both players are top 5 in GAA (5th and 1st), top 7 in Save Percentage (7th and 1st), top 5 in shutouts (5th and 2nd)... They may be the best two goalies since Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante... on St. Louis.

St. Louis is so fricking deep in goal they sent away Ben Bishop for peanuts just because.

They've cooled off.

I wish there was more to say, but they've stopped utterly dominating the rest of the league. Halak has had a stretch now where he's been bad-ish. This team plays a choking defensive style, waits for the mistakes and spins the game right back at you, scores and waits again.

Will win the Stanley Cup if...
Halak and Elliot return to their form, and Backes dominates the board play like he has done with exceptional skill all of this year. They have had the ability to beat almost every other team in the league this year, with their choking style. But they've began to choke - is this a lull before the domination? Or something more sinister...

Playoff Primer: New York Rangers

I always liked this logo

(If you're wondering why there are no Oilers blogs, try watching some of their games. Aside from Nugent-God-Hopkins and Eberle, as well as some inspired moments by Devan "Ohh" Dubnyk, there's close to nothing redeeming about the team. I'll have another off-season primer or two, plus a draft day analysis after the lottery)

I'm starting a series of 16 posts that detail the goods of each playoff bound team, and where I expect them to finish.

New York is one of three teams with a chance at the President's Trophy, and they've been at that pinnacle for most of the season. A team that played in the Winter Classic, celebrated a full adulthood since their last cup championship, and has been playing at a level that doesn't seem to correlate to the play of the superstars present on this team.

Depth, like no other team, and a willingness to work harder than any other organization in the playoffs right now. Nobody's scared of the hands that Callahan has, they have Gaborik for that. What they are scared of is his willingness to go to the tough corners, the front of the net, take a beating, score a goal and shove it in your face. These Rangers are oxen that don't give up. They just don't. And that's scary.

Also - it can't hurt that your goaltender is the unsung Henrik Lundqvist, who should win the Vezina almost every year prior for making this team competitive. Now that the coaching is preaching a blue-collar game, Lundqvist is having a career year. The irony is he may yet have the Vezina stolen from him by Quick.

I've got to come up with a better name for this section.

If anything is bad about this team, it is because it is plain. They signed Brad Richards to a massive contract. They expected him to rip up the league, play with Marion Gaborik and overall destroy this league like he did in Dallas last year. He hasn't. Gaborik has been deadly, but you put defenders on those two and this team is, well, plain.

Simply put, they lack the star-pedigree of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Vancouver and Los Angeles (Heh. Hollywood).

Time will tell whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Will win the Stanley Cup if...
The hard work they bring comes up in spades. Heh.
Lundqvist can be better than any other goaltender in the league. Richards and Gaborik could be the most dominant pair in the playoffs. Dubinsky and Callahan can pace, check and score better than other teams.
Can they beat Crosby/Malkin/Staal or Giroux/Hartnell/Jagr? Erm...

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Problem with Linus


Alright - his comments have sparked a needless debate about his character. Dan Tencer, pre-eminent Oilers commenter and trustworthy soul, used the new Reuters, Twitter, to express this: 

Linus Omark does not want to play for OKC in the AHL playoffs. "I play better if I'm happy and I'll be more happy at the World's." 
Here's the actual quote from the Edmonton Journal:
"Not really. I want to compete for a spot in the world championship in Sweden and I will go to the (Swedes') camp if they (Oilers) let me.
"Of course, I would like to win something down there (AHL), but I play better when I am happy and I'm more happy at the world championship."
This, by the way, is in response to news that he's being shopped around as well as he'll have to hit the waiver wire. Just goes to show you can't always take anything with the word "twit" in it at face value.

Yes, but wait a second... This is a good time to discuss something, something that is essential to the progress of the team.

He's not waiver eligible anymore (we can't send him down without other teams being able to put a claim on him), he can go back to Sweden anytime he's assigned, and this is not the guy we can scratch every night a la Hordichuk. Depth is good, but this is a touch different - what on earth are we supposed to do with this guy?

Question: What do our lines look like right now?
When healthy, the first line is Hall-Nuge-Eberle.
Second line, all of a sudden, is Hartski-Gags-Hemmer
Currently, the third line is Petrell-Horcoff-Smyth, but Omark's been in Petrell's spot - the line HAS been clicking - Jones is currently doing a stint on the first line, but he's either here or in Hordi's spot one line lower.
The fourth line is Hordi-Belanger-Eager. Let's be honest, as much as I like Eager, this line is moot.

Where does he fit?

Omark is not a career third liner, let's be honest. Smyth - he's a guy who has played in the Top 6 for the majority of his career, but his illustrious career is winding down. Horcoff - he's been up and down the lineup but his faceoff ability and relative inability to bury rebounds makes him a third line centre, in competition with Belanger.

Does Omark fit there?

So say Lowebellini chooses to draft a defenceman. We're likely going to finish with at least the third overall pick, so lets go with Ryan Murray, who by all means looks like a Scott Niedermeyer/Mark Howe hybrid. That's very very good.

And then suddenly gets a concussion and signs (read) nobody over the offseason.

Our top three lines will possibly be:

For the first time in a long time, that's three scoring lines. No Oilers group has done that since... 1991.

The first line, with a little bit more size on Nugent-Hopkins and with Hall not consistently falling, will be s-i-c-k.
That second line, if they continue their first-line style play over these past few weeks, will give second pairing defencemen heck.
That third line, which has really been clicking, through all the combos, for probably the first time this year, could be pretty sick. It's got two shutdown guys in Smyth and Horcoff and a pretty good offensive guy in Omark.

This, of course, is assuming Omark gets his defensive game together and works to be a better player.

Mediocre Omark Situation - Welcome to Paajarville
We still draft Ryan Murray.

And we still don't sign anyone.

Instead, we believe that a deep playoff run helps Paajarvi progress into the player he should be according to his rookie stats.


That's some kind of semblance of scoring depth. If Paajarvi can get his act together, he's a good complement to the speed of Horcoff (he can do somethings right) and his defensive game is severely underrated.

Omark? He's in the press box. They keep switching Paajarvi, Jones and Omark out like a circus. It's this organization. We've seen stranger things.

No Omark Situation - Goodbye Ikea-Built Road
Sorry, Omark. Our run puts us out of the draft lottery (partly due to Omark's resurgence) and puts us at 6th position. We draft Filip Forsberg, and the collective Oilers fans across this good nation chuck various objects at their televisions.

Forsberg/Jones - Horcoff - Smyth

Now this is a situation - this is also a situation that will happen if we sign any free agent with a decent amount of skill - that Omark superfans want to avoid. It very well should not be Forsberg, but could be any free agent that Katz throws money at to add some size and depth to our front 9. Omark's days in an Oilers uniform are, well, finished.

Did he just lose the numbers game?
Whether by his own downfall via injury, or by his lack of solid play in the top 12 games (I blame Renney for screwing us out of depth here - he should have stayed longer than Paajarvi up here), Omark's played himself out of the top 9.

He's got 5 games to change their mind.

I hope he does - this kind of talent that this guy has does not grow on trees. Coming back from an injury, with meaningless games in front of him, he's played better than a solid half of this team.

All you people with the argument "He can't crack a 29th-place team's lineup", tell me how more infinitely talented Matt Frattin (TML), Michael Rupp (Rangers) or Dale Weise (Van) is. Or, how about telling me how Mikka Kiprusoff is an awful goalie because he couldn't beat out Evgeni Nabokov or Vesa Toskala at age 23. Or how Ray Whitney totally deserved to be flushed out of the Oilers system.

He won't get much, that's for certain - maybe a second-round pick from a playoff team desperate for offence, more likely a third or fourth rounder. But this is just the kind of player that will burn you in a trade.

Whatever it may be, at the end of the playoffs, this team has got to make a decision. They can't please everyone.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

At what point is it the coach's fault?

A brief rundown of the game first - Oilers blew a 2-0 lead and lose the game 3-2 in a shootout against Phoenix.

Our inability to hold leads is legendary. The Oilers are 29th in the league holding a lead they get in the first period, while they are 23rd in the league after two.

That's a marked improvement over last year, where we were (shockingly) last in the league.

We're 26th in the league when it comes to winning games after scoring first.

We're 28th in the league when it comes to winning games after letting the first goal in. We've won a pedestrian 8 times after letting in the first goal.

We've scarcely won on the road after scoring first, or after trailing. We're very good at losing on the road.

Is that the coach's fault? Should we burn his effigy and run him out of town for his seemingly inept decision making and his inability to inspire his troops to win? Or is it not his fault? Are there teams that we can compare ourselves to?

Apologist Reasoning
Well, the coach can only do what he does with the players he's given. He's only ever as good as his players.

Then they shouldn't exist. Great players should be great coaches because, hey, they understand how players play the best. See Gretzky, Wayne in Phoenix. The argument can't be made.

Let's find a control
Compare the line-ups of the Oilers and a comparable team, the Colorado Avalanche. We play in the same division and have almost an identical schedule.

Would you take O'Reilly, Landeskog, Hejduk, Stastny and Downie over Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner and Smyth? Er, no.

How about goaltending? Nik Khabibulin and Semyon Varlamov are virtually tied at 2.64 and 2.61 goals against. Dubnyk and Varlamov are tied in terms of save percentage 0.912, while Khabibulin is at 0.911.

Erik Johnson is their leader on the blue, with comparable stats to both Corey Potter and Jeff Petry. Schultz and Smid are much better than any Avs player in the shot blocking department (170 and 140 >> 121).

These teams have excellent offensive players, average goaltending, and comparable defending. They're remarkably similar.

Well then, how on earth is Edmonton 14th and Colorado 8th in the West?

What does the coach even do?
Much like the captain, the coach is supposed to iron out the team's problems, send out guys who will play competently against their competition, and, well, win games.

It's a player's responsibility to get the game's first goal, get the whole game under control for their squad.
But it does become s a coach's responsibility to win games after blowing leads - calling a timely time-out to calm the troops or putting your offensive guys in the offensive zone to even the score, hell, even gain back a lead.

The Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers have virtually identical stats in winning games after the first and second period, as well as after scoring first - which correlates with my idea that the talent of the team is ridiculously comparable.

The biggest difference here lies in the ability of each team to win after trailing 1 and 2 periods, as well as coming back after letting one in.

Edmonton is 28th after letting a goal in, and 23rd/14th after one and two periods.

Colorado? 12th after letting in a goal, and 12th/9th after one and two periods. It's also great to note that Colorado is 4th best in the league at closing out leads after the first period. The Oilers are 29th.

Wait, so what does this prove?
The Oilers have not been able to hold leads. Teams comparable to the Oilers have been excellent at holding  a lead, as well as coming back when fate throws them a curveball.

Players are game-changers, but what controls them? Who tells them to go out and drive the right? Who inserts a fighter at a critical moment to change the momentum of a game? That, sir or madam, is the coach.

The coach has to command a team to win games on the road, execute line changes, pick the right guys for the shootout and overall have a mastery of the player's mindset.

The Oilers are a sub-par team, average at best, with illogical coaching. We're 29th.
The Avalanche are a sub-par team, average at best, with decent coaching. They're 12th.

With a scorer like Eberle, a dynamic player like Hall, an excellent all-round talent developing in Petry, as well as Dubnyk and Khabibulin giving you an average shot every game, not to begin to mention his highness the Nuge, this team shouldn't be losing like it is now. Especially to teams like Phoenix and Colorado, who succeed not because of their all-world talents, but because of a hard work ethic and a system that seems to garner wins.

The coach is very much like a chess player, knowing when to move and when to hit.

This year and last year, dealt with an average scenario, Renney has been out-chessed by almost every coach in the league. His methods have proven inferior to inferior teams on a night-in night-out basis. Hell, some of us pine for the days of MacTavish, who's no-nonsense method somehow made a team with a first line of Smyth-York-Carter make the playoffs.

As much as I love the guy and his passion for the game, it's time we found a better chess player.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Mar 14: Tiger vs Sherman, SNET-EDM, 8:00


Columbus News
This is the epitome of a team trending upwards.

No Jeff Carter? No problem!! It seems he was the only player preventing their successes with his lacklustre play. Jack Johnson's loving Columbus, Mason is playing a tad like his old rookie days, except for the fact he's injured, and Rick Nash looks like a player who wants to stay captain! Trending up, this team is doing anything but tanking. 

I'd call it roaring like a Tiger. No, not the tank. Fooled ya!

Edmonton News
This team is an unmitigated disaster.

Everyone in Oilerville has been spitting backwash at the unlucky few whose names are not Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle, Smid, Petry or Schultz (it'll begin, don't you worry.)

Whitney? Washed-up. Dubnyk? Can't stop a volleyball. Smyth? Can't skate. Hemsky? Overpriced. Horcoff? Not a ***king leader.
We get it, Oilerville's pissed.
And so are Oilers. Renney called them out, Horcoff called them out, Eberle, silly little I-don't-talk-to-anybody, called them out.
Cue the second phase of the rebuild. The double rebuild. Oh dear god.

Call in the marines. Send in the army.

We've got a loose tank in our midst.

Omark-Horcoff-Smyth (Look ma! No hands!)
Hordichuk-Belanger-Petrell (You say they have no hands? Challenge accepted)
Hartikainen has been called up. He'll likely take the spot of Hordichuk, but I'd love to see the drag race between Omark and Hartski (and I guess Jones) for the top LW spot.


Dubnyk? Khabibulin? I have a feeling its gonna be Dubs. Just because.

Glorious Prediction - WE'RE GONNA WIN! Nugent-Hopkins catches fire and up to Henrique with an excellent 6 point night. Eberle gets that hat-trick I've been pegging him for since mid November. Omark with two goals and finally, he gets some time on the top-line after the Jones experiment fails. 7-1 Oilers!
Realistic Prediction - One team is hungry to get out of the basement. One team loves to be there. Columbus brings their A-game, and the Oilers, so disinterested in the rest of the season, only wake up in the third period to salvage a little piece of the game. 4-1 Columbus, Hall, who never quits, with the goal.
LPH Prediction - We take last place with this game. I know that's impossible, but if you lose 8-0 to Columbus, perhaps Bettman can use his ultimate powers to make that happen.