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.

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