Pre-season Game Six: Down the Middle

If you stopped by our sister-site, Oilers Nation today, you might notice that there is something wrong in central Alberta. That something is – as it has been for two decades – centre depth. This week is worse than most after news broke that Sam Gagner had suffered a broken jaw in the Kassian stick-swinging incident. Of course, Ryan Nugent Hopkins is also going to miss the start of the season recovering from shoulder surgery. On paper, then, Boyd Gordon is their best remaining natural centre, and worse, the three young men being auditioned for a month of time in the Oiler top-six – Will Acton, Mark Arcobello, and Andrew Miller – have all been various shades of ‘bad at hockey.’

The Jets are the first team to face the Oilers in crisis, and if the road team has a lead in the second intermission, I expect – nay, demand! – Kevin Cheveldayoff try to trade MacTavish Olli Jokinen. It’s our only hope.  

More interestingly today in Oiler-land is the civil war (twitter style) over the addition of Steve MacIntyre. The Oilers added the NHL’s most notorious example of a one-dimensional fighter off waivers today after watching the Canucks and Sabres descend into thuggery in their respective efforts to battle with the Spirit of Games Past. The ‘get bigger’ idea in NHL team management seems to be the equivalent of alcoholism in western literary fiction. That guy has baggage, you see. 

This week, the summer of Craig MacTavish is coming undone. Grebeshkov has had a poor training camp. Klefbom was expected to challenge for an NHL job but was sent away already. Belov had visa issues and has only recently arrived. The bottom end of the roster is slowly being given over to old problems rather than new solutions – Ben Eager first, and now Steve MacIntyre. Additions and changes down the middle have left the team in the same conversation they have had for years – the key question of which seems to be an existential exploration of "what is the centre"? 

The playoffs felt possible for Oiler fans in August in a way they haven’t for a very, very long time. When Craig MacTavish was hired at GM, it came on the heels of adding ex-Assistant GM Scott Howson and without a serious look at how much power Kevin Lowe wields in the executive. MacTavish took swift action and won fans in every corner of the hockey community. With one injury and one waiver claim, the fears that the group who started this decade of misery for the Oilers aren’t the answer to solving it have returned. Now, a basement finish feels as close as the playoffs did just one week ago.

It’s not even October, but the Oilers are playing elimination games.

Jets Lines

Jets Forwards

  • Kane – Jokinen – Frolik
  • Wright – O’Dell – Halischuk
  • Telegin – Lowry – Peluso
  • Cormier – Gordon – Thorburn

This lineup has some outrageously interesting implications attached. To start, Lowry, Thorburn, and Gordon get into their first contests due to injury. Gordon is set up for 8 ineffective minutes with borderline-NHL players before being sent down to join the St John’s camp in the morning and Thorburn is immediately slotted behind Peluso. Adam Lowry gets a better assignment, but not with NHL players.

I suspect many readers will consider my analysis of Peluso out-of-step with his performance in pre-season to date. Watching him has not improved my opinion of how he thinks hockey, or my opinion on his skating or stick skills. But more importantly, I think it’s reasonable to wonder why Peluso is playing in his 5th pre-season game with more time on the powerplay than Jerome Samson got before being sent out, and further, whether the constant ice time against AHL’ers and prospects affects our perception of him as an NHL player. He has a goal and is -1 in 38 minutes of ice time, including 2minutes on the man advantage. That’s slightly worse than Klingberg in almost twice as many minutes. 

I’m very much looking forward to Lowry, however, as his speed, size, and scoring ability all seem NHL quality. With the Oilers weak down the middle right now, Lowry has a chance to make a splash. He and Telegin were excellent in the Young Stars tournament at gaining offensive zone in transition. Their challenge tonight will look more like the Sesame Street game, "One of these things is not like the other" than a test of whether they are NHL ready.

The first line: The narrative on Scheifele has turned toward ‘invisible,’ while Noel’s comments about Jokinen between Kane and Setoguchi were positive. None of that makes sense to my brain, as I thought Scheifele looked a lot better on that line on over-sized ice in the first pre-season game than Jokinen did with more favourable conditions. Again, the team is saying one thing while we see another and are arguably setting up yet another attempt at a second line with Jokinen and Kane. This time Frolik is the rotating third partner. It’s just pre-season, and we’re not clear on what the Jets are doing with their lines with regard to evaluation. So perhaps it’s just another 60 minutes of watching individual players for the coaching staff. 

Wright and Halischuk are also getting a lot pre-season minutes. We can hope this is about evaluating the players, but with TSN 1260 saying Wright has the ability to play in the top 6 today, I think we can safely call it a "push" by the coaching staff. By all process metrics, James Wright was the worst player the Jets had last year – on a team that missed the playoffs from the league’s worst division in a season when they didn’t have to play the better conference even once. The disconnect between performance and verbal continues to be shocking for this team.

It’s the third to last pre-season game for the Jets, and we’ve yet to see the third line take shape.

Jets Defence

  • Clitsome – Bogosian
  • Stuart – Redmond
  • Pardy – Trouba


  • Pasquale
  • Montoya

Pasquale seems to have the inside track on the back-up job given how each of these goalies has been used so far in pre-season. That said, it just takes one shelling by a dangerous Edmonton team against a Jets’ blue line without its top pairing to tilt the tables. Pasquale’s 31 PIMS in the AHL last season speak to what was a frustrating year for a goalie without much help. But his best-ever .911 sv % two years ago is not what we call a career-maker. Watch him carefully tonight, Jets fans. He might be in your Polar Night Blues after the calendar turns October.

Redmond is getting the Postma slot tonight, after Postma was on for the Wild’s first two goals in game five. I think it will come down to his ability and willingness to box out and defend the zone horizontally. Postma’s gaps are… sigh. But he gets in the way in vertical defending. He just loses track of players and the play in set-zone play, and has some brain cramps. To get noticed, I think Redmond has to do less to get noticed – be calm, steady, and make the simple play. One thing Postma does well for Stuart is move the puck. Stuart is a very poor puck mover, and Redmond will have to show a crisp outlet pass and make some plays from the offensive blue line to avoid being in his own end the whole night. His best hope is that Morrissey or Trouba are slated for PP minutes and Postma is deemed a less reliable at evens. 

Trouba sure is getting a long adjustment period this year. I think it’s good for him, as he improves every game. Interestingly, Trouba is constantly paired with stay-at-home types. Tonight he’s with Pardy. It’s not their first rodeo together, but we can hope they’ve cut the Highland Dance portion and at least one of them will have steady feet during the game.

  • Kevin McCartney

    I haven’t seen the game yet! I was traveling all day today, so my internet was spotty. If you have twitter, send me your handle (either here or to @kevinmccart) and I’ll send you my thoughts when I watch the game.

  • Kevin McCartney

    I am an oilers fan just poking around on the Jets site – disappointing to see how little traffic/commentary there seems to be – I thought your article was very good in any event.

    I thought the game last night was a snoozer – felt like I was watching AHL hockey for long stretches, but I suppose that’s just the nature of preseason play.

    I thought Lowry showed well for the Jets, but nobody else really jumped out at me. Also, Jokinen is terrible, but I confess some bias when it comes to him.

    On the oilers side, I am really pleased with how Belov is turning out so far. I think they signed him with a 5/6 D slot in mind, but I expect he will start batting higher up in the order as the season progresses. Our centre depth is beyond being a joke – I don’t know how MacT could have thought it was a good idea to stand pat at C over the summer. The SMac signing is an even bigger joke IMO, but opinion is quite divided on that front – he’s been in Edmonton for 2 tours of duty before, and his presence never dissuaded anyone from taking runs at our skill players. I don’t see how any objective observer could reasonably think that he will deter anything this time around.

  • Kevin McCartney

    Re SMac – on the bright side, he apparently does a tremendous impersonation of Bubbles from the Trailer Park Boys, so there’s that. He sort of looks like him too.

  • Kevin McCartney

    Thanks Sloppy Joe. It’s my first full season with Jets Nation and I hope we can get some more commenting going – especially on game day. As disappointing as it is for you, it’s twice as disappointing for us!

    The Oilers blogosphere has a long tradition, starting with Lowetide’s game-day threads, I think. I appreciate you coming over here to show us how it’s done! Please come back for October 1st.

    Yeah – I remember talking in July and August about how the Oilers should probably find a way to add another centre, whether it was David Steckel or Vinny Prospal. Presumably the organization had seen Andrew Miller play prior to signing him, but as a fan, watching him at the Young Stars tournament felt like a kick in the teeth, like he must be taunting us because he had to play 2nd line centre in the NHL! This is definitely worst case scenario happening at the moment, but centre depth was a problem before the Gagner injury, and even with RNH healthy.

    I can’t believe they took SMac. Only encouraging bit of news was Eakins laughing when asked if SMac addresses a need. Maybe the coach won’t play him and he will be… doing whatever he does for Todd Nelson. That said, now I want to see his Bubbles bit. He always seemed like a great guy, just not an NHL hockey player.

    • Kevin McCartney

      I agree about MacT. Love what he did with the defence. He said he wanted lot’s of competition for that 6/7 spot. At center, he has always maintained that he thinks Arcobello deserves a chance.