Things in Oil Country are getting dark. A recent 6-0 loss to St Louis started with a dominating first period by the Oilers (you read that correctly), but ended with a fan throwing his or her jersey on the ice in dismay. Poor goaltending, puck focused defence, and a methodical pace over the back 40 minutes was just too much for that Oilers fan, now going on 8 years removed from the playoffs.
The Oilers have had five head coaches since Sam Gagner’s rookie year, and three General Managers (oh, and Kevin Lowe the whole time). Their current GM Craig MacTavish promised impatience and followed up by overhauling much of the team in a single summer. When the rebuild started with talk of Chicago and Pittsburgh, the whispers of Atlanta and Columbus circled the team as well, and that conversation has reappeared in the wake of a resounding loss. So much of this indeterminate process is by feel for fans, but to me it feels like this season is the moment we find out if this team will turn the corner. They’ve lost the playoffs already, but still have half a season to show their impatience with losing. It’s already coming in fits and starts.
Meanwhile, the Jets continue to confound any notion of a window of opportunity. The team is several drafts away from a ‘full’ prospect cupboard, and their best players are entering or already into their primes. And yet, the General Manager continues to wait and evaluate and show patience. No one is sure if he intends to waste the good years of his top players with a coach whose expertise seems to be in finding ways to lose, or if there is a plan in place to win while Andrew Ladd is captain and Toby Enstrom is healthy.
There is a lot of coal to give out in both organizations this holiday, but I wonder if they couldn’t find a trade that might help both clubs. Perhaps Craig MacTavish for Kevin Cheveldayoff?
- Ladd – Little – Wheeler
- Kane – Scheifele – Frolik
- O’Dell – Jokinen – Setoguchi
- Tangradi – Wright – Peluso
This represents the best lineup the Jets can manage with the players they have available. After playing last night, it would make a lot of sense for the coach to use Tangradi to spell another forward, especially since Tangradi can move up the lineup should anyone show fatigue late in the game. Ken Wiebe is reporting the lineup is staying the same as last night, but I thought I’d write out a more sensible one so you can see it.
Of course, the team shouldn’t show much fatigue since Noel played his top group almost 4 minutes less than normal in a 2-1 loss to a tired Canucks team. Thorburn was second in forward minutes at the 15 minute mark of the second period, and though he played less the rest of the way, still managed 13 completely ineffective minutes. We can only wonder what might have been had the LLW line been given their regular shift.
But hey, they’ll be fresher today, I suppose, and Noel is coaching to avoid another [redacted]storm like after the Florida loss and the Buffalo loss.
Scheifele now has a 6 game point streak after the PP assist last night. It’s terrific news after legitimate concerns that he wasn’t NHL ready earlier in the year. He had one of his best games of the season in game one against the Oilers, though, and despite eating some dasher, was an offensive force in 18 minutes. He also scored his first goal of the season that night on 4 shots. (Sadly, that would be his only goal for 24 games, a stretch from October 4th to November 25th against New Jersey. Ugh. Shake it off.)
That point streak has included 4 games with Evander Kane, seemingly demoted upon returning from injury. Of course, being ‘demoted’ away from Olli Jokinen is all anyone could hope for Kane, and the line has 5 even strength goals together in those four games.
Eric O’Dell has a monster of a game last night in Vancouver, carrying the fourth line to outrageous corsi success (I think it was 18 shot attempts for, 1 against?) and being promoted to the third line in spite of Noel’s stubborn streak. I have to think he starts there tonight and maybe gets a chance on the powerplay…? Okay, I’m reaching.
- Enstrom – Bogosian
- Pardy – Byfuglien
- Stuart – Trouba
We’ve been over the Pavelec numbers in the second game of a back-to-back a million times (they’re horrifying), and this season was the first that Claude Noel started using Montoya to spell Pavelec in those moments. The other back-to-back where Pav played both (Minnesota / Dallas in games 3 and 4), the Jets’ goaltender lost an encouraging start to the season to a month of ineffectiveness and Montoya almost took his job. Montoya’s last start was against Columbus in a 3-2 win. Since then, Pav has lost to Buffalo, beaten Florida, and lost to the Canucks. Gotta play the hot hand?
As I said, Noel isn’t coaching to win later. He’s coaching to beat the Oilers so he can keep his job into January. And he’s already admitted he coaches by gut instinct. Screw predictions based on relatively large samples of past performance! I looked in the eyes of my league back-up quality goaltender who is having a miserable December!
Seriously, Pav has an .882 for December so far, 55th among 66 netminders to get a game this month. It’s worse than Dubnyk (.894), and the Oilers are furious about their goaltending. It’s ugly.
Mark Stuart declared himself healthy after leaving the game last night with more hip soreness. The last time he played hurt, he was much better. His sore hip prevented him from running around the zone to make contact and he was much more predictable to his teammates. Maybe he’ll be a stable defender again tonight.
Bogo has made a few bone headed plays since returning, but it’s been largely positive in tough circumstances. He still struggles with his gap work, which will be a challenge against the Oilers’ many skill forwards. Look for Perron to beat him over top, and Nugent Hopkins and Eberle to beat him underneath. But I’m sure he’ll drill Hemsky at some point. So there’s that.
- Hall – Nugent Hopkins – Perron
- Smyth – Gordon – Eberle
- Gazdic – Gagner – Yakupov
- Joensuu – Lander – Hemsky
The Oilers have long had a fetish for bigger guys, and Luke Gazdic is getting the push right now. He’s playing on a skill line after being a stick-optional waiver player from Dallas. I honestly think that fetish comes from a team culture of frustration. The coach just wants SOMETHING to happen, and guys that give as good as they get are appreciated for the emotional release they give the coach and everyone else.
Gazdic actually scored against the Jets in game one – the ugly, no look backhand off the faceoff – but I don’t expect to see it repeat.
Jesse Joensuu has had an up and down season. Well, an up season that became a down season and hasn’t recovered. He’s a player I think is worth a look on the Jokinen line in Thorburn’s place as he has considerably more skill and all the size and strength of a bull.
One thing to consider on this team is that the GM didn’t make a plan to fill a really obvious hole at centre. RNH had shoulder surgery and the team knew he’d be late starting. Gagner had his jaw broken by a neaderthal with a hockey stick in pre-season, and the next skill centre they had was Mark Acrobello (currently injured). I like Arcobello, and he’s done well for the team. But he can hardly fill the shoes of both of those skill centres at once. The team effectively gave up a month of hockey through poor planning and only started building chemistry and practicing systems with natural centres in November.
As well, Eakins abandoned the swarm some time ago, saying his team couldn’t manage basic defence. By that he meant they couldn’t read the switch between swarm and man coverage and they were getting torn apart.
With mid-November as the lowest point in the season, the team’s possession and chance numbers have been climbing. The process is getting closer, even while the results are not there. In other words, this game is far from a push over. Noel has said he thinks the Oilers will be hopping mad and ready to play, and to be honest, they’re a better team than their record (for the first time in a long while).
- Ference – J. Schultz
- Belov – Petry
- N. Schultz – Potter
Do it for the Winnipeg Parks Association, Jets! Come on!
This is where things fall down a little. Nick Schultz has a very specific problem I’ve been unable to diagnose since he arrived in Edmonton (during a season where his advanced numbers fell off a cliff in Minnesota). He’s always in place to make a play, but never seems to make it. The puck goes over/under/around him, or he makes the pin but the puck gets by him or he chips the puck, but not out of the reach of the opposing forward. He’s a great skater, reads the play well, and is always 3 inches away from a quality play. Against St Louis, his pairing with Potter was a serious problem. It’s a pairing the Jets need to take apart with their three scoring lines.
At the top end, you can see how a genuine top-2 defenceman would change so much. All of Justin Schultz, Petry, and Ference are find defenders on your second pairing. Ference won a cup from a second pairing. But against the best the league has to offer, the Oilers just don’t have an answer.
Add to that the sad reality that their goaltending has been weak and you get a league worst 3.47 goals against per game. Yikes.
Dubnyk is a goalie the Jets might get a little more from. He has the same Pavelec problem of being beaten for one soft goal a game, but outside of this season, has shown a lot more control of the puck and play from the crease. The Jets give up some big chances that Dubnyk might be helpless against, but a lot of them come from poor rebound work by Pavelec and it’s possible Dubnyk could make a difference in the same way Al Montoya does. Hey, I’m bargain shopping. He’s not Patrick Roy, granted.
All Too Specific Predictions
The Oilers are going to start this one with a bang, but the Jets are better than most teams at taking the first period off and surviving. Two narrow misses on 5-alarm scoring chances in the first lead to frustration and Taylor Hall takes a 5 minute boarding call near the end of the first still tied 0-0. With fresh ice and plenty of time, the Jets score two powerplay markers to open the second – one by Big Buf and one from Wheeler on a rebound – and immediately play an ill advised defensive shell. At the end of two period, the shots are 19-12 for the Oilers, and a Yakupov laser has made it 2-1. Claude Noel puts out the players he thinks are good at defending – James Wright and Mark Stuart – and the Oilers tie it up moments into the final frame when Wright messes up his approach angle moving from the middle lane out to the point, and Belov fires a leaning wrister around him, off Mark Stuart who is screening Pavelec, and in the net.
Finally, the Jets are allowed to play hockey again and the stationary cycle of the LLW line gives Ladd a wrister from the left side, which he aims perfectly over Bryzgalov’s left pad. An empty net goal by Kane ends it 4-2 and keeps Scheifele’s point streak alive.