Oilers Getting What They Need... Balanced Scoring

The Oilers lack a true superstar. Hemsky, while close, simply isn't that guy. In addition, Edmonton's No. 1 centre is Shawn Horcoff, who spends most of his time attempting to win defensive zone faceoffs and killing penalties, while keeping whoever plays on that first line with him responsible enough to keep the line at a positive plus/minus.

The left wing is a constant rotation of players who can't quite seem to find the right chemistry to make the top line trio dangerous enough on any given night that an opponent should worry.

As a result, Pat Quinn and Tom Renney have been given no choice but to roll four skilled, but somewhat gritty, lines to even things out and spread the offense through the entire team. To date, it seems to be working.

With another five goals in Friday's PPV win over the Minnesota Wild, the Oilers are tied for second in the league with 28 goals for. Without a true sniper, somehow, the Edmonton Oilers have managed to score more goals than 28 other NHL teams and in five-on-five situations, the Oilers top the standings.

In years past, the Oilers have had trouble out-scoring other teams. Traditionally, the Oilers, like most teams would try to stack their top two lines. They use the others as energy or checking lines, but also unlike those other teams, saw little to no success.

Their strengths simply couldn't out perform teams that had the Crosby/Malkin, Zetterberg/Datsyuk or Heatley/Spezza's of the NHL. Even teams with combinations like Iginla/Jokinen, who have had respectively poor starts to this NHL season simply scored more than the Oilers could.

This year, the Oilers have decided that every line needs enough offensive skill that against the opposition, no matter which line is on the ice, the Oilers have the potential to score. Without any intention to match lines or stack skill against skill, the Oilers have found a combination, that to this point is paying off in a 4-2-1 record.

If every line can score once, and the goalie can make the saves that need to be made, the Oilers should score four goals a game and keep the puck out of the net just enough to pull out victories. The result seems to be a lot of contests where the Oilers are out-shot, but coming out on top against teams that seem to have higher top end skill.

Where this plan will fall apart and fast is if both Nikolai Khabibulin or Jeff Deslauriers start to have poor games or make costly mistakes. The Oilers are hoping that doesn't happen.

Helping this strategy is the surprising play of Oilers like Dustin Penner and Gilbert Brule. Penner was in the doghouse almost all of last year with Craig MacTavish, who due to his inability to get the most from his players seemed on his way out of Edmonton at the start of last year.

Penner became the excuse MacTavish would use to explain the Oilers poor record, and for Penner, it affected his play.

With renewed confidence under new coaching, Penner isn't on the top line this year and is exceeding expectations early on. With nine points and five goals in seven games, Penner is tied for 11th for points in the NHL, and seventh for goals scored, along side players like Dany Heatley and Ryan Smyth (ironically both players to which many comparisons have been made with their somewhat controversial connection to the Oilers).

So, too, Gilbert Brule, who spent most of last season in the minors and who by many was considered a salary dump trade by Edmonton when the Oilers moved Raffi Torres to Columbus, is also playing a larger role with Quinn's group and coming out on top.

With four goals and three assists in seven games, Brule has already topped last seasons totals and looks like a player who'll pick up 20 goals quite easily.

All around, the Oilers have 13 players with at least a goal in seven games. Of the eight players without, six are defencemen and many of those have played three or less games so far this year. Outside of possibly the Calgary Flames, who are tied for first in the Western Conference with 11 points; the balance shown among the roster for Edmonton is exactly what a team without a superstar needs to stay among the contending playoff teams in the NHL.


Post a Comment

Not So Poor, Poor, Pitiful Cogliano

From the outside, one might look at the position of speedy forward Andrew Cogliano and feel for this kid. After all, he's had a tremendously interesting and likely trying couple of months as a professional hockey player.

First he was traded. Part of the mind-numbing Dany Heatley soap opera, Cogliano was unofficially moved to the Ottawa Senators along with Dustin Penner and Ladislav Smid. The trade, as we all know never officially happened and Cogliano stayed put. He was gracious in his media conversations and claimed to be flattered as a key component in a trade involving a 50 goal scorer, but deep inside he was disappointed.

Not much later, Cogliano, along side a number of other forwards found themselves in competition for limited roster space in Edmonton. A number of similar style, smaller forwards didn't help Cogliano's cause. Unlike some of the other forwards who knew their time was nearing an end in Edmonton, Cogliano was relatively safe. Still, Cogliano's poor faceoff percentage the previous year, the Oilers willingess to trade him, and limited cap space on a team that needed to make decisions in the upcoming years; Cogliano had to have some moments of uncertainty regarding his role on the Oilers squad, especially since he was quickly coming due for a new contract.

Fast forward to the start of the season. Fans yearned to give the speedy forward top-six minutes. He'd scored 18 times in the past season on the third line and it was widely believed he could improve on those numbers if given the chance. Instead, fans found out new coach Pat Quinn preferred to place size on each of his four lines and roll them out, evenly distributing grit or "crust" to a very non-gritty team. Great concept, but bad for Cogliano, who again found himself moved down the depth charts in place of players like JF Jacques and Ryan Stone.

Add up all the obstacles facing the young Cogliano, and it's no wonder fans now feel for and worry he won't be able to produce the 20 plus goals they feel he's capable of in almost any other environment. Some fans have gone so far around Edmonton as to suggest trading him, just to give him a chance to be the player he could be, on a team that needs an offensive spark. I might suggest that Oiler fans be not so quick to give up hope.

To date, Cogliano is defying the odds. On the fourth line, Cogliano has put together five points in six games, with two goals that if nothing else, show the type of speed he possesses as a forward. Along side Ethan Moreau and Zack Stortini, Cogliano hasn't exactly been a typical fourth line forward.

Quinn wasn't exaggerating his stance that he'd be rolling all four lines. While most NHL squads might limit their fourth line players to sometimes six or seven minutes a game (sometimes less), Cogliano is averaging over twelve minutes in all situations. He's become a more counted on penalty killer, seen time on the powerplay, (rare for "fourth" liner), and has line-mates that are making him a more rounded NHL'er than he'd have been with the likes of Ales Hemsky or Sam Gagner.

Moreau and Stortini force the working man's style of play. They go into hard areas and expect their linemates to follow. The skilled forward in that spot, is the benefactor of a number of loose and errant pucks that find their way to open ice areas, thus allowing someone with both skill and speed to capitalize, sometimes against another teams weaker defense. Currently, that's where Cogliano finds himself.

As Jason Gregor of oilersnation.com put it, while Stortini and Moreau aren't blessed with natural skill like Comrie, Gagner, Cogliano, O'Sulllivan or Hemsky, they go to the tough areas more often and when teamed up with some skilled guys, they get results.

In the meantime, Cogliano's faceoff stats have gone up. He's 50% on the year (a vast improvement over his 37% total from the previous season), he's averaging about 19 shifts per game and lacks time on only the power play, which I'm sure will increase with his new offensive production.

Of all the scenarios Andrew Cogliano may have imagined he'd see starting the 2009/2010 season with the Oilers, this may be the most unlikely. It may also be the most beneficial to his young career. Time will tell, but it looks as though big things are on the horizon and Andrew Cogliano may prove to be the best piece of the Heatley trade that never left Edmonton. .


Post a Comment

20 Years Ago, the Greatest of All Time Proves It...

20 years ago, on the evening of Oct. 15, 1989, one point shy of Gordie Howe's all-time scoring mark, the stage was set for an emotional night, both for 17,503 screaming fans at Northlands Coliseum and for myself at 12 years old. I don't think, I could possibly forget that night if I were to ever try.

I was really too young to totally understand the impact of what had happened, but the image of Wayne Gretzky dancing around the ice and being swarmmed by his new L.A. teammates after a capacity crowd was heard chanting "Gretzky, Gretzky" at the 1 minute remaining mark of the third period, is an image that as a fan of Wayne Gretzky and furthermore of hockey in general, will remain with me for the rest of my life and something I'm sure to share with my kids when their old enough to ask me who the best ever was.

It wasn't just one image I'd never seen before either, but a multitude of pictures that was a first for me as a young hockey fan.

The Goal

With Gretzky stationed infront of the net and the left hand side of the crease, (something different for Gretzky who was magic from behind the net), he gobbles up a errant puck that finds his stick and before we know it, the puck floats past Ranford for the record breaker, tying the score, 4-4. The fans went nuts. For the opposing team...

I'd not remembered a time during a hockey game (not yet finished of course) that an entire team would hop off the bench to celebrate a goal. Stranger still was that the opposing team, the Edmonton Oilers, would congratulate with the opposing player. Messier, who I'm sure was frustrated that the game had been tied and ultra-competitive, still had to be happy for his former teammate and great friend, who'd broken a record that to this day hasn't come close to being broken.

The Celebration

I still recall the game being paused to give due credit to such an amazing feat. As the ceremony begins, a red carpet is rolled out and out of the stands steps Howe, Gretzky's father, Walter, Gretzky's wife, Janet, and Kings owner Bruce McNall, the man who orchestrated the historic trade that brought Gretzky to Los Angeles. I didn't really know who all of these people were at 12 years old, but everyone else did, and they were quick to fill me in.

The illustrious group present Gretzky with a gold bracelet let him say a few words and then, after about 15 minutes or so, get back to the game, that still had a minute left. Above all else, Gretzky again does the imaginable and scores in overtime to win the game for the Kings.

The Gretzky Response

What amazes me still to this day, is the words spoken by Gretzky after the game in what must have been the most crowded press and media scrum ever, Gretzky said, "My initial reaction was, 'Hey, we've tied it.' Then it struck me, 'Wow, that's the record breaker,'". Talk about the highest level of professional compete that a player can have. He tries to tie the game, before he thinks of his own stats knowing he's about the prove he's the greatest hockey player in the history of the world.

That tells me all I need to know about why to this day, I'm still a fan of the greatest player to ever play -- Wanyne Gretzky. Happy 20 years Wayne.


Post a Comment

Dustin Penner a Point a Game Player?

I'm sure many of us expected Penner to break out this year -- or at least hoped that was the case. 25 goals-28 goals and 50 points would have been nice. While it's early, Penner is on pace for 32 goals and 82 points. He should continue that hot streak tonight against the Blackhawks.

As Jason Gregor points out, Penner loves playing the Hawks. He has eight goals in 14 games, the most goals against any NHL team. Dustin Penner has for me been the best forward on the ice for Edmonton in at least two of the five games the team has played thus far. He looks faster, stronger, more confident in making plays and has that sense about him that when he's decided to do something with himself and the puck, he's leaving it up to the defence to stop him, and he seems to think they can't. So far, he's been correct.

With 5 points in 5 games, his points haven't been just second assists where his name got on the scoreboard. He's been responsible for at least 4 of those 5 points and been rewarded for sheer effort in driving the net, gaining the zone, holding off opponents or crashing for dirty rebounds. That's exactly the type of player the Oilers were hoping to get from Anaheim.

Penner isn't the only one ready to shatter their offensive records if they keep up their paces. Comrie, and Grebeshkov are also sitting there with 5 points and Brule, O'Sullivan, Cogliano and Hemsky have 4 points. For Hemsky, that's not anything special and he'll need to break out in the next couple games with a multi-point effort, but perhaps tonight against a very strong Blackhawk team, he can do that.

Chicago comes off an impressive comeback win over Calgary, showing just how strong they are offensively. The good news for the Oilers, is that Chicago also showed they can be scored on. This season, if there is one thing the Oilers have done well, it's score.

Expect a high scoring affair tonight. 6-5? 6-4? I'm giving the edge to the Oilers, but only if they can contain Patrick Kane.


Post a Comment

Some Off Ice Oilers News...

As has been reported by the Buffalo News, the Oilers have interest in trading Tom Gilbert for Drew Stafford. Our sources explain, that it is sort of true and sort of not true.

The Oilers would like some help on the right side. Drew Stafford provides that. He's big, he hits, he can be gritty and he's young with a good contract. Those sound like all good things and at the this immediate point in time, they are. That said, Stafford's contract runs only two more years and when he comes due as an RFA, he's set to see a pretty sizeable increase in pay. Moving Gilbert provides some relief immediately, but not in the long term. Gilbert himself should be worth, if he isn't already the $4 million per year his long term contract provides.

Moving Visnovsky or Souray would provide better relief if the Oilers want to move a long term deal from the books; but there are also problems with this scenario from the Sabres end as well. Buffalo doesn't like to be a cap ceiling team and the Oilers are not too eager to move either one Souray or Visnovsky, unless the return is better than a 20 goal scorer who has ties to an Oiler staff member (Head Equipment Manager Barry Stafford). Buffalo would need to provide more in terms of compensation, and show how badly they'd like to have a puck moving defenseman. If the Oilers just wait a little longer, they know that
puck moving defensmen should be in higher demand than they already are around the NHL. An opporunity that if patient and teams start to separate themselves, should provide better value for a player like Gilbert.

Speaking of defensmen the Oilers would like to keep, Sheldon Souray could be out a while. No official timeline seems to have been supplied (he's listed as day-to-day), but expect two-three more games at the least as the Oilers play it safe or find themselves in trouble in terms of wins/losses. Staois should be set to return by the Oilers next homestand, but management don't want to risk putting players back in too quick from any sort of head injuries. The Oilers miss Souray's presence on both the ice and in the lockerroom as he's come out this year as one the Oilers true leaders.

The Oilers have not had any talks with Gagner or Cogliano about their upcoming contracts and likely won't until the end of trade deadline this year. Edmonton has already stated they hope to be competitive in the stretch run and look to make temporary improvements at that time. The Oilers also don't see themselves as done with the market in the NHL right now. As the season progresses, faceoff centres and gritty wingers along with opporunities to move contracts from the Oilers roster should present themselves. Gagner and Cogliano on long term deals are just not at the top of the Oilers priority list.

The Oilers may consider moving Grebeshkov if he continues to provide offensive production, but no offers or talks have happened yet. Grebeshkov is always an interesting contract when it comes due each year and with the need to sign other players and/or find relief under what might be a downward moving salary cap, Grebeshlov could provide the best return during the season. Should there be any truth to the Stafford rumors, don't expect the Oilers to move both Gilbert and Grebeshkov. Expect instead that Edmonton brings up both names to see who gathers the largest return.

Steve MacIntyre's time in Edmonton could be limited. The Oilers have showed their ability to play gritty and defend themselves without the need for a one dimensional heavyweight like MacIntyre. Other teams in the NHL however may desire that added toughness and MacIntyre could be moved for as high as a 2nd round pick although a 3rd or 4th rounder is more likely. The Oilers do like MacIntyre and his willingness to become much less than a one dimensional player which is what could keep him in the city a little longer. One source told us "the Oilers feel that characters and people like MacIntyre in general are hard to come by."

In minor league news, The Vancouver Giants have just announced that they have acquired Edmonton Oilers prospect Milan Kytnar from the Saskatoon Blades. In exchange for the overage Euro, Saskatoon receives a 3rd round pick in the 2010 Bantam draft.


Post a Comment

More To Read