Yak and 5 on 3

The Oilers won a hard fought contest against the Dallas Stars on Thursday. For the team, it was a coming out of sorts in 5-on-5 play -- an area the Oilers were awful and dead last in the NHL.

In the first 18 games of the season, the Oilers had something like sixteen 5-on-5 goals. In the last two games - Dallas and St. Louis, the Oilers have six 5-on-5 goals in four periods. A welcome change.

Yet, in the process of increasing production at even-strength, the Oilers power play, 6th in the league as of last nights game versus St. Louis, has been dreadful. Edmonton had three two-man advantage opportunities in Dallas and failed to score on any of them. They went zero for three on the power play in St. Louis as well.

With a team so loaded in skill, the power play, especially when two players up should be an area almost guaranteed a goal for the club. That is, unless you put the wrong people on the ice.

Nail Yakupov, Edmonton's number one draft pick and super-rookie, has excelled on the man-advantage. Of his six goals, four have been on the power play; but in the last couple games, Yakupov has seen very little time when a man up.

Not too many can or should argue with Ralph Krueger's stance of moving Yakupov up and down the line-up, switching him back and forth between the second and fourth lines throughout his short career as an NHL'er. However, it's shocking to see a player with such offensive talent, and one willing to shoot the puck, sitting when the Oilers aren't in a defensive situation that could see the opposition come back and either tie or win a game against Edmonton.

In Dallas, the Oilers were up by three and four goals, yet Yakupov was on the bench. If the Oilers got the set-up they wanted, the team appeared to settle for passing the puck, getting very little going. However, the culprits stayed on the ice for most of the 5 on 3 time and Yakupov, who when given a chance just a bit later, hit the post on a shot which eventually led to an Ales Hemsky goal, had to ride it out.

I'm wondering, why is Yakupov not being given a chance?

Yakupov has been prone to some untimely turn-overs. Rookie mistakes come with the territory, but when 5 on 5 and in a shortened season, mistakes like these are not the kind of plays a coach wants or likes to see. To Yakupov's credit, he has busted his butt to get back in the play when he makes a mistake, but Krueger must feel it's a risk he's not willing to take.

This may be a situation where the coach feels it's necessary to teach the rookie a lesson. That defensive smarts will get him offensive opportunities. If that's what's happening here, I understand the rationale, but as a fan, I can't stand not seeing the best offensive players on the ice when a real opportunity for the Oilers presents itself to score a goal.

All that said, Yakupov has a great amount of respect and liking for his coach. In an article with Andrey Osadchenko, Nail Yakupov covered a lot of topics some of which revolved around his power-play time and his coach.

"Besides, we have got an excellent coach. He's great not only as a coach but on a personal level too. I have never met a coach like him. He's always there for us. You want to go out there and win games just because of him."  says Yakupov. 

Here's to hoping with the change in limited ice-time and less power play opportunities, Krueger continues to keep a good relationship with his team including Yakupov. I believe Yakupov to be a true talent, but an interesting personality -- one that could quickly change the way it feels about any given situation.


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Oilers Lose a Stinker to the Blues

From one extreme to another.

The Edmonton Oilers played a wonderful road game against the Dallas Stars to snap a very long and glaring losing streak on Thursday; only to come back and be embarrassed by the Blues on Friday.

Needing two points, that could have moved the Oilers back into a playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Oilers fell flat, were outplayed and simply didn't show up ready to play. Perhaps it was the score at the end of the first when the Oilers led 2-0 on goals by Taylor Hall and the re-inserted Ryan Whitney that made Edmonton believe things were on their way to sunnier days, but the Oilers were lucky to have that lead and didn't realize it.

St. Louis was the tougher team, the faster team and the play was heavily in the Oilers zone for all sixty minutes of play. The Oilers powerplay was again woeful and the penalty kill couldn't save them as St. Louis capitalized on their chances.

So, the Oilers sit 12th in the West and on the outside looking in. Worse, yet, Taylor Hall went down to injury in the second period with what the team is calling a leg concern that they want to watch for precautionary reasons. They expect him to be back in the line-up Sunday against Minnesota, but things didn't sound too concrete after their match-up against the Blues.

Taylor Hall blocked a shot with his arm and then not a couple plays later, went awkwardly into the end boards after losing his balance. Whether Edmonton knew the game was out of reach of just felt Hall's injury too much to chance, Edmonton's most effective forward left and didn't return to the game.


The sky isn't falling however. The Oilers have 3 of a possible 5 points already earned on this road trip. They've earned these points in games few expected them to walk away with anything and as a result, while not in the playoff spot, they sit only two points out and four points away from division leaders Vancouver for third in the West. Vancouver just so happens to be on a bit of a skid, having lost two in a row and set to take on the red-hot Kings tonight on CBC.

The Oilers will face the Wild on Sunday in a game they need to win. If Edmonton doesn't leave this season-long nine game road trip with at least ten or eleven points, the shortened season may be too little too late for the Oilers to salvage.


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