Saturday, October 31, 2009

Its Scary Out There


Work this past week was brutal and vicious and I’d stagger in the door exhausted and worn down to a useless nub. I’m pretty good at leaving the work at work but this week was tougher than most when it came to that. It was Wednesday night though that it all turned for the better as the boy dragged me downstairs to play some hockey. I cracked open a Guinness (and let me just express my delight at the Guinness ads now on the site) and he took some shots on me and I took some shots on him and then he exclaimed that it was time for a game.

And I’ll be the Oilers and you’ll be the Oilers. We’ll be the Oilers and you will pass it to me and I will shoot.

He already wants the damn puck.

So we did a little bit of this and then I told him to try and put one top corner and he had no idea what I was talking about so I grabbed the ball and began to fire it at the net.

A couple of weeks ago I scored the prettiest goal of my life but last week was more the McLean signature game. I’ve always been more of a playmaker. I was covering for our Dman and the puck got chipped into our zone and I skated back, gathered it up and then hit the same Dman I was covering for, in full stride, at the opposing blueline from our slot. He skated in and scored and we were on our way. A while later we were scrambling around their net and the puck squirted behind the icing line. I gathered it and backhanded it into the mess in front and it bounced off of their goalie’s skate and in. As a guy who once scored in two consecutive games from behind the net it was same old same old.

Just don’t ask me to raise the puck.

So here we go, top corner, and I miss the net, bottom corner, hit the post, middle of the net, bottom corner, opposite bottom corner. Finally I figure I’m holding back and so I fire one and the ball whistles across the room, hitting my liquor cabinet, missing shattering all of my pint glasses by six inches.

Whereupon the boy retrieves the ball, steps back about ten feet from the net and rifles it under the crossbar, right at the right post.

Some have it. Some don’t.

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Dustin Penner has it and he has it good right now. Derek Zona was the guy last year who would post Penner’s underlying numbers constantly, showing that wherever he was in the lineup became an immediately stronger place. I understood what Derek was saying but I looked at the big man and, like everyone, saw a guy who was only scratching the surface. He might have nice underlying numbers but to me it was an anomoly.

I’m not a full out numbers guy. I look at them to help me gain a better understanding of the game but I don’t swear by them. Of course even the guys who the ‘watch the game’ crowd sneer at, the real math guys, generally see a lot more when they watch the game than your man who calls for Tom Gilbert or Shawn Horcoff to be traded after every shift. I've watched games with Tyler Dellow and have conversed enough with guys like Vic and RiversQ and Derek and Bruce McCurdy to recognize that they know a hell of a lot about hockey. They pick up on a lot more shit than all of your guys who figure Dion Phaneuf for a Norris trophy candidate or Rob Schremp for a fifty goal man in waiting.

Penner is an interesting case though. When he was hired by the Oilers there were a lot who thought it was a poor move, given the cost. What I found interesting and always find difficult are the observers who do not believe that a player can get better. They look at the past and ignore the fact that in some cases the indicators are not always right. In Penner's case the past numbers were not really promising.

Now I did not like the Penner move. I liked the Vanek attempt but I did not think much of the Penner sheet. In my first view of Penner in the 2006 playoffs he awed and terrified me, a huge man with great hands who gave the Oilers fits whenever he was cycling deep in their zone. His following season though he left me indifferent, despite his twenty nine goals.

A lot of folks point to the coaching change and of course it didn’t hurt, I guess, but its not like Penner walked into camp, Quinn told him a story about going over the top at Vimy and the light suddenly went on. Quinn had an open mind, for sure, but Penner’s improvement is almost all Penner, one hundred percent. He came into camp in excellent shape and he got off to a good start and he is playing with confidence and enthusiasm. I’d like to say that I am still not convinced and that we’ll look again at Christmas and talk then before we pronounce that he has arrived but the fact is that he is dominating games. He is charging the net and defencemen are bouncing off of him and he is dunking in those three footers. Whichever line he plays with suddenly takes off. He was the cure for Hemsky and now it looks like he may be jump starting Horcoff.

Of course the Oilers’ problem is one we figured all along. The wave of injuries and illness on the blue has hurt badly of course but in the end the lack of depth up front is killing them. If Pisani is Pisani then things will get better but it’s a tell that we need Ryan Stone back to add a guy who knows where to go when the good guys don’t have the puck. The kids got filled against the Wings, hell it was a gong show whenever the big line wasn’t out there.

They might get by if Pisani is OK and if Stone is OK and when the D get back. They’ll probably win a few more than they lose, I think. There’s some quality on this club. But the Detroits and Chicagos expose them badly.

They don't have enough guys who have it, at least not yet. Guys like Gagner and Cogliano and maybe even Jacques will someday be able to do the job at this level but they're not ready yet.

They still need help up front. In a big way.

9 comments:

macaotim said...

You nailed it. My dad said the other day that McT should have treated Penner better. I said I thought Penner should have treated Penner better!?

Halfwise said...

Watching the Bruins today it was clear that Cogliano and Nilsson bring talent but were quickly neutralized by size. And Peckham has taken a step back from last year.

I felt sorry for Pisani. He looked like I feel when I am at what passes for peak conditioning, watching everyone else's jersey number getting smaller pretty much all over the ice. At least we know he has more to bring.

Brule and Gagner should be the smallest regulars on this team. There is room for POS after that. On D, Vis is so smooth and quick that it doesn't matter what size he is, but past him we really miss Souray, don't we, for handling the baggage in front of the net.

After the flu clears out and a couple of bigger bodies get back in this team will compete better.

spOILer said...

Pat,

We can see Quinn struggling with the exact same problems MacT struggled with...

How to distribute the forwards over the four lines so we don't bleed goals against and so we can create a goal or two every third or fourth game.?

Now granted the flu hasn't helped that distribution much.

And I think the aspect of the flu that is driving Quinn the most nuts is--lack of practice.

He's not happy with how his system is being performed and they've lost some serious practice time to the flu.

I just don't see the scoring depth though and with the injuries, kids, size issues etc, we're going to need 4 goals a game to have a chance to win.


...I'm really liking Stone too, and miss him in the line-up.

What does that mean for Pisani?

Bruce said...

Stone has been missed, for sure. Small sample size, but check out his rate of Shots Against ON/60 compared to other Oiler forwards.

Black Dog said...

spOILer - yeah you've hit the nail on the head in a lot of ways, I think the D is struggling right now, which hurts the offence, but its all about health and once these guys come back the D will actually be in far better shape than even imagined before.

Smid has emerged. Chorney looks to be able to handle bottom pairing minutes with a better partner.

Good times on the blue.

But up front, well, its a two line team. A nice # 1 line and a nice # 4 line. Then the rest of the guys are either too small, too inexperienced, too ld, lacking in defensive acumen or offensive finish.

Gagner is not ready for top line duty. Even if he were there are no wingers to build a nice line around Horcoff.

So it seems anyhow.

If Fernando can play then he will have a spot just because he does things that nearly nobody else can. Same as Stone. That game against the Wings showed pretty clearly that they lack their shit up front.

Black Dog said...

Halfwise - yeah they miss Souray a lot. And we saw last season how important Lubo is.

As for the forwards well we could see it coming a mile away. Too small, too soft, not enough two way players. My guess is they move some of these guys and a Dman for some big bodies up front who can play both ways. Other than Vande Velde and Nash they haven't anyone coming up who fits that description. Maybe the Finn?

macaotim - MacT isn't completely blameless but if Penner had started his Oiler career as he did this season I would bet that MacT would have never had a problem with him.

Halfwise said...

Shedding a couple of contracts, net, on a trade would make supreme sense. I could see Nilsson, Cogliano and Grebs going out for, say, whoever is a 7 year younger version of Jason Arnott out there and a 2nd round pick.

The lack of a bell curve of forwards must make Quinn crazy.

Today's roster is the product of yesterday's decisions, and while any one of those decisions might have been reasonable on its own, collectively what was Lowe thinking? Lack of size and grit?

It is not as if he was acquiring players in his own image. I suppose at least we can declare him healthy from a pyschological standpoint...

Black Dog said...

Halfwise - that has really been my argument about Lowe's work for the past few seasons as well as MacT's last season, taken bit by bit you can argue for what he did but the overall effect is/was a mess

You pick best player available so you have smaller players, that's fine, but you have to know you need some size in there. You move out guys like Torres, Stoll, Reasoner, Dvorak, Smyth, Glencross, Kotalik and so on, hey I don't like a lot of those contracts or some of the negatives for those guys but you need to replace what they brought.

And they haven't. For four summers now.

hunter1909 said...

At the Wings game the other night, Lowe reminded me of an alcoholic irish uncle, the way he sat there looking stupefied. He probably is still pissed that he's no longer the GM.

Quinn probably intimidates him, too.