Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Canuck's, Oilers, Home and Home

Although I predicted Vancouver to hit a wall this year, they're a team that plays much better than the sum of their parts. The Sedins (always assumed to be playing together of course) are very dangerous, so much so that it almost seems like Naslund is now the third wheel on that line. The former first line third wheel (Brendan Morrison) is having a 'frustrating year.' Quite frankly, I think Morrison was lucky to benefit from the skill of Bertuzzi and Naslund and had pretty inflated numbers over the past few seasons, especially after seeing him play in the World Championships. Overall they just appear to be a very well coached team this season, and their new style of play is due to frustrate a few teams.

On Monday, the Oilers were one of those teams. Although they gained the lead early in the 2nd period on a goal from (who else?) Canuck killer Raffi Torres, the Oilers had a lot of trouble penetrating the dangerous parts of the ice, thanks to some significant team defence efforts from the Canucks. Coupled with relentless forechecking, the Canucks went on to score two unanswered goals.

In the final minute or so, MacTavish pulled netminder Roloson and put out what one would assume to be his top 6 grouping. This grouping did not include Shawn Horcoff, but it did include Thoresen. Obviously Horcoff is a very good hockey player, but put quite simply, he is not playing as effective as he could. There is a lot of skating going on, and not a lot of physicality or offensive creativity. He was the Oiler's forward ice time leader until his minutes were dramatically cut in the Vancouver games, and to be blunt, he's expected to be the Oilers' top two way forward. Obviously, in MacTavish's eyes, Horcoff has failed to live up to expectations this season.

This is highly contrasted with Thoresen. He looked dangerous when he got his chances on Monday, he always brings energy to his shift, and was one of the Oilers' more consistent forwards. He was rewarded with Horcoff's position when the game was on the line. On Tuesday night, his effort was rewarded with his first career game winning goal.

Another player that is being rewarded with ice time for strong play is Marc-Andre Bergeron. Although his season average ice time per game is only about 17 minutes, in the first Vancouver game he played 20 minutes, and in the second game he played 22, the second highest among Oiler's defenceman. Bergeron has some decent PP instincts and is not as bad a defenceman as some Oiler fans would like to think.
I am a little surprised however that MacTavish hasn't been a little more outspoken (as he's known to be) about Hemsky's inconsistent play this season. Hemsky is the Oilers' most talented player, and if they're to have any long-term success they need him making smarter plays. Obviously a guy like Hemsky needs a bit freerer reign then say, Ethan Moreau, but some of the shooting opportunities he's given up this year are absolutely ridiculous. Is it still accurate to say a player has good instincts if he makes a cross ice no look laser pass - if he gave up a breakaway to do it?

I'm not going to say the Oilers were lucky to split the series against Vancouver. They could have won both games, (as could have Vancouver). There wasn’t a lot separating these two teams. But it was nice to see the Oilers win a game with a simple blue collar 'lunch-pale' (thanks Burkie!) effort on Tuesday night. It was maybe even nicer to see Jussi Markkanen put in such a solid effort. Is this the same goalie that had Oilers' fans holding their breath on every shot last regular season? In my opinion, there are two differences since then that have really contributed to Markkanen's success. Number one is that the Oilers are playing a different and much more effective overall defensive game. The Oilers last year didn’t always give up a lot of shots, but they gave up more than enough juicy scoring chances most games last season. Secondly, Markkanen seems to have benefited from having Roloson around. Roloson takes the heat now, and Markkanen is no longer expected to shoulder a load he obviously wasn't prepared for, and I also think Roloson has a calming influence (NHLPA aside…).

Notes from Around the League
  • Did anyone else see Philly get absolutely tuned the other night? Nedved, along with a couple other Philly players, was placed on waivers as a result of that game. Sophmore Mike Richards was so disgusted that he told reporters it was a 'classic Flyers hockey.' I can only speculate on what Clarke was saying.

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