Thursday, December 14, 2006

Oil's Well?

In late November the Oilers were on shakey ground to say the least. After decimating the pitiful Hawks they blew a late 3rd period lead to the hated Ducks and then got routed by Colorado the next night. Two nights later they lost their third straight, and during that three game losing streak they lost the sublime Hemsky and heart and soul Ryan Smyth, one of the few Oilers giving a consistent effort game in game out. Any reasonable person would have said it was time to push the panic button. I was pretty worried myself, it looked like the Oilers had only one direction to go.

Enter ex Team Canada captain Jarret Stoll. After being labled by many as the man to go in Edmonton's cap crunch, Stoll had been looking largely ineffective for large stretches this year. Enter Raffi Torres, the bulldog who couldn't seem to find a reason to rip out someone's throat. Enter Pisani, the man with overburdened with unachievable expectations. Enter the group that I said would be the best 3rd line in hockey should they stick together.

Over the next 6 games, without Hemsky and without Smyth, the Oilers have 4 wins and 2 losses, including a game in which they put over 40 shots on Chris Mason, which could hardly be called a weak effort. Sure they were caught sleeping in Chicago, but there were 3 posts by the Oilers in that game, including two by Stoll in one shift in the second period.

During this effort, Stoll had 2g and 6a, Pisani had 2g 2a, Torres 1g, 5a. But its not just the points this line is putting up - its their sheer dominance. Stoll has played like a man possessed, and is undeniably the team's current inspirational leader. Torres has started to lay guys out again (several Wild bailed tonight in puck races with Torres) and Pisani has started to bury his chances.

Whats the difference? Your guess is as good as mine. I thought it was ice time difference but that theory doesn't really pan out when you examine the numbers, especially when you compare it to the same players output during the playoffs (of course those number are slightly skewed because Pisani exploded so far out of his usual statistical distribution output). Stoll's ice time has increased from about 17 minutes a night to about 21 minutes a night over the last 3-4 games, but that seems to be more a result of his strong play, rather than his strong play being a result of his ice time.

Whatever the reason, I think Oilers fans can't help but smile, both at the team's recent suprise success, and the lack of faith they had in the team's ability to win without Smyth and Hemsky. I admit, I was one of the doubters, but I can't help but watch Stoll and be impressed.

Ok, so maybe I was off when I predicted they would be the best 3rd line in hockey. The way they're playing now I probably would have been more accurate saying they would be the best line in hockey. (A little hyperbolis humour there).

therealdeal of the night: Jarret Stoll - He was physically dominant, won a key faceoff that led to the first goal, and simply made good plays on every shift. 1g, 1a performance.

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