Friday, January 12, 2007

Head to Head

One of them was drafted in the 7th round (215th overall) by the Edmonton Oilers in 2000, but went unsigned, re-entered the draft in 2002 and was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 3rd round (90th overall). In his first year as an NHLer his team went to the Stanley Cup final and lost by 1 goal in the 7th game.

The other was drafted in the 2nd round (46th overall) by the Calgary Flames in 2000, went unsigned (due to a now infamous malfunctioning fax machine), re-entered the draft in 2002 and was re-drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2nd round (36th overall). In his 2nd full NHL season his team went to the Stanley Cup final and lost by 2 goal in the 7th game.

I am of course talking about Matthew Lombardi and Jarret Stoll (respectively) and I can't think of two other current players who have such similar and intertwined early NHL careers.

While Jarret Stoll was heavily criticized by the Oiler fandom early in the season for not taking full advantage of his 'soft minutes,' he has arguably become the Oilers best overall player over the last month. Initially Stoll looked like he had the career potential of a very good 3rd line shutdown player and he played the role very well. Somewhere along the way the Oilers started utilizing him on the point during the power play and Stoll has found himself a nice little niche there with his stunningly accurate one timer. In my opinion he is in fact one of the better forwards (defensive wise) on the point during the powerplay because; he tends to make good pinching decisions, and, although he doesn't look pretty, he does a great job shutting down the advancing opposition forwards on a break. He's on pace for a career year statistically, but, just as important for Stoll, he makes good things happen on the ice, whether its a block, a hit, a heads up pass, (as I write this Stoll is breaks up a PP for the Wild with a pass cut off into a breakaway)etc.

Matthew Lombardi was having himself a nice little rookie year for Calgary when a playoff concusion derailed it, and then his sophmore season was put off due to various injuries. This year though, paired with Huselius, Lombardi has really been able to showcase what he's capable of offensively. His footspeed is simply sublime and I would feel very confident estimating he's among the fastest in the NHL, if he is not actually the fastest, and it is that speed, combined with some decent offensive instincts, which make Lombardi such a dangerous opponent. His smart defensive play has lead him to increased penalty kill time and he's 2nd in the league in terms of short handed markers. He is 3rd on the Flames in terms of +/-, 2nd in terms of Game Winning Goals, and most importantly, he's provided the Flames with a legitimate 2nd line centre behind Daymond Langkow. Like Stoll, Lombardi is also a guy who does more than put up numbers, as the numerous offensive chances he creates forces the opposition to turn over the puck, take penalties and take some of the defensive coverage away from Iginla.

One of the things I find most interesting about these two guys is that on paper they would seem to fit in so much better with their original draft team. Lombardi's speed is classic 'Oiler's Hockey' (as Kevin Lowe calls it), and Stoll's defensive mindset and grittyness is much more typical of the game the Calgary Flames play game in game out. But perhaps thats what makes these two guys so effective on their respectve teams, they provide the odd man out service. Lombardi adds a element of speed and finesse to a grind it out club, and Stoll provides the sandpaper to Edmonton's finesse.

In any event, these are, in my opinon, two of the most important guys to keep an eye out for in tonight's Hockey Day in Canada 'Battle of Alberta' classic. Lombardi has been flying since game 1 and Stoll has been one of Edmonton's few positives over the last month.

In case you don't know what Hockey Day is, I highly recommend taking in the events CBC will be brodcasting throughout the day. Some of it is pure cheese, but its really a unique television event. Too often it's easy to get caught up in the fortunes of the local NHL team and forget that hockey is being played on so many different levels, by so many different people, being supported by thousands of terrific volunteers who coach teams, maintain rinks (outdoor especially), ferry kids back and forth from 6am practice, who give players room and board if they are from a foreign city, etc. etc. etc. Their stories are the stories of hockey, and to me, nothing is more Canadian than having a day to celebrate our national sport.

Hockey Day starts at 12ET today on CBC, live from Nelson BC, at 2ET, Montreal plays Ottawa, at 7ET Toronto plays Vancouver, then at 10ET Calgary plays Edmonton.


Scarlett said...

I am so impressed with Stoll finding his game. He was horrible the first couple months, but he sure turned it around. If only this would inspire the rest of the team.

Kyle said...

We shall see if the Oilers show up tonight, but this game will be an uphill battle. Roloson on back to back nights, playing a hot Flames team at home. The Oilers next 5 or so games will probably determine if they stay in the playoff hunt or drop out, and the importance of this game to the Oilers cannot be overstated.

Kyle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scarlett said...

I think Roli has played all or almost all the back-to-back starts this year. I know he wants to play, and I like to see that about a player, but MacT needs to step in and be the coach. Jussi should have more starts, especially BTB.

Yup, the next four games determines the season especially two against the Lames and one against the Wild. They need to keep pace, stay close until the trade deadline and Lowe can make better trades.