Sunday, October 9, 2005

Everyone loves a parade!

Unless, of course, it's a parade to the penalty box—in which case everyone finds it annoying as hell. And last night's 4-3 shootout win against Vancouver was indeed annoying, as the Oilers found themselves furrowing their brows in a vain attempt to understand why they were once again gloomily coasting towards the box on 13 separate occasions, three of which the Canucks felt obliged to turn into goals with their scarily efficient power play. (On the other end of the ice, the Oil went two for seven on the PP with two beautiful snaps from the side of the goal from birthday boy Raffi Torres.)

Now, with 13 penalties in a single game, normally I'd be hollering about how the Oilers seemed almost singularly focused on beating themselves, but there are a few extenuating circumstances in this case; one, the Oilers actually won (and what a goal by Hemsky in the shootout to end it); two, there were more than a few times when no one seemed to be able to figure out where some of these "infractions" happened in the play (I always thought hooking involved a hooking motion, not just the raising of a stick to arm level somewhere near an opposing player, but man was I proven wrong last night), so it's not like they Oilers were playing especially stupidly; and three, I thought our penalty killing was actually really solid—sure, three goals squeaked through, but it easily could have been five or six if not for the absurd amount of blocked shots and, of course, some stellar play Mr. Jussi Markkanen.

Seriously, how can you not love this guy? He's focused, he's positionally sound, he's a butterfly goaltender—a style which I always thought jived better with the Oilers' game than standup, the preferred method of pretty every other goalie in the Edmonton system with the possible exception of Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, though his style might be better described as "overturned turtle"—and, most importantly, he seems capable of "stopping shots" from the point through traffic, a challenge to which our alleged number one has yet to rise. All night, I couldn't help wondering just how many pucks would have whistled unimpeded past Ty Conklin's blocker side as he stood there like he was attached to a post in a tabletop hockey game.

Now, granted, we're only two games into the young season; anything can happen yet, so I'll hold my tongue until I see a little more from both Conklin and Markkanen—but I will note that I'm finding MacT's devotion to Conklin as our starting goalie to be a little unnerving (and, dare I say, all too similar to the undying faith in Salo that played a major role in killifying our chances to make the playoffs last time there was a season). I guess I just don't understand what Conklin has, you know, done to make the starting role his job to lose other than be a serviceable stopgap in the wake of the Salo trade, and I'm worried that we're going to see far more of Conks than we should while he's in the process of losing the job he was ordained with, lest it "damages his confidence." (As much as I hate using Calgary as an example of how to do things right, look at the way they dropped Turek like a burlap sack full of dead raccoons as soon as they realized that Kiprusoff was far better; I can't help but feel if it had been the Oilers, Kipper would have seen but a fraction of the games he did while Turek was allowed to slowly play himself out of a job, you know, because he was our goalie first and it would have shaken his confidence. Yee.) Again, it's too early to say for sure, but I think it has the potential to be a painfully Salo-esque situation between the pipes this year.

Anyhow, we'll see. In the meantime, a few final notes about last night's game:

• So how about that Cory Cross? He must be following the Oilers blog circuit and taking our hollerings to heart or something, because I haven't seen a glimmer of the hopeless crappiness with which he played in the preseason in the two games he's lumbered through thus far. Yes, he still looks slow out there, but his positioning has vastly improved and he's not getting caught flatfooted nearly as much, as evidenced by the fact that he played close to 14 minutes and didn't take a single penalty in a game where hooking and holding infractions fluttered to the ice like confetti fired out of a cannon. In fact, out of all our defenders, I think Igor Ulanov has been the weakest. He still knows how to block a mean shot and all, but he's looked a little bewildered by the speed of the game so far. If he keeps it up, the oddly-maligned Alexei Semenov should expect to get some ice soon.

• Okay—where the hell did Jarret Stoll learn to hammer the puck like that? One year he's a barely serviceable, grinding fourth-line centre, the next he's a walking talking howitzer on the powerplay halfboards? Whatever. I'll take it.

• The good news last night, Mike Peca got his first point as an Oiler last night, an assist on Torres's second PP goal. The bad news last night, Ryan Smyth looks like he'll be sorely missed on the top line while he nurses his sprained MCL in his left knee; Horcoff and Dvorak just weren't nearly as effective in the last half of the game without Smytty there to set them up. Here's hoping it's a speedy recovery. Also, I guess that means we're going to be treated to a little Jani Rita—or if we're lucky, some Brad "Isbister" Winchester—action over the next few games. I'm getting a prospect boner just thinking about it.


mike w said...

Ah yes, the prospect boner.

I guess refs Marc Joannette and Chris Lee wanted to make a name for themselves since the penalties called were terrible. I've watched a lot of games, including the much of the preseason, and I think last night was one of the worst jobs done by the refs all year. I was even disgusted by some of the calls against the Canucks, if that helps disprove any bias. The problem is inconsistency: I've seen little taps with the stick in every game, which is fine. But last night they starting calling it, and only between the last 5 minutes of the second and the first five minutes of the third. You know it's weak when the CBC stops even trying to find a replay of the "infraction." This sucks because I actually like the rules, and they seem to work -- but they have to let the players actually play!

And you have to love Markkanen. He doesn't need a dreadful run of games for "polish." He looked great, giving me a secure feeling I haven't felt with Oilers goaltending since...uh... Curtis Joseph?

Colby Cosh said...

It's a bit harsh to talk about MacT's "determination" to make Conklin the number one (a) less than 24 hours after Juice got the start against one of our two most feared rivals despite missing camp and (b) in the face of explicit statements by Lowe that the team is going with a Roloson-Fernandez-style tandem. Is it possible the team is going to do what it says it's going to do? (The "devotion" to Conklin seems to exist mostly amongst the media. Still, after the long national nightmare that was post-Belarus Salo, I can see why you're worried.)

And while I'm still the charter member of the Markkanen fan club, you could make the case that if the Oilers are going to block 20 low shots a night, you want less butterfly rather than more.

Chris! said...

Huh. You know, Colby, I think I may have suffered a minor stroke at some point before I wrote this, because I swore I recalled reading an article in the Sun in which MacTavish called Conklin the Oilers' number one--but now that I'm looking for it, I can find no such statement; rather, like you said, MacT has talking up an Essensa/Shtalenkov-style tandem system with some regularity. I clearly stand corrected. But that Markkanen: bless his heart.

Also, I'm of the mind that a higher number of blocked shots would mean less goaltender visibility and a greater frenquency of low deflections, which some standup goalies just don't handle as well as their butterfly counterparts. So yeah.

swabbubba said...

I think the biggest difference of the years Oilers this year over last year is the Centres. The boys are winning the puck at huge rate. This makes the PK way better.. I last year they played that a D zone faceoff was prelude to the other team lighting the lamp. Go Oilers...

mike w said...

>This makes the PK way better.. I last year they played that a D zone faceoff was prelude to the other team lighting the lamp. Go Oilers...

Agreed. Of course, this was a merely a complement to Salo letting in a shot from the point. I thought he was actually not bad up close, but those point shots just killed us.