Sunday, October 2, 2005

With the dawn comes doubt and time for reflection...

I'll admit right now that I didn't watch the Oilers' 6-2 loss to Vancouver last night on PPV, but upon going over the boxscore this morning, two thoughts occur to me.

One—and admittedly this is obvious—I hate Cory Cross. In what was an expectedly penalty-filled affair (13 for the Oil, 10 for Van), no player on either team spent more time skating his big, dumb ass to the box than Edmonton's own big, dumb ass-having Cross, who took three penalties for hooking, interference and holding. These, of course, are all the type of penalties that slow, unimaginative defensemen who can't keep pace with the game tend to take, especially so in this... sigh... "new NHL" (I really hate writing that), and I challenge you to find a player on the Oilers who is slower and less imaginative.

So is this what I get to look forward to as an Edmonton fan? A year of Cory Cross routinely doling out PP opportunities because he just got caught thinking about how much ice cream he was going to eat at the Capilano Pizza Hut's sundae bar after the game instead of backing up so his man doesn't get past him again? Thanks to an honestly, thoroughly inexplicable one-way contract, it certainly seems so. Plain and simple, Cross has proven in this post-season that he cannot play an up-tempo, positional game, and looking back, nor does he seem capable of learning: when the Oilers got smoked 5-0 by Calgary on Wednesday, where was Cross? Why, in the box, serving time for tripping, cross-checking and hooking infractions. When the Oilers lost 6-4 to Dallas in a shootout on September 20? In the box again, for holding and hooking. See a pattern? I call it "bad hockey."

Hopefully, Oilers brass will stop turning a blind eye to this redwood-sized defensive liability sometime in the first month and let him try to clear waivers. If I have to watch a guy hook and hold his way through this season, it might as well be a rookie with some potential upside instead of a lumbering hack whose only asset is the size that, ironically, is also his biggest deficit.

Anyhow, enough about Cross. The second thought running through my head this morning is this: is anyone else a little worried about Ty Conklin's play thus far in the preseason? If you're not, I present for your consideration Mr. Conklin's track record in the appearances he made:

Sept 18: 4 GAA, 17 shots (.765 %)
Sept 21: 4 GAA, 27 shots (.852 %)
Sept 23: 0 GAA, 10 shots (1.00 %) *through one period
Sept 28: 5 GAA, 27 shots (.815 %)
Oct 01: 6 GAA, 28 shots (.788 %)

Run that through a fancy mathification process and you'll find that our de facto starting goaltender was a little, well... shaky, finishing the preseason with a 3.80 GAA and a save percentage of .844—not exactly the most encouraging numbers. Granted, you've got the usual lineup of preseason excuses: he's played the most out of all goalies at camp and with a far-from-rock-solid defense in front of him. (And according to countless post-game ints with Lowe and MacT, Conklin is still "getting used to the smaller pads," but I suspect this is no small amount of bullshit.) Regardless, the fact remains that we're staring down the barrel of some suspiciously poor numbers for a starter. Let's hope it's an anomaly.

On the flip side, consider that Mike Morrison, meanwhile, has been nothing if not stellar while playing with the same size pads and the same squad in front of him; in the two appearances he made this preseason, Morrison turned away 21 shots to shut out the Flames 3-0 last Tuesday and allowed one goal on 25 shots against the same team in the Oilers' season opener. Clearly, Morrison's play has been such that rewarding him with a start at some point in the first week would probably be a good idea, but will that happen? Almost certainly not. You can imagine that Conklin's confidence is pretty low as it is, and it's likely that MacTavish will decide that benching him won't solve anything, even if playing Conklin does, statistically, decrease the Oilers' chances of winning. (Some may recall this was the same logic that kept Salo gainfully employed long after his decline.)

In fact, it's a possibility that Morrison won't even be dressed for the opener against Colorado, depending on whether or not Jussi Markannen's oddly unwritten-about hand (it's the hand, right?) injury is healed up and ready to go. (If anyone's more of a question mark than Conklin at this point, it's Markannen; without a minute of ice-time in the preseason, it's impossible to say what to expect from the Juice.)

Anyhow, I guess time will tell. But if Conklin's play doesn't improve and Cross doesn't get dropped like the ton of bricks he is, man, it's going to be a long season. Thoughts?


Colby Cosh said...

Wasn't Markkanen's problem something in the nature of a collarbone? Not that I heard how he got hurt in the first place. Seems like his situation is being treated as a friggin' state secret.

mike w said...

It's a fractured collarbone. Originally he was supposed to play the last preseason game, so I wonder what the deal is now.

My suspicion that the Oilers went into the game having already decided to send down Schremp are somewhat confirmed by the fact that he and Rita were basically benched for the second half of the game. What was MacT doing?

I like the idea of the new rules enforcement, but I caught a Rangers/Bruins game that was unwatchable. EVERYTHING was called, even incidental contact. If they were to just call any free hand/stick infractions things would be fine. Dangerous high sticking would be down and players would still have to skate to the puck. But now it's about physical contact, to the point that wide receivers in Football have more leeway. Here's hoping the refs won't be so fanatical in the regular season.

Oh, and now I just feel bad for Cross, the poor (rich) bastard.

sacamano said...

Yep, collar bone. I think I read that he broke it in a pick-up game.

Mike P said...

colby, why would a team advertise the fact that half of their starting goalies is hurt? What gain is there to doing this?