Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dispatches from the 36th row

"Oilers" 3, "Coyotes" 1

Dusted off the old travellin' pants and made my way down to Rexall for tonight's game against the Coyotes. Kind of odd to think that the last time I was in the place, I almost jumped over the person in front of me when Hemsky potted the 4-3 goal that killed Detroit. There was actually a fairly substantial crowd for the preseason (13,000-ish?), and they were actually into the game for the most part, too, so I guess the playoff run legacy lives on, even if it was an offseason to kick yourself in the junk to (the ticket pack shill called it "exciting," which is stretching even the rubber vocabulary of PR to its breaking point).

Anyway, there's two obvious things that need to be gotten out of the way before a proper review. First of all, these two wins against Phoenix mean nothing, because they are going to suck this year. Like, so hard. Obviously, of course, they didn't exactly bring their A squad, but this just goes to show how weak the bottom half of their lineup is (and, uh, their top half includes Roenick, Nolan and Nick Boynton in prominent roles). Assuming CuJo doesn't reverse the slow downward slide mudcrutch revealed him to be on in the last half of the season—and that the Pacific Division is half as good as it looks on paper—the Yotes will probably be scrapping for last place in the conference. Seriously, this team could easily go 0-16 to Anaheim and San Jose.

Also, holy fucking shit is Hemsky good. I mean, I always knew, but wow. Just wow.
The best thing about himisn't the fact that he makes other people look silly, it's that he barely even looks like he's trying. He dipsy-doodles around defenceman like it was as mundane as straightening his tie. Sykora might be the player that pushes him over the top, and I'd expect Sykora to get close to a career year, too: they look incredibly comfortable together, with an almost preternatural awareness of where each other are on the ice. These two make me very, very happy.

Anyway, more random thoughts:

-It was nice to see Smid, Hejda and Gilbert all playing together, because I assume they're the three front-runners for the 6 and 7 spots. Gilbert had a bit of an off night, with a couple mistakes, but his fundamentals are so sound, it seems like all he really needs to do is just comfortable at NHL speed, which could happen as soon as the end of camp. He actually reminds me quite a bit of Eric Brewer, who, for his faults, also basically makes every play like he was filming an instructional video. He also played the point on the first PP unit over Bergeron (more on that in a sec). Smid is a bit rougher around the edges, but he's a remarkably poised player for a 20-year-old. I think his biggest problem is the more or less complete lack of a physical presence (he's one of those wave-his-stick guys, even with people in front of the net), but he's very solid at both ends, and looks confident when he starts to move with the puck. Hejda is quietly solid defenceman sort of in the Frank Musil/pre-suck Ulanov mold (sorry Heather), though I thought he was supposed to have more offensive upside (he's pretty fabulously uncreative with the puck, but bang-it-off-the-boards guys aren't necessarily bad on your third pairing).

If I had to make the call, I'd actually say go with Gilbert and Smid over Hejda. Hejda will probably actually give you more solid minutes in the short term, but both of the other two look like they'd stand to gain a lot by playing in the big league. I suspect it would be one of those situations where they'd struggle early on, but the learning will pay off big down the road. The fact there's two of them would let you just play the hot hand, too, while giving them both a chance to learn.

-Speaking of defencemen, Sebastian Bisallon needs some polish, but he's a pretty slick player. Not good enough this year, but somebody we should definitely get the rights to.

-Also speaking of defencemen, on the 5-on-3s tonight, we went with five forwards (Hemsky, Sykora, Schremp, Lupul, Torres) to obvious success. I'm sure that's probably actually happened before, but I've never actually seen it. Does anyone know the last time a team used five forwards in a semi-regular setting? Or even at all? Lowetide? Sykora looks really good on the powerplay point, by the way, so maybe we don't have to worry too much about that.

-Watching Rob Schremp in the offensive zone is like watching Pollock paint: everything just comes together in this beautiful, perfect unity. Watching him in the defensive zone is also like watching Pollock paint: he's flying all over the place with seemingly no rhyme or reason, spazzing like a chicken with electrodes on his spine. He's a damn Magreaux dog in there, trying to act like a hockey player would but looking like he can barely skate. But man, again—so, so beautiful in the other end.

-Mihknov is a floater, but he's probably an NHL-level floater. He just knows what he should be doing when the puck is near him, and when the puck's not, he's trying to get open (even when the other team has the puck, which is sort of the problem). Also, though he has an obvious nose for the net, he's a bit snakebitten when it comes to finishing (I think someone pointed this out in the video that was going around earlier this summer). Anyway, this is just speculation, but due to the fact that they share strengths and weaknesses, I'm going to go on a limb and say that only one of Schremp or Mihknov makes the team this year.

-I like Patrick Thoreson more the more I see him. He's like Radek Dvorak—just always where he should be, never makes a bad play, never gets caught. He even showed some pretty nifty offensive flashes, hitting a couple nice passes, one of which resulted in an assist. He's feisty, too—he drew at least one penalty with his physical play, and was up in the grill all night long. Toby Peterson looked really good out there, as well.

-The problem the Oil had this game, and I expect will probably plague them during the season, is the breakout: Phoenix hemmed us in far too easily all game. Once we got down there, it would have taken a shotgun to stop our cycle, but too often it took way too long to get down there. I hope someone picks up the Chris Pronger long bomb fairly quickly, because we can't expect Hemsky to end-to-end it every time.


Anonymous said...

Didn't the hated 'Canes use a 5-forward PP unit with some regularity last year?

sacamano said...

Toby Peterson is my new favourite Oiler. He's gonna score some big ones this year friends.

Simon said...

Exactly, anonymous, I was going to say the same thing. In fact, weren't they using 5 forwards on the infamous short-handed goal by Pisani in Game 5? That wasn't 5-3, but still...

mudcrutch79 said...

Atlanta, the Rangers, Carolina, Minnesota and Phoenix all look to have done this with 5 on 3's last year. The Oilers didn't score a single goal that way.

A sign of hope for the coaching staff?

Vic Ferrari said...

Jeff Ward used five forwards quite a bit the year of the Edmonton Roadrunners, even when it was just a one man advantage. That action said more about Lynch and Woywitka than Ward's encouraging words possibly could.

The NHL team I remember as the first to do that on a regular basis with 5 on 4s would be the Penguins in the early 90s. I'm sure that they scored a shitload of goals and probably allowed a bunch of shorthanded goals against too. My memory isn't good enough to say though, Lowetide or Dennis might remember.

mudcrutch: On that link, holy crap some of these teams went madass at this during 5on3s last season, I didn't remember that from your post. A bit of 5on4 results there too from the same squads, maybe just happened as a 5on3 turned into a 5on4 though. Also weren't you the guy saying that Gallant was using 5 forwards on the PP in a game you watched last season?

DrFrankLives said...

You are so right about hemsky. I saw all 4 games in the Finals here in Raleigh, and every time that dude touched the puck, I was scared.

Have fun watching him. We don't get a shot at you on home ice this year. . . .

Until the Finals, of course.

namflashback said...

Btwn mud's analysis, and AG's epic treatise on the PP -- 5 F on the 5 on 3 is just a really good idea. I hope they do it with regularity.

Not too many team's would be so ballsy to try a 3v5 shorthanded chance anyway so your risk is low.

I just like the fact that forwards are used to shooting from the tops of the circles down.

Am guessing that Simpson and MacT prefer a 4F-1D unit on 5v4.

Pleasure Motors said...

From what I saw last night, it looks like 5-on-4s will be mostly 4F-1D, though who knows, that could easily change when you get the full compliment of forwards in the lineup (Hemsky, Lupul, Smyth with Sykora and Stoll?) I'm actually kind of shocked at how often 5Fs are used, but if it works, I guess, why not?

And DrFrank: you're so right. Hemsky actually makes me laugh out loud when I watch him, just undressing guys like it was slash fiction.

Actually, as a final note, I want to emphasize Schremp's offensive talent on the powerplay—if he makes the team, I expect the 5F thing to be a pretty regular occurence. The first goal was the end of a ridiculously pretty series of passes between Hemsky, Sykora and Schremp. They were tape-to-tape 20-footers, most of them, and by the end, I half expected the Phoenix forward to just lie on the ice and sob.

Anonymous said...

Schremp is an assbag. For every one thing he does right, he does 10 ridiculous game-jeopordizing things. He needs more time to realise he's not god's gift to the world before he plays in the NHL.

EthosOfPalmOS said...

Just to be clear, I'm the first anonymous up there cuz I can't remember my blogger password (thanks for remembering all my passwords for everything, Firefoxatwork).

I tend to agree that Schremp seems like your prototypical hockey-trash douche, the kid's got skills. Hopefully some of the older players (Gator?) will school him on how not to act like Terrell Owens on skates.

Peck said...

It almost makes me wish Dvorak was still around so we could create a completely commanding corral of crafty Czechs.

case said...

72 dolphins

Anonymous said...

"our own corral of crafty Czechs" - No, the Rangers copy the Oilers moves - not the other way around.

Scott Hennig said...

Slightly off conversation, but did anyone notice how long Miknov's hockey stick is? It looked like they glued two surplus Comrie sticks together to form one monster one.

I know the guy's tall, but it looked longer than Pronger's.

Anonymous said...

Orbs of Tiberium?

"Yes, Keptin."

rajeev said...

when ivan hlinka coached the pens, they used 5 forwards on 5 on 4 power plays. 5 on 4's, every time, for almost the full 2 minutes. straka and kovalev at the points, jagr lemieux, lang or hrdina up front. they were dominant.

nice achewood reference. good stuff.

Anonymous said...

What a ridiculous PP that must have been to watch.



RiversQ said...

Did I really see Boynton lumped in with Nolan and Roenick up there?

As far as I can tell, that Phoenix roster is loaded with underachieving "names" but I'm quite certain Boynton isn't one of them. In fact that's probably the one shrewd move they made this offseason. I almost guarantee he's a better dman than Jovanovski.

Lots of targets for ridicule on that roster, but Boynton isn't one of them.