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Friday, October 24, 2008

Tencer: Lineup Changes; Problems with Oilers' offensive game

Oh, if only hockey were as simple as football. Every time you crossed the blue line you'd score a goal and Wayne Gretzky's records could be plausibly shattered by a Georges Laraque. Alas, that is not the case, and all the better for it. The nuances of the hockey lineup and getting the "right mix" for overall team chemistry is one of the more interesting aspects of acquiring offensive rushes and for breaking up the ones coming back your way.

Dan Tencer reported some lineup changes on his Oilers.nhl.com blog. And who said "bloggers" never did anything useful?
Nilsson - Horcoff - Hemsky
Penner - Cogliano - Gagner
Moreau - Pouliot - Cole
MacIntyre - Brodziak - Stortini
All I can say is: we told you so. The online Oilers community has been asking for Penner to be given a shot at top 2 line duty for weeks now, not at the detriment of the off-season acquisition Erik Cole but for the benefit of the entire team's chemistry and overall competitiveness. Furthermore, seeing Nilsson's improving play we've been asking for him to get moved up to the top line for a shot, though I still prefer keeping the Kid line together and moving Penner up to the 1st line. We'll have to wait and see.

My lineup v.s. Reported lineup:

Penner - Horcoff - Hemsky
Nilsson - Cogliano - Gagner
MacIntyre - Pouliot - Cole
Moreau - Brodziak - Stortini

I think this works with Cole playing Pisani's role while we split up the team's roughnecks Stortini and MacIntyre so we can plausibly role 4 lines. Also, by putting Penner on Hemsky's line we can re-establish that net presence we lost when we moved Penner to the 3rd line while Horcoff and Hemsky can play relatively unharassed. I agree that Nilsson has earned his 1st line ice time but I believe Penner will be more effective at that 1st line LW role as the team is built now.

I'm also going to go a step further and suggest defensive lineups:

Souray - Smid
Staios - Visnovsky
Gilbert - Grebeshkov

I'm curious how Visnovsky will fair without Souray. I'm also curious what Smid can do if he is given a chance to play with Souray. Will this mean Souray will get the freedom to be more offensive? Or will Souray drop back and let Smid do his thing. I don't think that together, Staios and Visnovsky will be as inclined to give away the puck as much, because unlike when Staios is paired with Smid or Strudwick, he is not the offensive guy in that pairing.

Sure, there's the age-old argument that coach MacBlender will mix up the lines anyway, which seems to be a convenient argument both for those in favour and against line changes, but the truth is, no matter how much MacT moves the lines he still sticks generally to the original lineup as drawn for the pre-game.

Oilers lose 2 straight; Drop games by collective score of 7-1

As reported by Dave Staples, Ray Ferraro blames part of the loss on Wednesday to the lackadaisical play by some players such as Ales Hemsky. Certainly, it doesn't help your team's chances of mounting a comeback or maintaining a team backcheck, but when the score was 3-1 already and Hemsky's not the only one taking a break, the outcome wasn't supremely altered by this individual play. Might have been an extension of the problems all night. Certainly, he needs a kick in the pants and playing with a defensively reliable centerman in Horcoff is supposed to help. We'll see if adding Nilsson will improve this further.

Are we trying to hide Hemsky's lack of defensive responsibility, you ask? You bet we are, and it's not necessarily all a bad thing. There's a reason why the Paul Coffeys, Sergei Samsonovs, and Jaromir Jagrs play with good, reliable players. Not because they're overtly one-dimensional but because they are more offensively-minded than defensively-minded. You can teach defense, but you can't teach offense. That's why guys like Hemsky will slip up in the defensive zone, occasionally and unfortunately.

Then there's the qualm about the Oilers goaltending and being outscored 7-1. Certainly, Garon's play last night wasn't stellar at all times but there were a few times when he kept the team in it. Roloson's play on Wednesday garnered 27 saves in a full 60 minute game, which is good for a 0.900 SV%, which isn't poor by any losing goaltender's perspective.

The root of the problem ofh being outscored 7-1?
Offense and special teams, and not goaltending. If you acquire guys like Souray, Visnovsky, Cole and you beam about Hemsky the Kid line and their collective skills, you better deliver. Getting scored on in the PK doesn't help either, but what can you do, Steady Steve isn't around to mind the guard. How's that Strudwick fellow doing without Staios, anyway? If MacBlender really thought goaltending was a problem Roloson and DesLauriers would not be getting their alternating games in.

The key: scoring early obviously didn't do anything in Colorado, so I will say keeping overall team balance; letting the goalie (presumably Garon) get a feel for the puck early
How to do it: shake up the lines (being done)
Will it work: if they Oilers find consistency

The prediction for Saturday night:
If the Oilers win: 4-2 (EN goal)
If the Canucks win: 4-3 (OT)

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