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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Puck Control, Puck Movement, Puck Possession

The Detroit Red Wings showed that they were men playing among boys today when they faced off against the Chicago Blackhawks. The score is a lot closer than would accurately dictate how the puck was being controlled.

When even the skilled young guns of the up-and-coming Chicago Blackhawks powerhouse had trouble moving the puck around outside on the frozen rink, the Detroit Red Wings had no trouble carrying out their same puck possession style that works effectively both as a offensive tool and a defensive deterrent for goals.

The athletes who play for the Detroit Red Wings are not supermen from Krypton, but they do have all the right weapons. Supermen or not, they do however, follow a game plan well.

Do the Oilers have all the right weapons?

The Oilers have all the right weapons:
  • great puck-moving defensemen
  • physical grinders who provide secondary scoring
  • skilled wingers
  • goaltending depth (which doubles as a curse on this team, for some reason)
  • effective scouting department

  • The jury is still out on whether Horcoff is a legitimate #1 center. The two camps, affirmative or negative, will have watched the last few games and seen the Oilers and their lack of puck movement and puck control.

    If it's not the arsenal then it has to be the game plan, for which the Oilers have unfortunately been given a defunct version.

    One of the obvious reasons is the lack of a certain #83 Ales Hemsky. But the lack of one player cannot seriously cripple a team unless the team was already too reliant on that single player in the first place.

    The difference between the Red Wings and the Oilers?

    Puck movement and puck control seem like obvious answers - but are they?

    In the off-season Lowe and MacTavish were talking about moving towards being a better puck possession and skill-first team like the Detroit Red Wings. This was apparent in the home opener when the Oilers D were jumping up on every rush, being activated again and again which led to an early season lead in the Oilers scoring stats by Grebeshkov and Souray.

    Things have trailed off since then.

    Let's look at this team without the most important puck carrying component, Ales Hemsky, who is missing from the lineup. The Oilers still move the puck and control it, nonetheless.

    But is it effective for what they want to achieve - a puck possession game?

    Sure, it's easy to say "you're just a critic in an armchair" and perhaps you're right. You could also refute that by saying "the Oilers are a young team" that panics a lot and needs more experience, which would have elements of truth in it as well.

    But the bottom line is, when the army's weapons are all there, its up to the General to use them affectively. We have so many "role-players" on this team - the Horcoff's, Souray's, Moreau's, Cole's, Pisani's, and Visnovsky's, who would be sufficient to show the young guns - the Brodziak's, Gagner's, Nilsson's, and Stortini's - how to play into their own roles better.

    If the Oilers are so gifted in the skills department, and so loaded in the leadership department, the only logical conclusion is that our team strategies are not up to snuff. This is not singularly a critique of Craig MacTavish, don't get me wrong. The quality of assistant coaches (or lack thereof) may also be important factors which are influencing everything from our 5v5 breakouts to our special teams futility.

    The difference between the Red Wings and the Oilers?

    Puck movement and puck control seem like obvious answers - and they are.

    The Oilers only seem capable of north-south breakouts and its no wonder the team had trouble finding a place for a guy like Erik Cole to play. When you watch the Red Wings play, the puck support and what guys do at the blue line to avoid going off side - all the little things - they add up.

    The Oilers' desired sum is a complete hockey team that knows how to pursue a strategy of puck possession.

    Puck movement and control are just words unless puck possession is the outcome, and the fact is the Oilers have trouble gaining neutral ice, let alone the opposition zone, on most nights.

    Are the Oilers skilled enough? Damn right they are.

    Yet we are still struggling. Who the hell knows for sure why?

    I can suggest a few things that can fix it and it rhymes with "Sire MacTavish and Lowe" and starts with an "F".

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