Post-Lubo goal scoring: a new paradigm? :)

Of all the numbers that seep into my life, from recreational mathematics to classical astronomy to baseball and hockey statistics, one of my favourite diversions is the field of small number statistics. One can find all sorts of interesting and extreme examples and draw all sorts of bizarre conclusions just for the fun of it. The key is not only sample size, but choosing exactly where to constrain that sample.

Here's an example that is entirely current and factually correct. There are even some grains of meaning to be found therein.

The Oilers have had to change their game since the unfortunate loss of their slick puckmoving defencemen, first Lubomir Visnovsky followed all too quickly by Denis Grebeshkov. Suddenly a defence crew that provided four of the club's top eight scorers was a double amputee in the manner of the Black Knight. Just as suddenly, the onus fell much more squarely on the shoulders of the forwards to light the lamp.

The Oilers have played 7 games since Lubo went down, 6 of them on the road, and have posted an impressive 4-2-1 W-L-L record. The club has scored a creditable 20 goals in those games, even without counting a pair of ersatz shootout "goals". Here is the distribution of goal scorers over that span:

Stortini 3
Souray 3
Penner 3
Hemsky 2
Horcoff 2
Gagner 2
Cole 1
Pouliot 1
Cogliano 1
Brodziak 1
Reddox 1
Nilsson 0
Moreau 0
All D but SS 0

For the love of mike, there's Zack Stortini leading the Oilers in goal scoring. Who knew?

I care more about how the lines are faring as a group, not as much about who is finishing the job. The forward lines have been pretty stable over that period of games, even as the defence has been shuffled. Here's the goal scoring line by line:

1. Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky - 7 goals

2. Nilsson-Gagner-Cole - 3 goals

3. Moreau-Cogliano-Pouliot - 2 goals

4. Reddox-Brodziak-Stortini - 5 goals

So our so-called fourth line has equalled the offensive production of the second and third units combined over this two-week stretch. Moreover, the first of Penner's goals was scored when Dustin was demoted to the fourth line -- assisted by Zack Stortini, come to think of it -- suggesting that over this 4-2-1 stretch the fourth line has equalled the output of the First line, in a helluva lot less ice time.

The underlying numbers -- shots and Corsi data -- don't paint such a rosy picture of the grinders' performance, but shots don't tell the whole tale either. Last year much was made of the "unsustainable" shooting percentages that the Crosstiniaks maintained. Yet this year I look at the same data and there is Zack Stortini leading all non-Schremps with a team Sh% of 12.0% when he's on the ice, and leading all the non-SMacs in individual Sh% at an astonishing 28.6%. 4 goals in 14 shots, but still. As a unit those guys plainly don't waste a lot of shots, they try to bull it to the front of the net and when they succeed in getting it there a one-foot shot has a better than average chance of going in. Or so the small number statistics suggest. :)


Oilers 3, Coyotes 1 -- player ratings

I have offered to assist in David Staples' latest project over at Cult of Hockey, namely to grade the Oilers' players on a game-by-game basis. This is a collective effort, I'm just one member of a team of markers.
The scoring system is as follows: 10, perfect game; 9, extraordinary game; 8, great game; 7, good game; 6, above average game; 5, average game; 4, below average game; 3, bad game; 2, terrible game; 1, trade this player or send him to the minors.

Last night scared me as the sort of game the Oilers might be expected to win, and let get away on them. That has happened far too often this season, albeit mostly at home. In Arizona the Oil were up to the task, turning two powerplay goals and some staunch defending into a well-deserved 3-1 victory over the hungry Coyotes. The depleted defence, which had allowed 38+ shots in their previous three games, came up with a solid effort from top to bottom, holding the Desert Dogs to 29 shots including virtually nothing of the second shot variety. Dwayne Roloson, who somehow had delivered 5 standings points in those previous three games by stopping 113 of 118 shots, was again up to the task, stopping every shot but one.

Ladislav Smid - 6: I saw Ladi good in this one. He lugged the puck all night long and seems to quickly have found a chemistry with Gilbert, who can find Smid with an actual pass in his own zone rather than a suicide ring-around. Dennis had the scoring chances at +3/-8 during Ladi's 15 minutes of even-strength ice, but the shot clock was just at +6/-7 and I didn't notice the ice tilting the wrong way when the pair was out there. 1 shot, 1 hit, 2 blocks and nothing negative on the scoresheet. Took another tremendous wallop when clearing the puck from danger late in the third.

Shawn Horcoff - 8: Another quietly excellent game from our #1 centre. His 23:00 TOI led all forwards by over five minutes, finished the night 1-1-2, +1 with 2 shots, 2 takeaways, and 1 block. Split his game-high 26 face-offs 50/50, and actually won the draw very late in the second that ultimately resulted in Phoenix's lone goal. Was also on the ice for all three Oiler goals.

Robert Nilsson - 6: A strong game marred by a bad penalty and his inability to finish. Row-bert has his skating legs again, and his hands and head seem to be coming up to speed right along with them.

Andrew Cogliano - 5: Another nondescript game from the young speedster, who to my eye has his the doldrums the past little while. An uneventful 12:41 with no shots on goal, 2 misses, 1 hit, and an acceptable 4-4, 50% in the circle. Not a difference-maker either way.

Ethan Moreau - 4: A typical high-energy game with 6 attempted shots, 3 shots, 2 hits, and 2 more bonehead penalties 200 feet from Oilers' net. Particularly egregious was the first, an absolutely needless reach-in hook after turning the puck over on a 1-on-5 rush. The hook accomplished nothing, Moreau was headed for a change, but a hook it was, putting the Oilers 2 men down for a harrowing 85 seconds. Credit his teammates for killing it off, but Moreau's dumb play "should" have cost us a goal. Minutes later he was back in the box for a debatable running the goalie penalty, and this time the Coyotes struck for their only goal.

Steve Staios - 7: Has really stepped up into the big minutes role in the absence of Visnovsky and Grebeshkov. His 25:57 last night was second on either team, trailing only his partner Souray. Was on the ice for a team high 11 even-strength scopring chances, just 3 against, and also posted a respectable +3/-0 in just 1:25 of 2nd powerplay unit duty. 1 shot, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots don't do numerical justice to a hard night in the trenches.

Erik Cole - 6: Played his best game in some time with 4 shots, a hit, 2 takeaways, and some some inspired penalty-killing. Also drew the penalty that resulted in the game-winning PPG. Nonetheless is mired in another extended scoring drought, just 1-1-2 in 14 games since his hat trick in Washington, and pointless in the last 9 outings.

Dustin Penner - 7: This guy is coming a lot closer to earning his $4 MM stipend in my view. Had another strong game with 3 shots, 2 hits, 1 block, led all forwards in scoring chances with +8/-3 at evens. Played a key role on both powerplay goals, bulling to the net to create a rebound for the first and then providing his usual heavy shade for Souray's point blast. I docked him a point for a bad penalty in the third, although I note it was actually in our zone while the other guys had the puck, which is more than we can say about Moreau's infractions.

Dwayne Roloson - 7: A solid night's work, marred only by a weak goal in the dying seconds of the second. Came up big in the first and third, especially with a big-time stop off of Lindstrom in the late going that helped seal the win. Had a strong night handling the puck and, it appeared, communicating with his defence.

Jason Strudwick - 7: His best game as an Oiler, at least as a blueliner. Oilers outchanced the Coyotes 6-4 with Struds on the ice at evens, 2-0 in a brief surprise stint on the powerplay, while holding Phoenix without a chance during 2:25 that Strudwick served on the PK unit. 1 shot on net, 4 hits, and 4 blocks testify to a hard night's work.

Sheldon Souray - 8: Had a great game, leading both teams with 26:35 including, it seemed, all the big minutes. With Horcoff, Staios, and Roli, killed the entire 85-second 3-on-5, much later played a 2:09 shift between Gilbert's penalty and Horcoff's empty netter. In between times, of course, he scored the game-winner on a trademark powerplay rocket that Tellqvist knew nothing about until he heard it hit the chain that connects the netting to the goalpost at a hundred miles an hour. Was physical from the game's first shift, where he roughed up Mueller, to the end where he twice showed Ed Jovanovski who was boss on this night. The only things that kept him from a 9 was a penalty, his inability to clear the puck under very heavy pressure late in the second (it would have been a great play if he had), and coming up empty in his three-for-a-dollar chances to hit the empty net.

Zack Stortini - 6: A solid night's work from Zorg in limited minutes, with 3 official hits in 5:32 and at least one crunching check that was missed by the scorers. Had a brief but successful bout with old rival Todd Fedoruk in which Zack held the upper fist, and to his credit, held it back. Crashed the net hard to create one decent scoring chance.

Theo Peckham - 6: Finished his own bout with my neighbour's buddy Steven Goertzen in a similar manner, in a position to hit a fallen opponent but not actually doing so. I liked how he went to bat for his goaltender there, and how fiercely he defended him generally (2 hits, 1 block), with a surprising +5/-4 on the scoring chance metric. Overcommitted a couple of times but was able to make the play in the prone position at least once. Lots of rough edges in this kid, and lots to like.

Kyle Brodziak - 6: Had a big night in the faceoff circle (11-5, 69%) including the critical last-minute 4v6 draw that ultimately led to Horcoff's empty netter. Strong game on the PK unit, but next to no offence.

Tom Gilbert - 7: A solid night with two assists, an unofficial helper on the third, and a great steal and pass that sent Nilsson in alone in the first. He like Smid was outchanced at evens (+4/-8) but I don't recall too many Grade A chances among those. Defied the law of physics by shooting a puck that was touching the boards directly over the glass for what could have been a killer penalty very late, but stepped out of the box to cause the turnover that led to the empty-netter.

Marc Pouliot - 5: Did he even play? Barely noticed the guy ... again. To be a little more fair, when he's on his game Poo tends to disappear out there, largely by doing a lot of little things right. But it's not a free smorg, he needs to bring a homemade dish to the pot luck. Whatever that is, it's heavily flavoured with vanilla.

Ales Hemsky - 7: Created at evens (+7/-3) and produced on the powerplay with a goal and a primary assist. Seems to be skating better after a poor stretch of games after the All-Star Break. Didn't particularly notice him on the defensive side of the puck, which is probably a good thing. Played just 16:04.

Liam Reddox - 6: Earned a bonus point for one third-period shift in which he nearly scored on a nice rush, then came back with a big shot block. 3 hits in just 7:50, and a solid effort thoughout.

Sam Gagner - 6: A solid night's work with 2 shots, 2 hits, 1 block, and 5-4, 56% on the dot. His line held their own at evens (+5/-3 scoring chances) and created on the PP (+5/-0) in just 2:12).


Attention: Doogie2K

Overheard on TSN's "That's Hockey": the eloquent and passionate Ray Ferraro's comment on the Plekanec "hit", and the seeming agreement from the vacuous host until the stunning non sequitur at the end which prompted me to actually transcribe and post this. I love PVRs, cuz when you can't believe your ears sometimes, you can go back and listen again and again until you do believe 'em. :D

Gino Reda: ... Tomas Plekanec got a two game suspension for what he did to Denis Grebshkov when he brought him down with that slewfoot. You've got to crack down on that kind of stuff.

Ray Ferraro: Two games is not enough for this play. This is a malicious play by Plekanec here. He's below the goal line, there's only one place that Grebeshkov is going to go. If Plekanenc wants to get in on the forecheck, go make body contact! He kicks his feet out, it's a dangerous play, this suspension should be more harsh in my opinion. Grebeshkov has a high ankle sprain, they're saying two weeks which would be very fortunate for the Oilers if he's back that quickly. That to me is a malicious play. Guy Carbonneau called it a hockey hit; do you think he would call it a hockey hit if that was Mike Komisarek going in like that? I don't think so.

Gino: There's nothing hockey hit about a slewfoot.

Ray: It's one of the game's most dirty plays.

Gino: It's a great exciting play, you just gotta make it a little safer.

(Ferraro does a double take, keeps his cool and grins weirdly at the camera, Gino doesn't even notice anything out of the ordinary. Fade to commercial.)


Red Wings 8, Oilers 3 -- player gradings

No, Craig, they didn't get 10 this time. Then again, neither did you.

I have offered to assist in David Staples' latest project over at Cult of Hockey, namely to grade the Oilers' players on a game-by-game basis. This is a collective effort, I'm just one member of a team of markers.

The scoring system is as follows: 10, perfect game; 9, extraordinary game; 8, great game; 7, good game; 6, above average game; 5, average game; 4, below average game; 3, bad game; 2, terrible game; 1, trade this player or send him to the minors.

This was one of those games where I looked at the schedule and pretty much got out my pen to write in “Loss”. The schedule maker has once again done the Oilers no favours, with not just another three-in-four-days run, but the most compressed possible version of that: Thursday night - Saturday afternoon - Sunday afternoon. Detroit won their last to end a 5-game losing streak, and weren’t about to let their foot off the gas against a tired, hurting, and frankly inferior opponent.

That said it would have been nice if the Oilers had showed up for the first period.

Ladislav Smid – 3: Was floating around as if he was lost out there at times, which he probably was given Craig MacTavish had him playing with Jason Strudwick at times, Theo Peckham at times, and a couple of shifts on LW just for auld lang syne. I thought MacT had learned that lesson. Did record a rare assist but still ended up -2 on the day.

Robert Nilsson – 5: Made one great rush to set up Pouliot’s goal that temporarily closed the gap to 6-3, otherwise didn’t get much done.

Andrew Cogliano – 5: Wasn’t on the ice for any goals, either for or against. Not much of anything happened with Cogs out there in fact, just 1 scoring opportunity for the Oilers in 16 minutes work including 2:48 on the PP.

Ethan Moreau – 6: Same as his linemate Cogs, scoreless hockey in almost a full period’s work (19:40), including a clean sheet in over 4:00 on the PK. 3 shots, 2 hits, and made Zetterberg pay for a late whack at Roli. One of the few Oilers who wanted to compete.

Steve Staios – 5: No worries about Steve’s compete level. 4 blocked shots.

Erik Cole – 4: Fought the puck all afternoon. Had a shift on LW early (with Pouliot and Stortini) and sure enough the puck wound up in our net. I thought MacT had learned that lesson early in the season.

Dustin Penner – 5: A goal, 3 shots, and +6/-5 in even strength scoring chances. A decent effort.

Dwayne Roloson – 2: I was shocked he got the start, given the tight schedule and the fact that tomorrow’s game against a divisional/playoff race rival seems both more winnable and more important. Roli had a terrible time, taking a selfish penalty in the first minute and then was unable to come up with the save that would kill it off. Never came up with any saves in fact. In last two starts against Detroit has been torched for 8 goals against in just 30 minutes work.

Denis Grebeshkov – 6: The best of a bad lot of Oilers defencemen. Had a fine third period (+3) which negated some of the bad stuff that happened earlier (2 EV GA, 2 PP GA). Was soft on Datsyuk on the 5-0 goal, but also made some good defensive plays. +10/-8 in EV scoring chances, leading the team in both categories. High event game.

Jeff Deslauriers – 5: Looked great compared to Roli, but at the end of the day allowed 3 goals on 19 shots over 40 minutes. That’s 4.50, .842 for those keeping score at home. Still, looked aggressive and confident, a nice bounce back from the debacle against Buffalo. Gives MacT something to think about for tomorrow.

Jason Strudwick – 3: A tough afternoon. +1/-6 in EV scoring chances, -2 on the scoreboard, no hits or blocked shots. Seemed a step behind. Had the worst Corsi rating on the team at -10.

Sheldon Souray – 5: A team-leading 22:28 including over 9 minutes on special teams, and was only on for Leino’s 8-3 goal in garbage time. 3 shots, 3 hits. Oilers only generated 1 chance on 3 powerplays though.

Zack Stortini – 6: A rare high-event game, with 1-1-2, but on the ice for 3 goals against. Was only slightly culpable on Lebda’s goal when he let Lebda go to Pouliot and picked up the trailer, and truly unlucky when he came on on a line change while Samuelsson was already on his breakaway that made it 7-3. Co-led the team with 3 hits and impressed with a diving shot block followed by a second dive to clear the zone with the score 8-3. Doesn’t know the meaning of quit, which kind of stood out today.

Theo Peckham – 2: Didn’t look like an NHL defenceman. Was badly burned on Cleary’s goal when he got sucked into chasing Zetterberg off the draw and abandoned his post for Cleary to walk into. Why Peckham was on for a defensive zone faceoff against Datsyuk and Zetterberg is anybody’s guess. -2 in just 7:25, now is -4 on the season in under 20 minutes work. If this is our most NHL-ready blueliner on the farm, uh oh.

Kyle Brodziak – 4: Weird game. 3 shots, 3 blocks, but lost the draw on Cleary’s goal, lost his position on Hossa’s PP marker, and lost the puck on Datsyuk’s marker when he froze in the neutral zone allowing Zetterberg to pick his pocket. Just 7-10, 41% in the circle on a day the Oil got burned on faceoffs, with Detroit scoring soon after draws in the offensive zone, defensive zone, and centre ice.

Tom Gilbert – 6: Decent performance, esp. given the bad back. +9/-5 by the scoring chance metric, best on the squad, although not nearly so successful on the PK. 3 hits.

Marc Pouliot – 5: A high event game, despite playing 3 minutes less than any other forward. Played just 2:20 in the third but posted 1-1-2 and an even rating, as he was also on for 2 goals against in that brief time. Scored on his only shot, a very nice shelf job on Nilsson’s feed, but didn’t really stand out with skating or physical play. Was badly burned by Lebda on the 2-0 goal. His grip on an NHL job may be slipping.

Ales Hemsky – 3: A third consecutive poor game for Ales, who was outchanced badly again, +3/-8 (+7/-24 this week). Got nothing going offensively including “his” powerplay which sputtered badly. Had a well deserved -2 for his efforts.

Liam Reddox – 3: Got burned on both Detroit PP goals, allowing Rafalski to walk off the point for the opening goal and was also out of position for Hossa’s game winner. Finished the night with a terrible clearing pass that led to Leino’s 8-3 goal.

Sam Gagner – 4: Led Oilers forwards in TOI for the second time this week but didn’t have anything to show for it with just 1 shot. Was Oilers’ best in the faceoff circle at a modest 9-8, 53%. Docked a full mark for his absolutely brutal giveaway to Samuelsson that led directly to the unassisted 7-3 goal. Oilers were making a line change at the time, and the cross-ice pass was a poor decision, poorly executed.

Craig MacTavish – 1: Likely the coach’s worst game of the season. Questionable decisions abounded – Roloson starting, Peckham out for a D-zone draw against Datsyuk and Zetterberg, Smid on LW, Cole on LW. His team wasn’t ready to play, but given these examples all occurred in the first period, one could argue MacT wasn’t ready either.


Black Hawks 3, Oilers 1 -- player gradings

I have offered to assist in David Staples' latest project over at Cult of Hockey, namely to grade the Oilers' players on a game-by-game basis. This is a collective effort, I'm just one member of a team of markers.

The scoring system is as follows: 10, perfect game; 9, extraordinary game; 8, great game; 7, good game; 6, above average game; 5, average game; 4, below average game; 3, bad game; 2, terrible game; 1, trade this player or send him to the minors.

I had the pleasure of attending the game last night, courtesy a good friend who was unable to go. Unfortunately I got a little lost trying to find his place way the heck and gone in Outer Riverbend (Beyond the ‘Bend?). Some genius has seen fit to name all the streets in the neighbourhood with the same letter, so that all the signs look the same (“Hxxxxx", except in smaller font). It seems I missed the intersection of Hell and Handbasket and proceeded down a logarithmic spiral to Howthehelldidiwinduphere Close.

End result was we missed the first two or three minutes, including The goal. We arrived just in time to stand behind the Zamboni section to see the massive Zack Stortini hit on Brian Campbell and subsequent scrap with Matt Walker. But we only heard the roar for Moreau’s fluke goal just 10 seconds later as we wound our way up to Row 34. Very nice seats in the corner of the Oilers’ “offensive” zone – the Hawks had more shots (18) in their one period coming my way than the Oil did in two (7 +8).

The Chicagos were who we thought they were. They out skated and out skilled the Oilers for 50 minutes, by which time the scoreboard stood at 3-1 and the shot clock at 40-16. Hawks laid back a little in the last 10 as Oilers attempted to come on, but Cristobal Huet was more than up to the task. Certainly the outcome was only in doubt during the 18 minutes that the Oilers somehow held the lead against the torrent of play.

In a typically astute comment Craig MacTavish mentioned the speed of the Hawks checkers, who were all over the Oilers, especially in our zone. In this way this game resembled the 4-0 loss in Detroit, the miraculous 3-2 win in San Jose, and indeed the early-season 3-0 whitewash in Chicago. The Hawks are capable of puck pressure of the same quality as the elite squads of the Western Conference. The Oilers are nowhere close.

Let's turn our attention to individual player gradings, which as usual are cobbled together from sporadic observations and statistical bric-a-brac:

Ladislav Smid – 5: Solid, unspectacular. I loved the way he challenged Adam Burish, then Colin Fraser, then Burish again in the aftermath of a Burish whack to Roli’s glove.

Shawn Horcoff – 4: A very tough night for our #1 C, along with his entire unit of Hemsky, Nilsson, Grebeshkov and Visnovsky. (Especially Visnovsky … sigh) The unit collectively had 5 shots and 10 giveaways, having a great deal of difficulty getting the puck out of their own end, and some of that goes on the centre. Did post a credible 14-8, 64% in the circle, but that didn’t convert into actual puck possession (at least, not for long). Forced two of Cristobal Huet’s best saves in a night’s work that was tougher than 21 shots suggest. After being stoned on his breakaway, made a great recovery and centring pass for a second chance that Hemsky couldn’t convert. Was himself surprised by Gilbert’s great behind-the-back pass that slid harmlessly through his feet with the yawning four by six beckoning. Definitely is fighting the puck.

Robert Nilsson – 3: Virtually invisible. His only official stats for the night were 13:58 TOI, 3 giveaways, and 1 lost faceoff. No anecdotes of his play that I remember, but this MacT quote applies to Row-bert as well as anybody: “What we needed to do was pound the puck out. We kept trying to overhandle it and ended up turning it over at the contact point. It’s tough to exhibit intensity in the defensive zone and we spent a period of time there. [Ed: that would be the second period. And most of the first.] Offensively we were small and slow.”

Andrew Cogliano – 4: Another guy who is fighting the puck. Didn’t have a single shot on net, and passed up a couple of shooting lanes for ill-advised passes. Went 0-8, 0% in the faceoff circle, which is a bad night even for Andrew. His linemate Marc Pouliot went 2-0, but MacT seems to prefer Cogliano for whatever reason, even choosing Andrew for a defensive RW zone draw which theoretically was Poo’s strong side. Predictably -– and I did predict it -- Cogs lost the draw.

Ethan Moreau – 4: I saw the replay later of the incredibly flukey goal he scored, in which the puck bounced off the heads of two different Hawks and into the net. Like Horcoff and others, I’m probably giving him one higher grade than his game deserves just for his hustle, but as is usual with Ethan that “bull in a china shop” energy is counterproductive as often as not. Took a rockhead interference penalty at the far end that resulted in the Hawks’ only powerplay of the night, and ultimately the tying goal. Then was directly responsible -– what David Staples calls the Primary Error -- for the winner when his mistimed block turned into a fadeaway slide as Bolland stepped past him and let fire unimpeded from the slot. That’s the second time that’s happened to Moreau in a couple of weeks, and both times I thought his execution was technically incompetent in that he was sliding away from the direction the shooter was moving, thus taking himself completely out of the play. We used to teach this in Pee Wee (Tier 5).

Ryan Potulny – 6: A passing grade. His line with Cole and Gagner generated a few dangerous opportunities. I liked his play away from the puck, esp. his change of pace. Potulny got himself wide open at the edge of the crease for a pass from Cole that came about a second and a half too late; another time got himself loose in the high slot for another pass that never came. Made a fine one-handed pass out to Gagner for a gold-plated opportunity early in the second. 2 shots, a team-leading 2 takeaways.

Steve Staios – 4: Another guy awarded a point for effort, but that did not translate into results. 4 shots at net, but the best opportunity, set up by a fine Cogliano dangle, fluttered harmlessly high and wide before bellyflopping into the end boards with a barely-audible splat. Was unable to clear the crease on either of Chicago’s first two goals, one on the PP and one at even strength. On Bolland’s game winner he and his check formed a perfect screen of Roli even as his doppelganger Moreau took absolutely nothing of the shooter. 3 hits, all kinds of try, but even more come-up-short.

Erik Cole – 6: 4 hits on a night Oilers outhit their opponent 27-17. Erik’s shot off the post was probably the best of several Oiler chances to open up a 2-0 lead, which would have been huge. Likes to carry the puck, isn’t always aware of his linemates, and gets ahead of the play at times, all of which point to why he wasn’t a good fit with Hemsky.

Dustin Penner – 6: A fairly solid game from the big man in an unfamiliar position, playing with the slugs. Took awhile to adapt to the strictly N-S game his linemates prefer, in the early stages making a low-percentage cross-ice pass through the neutral zone when the dump-in was the play. In the zone though, all three like to simply bull the puck towards the net, which they did frequently and effectively. Got stronger as the night went on.

Dwayne Roloson – 7: Let’s start with the negatives: didn’t cover enough net on two long screened shots, let in a flat-out weak third goal (the other Primary Error in my books), had trouble with rebound control, and suffered another puckhandling miscommunication with Gilbert that led to a minute of extended pressure. Fact is Roli was under pressure from the drop of the puck right through that third goal which sealed the deal midway in the third. He battled hard, and won more than his share of them with some fine stops. Was not the reason Oilers lost this game, was the reason the score stayed respectable. Could have stolen a point or even two if his counterpart wasn’t equally sharp.

Denis Grebeshkov – 5: Let’s start with the positives this time: Grebs is a beautiful skater, especially laterally where his fluid movements summon images of Paul Coffey or Nicklas Lidstrom. Unfortunately last night required more backward skating than forward as his unit was constantly flummoxed in its own zone. Grebeshkov actually had the best Corsi number of the group, an embarrassing -13. Made one outstanding give-and-go rush on a third period PP that could easily have resulted in the tying goal.

Sheldon Souray – 6: A solid night’s work with a few mistakes sprinkled in, pretty typical for this proactive defender. 7 attempted shots, 3 giveaways, a takeaway, a blocked shot, and 2 hits, including one beauty where he stepped up and rocked Bolland seconds after Wisniewski had leveled Gagner with a hard shot. A team doesn’t always need to be initiating the physical stuff, but it sure in heck better be ready to respond, and Souray picked his spot perfectly on this occasion.

Zack Stortini – 7: Am tempted to give him even more, as he played his role almost to perfection. It is a limited role, however, where “perfect” is maybe only worth 8 points unless there’s bonus goals being scored. I know I’ll take grief for this, but to my eye Zorg was Oilers’ best skater (don’t read that literally) on this night. His line was by far the Oilers best, consistently jamming up the Hawks deep in their own zone and bringing their bodies with them. With the puck Zack is not so much a N-S player as a N player, always moving the biscuit ever deeper into opposing territory and to the end boards. Did make two fine centring passes, one of which resulted in a good shot by Penner. By Dennis’s scoring chance metric the Oilers had 6 chances to score when Zorg was on the ice, and 0 (zero) against. Played 10:45, least of the 18 skaters by a narrower margin than usual, and led the team with 5 hits, including one wallop of Campbell that led to a subsequent dust-up with Walker. Was on the receiving end of one big hit and had the discipline not to retaliate, but after a Chicago penalty on the continuation waded into the post-whistle scrum chin-first. Said chin was wagging you may be sure, giving the Hawks every opportunity to take a second minor without any fear of a bad one on the Oil. If only Ethan Moreau could learn stuff like this.

Kyle Brodziak – 6: Unlucky to post a -1 on a night when the scoring chances with Kyle on the ice were 7 for and 1 against. His line had the only three positive Corsi numbers on the entire team, with Brodziak and Stortini leading the way at +4. Took the puck to the net with 6 attempted shots. Was also on the ice for Chicago’s PP goal, so the results did not match the performance for the most part.

Lubomir Visnovsky – 4: Oilers needed his slick puck movement on this night, but really had trouble getting going, and when he did was still likely to make the dreaded drop pass to nobody. Lost a few battles along the boards, including the unfortunate contact with Bolland that will put Lubo on the shelf for a few weeks. The Oilers will be very hard-pressed to replace a guy who has had many more good nights than bad.

Tom Gilbert – 5: I thought he was getting owned physically for a substantial part of the game, though he did bring some nice skill plays and was on the ice for a team high 10 scoring chances for, just 7 against. Showed his lack of experience when he pulled up and didn’t take the net off on a second-period tumble into his own crease where a whistle would have been both helpful and unpenalized.

Marc Pouliot – 4: Has those moments where the talent shines through, like the second period manoeuvre where he turned sharply and against the flow into open ice to shake some heavy forechecking pressure, then air-mailed a perfect breakout pass onto Cogliano’s tape. Effortless, first-round talent. But didn’t show it often enough on this, as many nights. In just 12:45 co-led the team with 3 GV, with none of his three attempted shots actually getting through to the goalies. Oilers were outchanced 5-2 and outshot 9-2 with Poo on the ice.

Ales Hemsky – 4: Probably a generous marking giving respect for the nights Ales has led the way in a positive sense. On this night his arrows were all pointing in the wrong direction, as he had a team worst +3/-12 scoring chances and dreadful Corsi of -21 (tied with Horcoff in both cases). Was on the ice and partly responsible for Havlat’s backbreaking 3-1 goal. Ales did dangle effectively at times, threading a great pass through to Horcoff for one breakaway and then somehow disappearing behind a sleep-walking Hawks unit for another. Not often one sees the trailing team get a breakaway with the goalie on the bench. Alas, Ales missed the net, and generally missed the mark all night. Getting cranked by Keith and especially Byfuglien early in the game did not help.

Sam Gagner – 6: A decent first game back, in which his line didn’t carry the play but generated their share of chances (+6/-3 with Gags on the ice). Had one pointblank shot but couldn’t solve Huet, and made a couple of slick passes for others. Decent in the circle at 5-2, 71%. Surprisingly, led all Oiler forwards in TOI with 19:45.


Hawks at Oilers backstory

Am going to the game tonight, yahoo! Looking forward to seeing the Hawks, who rank up there with fellow Original Six revival act Boston and Washington as my favourite teams to watch. They also have the best unis in the league, be they the white, the red or the alternate black. Classic.

The Hawks are an extremely good even strength team. The club has 15 regulars with a Corsi/60 rating of +8 or higher (Oilers have 2, Hemsky and Penner). They have outshot their opposition by 132, and have done so with excellent efficiency numbers: a team Sh% of 8.2% and a Sv% of .931 for an excellent “PDO number” of 1.013. That’s quality and quantity, resulting in an outscoring machine (97-73 at even strength).

I knew this was a young club, but I didn’t realize how young until having a good look at their stats this morning. They have all kinds of experience between the pipes, but among the club’s 17 scorers just Brian Campbell (29), Martin Havlat and Patrick Sharp (both 27) are older than 25. The Hawks' young blueline is something to behold: the pairing of Duncan Keith (pictured; already +26 on top of last year’s +30) and Brent Seabrook (+15) is solid enough to warrant serious consideration as a tandem for the Vancouver Olympic team. Campbell and Cam Barker bring skating and skill, most often deployed with the Kane-Toews-Sharp trio. They have an embarrassment of riches of depth guys that currently sees 25-year-old Aaron Johnson in the pressbox, sitting on his 172 NHL GP, not to mention his +18 in just 26 GP with this talented Hawks squad.

Hawks also have a depth of young forwards far beyond the hyped Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who have been living up to said hype by being, at age 20, the top two scorers on the club. This year they have another Calder candidate, Kris Versteeg, as well as developing youngsters David Bolland, Andrew Ladd, Troy Brouwer, and Dustin “Joe Bftsplk” Byfuglien, all of whom look mighty fine from this distance. I’m looking forward to seeing them up close.

Also looking forward to seeing the Oilers. I hope.

More after the game, I’m grading it for David Staples’ project. For now I’m running out the door to collect my tickets in the far corner of town.