Guest rant

Got a beauty email from a friend, let's call him "Dave", who has been a season ticket holder for a number of years. Other than his association with me, Dave doesn't frequent the Oilogosphere. It was interesting to read his independent conclusions, so much so that I asked and received his permission to post his comments here. I thought it would be a nice change of pace for my blog to have a post that featured short sentences, each one that actually had a point.

As for the Oilers:
Color them dark brown, as in done like a Sunday roast.
The two Minny games and the Phoenix game amply pointed out the prime problems.
There's no passion. The Coach yawns through games.
This is a a passive collection of individual players, not a team.
There's no real leadership, starting right at the top, but mostly behind the bench.
There is no obvious focus, strategy, game plan or set of tactics other than passive defence and inflexible offence.
The penalty kill consists of a simple box with no puck pressure.
The power play consists of "ring around the rosie" then pass to Souray.
Defence is "active sticks'" positional play with little physical play or puck pressure.
A one goal lead is protected by single player forecheck and "back up like mad" defence.
Breakouts are based on multiple in-zone passes until the other team is organized, followed by slow movement through the neutral zone.
Offence consists of drop passes and making plays at the offensive blue line.
Nobody is encouraged to dump and chase.
Leaving a defensive position to recover a puck broken loose by a good forecheck or hit is discouraged. They never outman the defence in the oh-oh zone.
The best scoring player is harangued by the coach to play defence.
The +/- leader is relegated to the 4th line while the No. 1 line is deep in the +/- hole.
The line blender get turned on every second period.
The big bruiser gets left in the press box so the skilled players get pushed around.
The No. 1 goalie gets worked until he starts giving up bad goals from fatigue.
Four lines get played regardless of the score, until the 3rd period at least.

I hope they finish 12th. Maybe that will finally push the owner into making the necessary changes in management, the coach for non-performance and Mr. Lowe for not recognizing the fundamental problems and dealing with them. At least I wouldn't waste money in a fruitless first playoff round and the possibility that the futility would continue next year.

Bruised Black and Blue Dave


Oilers 5, Ducks 3 -- player gradings

Dwayne Roloson gigantic in Oil crease

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.

Well that was a wild affair in Anaheim last night, an intense game with lots of bad feeling, especially after the whistle. The long-overdue returns of Zack Stortini and J.F.Jacques helped the Oilers hold their own in the physical battle, as both made their presence felt in limited ice time. Oilers rode a pair of two-goal outbursts early in the first and second periods and as they tend to do, tried to sit on the leads for the whole rest of the game. Shots on goal were one-sided at 54-20, and shots AT goal even more so at an astonishing 93-30. In the third period alone, Anaheim directed 39 shots towards Dwayne Roloson, the Oilers just 4 at Jonas Hiller, and eventually 1 into an empty net that finally allowed Oiler fans to breathe easily for the last dozen seconds. I had long since turned blue at that point, as had the air in my living room with various oaths directed at Chris Pronger, Corey Perry, the officials, and whoever was the latest Oiler to not get the puck out of his own end. But we'll take the two points, and the big zero looks good on Anaheim too. To walk into their building trailing them in the standings and to leave with a one-point lead is a sweet outcome.

Ladislav Smid – 6: Ladi was one who had occasional difficulties clearing the zone, but played some strong defence and took his job of clearing Roli’s crease seriously as Todd Marchant discovered. Got a rare shift on the powerplay and forced a fine stop from Hiller with a well-placed shot. Finished the night +1.

Shawn Horcoff – 6: Workhorse led all forwards on both teams with 23:53, including 7:51 on the PK unit which spent much of the night in chase mode but wound up killing 8 of 9 Duck powerplays. A key assist on the game’s first goal, +1, and a very creditable 15-9, 63% in the faceoff circle on a night when 9 (!) other Oiler forwards won just 32% (12-27) of their draws combined.

Andrew Cogliano – 5: Made a nice pass to Pisani for the 2-0 goal, but spent much of the night riding the pine, posting just 7:42 TOI, as his linemates Pisani and Moreau contributed to an overworked PK unit. Just 1-4, 20% on the dot which is all too typical for Andrew.

Ethan Moreau – 5: One of the more effective penalty killers when he wasn’t in the box himself serving his 999th and 1000th career penalty minutes for another careless stick foul. Did not perform well at even strength, posting a team-worst -12 Corsi number, and was one of just two Oilers (also Gagner) to wind up -1 on the night. Contributed a humorous moment when he received a perfect breakout pass in his own zone and with nobody around, performed a spectacular pratfall and turned it over.

Patrick O’Sullivan – 6: Oilers actually outshot Anaheim 5-4 with O’Sullivan on the ice, one of just 2 Oilers with a positive figure (linemate Penner being the other). O’Sullivan also made a strong contribution on the PK, especially on a 3-on-5 late in the first with Horcoff in the box.

Ales Kotalik – 6: A fairly strong performance with 3 shots capped by the empty netter. Kotalik drew two Anaheim penalties, however took two of his own although I’m prepared to give him a pass for that cheap puck-over-glass infraction when he scooped a dangerous rebound from Roli’s crease. He plays a fairly robust game, and Oilers need as much of that as they can get.

J-F Jacques – 6: A rambunctious return. His first four shifts covered just 0:22 of TOI combined, yet in that time he had a fight and threw a booming hit behind the net which led directly to Brodziak’s game-winning goal and drew a retaliatory penalty besides. I’m sure David Staples will grant an unofficial assist to both JFJ and Stortini for their involvement in that “unassisted” goal. His careless four-minute high-sticking penalty midway through the third docks him one full mark.

Steve Staios – 5: Trademark gritty effort, but Oilers were outchanced 8-2 with Steve on the ice at evens and 9-0 on the penalty kill. Puck was in our end virtually all the time he was out there. He and Souray miscommunicated on Perry’s goal that made it 4-3 early in the third. 2 hits, 2 blocks, and somehow wound up the night +1.

Dustin Penner – 8: Oilers’ best skater in his old barn, and posted the only positive Corsi of the night (+3). Also was the only Oiler to be on for more scoring chances for than against at even strength, and the only player who recorded +2. (Pronger was at the other extreme, posting a game-worst -3.) Penner led the team with 4 shots and more importantly, 2 goals, both of them giving the Oilers the lead. Landed 2 hits, went into the high traffic areas and paid the price to score the powerplay goal that put Oilers ahead to stay. Also drew a penalty with some dogged work along the boards.

Fernando Pisani – 6: Scored the 2-0 goal on a wicked snapshot, otherwise spent a lot of the game in Oilers’ end, especially on the PK where he played over 8 minutes. Seemed to be running on empty more than once at the end of too-long shifts. His experience and composure shone through at key moments.

Dwayne Roloson – 9: Sorry Roli, no shutout, no perfect 10. All you did was win the game for us. Of all the Oilers who played 6 games in 6 cities over 9 nights, the oldest one had the most energy and focus. A fantastic game for the team MVP when his club needed him the most. Dennis at MC79hockey had the scoring chances at 41-17 Anaheim, including no fewer than 19 chances with the man advantage where shooting percentages are significantly higher. Usually. The axiom about the goalie being the team’s best penalty-killer was never truer than last night on the Pond.

Denis Grebeshkov – 6: Spent a little too much time on his heels, and had a couple of his occasional episodes with the puck, including a brutal giveaway in the opening seconds of the game. Led the team in TOI at 24:47, and in blocked shots with 4. Grebs’ crisp pass to Hemsky allowed Ales to gain the zone with speed on the play that led to Penner’s powerplay goal, surely earning one of David’s unofficial assists.

Jason Strudwick – 6: The veteran delivered everything he’s capable of, a dozen minutes of grit and effort. Slower than tectonic plates, Struds kept the play to the outside for the most part, cleared the crease, and contributed a team-leading 3 hits. Surprisingly, co-led the club in attempted shots (4, tied with Horcoff and Penner).

Sheldon Souray – 6: Solid effort. A presence in the defensive zone who contributed big minutes on the PK unit. Didn’t have a big night offensively, in fact did not so much as attempt a shot on goal which may be a first. Nonetheless scored a late assist for his key shot block off of Perry’s last dangerous rush which led directly to Kotalik’s empty netter.

Zack Stortini – 7: Returned from a wholly-undeserved 8-game layoff to do what he does, which is exactly what this team needed. Levelled Wisniewski with a great open-ice hit, then came back hard on the backcheck and eventually intercepted Parros who was heading for Roli’s doorstep with malice aforethought. The subsequent fight was no surprise, but Zack winning it decisively was a little unexpected. Later crashed the net hard and created a commotion that was instrumental in Brodziak’s game winner getting through. One camera angle indicated pretty decisively that Stortini actually deflected that shot.

Kyle Brodziak – 6: Back in his comfort zone playing on the Plumb Line with Jacques and Stortini. Scored the winner on his only shot, blocked 3 shots and contributed to the overworked penalty kill. Just 5-8, 38% in the circle, which led to some of the extended zone pressure the Oilers endured.

Tom Gilbert – 5: The Ducks appeared to be targeting Gilbert for heavy forechecking, and Tom was coming out second best in the battle for puck possession a little too often for my liking, including on the first Ducks’ goal. Seemed to raise his battle level a little as the game went on.

Ales Hemsky – 6: His line with Gagner and Kotalik was outplayed for the most part, outshot 9-2 with Hemsky on the ice, and outchanced 8-2. Did make a nice play to Gagner that led to Penner’s powerplay goal, and a great play while being tripped to clear the zone on Kotalik’s empty-netter. Missed an empty net himself a few minutes earlier which would have alleviated my dangerously high blood pressure.

Sam Gagner – 5: A hard night for the kid. While he won’t back down from anybody, the boy against men aspect sometimes shines through in physical games like this one. 3-5, 38% on the dot. Did earn a powerplay assist on a smart feed to Penner on the doorstep.

Craig MacTavish – 6: His decision to insert Stortini and Jacques, while overdue, was the right choice for a physical opponent like the Ducks. The way his team backs up when it has the lead drives me crazy, but at this point of the season it’s all about results. Oilers got two points, the Ducks got none, and MacT gets a passing grade.


Paging Mr. Hemsky … white courtesy telephone please

Ales? Ales? Are you there, Ales?

For the second year in a row the Oilers are engaging in a second half playoff run with their putative star player seemingly missing in action. Last year Hemsky scored some on the powerplay, but bled goals against at evens, posting a brutal -13 rating after the All-Star break. This year the +/- isn’t so bad, but the scoring has dried up including on the powerplay where production from Hemsky is essential to production from the unit.

It’s interesting to compare the production of Ales Hemsky, first line right winger and team leading scorer, with that of Zack Stortini, 4th/5th line right winger and 9-minute a game grinder. Entering this afternoon’s game at Minnesota, this is what the two have done over their last 15 games played:

Hemsky : 15 GP, 3-4-7, -2
Stortini:15 GP, 4-3-7, +2

Now I’ll readily admit this is cherry-picking to some extent, that 15-game run is by far the best production of Stortini’s career, although somehow not enough to prevent a wholly-undeserved five-game vacation in the press box. But the point is that Hemsky is being paid, and played, to produce, and he hasn’t been doing it. 15 games is a significant enough segment of the schedule that he should be far ahead of the likes of Zack Stortini.

Let’s dig a little deeper:

Even strength
Hemsky : 223:33, 3-1-4, 1.07 ESP/60
Stortini:133:06, 4-3-7, 3.16 ESP/60

Hemsky : 59:02, 0-2-2, 2.03 PPP/60
Stortini: 1:18, 0-0-0

Two points, both secondary assists, in 15 games for Mr. Power Play. One assist in 15 games at even strength for Mr. Playmaker. One assist on an empty netter.

Ales looks frustrated out there. Even the acquisition and insertion of his buddy and fellow Ales, Kotalik, on his line accomplished nothing. Is he hurt? Or just in another second-half funk?

Groundhog Day was six weeks ago, Ales. The time to wake up is Now.


Oilers 8, Avalanche 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.

After four consecutive overtime nailbiters, the Oilers were due a blowout one way or the other, and this one went the good way. Oilers rode goals from each of the four lines to stake out a 4-1 lead through 40 minutes, then tacked on four more in the third to turn it into a laugher. Where were those third period goals last week when we really needed them?

Hard to read too much into a game where the Avalanche had guys named Vernace, Galiardi and Peltier where Sakic, Stastny and Foote used to be. Still, we’ll take the two points, and hope that the offensive eruption kick-starts the offence for the stretch drive.

Ladislav Smid – 6: Had a tough couple of shifts early in the game including a dubious interference penalty, but got stronger as the night went on. Took yet another headshot, a cheap elbow from Laperriere that knocked Ladi down but not out. I hate to say it, but the way guys run him every night, he needs to learn to bring his stick up to protect himself. Right now he’s way too much fun to hit.

Shawn Horcoff – 6: A solid effort which wasn’t rewarded at even strength, but did contribute the game winning goal on a first period powerplay. As usual, led all forwards in TOI, a relatively light 17:22 as MacT rested his first line in the third period when they could have been out there fattening up their stats.

Robert Nilsson – 8: His line with Gagner and Kotalik had the puck on a string, especially in the second half of the game with Colorado losing interest. Earned his three assists with beautiful passes. He can be a gamebreaking playmaker when he’s on, and he appears to be coming around during the stretch drive for the second year running.

Andrew Cogliano – 5: Didn’t make a whole lot happen. Oilers were outshot 5-1 with Andrew on the ice, yet he wound up +1. Posted another dismal night in the faceoff circle, just 4-10, 29% which actually improved his faceoff percentage for the month of March. It’s hard to understand how he’s actually getting even worse on the dot, but he is.

Ethan Moreau – 7: Opened the scoring, later added an assist, helped out on a PK unit that recorded a clean sheet for the first time in 9 games, and didn’t add to the workload by taking any penalties himself. This was the “good Ethan”.

Patrick O’Sullivan – 6: Did everything but finish, forcing Budaj’s best (only?) save of the night after a sweet Hemsky feed. Showed good vision at times and very nice hands at others. It seems a matter of time before he and Hemsky start to click.

Ales Kotalik – 8: After six scoreless games, the shootout winner against St.Louis may have lifted the piano off his back. Looked excellent on his natural right wing with Gagner and Nilsson, driving to the net to finish one beauty pass from Gagner, then returning the favour with a sweet goalmouth feed of his own. 4 points, +3 in just 11:10 TOI.

Steve Staios – 7: Has played by far his best hockey of the season since the injury to Visnovsky bumped him into the top 4. “Heady Steve” was on the ice for 4 even strength scoring chances for, just 1 against; contributed 3:39 to the PK unit, posted an assist, and finished the night a tidy +2.

Dustin Penner – 6: The big guy barely made a ripple on the event summary – 1 shot that didn’t get through, 0 hits, 1 takeaway, 2 blocked shots, 1 won faceoff -- but finally hit the scoresheet with 2 assists, ending a 12-game pointless drought. Finished the night +2 at evens while contributing to a solid power play unit. Played a strong game along the boards and always seemed to be to be in the right position, driving play in the right direction.

Fernando Pisani – 6: Low event game, just 1 scoring chance for, 2 against at evens. Made the most of that one chance, potting a goal on a wicked shot over Budaj’s shoulder. Had a strong game on the PK.

Dwayne Roloson – 7: Allowed a weak, weird goal early, but slammed the door after that. Did his puck batting routine a couple of times, hitting one clean single to centre and one weak dribbler to the second baseman that caused a little defensive zone grief. Picked the right night to fool around a bit.

Denis Grebeshkov – 6: Led all players on both teams with 24:41 TOI. Skated miles, 2 shots, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots, +1. Oilers were significantly outshot and outchanced with Grebs on the ice, however.

Jason Strudwick – 7: A solid effort from the journeyman. Played 18:14, including over 16 minutes at evens when the Avalanche generate just one scoring chance. 1 takeaway, 2 blocked shots, a team-leading 3 hits, +2.

Sheldon Souray – 8: The Oilers’ big bomber was firing away, leading the club with 4 shots on goal and 9 attempted shots. One of them found twine, his 21st of the season, tying Ales Hemsky for the club lead. Had a solid defensive game with 3 takeaways, 0 giveaways. With Souray on the ice, the Oilers outchanced the Avs 4-1 at evens, 3-0 on the powerplay, and 2-1 even while shorthanded.

Kyle Brodziak – 6: A decent performance centring Moreau and Penner, contributing to the perfect PK unit, and dominating in the circle (10-5, 67%). One assist, +2.

Tom Gilbert – 6: Some trouble in Oilers’ zone, including a misread on the lone Avs goal. Made up for it at the good end with 2 assists to pass Hemsky for the club lead with 36.

Ales Hemsky – 5: Somehow generated zero points and posted a -1 in an 8-1 romp. The Oil didn’t need their leading scorer on this night, but they are going to need him soon. He did make at least three beautiful passes to set up scoring chances, but the pucks are not bouncing in for Ales and his linemates just now.

Liam Reddox – 6: A fairly vanilla effort but nonetheless effective. Made a fine cross-seam pass to setup Pisani’s goal, and another to set up Souray’s shorthanded rocket which rang off the post and shook the cage. Also chipped in on the PK unit.

Sam Gagner – 9: I’ll give him a bonus point for his first (official) career hat trick, after he narrowly missed an earlier hat trick on a controversial video review in Ottawa. He and his linemates Kotalik and Nilsson had the puck on a string, racking up 11 points on the night, albeit much of the damage was done after the Avs had seemingly given up. Scored on all three of his shots. Sam has gotten hot down the stretch for the second year in a row, posting an impressive 7-5-12, +8 in his last 8 GP.


Another Day, Another Bettman Point

Ooohhh!! A point! Big whoop! I know exactly how you feel, Gary.

In fact there are too damn many of your points floating around these days. In the last week the Oilers have accrued 3 of them, in consecutive overtime losses to Montreal, Atlanta and Colorado. But that's just the tip of the iceberg; in those same 5 days Tuesday-Saturday, fully half -- 21 of 42 -- NHL games awarded the bogus, er bonus point that gets awarded jointly to any two teams which can't decide a game in regulation. It's the most cockamamie system imaginable.

Of course it’s in a team’s best interest to win their games in regulation, but a club prone to playing a lot of close games – which is the vast majority of them – is better served by playing conservatively and going for overtime. A late game-deciding goal has far greater negative impact on the team allowing it than positive for the team scoring it. Assuming that Bettman points are split 50/50, which of course they are on a league-wide basis, every regulation tie is worth an average of 1.5 points. The law of averages dictates that the late GA means the loss of those 1.5 points, the late GF gains just 0.5. Might as well wait for overtime and go for it then, with your 1 point assured if you fail but full value for a victory given if you succeed.

This system does nothing less than compromise the competitive integrity of the game. If that sounds like a serious charge, it is. When two teams and their coaches reach an in-game situation where the score on the board serves both their interests for the time being, the system is broken.

Gary Bettman and his cronies have failed in their fiduciary capacity as stewards of the game, and the shambles that their gimmicks have made of the standings, the record books, and the very games being played in front of their paying customers cannot be undone.


Interesting to look at the cumulative standings of all NHL teams over the past ten seasons.

Season * GP * W * L * T * OTL = Pts. Pct.
1998-99 2214 945-945-324- 00 = 2214 .500

* Introduction of Bettman Point Ver 1.0 *

1999-00 2296 1002-888-292-114 = 2425 .528
2000-01 2460 1078-956-304-122 = 2582 .525
2001-02 2460 1081-960-298-121 = 2581 .525
2002-03 2460 1073-918-314-155 = 2615 .532
2003-04 2460 1060-915-340-145 = 2605 .529

* Introduction of Bettman Point Ver 2.0 *

2005-06 2460 1230-949- 0 -281 = 2741 .557
2006-07 2460 1230-949- 0 -281 = 2741 .557
2007-08 2460 1230-958- 0 -272 = 2732 .555
2008-09 2060 1030-792- 0 -238 = 2298 .558
(2008-09 through Saturday, March 14)

For perspective it begins with the last year of standings sanity, where all games were worth the same two points and teams by definition played .500 hockey against themselves. But in 1999 that changed with the introduction of the Bettman point, awarded to teams that lost games in overtime (or to teams that won them in OT, depending on your interpretation). The idea, or so it was explained at the time, was that teams were playing too conservatively in overtime, hanging on to their one point. A win for the winner, a tie for the loser will put an end to that.

Overtime indeed became more wide-open; the percentage of games actually decided in OT doubled from 24.7% in 1997-98 to 49.7% in 2002-03. How much of that was due to the Bettman Point and how much to the 4-on-4 format that was introduced at the same time cannot be disentangled. The heavy cost, however, was that instead of hanging on in overtime for their one point, coaches started to do so in regulation, often for entire third periods at a time or even longer. And given the “new math” of Gary Bettman’s NHL, frequently both teams would be doing so simultaneously, cuz it was in both their interests. Coaches ain't stupid, and most of them passed Grade 6 arithmetic.

After the lockout – another blight on the historical and statistical continuity of the sport, and the second such which happened on Gary Bettman’s watch – the powers-that-be went a step further and brought in the shootout, thus ensuring that the third point would now be awarded in every game that reached overtime, not just the half or so of them that resulted in an overtime goal. Thus the value of a regulation tie soared from 1 point pre-1983, to an average of 1.00 points during the 15 years that decided overtimes split the points 2-0 and undecided OTs 1-1, to almost 1.25 points during the first variation of the Bettman Point, all the way to 1.50 points in the shootout era.

The results can be seen in the blocks above, which show the league winning percentage jumping in two discrete steps from its natural .500 (1917-99) to about .528 (1999-2004) to about .557 (2005-2009). Key word: “about”, as the median, once a reliable constant, now fluctuates from season to season, indeed from day to day. In past seasons I have tracked this median figure and observed a general upward slope; as the playoffs approach and the points become more dear, OT games become more common. Last year for example, I divided the season into 5 * 246-game segments:

# 3-pt. games * Segment % * YTD % * Mean Pts%
1. * * 39 * * * 15.9% * * * 15.9% * .5396
2. * * 49 * * * 19.9% * * * 17.9% * .5447
3. * * 59 * * * 23.9% * * * 19.9% * .5498
4. * * 65 * * * 26.4% * * * 21.5% * .5539
5. * * 60 * * * 24.4% * * * 22.1% * .5553

While Bettman & Co. delivered on one part of their promise, no more tie results, in reality there are more tie games than ever.

Season * % Ties * % Regulation Ties
1917-18 * * 0 % * unknown
1927-28 * 16.8% * unknown
1937-38 * 18.8% * unknown

1947-48 * 18.9% * 18.9%
1957-58 * 16.2% * 16.2%
1967-68 * 17.1% * 17.1%
1977-78 * 18.3% * 18.3%

1987-88 * 11.5% * 17.4%
1997-98 * 15.5% * 20.5%
1998-99 * 14.6% * 20.1%

1999-00 * 12.7% * 22.6%
2000-01 * 12.4% * 22.3%
2001-02 * 12.1% * 22.0%
2002-03 * 12.8% * 25.4%
2003-04 * 13.8% * 25.6%

2005-06 * ----- * 22.8%
2006-07 * ----- * 22.8%
2007-08 * ----- * 22.1%
2008-09 * ----- * 23.1%

The above list takes a sample once per decade, and annually during the Bettman Point era. Pre-1942 I don’t have a reliable source of info on OT results, so don't have a handle on what percentage of games were tied after regulation. Following the elimination of regular season OT due to wartime travel restrictions right through 1983 all games were 60 minutes and a tie was a tie, splitting the (two) points. Roughly 18% of all games ended in ties.

After 1983 the 5-minute overtime started to prune the number of tie results down, even as the number of games tied after 60 rose to about 20% during the dead puck era. But in 1999, the Bettman point was introduced and the number of regulation ties surged to new highs. It has remained high ever since, with the last 9 seasons yielding the 9 highest percentages of the entire sample, with 22-26% of games tied through 60 minutes every season.


That extended rant aside, the rules are the rules, and the teams must play within them. How do they apply to the Oilers?

Recent results suggest that the Bettman Point (a.k.a. the “loser point”) has saved the Oilers from what could/should have been a major pratfall in the standings. 1-1-4 = 6 points is much less painful than 1-5, 2 points would be. Getting to overtime has saved our bacon.

It’s what we have done when we get there that is disturbing. The play-for-OT strategy only really works if you can win at least your share of overtime sessions and/or shootouts. I would argue that it’s the “winner point” that is the true Bettman Point, the two points for regulation having been split in the traditional manner of a tie and now only the third, free lunch point that’s up for grabs and awarded to the winner of the mini-game. It’s here where the Oilers have been an epic fail, playing under 11 minutes of overtime the last two weeks and being outscored 4-0. Four goals against in half a period. Yuck.

The Oilers have been outshot in each one of those overtimes and cumaltively by a 9-2 count, so clearly something is amiss. One can start with goaltending: 4 GA on 9 shots is just brutal. Makes one wonder if tired goalie syndrome is likely to manifest itself at the end of a long, tense night. This past week Roli posted a Sv% of .902 in regulation, but only .500 in OT over the three games which included two decidedly weak goals through the 5-hole. Ugh-ly. That said, a team which took two penalties in overtime and couldn't kill either one, allowed one clear breakaway in the dying seconds, and which failed to backcheck effectively (if at all) in their most recent defeat, can't just lay it all on the goaltender.

So the Oilers crawl up the standings, one painful point at a time. Across the league, teams earn on average something over 1.11 points per GP in the Second Bettman Point Era, an average which surged to 1.25 during this recent outbreak of OT affairs. So 1 point a night is the equivalent of hanging on by our fingernails but gradually sliding away. We gotta win some games.


Senators 4, Oilers 2 -- 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.

It's been my "pleasure" to grade both of the Ottawa games, two of the most disappointing losses of the season for Edmonton. Need I add, regulation losses. I left the building angry and disappointed after the Sens snapped their 12 game road losing streak at our expense in late December, and hoped the Oilers would be chomping at the bit for some revenge last night.

Not so much. The Oil started going backwards right off the opening faceoff, and somehow conspired to send Spezza in alone for an unassisted breakaway goal just a dozen seconds in. That constituted a Senators franchise record for fastest goal, but didn't even match the Oilers' seasonal mark of fastest GA. That one opened the 10-goal floodgate to Buffalo, and while last night didn't disintegrate to that degree, the Oilers never got back in this one either.

While Oilers are, in theory, a better team than Ottawa, there's no doubt which squad was the better on this night. These statistics don't lie:

Final Score: 4-2 OTT
Shots on goal: 32-26 OTT
Shots at goal: 57-43 OTT
Faceoffs: 28-23 OTT
TakeAways: 13-7 OTT
GiveAways: 12-4 EDM

Combining those last two, Ottawa's margin of 25-11 in the turnover battle speaks volumes about which team wanted the puck more, and which protected it better when they had it. Oilers played OK in the physical aspects of the game, matching Ottawa's 26 hits and blocking 15 shots. Ottawa's skill guys had a dominant game and our top guns came up short in a Power vs. Power match-up, while our 2-3-4 lines could only saw off against their underwhelming counterparts.

Ladislav Smid - 7: Ladi was the top Oiler to my eye. He's evolving into a commanding presence on the blue, increasingly calm and confident with the puck, and a punishing hitter as Shean Donovan can attest. 4 hits, 3 blocked shots, and contributed to both Oiler goals by drawing the penalty that led to Gagner's PP goal, and then assisting on Sam's second late in the third to extend his point streak to three games (0-4-4). Kept the sheet clean at the defensive end, and was full marks for his +1.

Shawn Horcoff - 3: Won the opening faceoff, and everything went downhill from there. Quickly. Didn't seem to have his hands going at all -- 6-10, 38% on the dot, both of his attempted shots missed the net, and his most creative pass whistled past Kotalik's stick a foot off the ice. Hard to fault him on Spezza's goal, but on Comrie's he 1) lost an offensive zone faceoff, 2) chased the puck for awhile, 3) took the (cheap) delayed penalty on Heatley which allowed Comrie to come off the bench for the 6v5, 4) didn't get the call when he touched the puck in the corner, and then 5) watched helplessly as his man Spezza fired a great feed that Comrie finished off. Later was on the receiving end of a huge collision between Stortini and Volchenkov and went off gingerly. The hard minutes are taking a toll.

Andrew Cogliano - 6: Had his skating legs going better than I've seen from him in awhile. Got a few chances for his efforts but couldn't finish a one of them, including a golden opportunity for a game-changing 3-2 goal off a nice Penner feed that he pretty much whiffed. A rare excellent game on the dot (7-2, 78%).

Patrick O'Sullivan - 5: Played OK on a line with Pouliot and (mostly) Gagner, holding his own in scoring chances (+6/-6) and shots (+10/-9). Unfortunately his first shift on the PK unit went badly, with O'Sullivan's giveaway on a poor clearing pass leading directly to Campoli's game-winner. I guess he fits right in with Oilers' PK.

Ales Kotalik - 4: Didn't stink, but his line got owned, as he was on the ice for all three even-strength goals against. Showed a little bit of chemistry with the other Ales, had 2 of his line's 3 shots, and a couple of hits.

J.F. Jacques - 6: I like what he's bringing, which last night was 9:49 of solid fourth-line grinding. 1 hit, 2 blocked shots, and Oilers outchanced the Sens 4-2 with JFJ on the ice.

Steve Staios - 7: A strong effort. Oilers outshot Ottawa 15-8 with Staios on the ice, outchanced them 10-6, and outscored them 1-0. Attempted 4 shots and blocked 2. Led the charge into the scrum in the final minute when Campoli took liberties with Cogliano, which is worth a point in my book.

Dustin Penner - 5: Not much working offensively just now (0 shots last night, 0 points in his last 8 games). Played a fairly physical game with 4 hits and lots of puck battles deep in Ottawa territory. His low-key personality doesn't translate well to the power game; even when he plays hard, he seems dispassionate.

Fernando Pisani - 6: Gradually returning to form. 3 hits, 2 shots, 1 block, and even at evens. Was on the ice for Ottawa's PP goal.

Dwayne Roloson - 5: Was not the reason Oilers lost the game. Unfortunately, we can't say he was the reason they won it either.

Denis Grebeshkov - 3: A terrible game, right from the brutal backwards pass he made that hopped on Gilbert and sent Spezza in alone. Things just went from bad to worse as he wound up the night outshot +3/-13 and had the whopping -3 to prove it. Made a nice pass to send Gagner in alone on the powerplay, but it was nowhere near enough to atone for his sins. Still hurting?

Jason Strudwick - 5: A decent effort. 2 hits, 1 shot, 1 block, 1 takeaway, 1 (brutal) giveaway. Not a difference-maker.

Sheldon Souray - 6: Solid outing with 4 shots, 1 hit, 1 takeway, and Oilers were rarely in trouble with the SS-SS pairing out there. His shots have an effect even when they don't go in: one softened up an opponent, while another led to the uncontrolled rebound that Gagner turned into an extended video review.

Zack Stortini - 5: What I love about Stortini is that he's just as willing to take a hit as give one. Many hitters like to take the long way to the puck so that they can arrive second and lay the body on the other guy, but Zack values possession of the puck first and foremost. One case in point occurred late in the first when Zack outraced Jason Smith to a loose puck in the corner, absorbed a very heavy hit while protecting the puck, then got back on his feet to crunch Jarkko Ruutu on the continuation, one of a team-leading 5 hits on the night for Zorg in a team-low 9:43 TOI. Did take a rare undisciplined penalty when suckered by Ruutu, although for the life of me why diving is unsportsmanlike and turtling isn't escapes me. I docked Zack one full point for this indiscretion.

Kyle Brodziak - 7: A solid game centring the two Coke machines on the fourth unit, a group which outchanced Ottawa 5-3 when Brodziak was on. 2 shots, 1 hit, 2 takeaways, 3 blocks, and an impressive 6-2, 75% in the circle.

Tom Gilbert - 3: A very tough night. Lined up with Grebeshkov in the shutdown role against Ottawa's first unit, and fared poorly indeed. Shots on goal were 14-2 Ottawa with Tom on the ice at evens, and his -3 was all-too-well-earned.

Marc Pouliot - 6: A very quiet night on the stat sheet (other than an unflattering 0-4, 0% on the dot), but I thought he played a solid, heady game on the right side with Gagner and O'Sullivan.

Ales Hemsky - 3: Didn't get the job done offensively or defensively. Was on the ice for all three even-strength goals against, and while he showed a few flashes offensively, the elite playmaker now has gone 8 games without an assist. Appeared to win a race to negate an icing only to have Heatley outbattle him and touch it up; 8 seconds after the subsequent faceoff, Heatley scored at the other end to seal the deal at 4-1.

Sam Gagner - 6: Tasted blood on his first shift when rocked by Gator, and it may have spurred him into one of his more proactive games as a pro. Scored both goals and appeared to be robbed of a third when he made an incredible shot from an almost impossible angle. Led the team with 5 shots. On the downside, had 2 giveaways, went only 2-5, 29% in the circle (including the draw that led to Heatley's goal), and was sitting in the box for the game winner after taking a dumb penalty 200 feet from his net. He argued the call, but he did grab and rather dangerously spill Bell into the end boards on an over-aggressive forecheck. Every ref in the league will make that call, and it cost us.

Craig MacTavish - 3: I watched a replay of Bruce Boudreau going ballistic on the Washington bench last night, and I thought to myself, where the heck is that on our team? Composure is important I guess, but so is passion, and too many nights our coach looks resigned to his fate. He didn't respond too well to the bad PvP match-up that Cory Clouston employed, didn't switch Grebs and Gilbert off that unit despite all the negative results, and didn't change up Horcoff for Gagner until far too late to have much effect. Sounded discouraged in the post-game scrum, and used the word "they" to describe the Oilers far too often for my liking.


Moving Patty O'Furniture

When men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you've just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving Lowe :)
Go ask Ales
I think he'll know

("White Rabbit", adapted with apologies to Jefferson Airplane)

Double puns in the header and song lyric to honour two incoming Oilers, Patty O'Sullivan and Ales Kotalik. Whether we're arranging the proverbial deck chairs or placing the chess pieces for the decisive gambit remains to be seen.

Overall I'm happy with the two moves we did make, although still wishing we'd done something on the dot and behind the blueline as well.

Last summer's white knight has turned into a rabbit and disappeared down his hole, with 2 newcomers and one longer-term contract taking his place. With the same second-round draft pick coming and going and otherwise only a fifth given up, essentially it was a 2-for-1. Of course, unless logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead, we can't put 7 guys on the ice or dress a 13th forward ... somebody else has to come out to make room for both. And Coach MacT has to spot them in there wisely.

The incoming guys between them adequately cover most of Cole's skill set. Here's a head-to-head-to-head statistical comparison (2008-09 only) drawn from NHL.com., Behindthenet.com, and Timeonice.com. In the right column I have projected which of the newcomers better addresses the hole left by Cole's loss, where "both" means each guy covers off Cole, and "combined" means it will take the efforts of both together to fill the void. Of particular concern are the categories marked "neither".

Player * Cole **** AK *** POS **
Age ****** 30 **** 30 **** 24 ** AK
Cap hit 4.000 * 2.500 * 2.925 ** Combined
Expires* 2009 ** 2009 ** 2011 ** AK

Height * 6'2 *** 6'1 *** 5'11 ** AK
Weight * 205 *** 227 **** 190 ** AK

TOI/GP* 17:04 * 15:14 * 19:25 ** POS
ES TOI* 13:15 * 12:14 * 14:03 ** POS
PP TOI** 2:31 ** 2:58 ** 3:07 ** Both
SH TOI** 1:18 ** 0:52 ** 2:15 ** POS

GP ***** 63 ***** 56 ***** 62 ** Both
G ****** 16 ***** 13 ***** 14 ** Both
A ****** 11 ***** 19 ***** 23 ** Both
Pts **** 27 ***** 32 ***** 37 ** Both
PPG ** 0.43 *** 0.57 *** 0.60 ** Both

ESP **** 20 ***** 14 ***** 28 ** POS
PPP ***** 7 ***** 18 ****** 8 ** AK
SHP ***** 0 ****** 0 ****** 1 ** POS

+- ***** -3 ***** -7 ***** +1 ** POS
PiM **** 63 ***** 28 ***** 16 ** Neither

Shots * 145 **** 153 **** 200 ** Both
MsS **** 53 ***** 39 **** 100 ** POS!
Sh% * 11.0% *** 8.5% *** 7.0% ** Neither

Hits ** 134 ***** 93 ***** 60 ** Combined
BkS **** 33 ***** 13 ***** 29 ** POS
GvA **** 34 ***** 21 ***** 59 ** POS!
TkA **** 41 ***** 17 ***** 31 ** Combined

QualComp +0.01 * -0.04 * -0.03 * Neither
QualTeam +0.09 * -0.07 * -0.11 * Both
ESG/60 ** 0.70 ** 0.48 ** 0.65 * POS
ESP/60 ** 1.32 ** 1.16 ** 1.87 * POS
GF ON/60* 2.18 ** 2.23 ** 2.66 * Both
GA ON/60* 2.33 ** 2.42 ** 2.45 * Both

Corsi/60* +0.8 ** -0.3 ** +9.9 * POS
Sv% ON ** .928 ** .912 ** .920 * Neither
Sh% ON ** 7.8% ** 7.7% ** 7.5% * Both
PDO # ** 1.006 ** .989 ** .995 * Neither

PPG/60 ** 2.01 ** 1.26 ** 0.64 * Neither
PPP/60 ** 2.82 ** 4.19 ** 2.23 * AK
PP+/60 ** 5.24 ** 5.87 ** 4.14 * AK

SH-/60 * -2.36 * (N/A) * -4.78 * Neither

Pen.Drawn * 32 ***** 8 **** 27 * POS
Pen.Taken * 12 ***** 8 ***** 5 * Neither

So it's Kotalik who is the best match for age, experience, size, and contract situation. Surprisingly, both newcomers have outscored Cole this season, and with his big ticket and impending UFA status I'm frankly amazed we got as much for Cole as we did. Clearly Carolina was a target market, as they knew what they had in Erik and realized he was more important to their squad than Justin Williams. I'll be surprised if he isn't re-upped well in advance of June 30, whereas the likelihood of that happening here was vanishly small. It is this aspect which makes this trade a potential "win" from all three perspectives. Oddly, though, unless Carolina chooses not to sign Cole, it is anything but a salary dump for any of the three: Cole is an established big ticket player still in his prime and won't come cheap to Carolina; LA will pay Williams over $2 MM more than they would have O'Sullivan over the next two years; and Edmonton is on the hook for almost $5 MM in salary and $6 MM in cap hit over the next two years instead of having salary walk out the door on July 1. Such is the risk of this deal from an Edmonton perspective, who have added to their young talent pool of Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Pouliot but on a much bigger ticket. Indeed, O'Sullivan's contract based on one year of solid boxcar numbers isn't that different from the one Joffrey Lupul signed here in the summer of '06. Such contracts can very easily become albatrosses.

Nobody has said anything about how O'Sullivan's contract was heavily top loaded -- reason?? -- and therefore his actual pay cheque will be well south of his cap hit during his time in Edmonton. Something which would be more attractive to a floor team vs. a ceiling team I would have thought. For all the talk about how Daryl Katz is prepared to eat salaries by burying guys in the minors and so forth, I have yet to see evidence that he's not a careful man with a buck. And to tell you the truth, I don't mind that.

"The Other Ales" is an intriguing wild card as well. Here is a guy with talent, a Big shot, and a reputation for indifference. Suddenly he is traded for the first time in his career, and arrives on his new team to find himself inserted on the first line, with a buddy/budding star with a reputation as a playmaker on the opposite flank. Moreover, he's got 19 games to make an impression, in a playoff drive, and perhaps most importantly, in the dwindling days of an expiring contract. If he can't rise above indifference in that situation and actually make a difference, than that's probably all we need to know about that, and at least have the option of letting him walk. My guess however, is that rather than coming up small, Ales will be ten feet tall. If we see his best and most inspired hockey it's a very possible outcome that Kotalik could be the Oilers' leading goal scorer the rest of the way. Even more importantly, that his arrival might spark Hemsky to find the missing jump in his step. It's the first Ales we need to lead us through the looking glass and into the post season.

The double-edged sword of course is that if Kotalik puts together a Glencross-esque stretch drive, his cost goes up, and Oilers will have to pay him and hope like hell he doesn't lapse into old habits, or let him walk and risk the wrath of the faithful.

Where Cole will be most difficult to replace would appear to be on the defensive side of the puck, especially physically. Erik is well above both new guys in Hits and Blocked Shots, has a fine Takeaway/Giveaway ratio, and some truly excellent numbers in limited ice time on the penalty kill. Then there's the matter of QualComp, where Erik has played both with and against the top half of the roster, whereas both Kotalik and O'Sullivan appear to have been getting the soft. We haven't got two places to hide them, so it'll be interesting to see how MacT copes, and how the newcomers themselves fare under the microscope.

Starting tonight.
*singing* Let's go, Pat-i-o. You too, Ales2.