A few discussion points on tonight's Wild soiree:
Can't help but wonder if Derek Boogaard might have Sheldon Souray in his sights. Last time out Sheldon decked Craig Weller with a very solid left -- too solid, according to some who noticed Souray was wearing a hard plastic wrist guard. He wears it legitimately to protect his bionic wrist, but it should be off limits as a weapon. Watched the incident a few times and never did draw a conclusion whether it was used as such. Weller is still out with concussion. Look at the shocked expressions of the Oilers on the bench surveying the aftermath of that beatdown.
Haven't heard of any stupid Bertuzzi-like comments emanating from the Wild, but I wouldn't be too surprised if the Boogey Man came calling. I don't doubt Souray might answer Boogaard's call, and he might have as good a chance against the monster as anybody; he's as tough a player as has worn Oiler silks in quite some time. I don't like the potential trade-off, or consequences, but there are times when the tough ones need to account for themselves, or be taken into account. I attended and remember well the "Bryan Marchment Game" where the former Oilers' hardrock defenceman, now a Shark, accepted the challenge of "Big Zhawrzh" Laraque after he took out Doug Weight's knee in a previous game. Marchment lost the fight (a little too quickly, I thought), but he gained the respect of the Oilers and even of this observer for answering the bell. Didn't hurt his teammates morale any, either. Cheap shot artist he was, but Matt Cooke he wasn't.
In a not-unrelated development, it sounds like Steve MacIntyre is in tonight, and Zack Stortini out. Neither has dropped the gloves since their return from injury, which is somewhat significant in that both injuries came during fights. Tough break for Zorg who was one of approximately 20 Oilers who struggled against Buffalo. In his first game back from a leg injury, he didn't exactly have the wheels going and showed a little rust by making a couple of rare bad decisions. And like the team as a whole, every mistake wound up in the net.
Craig MacTavish's proposed experiment with Tom Gilbert up front on the PP is a little different. It's not often one sees three full-fledged defencemen on the PP; I know Jacques Martin used to fool around with Zdeno Chara in the low slot from time to time, but I believe Alfie played the point so they were just kind of switching positions. Other teams have tried a similar tactic but not for long. Last team I remember who used three D on a regular basis, and about the only one who used the swing man in a skill role was the Winnipeg Jets in the early 90s. They had traded Dale Hawerchuk for Phil Housley, and with a surfeit of offensive blueliners (Fredrik Olausson, Teppo Numminen, Randy Carlyle, Moe Mantha) to man the points, Housley was regularly deployed up front, where he scored 12 and 11 ppg his first two seasons. A precocious offensive talent, Housley had played some centre early in his career in Buffalo (which also shows up in his powerplay goals) before maturing into a full-time blueliner. But for the Jets he went up front on the PP.
It worked in that the Jets had an above-average powerplay those two seasons, but it didn't in that their back-heavy talent distribution resulted in an unbalanced team with a losing record.
Peculiar comments from MacT in today's Edmonton Journal about Marc Pouliot:
"I don't like Pouliot at centre. Faceoffs are an issue, the added positional responsibility can be an issue. (Potulny) is an average skater, but he's got good hands and a real head for the game, from what I've seen."
It's hard not to read part of that as a thinly-veiled criticism of Pouliot's head for the game. But in response to the specific criticism, I would point out that Pouliot's faceoff percentage of 47.6 is less than great, it's fully 10 percentage points better than that of Andrew Cogliano (37.5). So Cogs must have a big edge in "positional responsibility". I do know Pouliot has a pretty good record as a low event player regardless of whether he's playing centre or wing, currently ranking fourth among Oiler forwards at 2.30 GA ON/60, while Cogliano is well down the charts at 2.73. As for Potulny, I guess we'll find out.
Two things I'm pretty sure about are that Coach MacTavish has a v-e-r-y good understanding of what a 3C's positional responsibility is; and that he's pretty ticked to not have a veteran to deploy in that important role.
Big game tonight against a divisional rival that is exactly tied in the standings. GOILERS!
Like this photoshopped image of Bo Derek, the starlet of the 1979 movie "10" who has apparently made a few enemies during her Bush-loving years, it wasn't pretty. The shutout was gone in 10 seconds, the starting goalie gone after 10 minutes, and any shred of dignity long gone by the time Thomas Vanek and the Buffalo Sabres posted their 10th goal on a game-ending Oiler "powerplay".
The Sportsnet guys told us it was the most goals the Oilers had given up in a home game since allowing 9 to Chicago last month. Consulting my Grade One arithmetic text, I discovered that 10 is actually more than 9. It even looks bigger, having twice as many digits, which seems, uh, significant. I suspect I wasn't the only Oiler fan who wondered when was the last time the Oil got lit up for double digits in their own barn.
Later on somebody mentioned it was just the second time in the three decades since Bo Derek enjoyed her 10 minutes of fame and the Oilers entered the NHL that they've been double-digitized on home ice. I remember the game the record was set. It occurred on February 8, 1981, a 10-4 shellacking by the Calgary Flames in the second ever meeting of the Battle of Alberta rivals here in the capital. Here are the gory details: note the 10th goal was scored even later than last night's, and the fact that Oilers actually outshot the Flames 46-22, with both Oiler goalies -- including Ed Mio, pictured above -- getting shelled. That must have been the night we started referring to Gary Edwards' 5-hole as the 10-hole.
Then there was the 10-8 loss to the Kings in Game 1 in 1982, which may have been overlooked cuz it was a playoff game. That one was a lot harder to swallow than the other two, I can tell you; the tenth goal was an empty netter for goodness sake. How can you get 8 goals and lose? Whereas last night there was no question we were going to lose after about 10 seconds.
It's axiomatic in baseball that every season before a pitch is thrown in anger you can write in 54 wins and 54 losses, and it's how you do in the other 54 that tell the tale. Last night was one of those 54 losses; the Oilers didn't merely write it in, they mailed it in. The other pitcher brought his best stuff, ours didn't, our bullpen got laid to waste while our fielders kicked the ball all over the yard. It was a Loss, but one so resoundingly well earned I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.
As MacT and others have pointed out, it's how the team responds that is important. Within the game, they responded horribly, even uncompetitively, as can be seen in a hit count that went from 8 in the first period to 2 to 1. So now it's put up or shut up time, just at the right time to take on the Wild. If Oilers put up another passive effort on Friday, then I'm officially Worried.
It was also reported that last night's 8-goal defeat was The Worst home loss in franchise history. Not quite true, since the franchise extends back to the World Hockey Association whether its current stewards want to admit that Fact or not.
I remember that one too (or at least, one of them). I bought a walk-up seat one February night in 1977 to watch the delightful line of Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull absolutely tear the Oilers limb from limb, with Hedberg connecting for four goals in an 11-1 Jets throttling. Some defenceman named Perry Miller also scored four that night, a WHA record. By fluke it was the exact same night that Ian Turnbull set the NHL record for defencemen by scoring five goals for Toronto. Not that that made Oiler fans feel any better.
Then there was the time in 1978-79 where the loss wasn't quite so severe on the scoreboard, but was as bad as could be otherwise. The New England Whalers came in for one of the Rebel League's trademark two-game series, and my friend and season ticket mate bet an arch enemy of his $100 (which was real money back then) that the Oilers would score more goals in the two games. Well on Friday the Oil had their way with the visitors, with Gretzky & Co. running to an 8-2 laugher. On Saturday my friend couldn't leave well enough alone, phoned his buddy and really rubbed it in, piled it on big time. So on Sunday I get extra tickets and take my dad to the rematch, saying "you've got to see this Wayne Gretzky, he's unreal". Well wouldn't you know but the Oil got blown out 7-0. Just a brutal game, from Gretzky right through the water boy. The WHAlers called off the dogs in the third with the score 6-0, but just before the game wound to its inevitable shutout conclusion, some fourth-liner got a cheap one from a bad angle to win the total-goal series that nobody even realized was happening. Must have been 250 fans left in the building, including my dad and me and the other diehards who never leave no matter what. I looked over at my poor friend sitting a few sections away, and he was simultaneously shaking his head and holding it in his hands, in absolute despair.
Conclusion: Some blowout losses are tougher to take than others. Let's just take this one with a giggle and move on.
One of those conclusions was inescapable: Shawn Horcoff is an absolute horse. Horcoff is my favourite Oiler, but I don't write about him often because most (not all) in the part of the Oilogosphere I inhabit, appreciate him for the horse that he is. Still, the "new statistics" allow us to take the measure of a man in a much broader sense than was possible in the past. And the measure of Shawn Horcoff is that he is one hell of a hockey player.
My favourite not-that-new statistic is time on ice, something I clamoured for in vain throughout the 1980s. It was and remains a very good measure of a player's worth to his coach, to his team, and within the NHL, more reliable in its way than any production statistic or salary valuation. As a comparable it needs be applied with only the broadest brush, F v F, D v D, G v G. Accordingly all of the following is a discussion of forwards only.
Let's start with TOI for the top 6 Oiler forwards as at the break, expressed as a gross number and per game:
---------- T.O.I. - ---------- TOI/G
Horcoff ** 995:23 * Horcoff ** 21:38
Cole ***** 773:41 * Hemsky *** 18:43
Penner *** 726:41 * Cole ***** 16:49
Gagner *** 711:34 * Gagner *** 16:32
Moreau *** 708:51 * Penner *** 16:30
Cogliano * 706:53 * Moreau *** 15:45
It is a very high workload indeed: Horc currently ranks 9th among NHL forwards in TOI; 8th in TOI/G. That left-hand column is astonishing: Horc has played over 200 minutes more than any teammate, the largest such margin anywhere in the league. Neither Kovalchuk nor Iginla nor Koivu nor Ovechkin can boast such a spread. (Not that Shawn is one to boast.)
On a per-game basis, Hemsky enters the picture, his 10 lost games ameliorated. Ales plays nearly as much time at evens, almost half a minute more on the PP, but doesn't kill penalties at all. Whereas Horcoff eats up major minutes on all three units:
---------- EV TOI + ---------- PP TOI + ---------- SH TOI
Horcoff ** 656:02 * Horcoff ** 186:40 * Horcoff ** 152:41
Cole ***** 602:19 * Hemsky *** 160:23 * Brodziak * 125:03
Moreau *** 582:44 * Gagner *** 128:16 * Moreau *** 117:52
Gagner *** 566:24 * Penner *** 128:06 * Cole ****** 47:28
Cogliano * 557:50 * Cole ***** 123:54 * Cogliano ** 44:40
Penner *** 556:49 * Cogliano * 104:23 * Penner **** 41:46
Only one other forward in the league, Mikko Koivu, leads his team in ice time in all three manpower situations (although one of tonight's opponents, Buffalo's Derek Roy, comes close).
Questions have been raised as to whether Horcoff should be handling such a load on both special teams as well as the Power-vs-Power role as the first line centre, especially as he struggles with an aching back (from carrying the team?). Make no mistake, that load is exceptional:
Player --- SH/G + PP/G = ST/G
Horcoff ** 3:19 + 4:03 = 7:22
Ovechkin * 1:23 + 5:39 = 7:02
Malkin *** 1:22 + 5:39 = 7:01
Morrow *** 1:55 + 4:57 = 6:52
M.Koivu*** 2:47 + 3:59 = 6:46
D.Roy **** 2:39 + 4:02 = 6:41
Stastny ** 2:22 + 4:18 = 6:40
Pominville 2:42 + 3:56 = 6:38
M.Richards 3:23 + 3:13 = 6:36
Alfredsson 2:09 + 4:25 = 6:34
J.Staal ** 3:37 + 2:51 = 6:28
Marleau ** 2:23 + 4:00 = 6:23
B.Richards 2:09 + 4:13 = 6:22
Semin **** 1:58 + 4:23 = 6:21
Crosby *** 0:59 + 5:21 = 6:20
St.Louis * 1:44 + 4:33 = 6:17
Drury **** 2:39 + 3:33 = 6:12
Modano *** 1:57 + 4:10 = 6:07
Nash ***** 2:13 + 3:50 = 6:07
Kovalev ** 1:45 + 4:17 = 6:02
I included the entire list of 20 guys in the league (I think I found them all) who log as many as 6 ST minutes a game, because it's quite a group of comparables. Who do their coaches rely on most? Guys one would expect for the most part, with a couple of surprises (to me) like Pominville, Semin, and Staal the Youngest. But there's no bigger surprise than to see Shawn Horcoff leading the pack by a substantial 0:20 per game. Wow.
Horcoff is the only veteran centre on a club with four pivots under the age of 25 who have yet to figure out which of them is playing wing, let alone fully step into a tough minutes role. Pouliot, Cogliano and Gagner, first rounders all, are certainly developing, but they are a long ways from catching the 99th-overall selection (in '98!) who at 30 continues to grow and mature his game.
Some have questioned whether Horcoff might be overworked on special teams, and should be saved for even strength situations, where there can be no question about his ability to handle the load. Of the dozen Oiler forwards who have suited up for 20+ GP, Horcoff ranks first in QualComp at +0.07, third (behind Penner and Hemsky) in GF ON/60 at 2.87 and third, barely behind Pouliot and Gagner, in GA/60 at 2.14. The former probably speaks to extra duties such as own-zone faceoffs that he garners while Hemsky and Penner stay on the bench; whereas the latter is a very promising sign that the young guys in the protected minutes are learning their lessons well. Make no mistake, they are learning from a master of the two-way art.
The net result of quality play and quantity ice time is that Horcoff leads the Oil at +8. He also has the highest shot differential on the team at +341/-296 = +45, and the biggest scoring chance differential at +195/-169 = +26. This despite the fact that he started in his own zone a staggering 246 times, fully 45% of the team's defensive zone faceoffs, compared to "just" 184 times in the offensive zone. Enough good things happen during his shifts that by the time Horc leaves the ice the puck is more likely than not to be in the offensive zone (+177/-156 = +21) Using Vic Ferrari's measure he calls ZoneShift -- and I should use Vic's measure since I'm using his stats -- that puts Horcoff at an astonishing +83. I haven't checked but surely that is one of the best such ratings in the loop.
It's not just PvP either, cuz Hemsky has started 14 more faceoffs in the offensive zone than the defensive. To recap, that's Horcoff +62, Hemsky -14.
That Horcoff has been doing double duty in the faceoff circle can be seen in this stat:
Player *Faceoffs FO%
Horcoff * 1008 * 52.2%
M.Richards 999 * 50.0
Pahlsson * 992 * 53.2
Crosby *** 989 * 49.6
BrindAmour 983 * 62.6
Carter *** 965 * 47.0
M.Koivu ** 960 * 54.3
E.Staal ** 901 * 44.8
D.Roy **** 889 * 50.3
Lecavalier 840 * 49.8
So here's another stat specific to his position: in faceoffs taken, Shawn Horcoff is the #1 C (pronounced: "Number One Centre") in the NHfreakingL. Horc's no Brind'Amour on the dot, but his percentage stacks up pretty darn well against the heavy-workload group. More importantly, his GA record suggests that even when he loses the draw he's hardly out of the play, and eventually the puck will start moving to the good end. The man makes a gigantic and still-understated contribution to his team.
Although we have been in the same room over 500 times I have never really met Glenn Anderson. He came to my wife's class at Glenrose School Hospital with Ken Linseman and Don Jackson; and we once passed him at Pharos Pizza after a routine Oilers' win in which the conversation consisted of "Great game, Mr. Anderson!" from my wife, a smile and a nod from the man himself, and tongue-tied-ness from me. Around 1986 a thoughtful co-worker ran into him at some function and, knowing I was a huge fan, got him to sign the above poster which has adorned my basement wall ever since. The inset picture of Anderson with the little girl from Cross Cancer Institute sitting in the Stanley Cup was typical of an Oiler team that did great work in the community; that part of his fame Anderson took seriously, even as he danced to his own tune in many other respects. He and the media were never a mutual admiration society, let's put it that way.
I was an Anderson fan from the get-go, having seen him good during two cameo appearances at Varsity Arena during his amateur days. By the time he burst on the NHL scene at the advanced age of 20, he had developed an impressive array of skills to complement his blinding speed. The year on Clare Drake's Olympic team had done him a world of good.
In The Game of Our Lives, the must-read book on the developing dynasty that was the 1980-81 Edmonton Oilers, Peter Gzowski described Anderson at the beginning of that season:
"Number 9 is Glenn Anderson, still another vaunted rookie - perhaps too vaunted. At Lake Placid last year, Anderson was the most exciting player on the Canadian Olympic team, and when the Oilers signed him to a professional contract this summer, the scout who'd followed him made a flattering comparison between his speed and that of Guy Lafleur. Sather reacted vehemently, but the comparison had already been published. Still, if anyone can handle the pressure that kind of comparison entails, it is Anderson. He is fey. He comes either from Vancouver, as his birth records show, or from another planet; he seems incapable of giving a straight interview - he doesn't take the process seriously enough. He told the Oilers publicity department that his childhood idol was Wayne Gretzky, who is younger than he is. He has told other reporters that he dropped out of boyhood hockey because his feet got cold. Anderson bears an uncanny resemblance to television comedian Robin Williams, and since he does not appreciate being called Mork, he is in the process of growing a beard."
It took most of that first season for Anderson's head and hands to catch up with his feet, and for a brief time he was known for creating scoring chances that he couldn't finish. After a mid-season knee injury he returned stronger than ever, and during the team's remarkable late-season surge to the playoffs, he scored 9 goals in 7 games to reach the 30-goal plateau.
As those playoffs began, Gzowski did a similar review of the Oilers' starting lineup, including these words on Anderson:
Number 9, Glenn Anderson, is Andy now and not Mork, and he is close to fulfilling the potential the scouts saw when they signed him. As he went on his late-season scoring spree, he was named the Hockey News player of the week, an honour that among the Oilers had heretofore been reserved for Gretzky, who was so named an unprecedented four times. One of the newspapermen here, Tim Burke of the Gazette, is convinced that Anderson is cut from the mould of Maurice Richard - like Richard, he shoots left-handed and plays right wing - and Sather is concerned with that comparison as he was in the fall with the comparison between Anderson's skating abilities and those of Lafleur.
Hardly intimidated by such heady praise, Andy stayed hot right through the postseason, scoring the first goal in the Montreal Forum that kick started the Oilers shocking three-game blowout of Lafleur's Habs, and posting an impressive 5-7-12 in just 9 GP, all of them against either the Vezina trophy winning Habs or Stanley Cup champion Islanders. He was a great playoff performer right from the outset.
The next season the young Oilers blossomed into a fearsome offensive machine, with their first of five consecutive 400-goal seasons, a feat which has never been accomplished even once by any other NHL team. Anderson emerged as a 100-point scorer, setting a still-extant franchise record for assists by a winger (67). It set a standard even Mark Messier or Jari Kurri couldn't topple during their seasons on the First All-Star Team. His frequent linemate Messier achieved his career high 50 goals that 1981-82 season; in subsequent years Messier became more the playmaker and Anderson the finisher, although each was v-e-r-y comfortable in either role. Anderson potted 54 goals on two occasions during that run, sniping 198 goals in the four seasons 1982-86. He also recorded two more 100-point seasons, and another of 99 in 1983-84 in which a scorekeeper's error in Montreal cost Andy and the Oilers their best chance of having five 100-point scorers on the same squad.
For all his regular season success, Glenn Anderson lived for the playoffs, and always seemed to raise his game when the stakes were highest. A cursory look at his career stats indicates he kept his production near the same level: 0.97 points per game in the regular season, 0.95 in the playoffs. This is, however, tempered by the fact that Glenn played a disporportionate number of playoff games at the tail end of his career when his scoring rates were down. From the time the Rangers acquired him 'til the end, he played just 80 regular season games (just 7% of his career games), and 40 in the playoffs (18%). So it's hard to compare Anderson to say, Mark Messier, who played 484 regular season games after his last playoff game, thus dragging down just his regular season per-diems and effectively inflating his playoff numbers in comparison.
It's more germane to compare the performance of the Big Five during their time with the Oilers, where all played similar numbers of regular and post-season games at the same stages of their respective careers. First off, the Oilers themselves saw their per-game production decline slightly in the post-season. During Andy's career here 1980-91, their G/G rates dropped 4.65 to 4.36, a decline of 6.2%. This is pretty typical of the post-season generally. However, looking at the individual performances is instructive to say the least:
Player PPG ** R.S. / P.S. = difference
Anderson **** 1.07 / 1.22 = +13.3%
Messier ***** 1.22 / 1.30 = +6.6%
Kurri ******* 1.38 / 1.38 = +0.0%
Gretzky ***** 2.40 / 2.10 = -12.4%
Coffey ****** 1.26 / 1.10 = -12.9%
While opposition teams ratcheted up the defensive pressure on the Great One, the Mess-Andy duo would pump up the volume and provide a much greater percentage of the scoring from the second line. In particular, Anderson's +13.3% is off the charts.
Edit January 31: In an ongoing discussion over at MC79hockey I have discovered I made an error in calculating the foregoing. Anderson's PPG rate in the playoffs in Edmonton was 1.12, not 1.22. That figure is not quite "off the charts" but is nonetheless exceptional. For details see my comment #19 on MC's site.
More evidence of Anderson's post-season focus can be found in shooting percentage. In his NHL career he exceeded 20% in just one regular season, 1985-86. Compare that to these post-season numbers:
1984-85 - 21.3%
1985-86 - 21.1%
1986-87 - 22.6%
1987-88 - 20.9%
1988-89 - 6.3% (7 games)
1989-90 - 21.7%
Anderson admits to losing focus after the Gretzky trade and the death of his friend George Varvis, scoring just 16 goals that 1988-89 season and just 1 in the Kings series; otherwise he was a monster in the post-season every year.
Of course stats don't, and shouldn't, tell the whole story. Fortunately, there's lots of us old-timers around with anecdotal evidence. One stunning example that I witnessed with my own eyes was Glenn scoring the game winner in three consecutive Oiler playoff overtime games (1985-87), an extraordinary "natural hat trick" after just 46, 64 and 36 seconds respectively. Boys, it's beer time. And you're buying.
Anderson could beat you with a move, a pass, or a shot. If you don't believe me, ask Doug Crossman, the Philadelphia blueliner who was a common victim of three memorable Andy plays in the wonderful series that was 1987 Stanley Cup Finals. All were scored in the east end of Northlands Coliseum so I had an identical view as each play unfolded with Anderson bursting over the right side of the Flyers' line. In Game 2 -- the greatest live hockey game I have ever seen -- Anderson scored the third period tying goal on a brilliant solo effort, freezing Crossman with a great move before blazing past him and picking the corner on Ron Hextall, sending the game to overtime and ultimately a 3-2 Oiler victory. In Game 7, with everything on the line, Anderson played perhaps the greatest game of his career. He set up the tying goal with another great effort, taking a lead pass right at the centre line, beating the first defender one-on-one before again freezing Crossman with a fake slapshot, this time slipping a pass through to Kent Nilsson who fed Mark Messier at the doorstep. Then late in the third, with the Oilers clinging to a 2-1 lead against the comeback-happy Flyers, Anderson again cruised over the blueline at speed, once again bearing down on Crossman and winding up for a slapshot. This time it was no fake, as he absolutely boomed a wicked drive right through Ron Hextall, a goal that finally nailed shut the coffin of the never-quit Flyers, even as it nearly tore the roof off of Northlands Coliseum. A moment I shall never forget.
Like Tim Burke I saw quite a bit of the Rocket in Anderson, from his blazing speed to his ability to rise to the occasion. On the attack he would cut hard to the net from either wing, most often the right side, protecting the puck with an out-thrust leg and shoulder, often handling the puck with one hand on the stick or even just one skate on the ice, driving straight at the goaltender, daring the defenceman to pull him down so he, puck and all, could crash right into the goalie and on into the net if need be. He drew a metric tonne of penalties -- only Gretzky was close -- as he drove through checks, kept his legs moving, didn't do the swan drive but crashed hard (and convincingly) to the ice, occasionally with his own stick flying up and "accidentally" clipping the defender. More than once a bewildered opponent needed a towel in the penalty box. Again like the Rocket, he was a hard, occasionally vicious competitor.
Andy was committed to Hockey Canada's national program, playing no fewer than 119 games for the Red Maple Leaf over parts of three seasons, as well as participating in the Olympic games, two Canada Cups, and two World Championships. He also represented the NHL's best in Rendezvous '87 against a Russian squad that he always admired.
One of seven Oilers who won all five Stanley Cups, Anderson later joined Kevin Lowe and Mark Messier in New York, where the first three draft picks in Oiler history won their sixth Cup together. Still in his young 30s, Andy became an international hockey nomad, playing in four different European leagues, as well as Team Canada and a couple of cameos in the NHL, including a late return to the Oilers. His priorities -- seeing the world, having fun, and winning -- took precedence over statistical objectives like 500 goals, a number he came up two short. Some Hall of Fame voters held this "shortcoming" against him, as well as some personal animosities which built up through Anderson's unwillingness to play the media game, delaying his admission into the Hall for a number of years. But Andy's spectacular record of accomplishment couldn't be denied forever, as voices from Wayne Gretzky to Mark Messier to Scott Bowman to lowly fans like me made the overwhelming case on his behalf.
After his Hall of Fame induction in November, tonight comes the cherry on top, as Andy's #9 is being raised to the ceiling in the building he called home for the greatest of his playing days. Congratulations, Andy, you deserve this.
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.
Oilers picked a good time to take on the Caps, a strong team that has struggled in recent days. The key was surviving a first-period onslaught, in which the Oil were outshot 19-9 but emerged with a 2-0 lead. The club responded with two strong periods and were arguably the better team on the night despite being on the short end of the shot clock.
Ladislav Smid - 6: 3 hits, 2 blocked shots, +1, and nothing negative on the game sheet. Played much of his 15:31 in Oilers' zone (Corsi +7/-17) but soaked up the pressure and played with composure.
Shawn Horcoff - 7: Workhorse played through the flu, posting by far the greatest ice time of any forward (22:45) including tough minutes against Ovechkin's line and on the PK. Not much on the scoreboard but worked his tail off all night.
Andrew Cogliano - 6: His speed and effort were top-notch as usual, and he was a handful in the offensive zone in the second half of the game. Continues to have issues with faceoffs (2-4, 33%) and defensive zone coverage.
Ethan Moreau - 5: Was on the ice for both Washington goals and zero for the good guys. Did contribute to a solid PK unit until the meaningless late GA. Corsi number at evens was -12 as his line with Cogliano and Pouliot struggled to get it going.
Ryan Potulny - 6: Making the most of his Oilers audition, with lots of positive results in 9:05 TOI tonight: 1 shot, 1 hit, 1 takeaway, 1 assist, +1. One of the few Oilers to have a positive shot differential (+4/-2) on the night. Now has a Schremp-like 3 assists in his first 2 games.
Steve Staios - 7: Has reprised the Steady Steve role in a nice stretch of recent games after a prolonged difficult start to the season. His Corsi number of -12 on the night suggests he didn't do much to get the puck moving in the right direction, but was a warrior in our zone with 5 blocked shots, including a couple of wicked blasts off the stick of Ovechkin. A solid 5:00 on the PK earned him the extra mark over his partner Smid. Even drew 3 penalties.
Erik Cole - 9: Had an extraordinary game, netting the hat trick and leading the Oilers in shots (5), attempted shots (8), and even takeaways (2) as he busted his butt on the backcheck all night. Drew a penalty, had a hit, blocked a shot, even won his only faceoff. Skated miles, many of them with the puck. Has been Oilers' best player since Hemsky went down.
Dustin Penner - 5: Another so-so performance. His 11:52 TOI was barely half of what his linemate Horcoff posted, suggesting MacT wasn't impressed either. Did provide the screen of a Souray PP bomb which resulted in Cole's goal on the rebound, and provided some strong board work at times.
Steve MacIntyre - 6: His usual services weren't required on this night, but he avoided the defensive zone gaffes that ruined his last game, and did manage to score his first NHL goal on a screened snapper that fooled Theodore. Earns a bonus point for that.
Dwayne Roloson - 8: Earned his high mark in the game's opening 9 minutes, when Oilers were outshot 12-3 and outchanced 8-1. The vet held the Caps off the board during that onslaught, discouraging
Denis Grebeshkov - 7: Had a strong game, as has been his norm since being paired with Lubo Visnovsky. On a night where the Oilers were outchanced 19-13 at evens, Edmonton had a 9-4 edge with Grebeshkov on the ice, meaning 4-15 against when he was on the bench. Played a solid 21:43 including over 3½ minutes on each special team. This guy is developing nicely.
Sheldon Souray - 7: Drew the primary assignment against Ovechkin who was held off the scoresheet. Had an unflattering Corsi of -7 but fired 3 shots himself, one of which led to Cole's rebound goal on the powerplay. He and Smid were the only Oilers with more than 1 hit on the night (3 each).
Kyle Brodziak - 7: Had an eventful night, posting a whopping +4 in just 9:48 at evens. Oilers generated just 5 shots in that time, but 4 of them found twine. Brodziak's hard forecheck set the stage for MacIntyre's icebreaker, made a fine interception and pass to assist on Brule's eventual game-winner, and also had the primary assist on Cole's clincher that gave the Oil a 3-goal lead for most of the third. Had a strong night on the PK, with the exception of a careless high-sticking penalty that put the club two men down late in the first. Kyle's teammates bailed him out that time. 3 blocked shots.
Gilbert Brule - 6: Scored the game winner on his only shot (a nifty deke) and made a strong play to get the puck to the point on MacIntyre's goal. Took two bad penalties in the offensive zone, and was less than entirely reliable with the puck. Overall another strong game as he makes his case for permanent employment.
Lubomir Visnovsky - 7: Along with his partner Grebeshkov, kept the puck moving north all night. 2 shots, 2 blocks, an assist, +1. Did get burned by Fleishmann one-on-one, likely earning Staples' primary error on the Caps' first goal.
Tom Gilbert - 5: Recovered from a horrid first period to make a solid contribution down the stretch. Had a horrendous giveaway 20 seconds in where Roli saved his bacon, made another bad pass right to Semin minutes later.
Marc Pouliot - 4: A very nondescript performance. Seemed to be having trouble handling the puck cleanly all night, generated nothing, and took a bad holding penalty behind the Washington net.
Liam Reddox - 5: A good effort with not much to show for it, which seems fairly typical for this young buck. Does get in hard on the forecheck but lacks the bulk to make much of an impact. -1 with a penalty.
Sam Gagner - 5: Played 18:10 with nothing at all to show for it: no shots, no points, no hits or takeaways, and just 4-8, 33% in the faceoff circle. Made one very nifty series of moves on one first-period rush, later made a careless giveaway off an own-zone faceoff that resulted in two point-blank shots for Ovechkin.
This is Zorg Stortini, hired gun of the Edmonton Oilers. He's a funny looking fellow whose contribution is often misunderstood and frequently underappreciated.
Zorg bleeds Oiler blue, yet is often badmouthed by fans of his own team. Just the other day, Oilogosphere stalwart Andy Grabia made the following drive-by analysis:
I can't take any team with Zach Stortini on it seriously. Or any organization that considers him a Top 12 forward. I just can't.
30%: Zack Stortini- Well, we knew he wasn't going to have a season like last year but I thought he'd be more than Wilfredo Tejada. I don't think it's his fault, really. Giving Stortini at-bats when he clearly doesn't give you offense is like playing Bob Natal at first base: he can do it, but does it help you? You'd have to write a 4,000 word essay on how being purely physical overwhelms putting up even a dribble of offense with the minutes Zack is getting.
I think "incomplete" would be a much fairer mark than 30 frickin percent for a guy who has only received 70 minutes TOI. Hard to deliver
offence from the pressbox or the bench. ... Zack's track record is that the more regularly he plays, the better he plays. Instead, MacT screwed around with the Pisani at centre experiment at the expense of young players including Brodziak, Pouliot, and Stortini.
Zorg is an interesting player to track in that any line he's on is by definition the fourth line. Just as the Hemsky Line is the first regardless of who the other guys on it may be, the same may be said about the Stortini Line at the other end of the roster. Not that there's anything wrong with that; a healthy fourth line is critical to a team's success in my view.
Right now the canary in the coal mine is alive and well. Check out these numbers for those 9 games:
The usual caveat about small number statistics applies, but this looks like a typical 9-game stretch from last year's second half when even his many detractors had to admit Zorg was helping the club. The only large numbers in Zorg's stats apply to the physical side of the game: height, weight, hits, penalties, and fights. These are elements otherwise in very short supply on this team, that Zorg brings in spades.
For example, in those 9 games the Oilers landed a total of 128 hits. Stortini delivered fully 12.5% of those, in roughly 2.5% of the total individual ice time.
Let's look at that aspect of the game over the course of the season to date:
... meaning Zorg's hit rate is equal to the NEXT TWO highest regular Oilers. A few of those hits have been beauties, such as those on Shane O'Brien and Todd Fedoruk to name two.
Some of the small-number statistics are impressive by their very smallness. For example, giveaways. Zorg had none during that 9-game stretch; in fact he has had none to date in the entire season. Of the other 20-game Oilers, Strudwick has 7, Pouliot 8, everybody else at least 14. Zorg has Zero.
Then there's this one. A while back BCB made an insightful post in his blog Bringing Back the Glory about "aggressive" vs. "lazy" penalties. Accepting his definitions of what constitues each category (and there are some acknowledged gray areas), the Oilers as a team take about 2 lazy penalties for each aggressive one.
So far this season, Zorg leads the club with 87 PiM as befits his position description. In total he has taken 19 penalties, with the following breakdown: 19 aggressive penalties, 0 lazy penalties.
I would conclude here is a guy who understands what his job is. The vast majority of his penalties are coincidental of course, but the remainder are of the charging and roughing type, establishing a physical presence, standing up for teammates. Not a single obstruction foul for the entire season. It's kind of amazing when you think about it.
Heaven knows the Oilers, like all teams, need a physical presence. Indeed, Oilers have been branded a small, soft team. Zorg Stortini addresses a very major need on this club, and he does so while holding his own on the ice, by contributing a little bit and by giving away absolutely nothing. He can play in my Top 12 any day.
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 game was different from the Ottawa game and yet in many ways it was the same. Unlike the home contest against the sad sack Sens playing their third game in four nights on a western road trip, this time it was the Oilers who were the tired road team against a rested home favourite. And whereas the Oilers couldn't get the lead against Ottawa, against the Flames they couldn't hold the lead.
However, both games were tied after both the first and second periods, and both games were lost in the third. Both times the Oilers took one penalty in the third, and both times they didn't even come close to killing it. Instead, it killed them.
Having watched the PK unit fritter away two more games with a dreadful 4-for-8 record, I am running out of patience with a group of players who can't kill penalties (or avoid taking unnecessary ones), with a coaching staff that can't seem to teach the skill or the system, and with a management team which continues to sit on its hands while a gaping flaw seriously damages any playoff hopes this squad might have. The Oilers have allowed a league worst 1.17 PPGA/G; 28 clubs are at 1.00 or better, with only defensive lightweight Atlanta even in the same area code in terms of ineptitude. Attention: Management, this is a serious problem.
A not unrelated problem concerns faceoffs, where Oilers rank 27th in the NHL. For the second straight night the Oilers won just 38% of their draws and began far too many plays, including both special teams, without the puck. Again it's a puzzle that this skill is neither being successfully taught or addressed by way of player acquisition.
With that off my chest, on to the player ratings of another New Year's Eve loss in Calgary, an uneven performance in which two lines played well and two did not:
Ladislav Smid - 5: A solid, safe night with 0 GA in 16 minutes of action. Corsi number of -10 suggests play was in the bad end a little too often. Nice to hear Ray Ferraro confirm my observation of Smid's emerging confidence, especially in the area of breakout passes.
Shawn Horcoff - 3: A grisly night for my favourite Oiler. Was officially -3 in 14:07 at EV, was on for 2 more GA in 3:41 SH, while generating 0 GF in 5:20 on the PP. Bottom line, Oilers were outscored 5-0 in the 23 minutes Horcoff was on the ice. A lot of that was against Iginla's line, sure; Jarome himself schooled Horcoff by a similar 5-0 count in the faceoff circle, including all three faceoffs that immediately preceded the three Flames' powerplay goals. Horc finished the night just 8-16, 33% in the circle. His 3 shots on goal all came late with the Oilers down by 2 and shooting from everywhere; he had none with the game on the line. ES Corsi was -8. Had a hit, a takeaway and 2 blocks so was trying hard on the defensive side of the puck, but didn't get it done.
Robert Nilsson - 7: Was the polar opposite of Horcoff, as the Oilers outscored Calgary 4-0 in the 16:24 Nilsson was on the ice. Scored a powerplay goal, otherwise not involved in the scoring other than contributing to the flow of an effective line. Decent night defensively as well. Always seems to play well in his home town. Wish I could say the same of a more of his teammates.
Andrew Cogliano - 4: 2 shots, 2 blocks, 3 hits = a decent effort. Struggled in the circle yet again (2-8, 20%), and his line was badly outshot against medium opposition.
Ethan Moreau - 3: Compiled a spectacularly bad Corsi number of -17 in just 11:20 of EV play, as Calgary attempted 24 shots in that time, Oilers just 7. Was also burned on the decisive PPGA when Iginla outmuscled both him and Cole at the Oiler blueline. Was the second best captain on the ice by a very wide margin.
Steve Staios - 3: -1 in 14:26 at EV, and on for all 3 Calgary PPG in just 4:55 SH. Has struggled badly on the PK all year, both to my eye and statistically.
Erik Cole - 6: Has been Oilers' best player of late. 1-1-2, +2, with a team-leading 6 shots and 3 hits. Alas, like many Oilers, had a tough night on special teams, getting burned for the critical GA in just 1:27 SH TOI, and producing nothing in 5:11 on the PP.
Dustin Penner - 4: Played a much stronger and more involved game than against Ottawa, but didn't get it done. -2.
Dwayne Roloson - 4: Had enough offensive support to at least earn one standings point but didn't get it done. Aucoin's tying goal through his legs was a bit weak, and Boyd's 5-3 goal off a sloppy rebound killed any hope, and eventually stood up as the game winner. Hard to blame him on Iginla's darts, but didn't make the Big save either.
Denis Grebeshkov - 7: High event game to put it mildly. "Gretzbeshkov" was in on every Oiler goal (1-3-4), but was on for one EV GA, one PP GA, and was himself in the box for the game-turning 4-3 goal early in the third. Oilers outshot Calgary 17-10 at EV with Grebs on the ice.
Jason Strudwick - 7: The fourth line was the least of Oilers worries on this night. Oilers outshot Calgary 4-0 with Strudwick on the ice. Had a hit, a takeaway, and absolutely no negative events.
Sheldon Souray - 3: Similar night to Horcoff. -2 at EV, 2 GA in 3:43 SH TOI, and 0 GF in 7:04 on the PP. Moreover, was sitting in the box himself for Aucoin's tying goal after taking a silly delay of game penalty with a 150-foot slapshot over the glass. Ugly night all the way around.
Zack Stortini - 7: Like Strudwick had a very solid, safe game on the fourth line. On a night the team Corsi number was -10, Stortini posted a team leading +7 in his 8 minutes, allowing just 1 attempted shot to the Flames against 8 for the good guys. A shot, a couple of hits, and no negative events and no worries. Moved the puck sharply and in the right direction all night.
Kyle Brodziak - 7: Centred that effective fourth line, posting 3 shots, 3 hits, and 3 blocks. His Corsi of +1 indicates he did less well in spot duty on other lines. At 9-9, 50% was the best of the Oilers in the faceoff circle, and was one of the few PKers who didn't get burned for a GA.
Gilbert Brule - 3: Posted an unflattering Corsi of -13 in just 8:45, and took a rockhead tripping penalty off a lost offensive zone faceoff which led to the 2-2 goal. Didn't have much jump, perhaps due to a late-night call-up and all-day flight.
Lubomir Visnovsky - 6: Decent night at EV, scored a goal, a couple of shots, 4 blocks. But like everybody on the first PP unit, didn't get anything done in 6:55.
Tom Gilbert - 6: Had a far more effective game than his regular partner Souray, contributing an assist on a second-unit powerplay goal and another on Cole's meaningless late tally. Wasn't on for a Calgary goal in his 17:21.
Liam Reddox - 3: Tried hard (3 hits), but was outclassed in a match-up against Cammalleri. Oilers were outshot 7-2 with Reddox on the ice, and outscored 2-0. Brutal night for the rejigged "first" line on a night the Oilers badly missed Ales Hemsky.
Sam Gagner - 7: Centred the club's strongest line, posting 0-2-2, +2. Was on the ice for all 4 Oiler goals and just the empty net GA. Took another in a troublesome series of penalties, which happened to be one of the two penalties the Oil actually killed off. This is one team that can't afford bad penalties, though, and Sam needs to nip this trend in the bud.
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 opportunity to attend the game Tuesday night and found it frustrating in the extreme as the Oilers found a way to lose, in regulation, to a team that hadn't won a road game in two months. This continues a frustrating pattern of regulation home losses to (other?) non-playoff teams -- Toronto, L.A., Florida, now Ottawa. The Oilers need to be making hay in such games, and their lack of offence in the friendly confines is hard to fathom, and their seeming unwillingness to work as hard as the other guys unacceptable. Last night Ottawa played with far more determination and desperation, and deserved the two points. Oilers needed a couple of guys to step up in the absence of Hemsky, and instead played uninspired hockey for the most part, mustering just 7 shots in the first 33 minutes. Oilers did generate a number of scoring chances, but far too often shot wide, fanned on the puck, or didn't get the bounce. The squad lost too many puck battles, starting in the faceoff circle where they collectively went 17-28, 38%, including one that led directly to a GA and none that resulted in any offensive chances.
Ladislav Smid - 5: Looking comfortable, competent and at times commanding in the third pairing. Night's work was undone by a poor read on Ottawa's first goal in which Smid drifted into the low slot to cover Heatley (who was briefly open and calling for a pass) while neglecting Spezza who slipped in behind him to tap in Alfredsson's perfectly timed pass.
Shawn Horcoff - 7: Battled Ottawa's top guns to a standstill (+2/-2) and generated some decent chemistry with Reddox. Tough night in the circle, where he fared well in the neutral zone (4-2, 67%) but poorly where it mattered (3-7, 30%). Cleanly lost the faceoff to Spezza and didn't obstruct the big man from driving to the net where he ultimately scored the game's first goal.
Robert Nilsson - 5: Had a fine game without the puck, but did absolutely nothing with it. Row-bert just isn't feeling it these days. 3 hits, 0 shots.
Andrew Cogliano - 4: Always impresses with his speed through the neutral zone but his line too delivered not much in the offensive zone. His continued poor performance in the faceoff circle (1-5, 17%) hamstrings his line, which didn't start once from an own-zone draw. Got sucked out of position on the powerplay GA that decided the game in Ottawa's favour.
Ethan Moreau - 5: Also got burned on the GWG when the Oilers PK lost its shape yet again, allowing a free shot from the slot. Skated hard, was rewarded with a goal and very nearly another. 0 hits.
Steve Staios - 5: No problems with effort as usual, but coverage problems in the defensive zone persist. Was victimized by Alfredsson on Ottawa's first goal.
Erik Cole - 6: Skated miles, worked hard. Led the Oilers forwards in TOI (21:23) and all Oilers in hits (4) and attempted shots (8). Hit the crossbar on a weird breakaway from the corner, increasing what must surely be his league lead in goalposts hit. His iron-to-net ratio is out of this world. Still, Cole seems to be a one-man show out there at times, and for all his effort his line didn't really click.
Dustin Penner - 3: Seemed to have gotten out of the wrong side of bed. It was one of those days when his big body was uncoordinated, as pass after pass seemed to go right through his stick. Normally a master of body positioning, Penner was a day late and a dollar short to far too many puck battles, losing far more than his share. Most irksome of all was his unwillingness to compensate by throwing his big body around a little bit. Had a nice deflection which led to Reddox's goal, but Oilers needed way more from the big man. 3 missed shots, 4 giveaways, -1.
Mathieu Garon - 6: A solid night's work for the most part, although 3 GA on 25 shots is nothing special. Did make a number of fine stops, including a dazzling paddle save off of Spezza in the first. Trouble handling the puck
Denis Grebeshkov - 6: Solid, mostly uneventful night. He makes a lot of plays with his tremendous skating ability, especially laterally.
Jason Strudwick - 5: I'm liking Strudwick as a forward more than I thought I would, which is to say MUCH more than I do as a defenceman. His lack of speed is a detriment but he played a strong game along the wall, moving the puck safely and taking the body. Safe, but limited.
Sheldon Souray - 6: Didn't get much chance to strut his stuff on the powerplay, as the zebras pocketed their whistles for the most part. When they finally remembered where they were, Souray was the victim of a very borderline holding penalty which ultimately cost the Oilers the game. Also screened Garon on Alfredsson's goal. Sheldon did move the puck effectively for the most part, and Oilers outshot Ottawa 12-5 while he was on the ice.
Zack Stortini - 6: The crowd was really buzzing anytime Zack was out there, especially on the forecheck where he was winning lots of races to the puck and subsequent puck battles on the end-board cycle. He is far from the best skater on the team, but nobody skates harder. on this night his effort stood out like a sore thumb. To my eye had way more than the 1 official hit he was credited with, presumably the solid crunch on Neil. Would have had a 7 except for an unnecessary penalty.
Kyle Brodziak - 6: A versatile night in which he centred an effective fourth line, spotted in on the wing in Pouliot's absence, and played well on the PK where he led Oiler forwards in TOI. A solid 60% in just 5 faceoffs (there were just 45 total on the night). 0 shots, however.
Lubomir Visnovsky - 6: Played well enough but didn't bring enough offence on a night Oilers needed some. None of his four attempted shots even hit the net. He and Grebs played effectively as a pair, with each covering off the other's defensive gaffes.
Tom Gilbert - 7: An effective night with 4 shots, 2 blocks, +1 and a Corsi of +10. Landed a couple of beauty body checks in the first, neither of which seemed to register with the RTSS counter for whatever reason. When Gilbert does decide to step up as a surprise tactic he can be an effective hitter.
Marc Pouliot - 5: Graded on half a game (5:41) in which he generated 0 shots, hits, or positives or negatives of any type. Left himself exposed for the big hit, although in his defence he certainly took the hit to make the play. Oilers were even more discombobulated after he left the game.
Liam Reddox - 6: A surprise choice to replace Hemsky on the first line, generated nothing offensively before scoring on a zero-foot shot to tie the score 2-2 late in the second. Was a new man after that and played a real solid third.
Sam Gagner - 4: Did not build on his fine performance against Nashville. Had plenty of opportunity in 20:40 TOI (more than Horcoff!), but created next to nothing with just 1 shot -- in fact the Oilers as a team had just 5 in Gagner's 20 minutes. 2 giveaways, and was just 5-9, 36% on a night Oilers got owned in the faceoff circle (again). Managed to stay out of the sinbin after a recent rash of bad penalties (6 minors in 3 games).