I can't say that I like the play that Taylor Hall made near the end of Thursday's game with the knee on Cal Clutterbuck and even Hall himself admitted today that the video does look pretty damning. It was a reckless play that could have resulted in serious injury to either player, and the jeopardy that Hall's own knee was in on that play should be enough to dissuade him from repeating the action upon further review.
That said, though he should have taken action more cautiously, Hall's motive was to resuscitate a lifeless team, and I'm positive that he doesn't deserve some of the labels that I'm reading like "dirty" or "wild card". The Oilers were getting beat on home ice for the third time in the first four games of a homestand and offered very little for the Wild to worry themselves with in the final period of that game.
The fact is, the way the team is built, if they aren't scoring, they don't have a lot to intimidate an opponent. On that night, in that moment, Hall and his teammates weren't scoring and he wanted to find another way to be hard to play against.
It was cute to see Clutterbuck play the innocent victim later in the week, and while I'm sorry to see him out of the lineup with an injury, his suggestion that he's never been on the giving end of a reckless play was a laughable one (just Youtube a hit from behind on Theo Peckham a couple years ago to see what I mean).
He's a ferocious player who is notorious inside hockey circles for letting his teammates take care of dropping the mitts when his hits elicit a response, and he's made himself a target. So, with his team on the verge of losing the game, Hall saw an opportunity to send a message to a player that has often done the same, that the battle was lost but the war would continue. It was reckless and it injured another player and sent the Oilers leading scorer to the press box for two games, and none of that is positive, but I guess I find myself really understanding where Hall was coming from emotionally on that play and think the team could stand to follow suit.
It doesn't have to be about throwing an open ice hit like Hall attempted to do. More simple things will suffice, like accepting that you have to dump the puck in and win a battle to get it back, or driving hard to the crease and taking some abuse for a chance at a rebound. The best teams in the league aren't just good at scoring or just good at being physical or just good at grinding along the wall -- they're good at all of those things, and when one isn't going, there's enough of a foundation to fall back on while the ship gets righted.
Credit where credit is due, the Oilers do a phenomenal job of blocking shots and that's a solid place to build from.
This team is loaded with skill, and that's something you can't teach. The stuff we're talking about here can be taught and learned and that's the reason for hope. As the team evolves and learns how to win, these things will become habits. When they do...look out.
The marathon road trip that the Oilers just departed for will see them play 9 games during 17 days away while flying 10,772 kilometres. When the Oilers return from this trip, they'll have 22 games remaining, with 14 of those on home ice. A mediocre 4-4-2 record on home ice so far has necessitated above average performance on the road. They'll want something like 12 of a possible 18 points to remain in serious playoff contention.
There are 16 teams in the NHL with their overall face-off percentage above 50%. 9 of those teams are in a playoff spot, while 7 are not. There's no arguing that it's better to be good at it than not, and it's certainly key in numerous game situations, but enough with the nonsense that a lower placed face-off team is doomed. Montreal and New Jersey are 2 of the top 4 teams in the East while Anaheim and St. Louis are 2 of the top 4 teams in the West. They're all also in the bottom 10 of team face-off percentage. If you can't win a draw, you just have to work a bit harder and be a bit better positionally to get the puck back. It can be done, clearly.
The Oilers scoring woes are obvious to those that watch every night, but they're pretty scary on paper, too. With just 16 5-on-5 goals, there are 11 teams that have double that amount. The Tampa Bay Lightning are two goals away from having triple. 5-on-5 goal scoring is pretty well correlated with playoff seeding. 13 of the top 16 teams in 5-on-5 goal scoring are currently in a playoff spot. 1 of the teams on the outside, Detroit, is tied for a spot and on the outside due to a tiebreaker. The road map to improved success is very, very simple: score more even strength goals.
There are five occasions this season where the Calgary Flames face an opponent that played the night before in Edmonton. This happens just one time the other way around.
Sam Gagner's 17 points in 17 games makes him the team leader in that category, and has him tied for 19th in the NHL scoring race.
Defenseman Ryan Murphy has been playing a lot in his first couple games with Carolina, but amongst rookies with more than a handful of games, Justin Schultz is still playing more on average than anyone else. 22:41 per game with 9 points so far. His +/- has taken a big hit in the last 6 games where he's gone -7.
I really liked the idea of the double-screen on the powerplay against Phoenix. That alignment resulted in the 2-2 goal and created havoc for Mike Smith on an earlier opportunity. I wonder if we'll see them continue to roll that out. It's a really different formation than the other unit the Oilers use, which certainly makes it more difficult to prepare for and adjust to on the fly.
Dan Tencer is the host of 630 CHED's Inside Sports which can be heard weeknights from 6 to 9 pm.
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