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Oilers Report Card - Week Two

A quick-hit evaluation of the week that was for the Edmonton Oilers

Tuesday, 19.10.2010 / 4:00 PM / Features
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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Oilers Report Card - Week Two



FORWARDS  

In what was considered a tremendous strength in week one, the team's line chemistry tapered off and failed to execute on a brief two-game road trip. As such, head coach Tom Renney has elected to juggle the lines at practice and look to develop some greater, more balanced strengths across all four lines. This will be another big test for the forward units, as they need to develop some quick familiarity in order to achieve some success in this abbreviated week of action. Old becomes new again as Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff will be reunited; a decision that should please both players, as their past history has resulted in great success for the team.


More shots, more quality. Edmonton needs to get more pucks on net and ensure that they're of decent quality in the process. The forward units need to position themselves better in front of the net and crash the crease when a shot is incoming. While the forwards have executed reasonably well in the offensive zone, there's room for further improvement. A greater commitment to crashing the net, particularly on the powerplay, would help the overall offensive attack in a number of ways. Perhaps most importantly, it would allow the defencemen to fire more pucks on net rather than looking for a more complicated play in a softer area of the ice.


Derek Boogaard is gone and Raitis Ivanans is still injured. A normal road swing through Minnesota and Calgary would mean fireworks for the tough guys. As this wasn't the case, the toughness exhibited was in a more game-related manner. The Oilers forwards continued to show a strong commitment to physical play, though the hits per game average dropped to 14 in the past two games. While the Oilers were outhit against Minnesota last week, the Oilers were the aggressors against the Flames and outhit them by a 14-12 count. There's still room for improvement, but the Oilers have definitely been involving themselves physically.


HOMEWORK - FACEOFFS

While the Oilers started the season strong, they currently find themselves in a two-game losing skid that could be attributed to a specific area of the game.

In what has been the subject around Oil Country for a while now, faceoffs continue to be king. Shawn Horcoff and Colin Fraser currently lead the group with 41% and 51.2% success rates respectively, meaning the faceoff numbers only drop from here. With such a young group establishing this Oilers team, puck possession can often be the difference between winning and losing.

Currently, the Oilers' offensively gifted forwards are being forced to chase the puck, forecheck, and attack the opposition defence rather than control the puck and make plays. For a young group still trying to learn the NHL game at both ends of the ice, this becomes an incredible challenge and can often expose the youth on the club.

The Oilers have been and will continue to work diligently on faceoffs. If this area of the team game can improve quickly, the Oilers will likely be able to more freely showcase the offensive talent this team has to offer; and win more games as a result.



DEFENCEMEN  

This continues to be one of the strongest points of the Oilers defence corps. Rising familiarity with one another has been a great benefit, as the different skill-sets are complemented well with the various pairings. Ryan Whitney continues to be the iron-man on the blueline, leading in almost all statistical categories, including ice-time. The leadership exudes beyond his partnership with Kurtis Foster, as the displayed leadership has branched to the other pairings as well. Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid and even young Theo Peckham have taken on larger responsibilities due to the veteran influence of Whitney, Foster, and Vandermeer.


While the chemistry has been good, so too has the execution offensively. The Oilers defence has been contributing on a nightly basis to the offensive attack by involving themselves in the rush, getting more pucks on net and making smart dump-ins when the opportunity arises. It would still be a benefit to see some players make a more concentrated effort on getting pucks on net from the point. While the defence has some talented puck distributors, you could argue that they're often looking to dish the puck to the wingers too often, rather than getting a shot on goal. Not all plays have to be pretty; often a point shot and a rebound will suffice.


Perhaps the greatest surprise of week two was seeing some players involve themselves more in the physical play. Tom Gilbert in particular showed some excellent will, as he threw some thunderous hits in both Minnesota and Calgary. Unfortunately, he may have gone too far with his one jolt on Matt Stajan that garnered a slight punishment from the NHL, but the very act of getting involved was a real positive moving forward. The Oilers have again made it known to their provincial rivals that they're no longer willing to sit around and take the punishment; they're now on the physical attack, imposing their will whenever and wherever possible.


HOMEWORK - THE BREAKOUT

On the whole, communication between the defence pairings has been good. Unfortunately, the breakout is still struggling to ignite a proper rush up the ice. With as many talented puck movers as the Oilers have on the blueline, it would appear that it's more a matter of allowing the players to adapt to the system.

Of course, this isn't just a task for the defencemen. The forwards need to better involve themselves up ice in opening up passing options in the neutral zone. The two units need to work together and find some cohesion with breakout options. It is, quite literally, a team effort.

More often that not, this is something that comes with time; and although the team has practiced plenty over the past few weeks, their unusual schedule has possibly hindered some of the team's progressive flow. You can practice all you want, but you also need game action to refine your skills and assess them against NHL competition.



GOALTENDING  

Nikolai Khabibulin continues to be the team's MVP with another two rock-solid performances added to his 2010-11 resume over the past week. While the 37-year old missed the bulk of last season due to a back injury, he's showing no ill-effects and is enjoying one of his best season starts in recent memory. His performances should be providing confidence for the Oilers in their own end; perhaps taking more chances with the puck, or willingness to change their style of aggressiveness on the penalty kill. At the end of the day, the only challenge for the coaching staff at this point is determining when Deslauriers or Dubnyk gets a chance.



Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com


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