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Oilers Report Card - Week Three

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

Wednesday, 27.10.2010 / 12:45 PM / Features
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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Oilers Report Card - Week Three



FORWARDS  

While the Oilers have been busy shuffling the lines all week without seeing the results in the win column, there does appear to be some chemistry developing with some of the younger players throughout the lineup. The biggest beneficiary has been Taylor Hall. The dynamic forward is still in search for that elusive first goal, but appears to be getting stronger each game and is certainly developing some cohesion with new linemates Gilbert Brule and Andrew Cogliano. If the unit continues to get opportunities like they have, everyone will begin to produce more and the team will get back on the winning track.


With five consecutive losses to look back on, it would be difficult to praise the execution of the forward group. Having said that, there does seem to be some improvement down the line. This week the Oilers showed a greater commitment to driving the net and going to the dirty areas. Particularly against the Wild, this was the theme all night. The Oilers were unfortunately taken back a step against the veteran Sharks, but this comes with the territory of being a young squad. If the Oilers can continue to show the effort in going to the net, results will come. A greater commitment to that in the third period vs. Calgary nearly paid off with a comeback win.


Once again, the Oilers forwards showed a tremendous commitment to physical play over the past week. Unlikely source Sam Gagner was even throwing big hits and dropping the gloves to showcase that. This is an area of success that the Oilers need to maintain in order to start seeing results in the win column. This doesn't necessarily mean that the young, skilled forwards need to be fighting each and every game, but a hard-nosed forecheck can provide sustainable energy and enthusiasm as the team progresses through a game. As a result, scoring chances are often manufactured.


HOMEWORK - SIMPLICITY

The team has admitted as much: The Oilers have been trying to do too much offensively. While goal-scoring likely isn't the issue causing the team's current slide, every little thing matters. Sometimes a simple play not only results in an offensive chance, but it can also extend a period of attack zone pressure as well.

The Oilers have had issues with turnovers, and many of them are coming at the offensive blueline rather than in the defensive zone. You could argue that many are the result of a broken play off the rush; the team has been guilty of as much early in the season. It hurts an offensive play and the difficulty in getting back to break up a play defensively has been an issue as well.

Interestingly enough, many of the goals scored against this season have come off the rush. Not surprisingly, a breakdown in coverage is usually the result. A young team trying to find their way is forcing the play offensively and are unable to recover on the defensive side of the puck.

What we're seeing are growing pains. It happens to every team, particularly those in a rebuilding process. As the season progresses, these issues will begin to solve themselves due to the increased practice and game time. The key here is to be patient, because this area is improving as the team continues to grow.



DEFENCEMEN  

The first curveball was thrown into the lineup when Theo Peckham suffered a minor hand injury vs. Minnesota. Peckham was unable to play and veteran Jason Strudwick received his first game action of the season. The pairing struggled at times without the practice time and familiarity that Vandermeer and Peckham had developed. At the top, Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert were reunited, which always seems to bring out the best in Gilbert. If the remaining pairings can develop the kind of chemistry that the top pairing has, the Oilers defence will surely tighten up and improve its collective play on both sides of the puck.


Anytime you have a defenceman leading your team in scoring, you know something is going well. Ryan Whitney has collected eight assists in seven games thus far in the young season and looks poised to continue his strong offensive play. Whitney's signature breakout pass has not only been the catalyst for the Oilers' offensive attack on the rush, but his patience and smarts in the offensive zone have enabled the team to set up some quality scoring chances that have usually been cashed. When a goal has been scored this season, chances are Whitney was an integral part of the play at some point.


Theo Peckham and Ladislav Smid continue to lead the way in hits so far this season, and their physical toughness has been a driving force in the team's collective defensive play. Punishing the opponents with thunderous hits have provided some more open ice for some of the younger, skilled forwards. This is part of the redefintion of Smid. He's now playing a larger role in the top four and is further developing his game to include areas that were previously not his strong-suit. Nowadays forwards need to be aware of when Smid is on the ice, as his physical commitment is causing problems for some opposition forwards.


HOMEWORK - CONSISTENCY

Consistency issues have been a common theme with the team so far, and that shouldn't be surprising given the youth the club is icing; a rebuilding process is going to bring these to the forefront. That's part of the process and further development time will help alleviate these issues in due time.

Where the defence is concerned, the breakout is one of the most pressing areas that need addressing and head coach Tom Renney is staunch about his approach. The team continues to work diligently on improving that area of the game. Like other things, we need to be patient with the process.

One particular area where the defence corps have excelled is with the fact that all players are playing within themselves. Appropriate ice-time is perhaps a mitigating factor, but the team has done well to stay within their respective strengths and ability. Consistency issues will improve and, over time, fix themselves with familiarity between partners growing and skill-sets continuing to be complemented in the top six.



GOALTENDING  

Nikolai Khabibulin provided another week of steady goaltending, but even that wasn't enough to salvage a win against the Wild, Sharks and Flames. Now comes the true test; with the three-game road trip already underway, the Oilers conclude with a back-to-back set against the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks later this week. For the first time this season, one or both of Edmonton's backups will get the opportunity to play. While one game won't be enough to steal the number one role away from Khabibulin, it could create a lasting impression and help to clear up a cloudy situation in goal moving forward.



Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com


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