Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Kerrzy's Notebook: Oilers This Week

Last week:

It was both a busy and disappointing week for the Edmonton Oilers last week as they lost three of four games and were limited to just one goal in all but one game.

After starting the week with their seventh straight defeat in a 4-1 loss at home to the Flames, the Oil seemed to bounce back with a 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, head coach Pat Quinn's former team. That momentum didn't last though, as they lost to the Flames again (2-1) and then dropped a 4-1 decision in San Jose. That followed a week that saw them lose to St. Louis before dropping back-to-back divisional games against Minnesota and Vancouver.

This week:

The Oilers play twice this week as they kick off a four-game home stand against the surging Coyotes on Tuesday night before hosting the struggling Blue Jackets on Thursday.

Edmonton comes into this week with just one win and nine losses since that five-game win streak to begin December, falling to last in the Western Conference where they sit 15 points out of a playoff spot. In the first part of the season the Oil were tough to play at home (6-2-1 in October) however they are just 1-6-1 in their last eight games at Rexall Place.

If the team hopes to salvage this season, they've got to start turning things around immediately before they run out of time.

Coyotes @ Oilers
Tuesday Jan. 5th - Pre game: 5:30pm, Puck drop: 7pm; 630 CHED

-Since suffering back-to-back losses to the Oilers and Flames in last week of November, the Phoenix Coyotes have been on fire, putting up a 12-3-3 record and have points in six of their last seven (4-1-2). Despite the off-ice problems the franchise went through in the off season, the Coyotes had a great start to the season, but a pretty average second month before this current hot streak that has sent them into second place in the Pacific division and fourth in the entire conference (second highest point total). Longtime captain Shane Doan continues to lead the Coyotes offence with 10 goals and 26 points, while Scottie Upshall leads the team in goals with 14, followed by Radim Vrbata's 12. A big part of the success of the Coyotes this season has been the play of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, the NHL's second star for the month of December. Bryzgalov in in the top five in save percentage (.927), goals against average (2.03), shutouts (5) and wins (22).

Blue Jackets @ Oilers
Thursday Jan. 7th - Pre game: 5:30pm, Puck drop: 7pm; 630 CHED

-As bad as the Oilers have struggled in the past few weeks, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been just a bit worse, going 3-13-7 since November 21st, after a 12-6-2 start to the season. After winning just twice in the month of December, the Jackets kicked off the new year with a 3-2 loss to the Avalanche and take on the Canucks in Vancouver before travelling to Edmonton. A big reason the Blue Jackets have struggled this season is the "sophomore slump," if you want to call it that, of goalie Steve Mason. The 21-year-old had 33 wins and 10 shutouts last season, but has an 11-14-6 record after 32 starts so far this year. Much of the core of the Jackets team that made the playoffs last year is still intact, with guys like Rick Nash, Kristian Huselius and RJ Umberger still putting up points, but the team has just run into a rough patch. Granted, of the 20 games they've lost since mid-November, 16 of them have been by one or two goals. Nash, who is always dangerous, leads the Columbus offence with 19 goals and 38 points, followed by Antoine Vermette with 30 points and Huselius with 28.

Who's hot:

The Oilers have scored just once in five of their last six games, so it's tough to single out one or two offensive stars in the past week or two. Robert Nilsson and Sam Gagner are both riding two-game point streaks and Shawn Horcoff has two points in his last three games, but that's about as good as it gets right now. Nilsson led the team in scoring in the month of December with nine points in 14 games, followed by Lubomir Visnovsky and Dustin Penner with eight.

What to watch for:

Team morale - Several Oilers, like veteran defenceman Sheldon Souray, commented on Monday about how embarrassing this recent slide is and how their pride was on the line heading into the second half of the season. Will they bounce back?

Response to coaching staff - Head coach Pat Quinn said on Monday that they "weren't giving up the ship," while announcing that they would be holding a two-day mini camp next weekend to go over the basics of the system the coaches want the team to play. At Monday's practise, the team spent a lot of time in front of a white board...will this extra attention to detail pay off? Will the players respond?

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