Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kerrzy's Notebook: Oilers This Week

Last week:

The Oilers started the week with a 6-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche and lost all three games they played, despite getting progressively better after the blowout loss on Monday.

The team was treated to a bag skate after the loss in Denver and responded with a strong game against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, where a phantom penalty in overtime cost them in a 3-2 loss. The Oil held a one-goal lead from early in the second period all the way into the final five minutes of the game where the Canucks tied it up and then won it in the extra frame. The one point was just their fourth in 17 games.

On Friday night, the Oilers lost a heartbreaker to the visiting Dallas Stars - they battled back from a 3-1 deficit, scoring the game-tying goal with just 1:02 left on the clock; however, with 23 seconds left, James Neal put the Stars back on top with his 20th goal of the season off a bad defensive-zone giveaway.

That loss was the Oilers 10th straight defeat and 17th in their last 18 games. On top of that, they've now lost six in a row and 13 of 14 at Rexall Place.

This week:

The Oilers play three times this week - tonight against Chicago, Thursday against the Blues and then they travel to Calgary to take on the struggling Flames on Saturday night.

Thursday's game against St. Louis wraps up a four-game stretch at home but the Oil are right back at home for two games after their trip to Calgary. They play seven of their next eight games on the road.

Blackhawks @ Oilers
Tuesday Jan. 26th - Pre game: 6pm, Puck drop: 7:30pm; 630 CHED

-The Chicago Blackhawks have been on a tear this season after a pretty strong year in 2008/09 - they currently lead the Central division by 13 points and are almost as strong on the road as they are at the United Center in the Windy City. The Hawks are 8-3-1 to start the month of January after going 11-3-0 in December, but they have lost two of three coming into this game against the Oilers, including a 5-1 loss to the Canucks on Saturday night. Chicago is undefeated in two previous meetings against the Oilers this season; tonight is the third of four games between the two teams. Chicago is dangerous on special teams - they're power play ranks sixth and their penalty kill is fourth in the NHL, so the Oil will have to stay out of the box and capitalize on their chances. The team is led offensively by a core group of younger players with Patrick Kane on top of the scoring chart with 21 goals and 57 points. Defenceman Duncan Keith is second with 11 goals and 46 points (second among all blue liners) and captain Jonathan Toews is the third of four Hawks players with at least 40 points, with 17 goals and 25 assists (Patrick Sharp has an even 40). Between the pipes, Cristobal Huet (22-9-3) has started the bulk of Chicago's games, though Antti Niemi is a respectable 13-4-1 with a league-best 1.99 GAA.

Blues @ Oilers
Thursday Jan. 28th - Pre game: 6pm, Puck drop: 7:30pm; 630 CHED

-The Blues and the Oilers split their first two meetings of the season, including a 7-2 St. Louis win back in mid-December. Since then, the Blues have been very up-and-down, losing seven straight and then winning five of six. In their last nine games they are surging though, with a 6-2-1 record and are still in the hunt for a playoff berth in the Western Conference, just four points out of the final spot. Brad Boyes leads the team in scoring with 34 points, while Andy McDonald has the team lead in goals with 16. St. Louis' youth movement, players like David Perron and T.J. Oshie have also showed promise and put up pretty decent players. Chris Mason has shouldered most of the load this season, putting up a 15-15-7 record but they also have Ty Conklin, who might not have the best numbers but has proven himself to be a pretty decent backup in the past few seasons. The Blues and the Oilers are two teams headed in different directions this season - St. Louis is playing for the playoffs, while Edmonton is playing for pride at this point - so I expect the visitors to be playing with a lot of intensity, which the Oil will have to match in order to come out on top.

Oilers @ Flames
Saturday Jan. 30th - Pre game: 6:30pm, Puck drop: 8pm; 630 CHED

-It's a tough time to be a pro hockey player in Alberta - the Oilers are struggling big time right now, but so are the Flames. Coming into this week, the Flames had lost seven in a row and nine of their last ten games including a 9-1 loss and six games where they scored one or fewer goals. The struggles faced by the Oilers and Flames are eerily similar, as both clubs started losing after putting together five straight wins; one difference though is between the pipes. The Oilers have been relying on rookie backups since mid-November - not so in Calgary though, where longtime starter Miikka Kiprusoff has lost six straight and seven of eight. Another reason they've been losing games is the production of their captain, Jarome Iginla, who hasn't scored in 11 games and has just three points during that span. Still, Iginla leads the team in scoring with 21 goals and 44 points, followed by Rene Bourque's 38 points. When they're rolling, the Flames have a dangerous mix of forwards and defenceman that can score, but right now nobody is doing a whole lot on that front. The good thing about a game like this is someone has to win!

Who's hot:

Sam Gagner - The Oilers forward didn't register a point against Chicago, but has nine in his last 11 games, including a two-goal performance in that disappointing loss to the Stars last Friday. Gagner is playing with a lot of confidence right now - a bright spot in an otherwise dull stretch right now for his club.

Ryan Potulny - After going four games without a point, the young Oilers forward has goals in back to back games and three points during that span. He's shown in the past that he can go on a run and put up some points if he gets going. The Oilers need that in a big way right now.

Patrick O'Sullivan - O'Sullivan has five points in his last seven games and has been a minus player in just two of those games, which is an encouraging stat. He's playing solid offensively and if guys around him start producing, he'll probably start as well.

What to watch for:

Something's got to give - This can't possibly go on forever - 11 straight losses and one win in 19 games; one win in their last 15 at home...it can't possibly keep going like this. At some point, you'd have to think the team will string together a couple of wins and get out of this slump.

Trade talks - As we get closer to the trade deadline, more names are going to start popping up in trade talks...just today I heard TSN say that Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky and Ethan Moreau are three of the top 10 players that will most likely be moved. That uncertainty in the dressing room could make things better or worse for the players involved.

Pride is at stake - When a team falls out of the playoff race as badly as the Oilers have, it comes down to playing for pride. They're more than likely out of the playoff race, but the players have to try and start over for the rest of the season and show the city that they're still playing hard, despite their situation.

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