Hockey Headlines

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Back To The Future

Pretty entertaining game tonight between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers, right? Lots of goals, some late drama, an overtime period, and some goals that looked like they came straight out of the 1980s when scoring was at its highest and players were amassing 200-point seasons. However, it became more and more evident that the two men in charge of rebuilding the Oilers back to a contender might actually be stuck in the 1980s! Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish need to make a change or two quickly for the Oilers to have a shot at anything this season.

Back in the 1980s, there was this little dynasty known as the Edmonton Oilers. They would routinely give up three or four goals per game because they were scoring seven or eight goals per game. The Oilers had scoring coming out the wazoo as they boasted a lineup that featured Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Anderson, Tikkanen, Coffey, Lowe, and MacTavish amongst others. This team could pump a dozen goals by NHL goalies if given the chance, and they rarely worried about defence... at least until the playoffs.

Today's Oilers boast the likes of Hall, Gagner, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Yakupov, Smyth, Schultz, Arcobello, and Belov, giving the Oilers a young, high-powered offence much in the same way that the Oilers of the 1980s had. This team, given the opportunity, can score goals in bunches and will certainly bring their offensive game in spades if not kept in check. Tonight was a perfect example.

However, where this team is seriously lacking is the one place that the 1980s Oilers shone when needed. Quality goaltending lifted the Oilers of the 1980s to five Stanley Cups as Grant Fuhr and Bill Ranford provided quality goaltending when the Oilers clamped down on defence. Devyn Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera simply aren't in that league.

The Oilers have given up four goals in every game they have played this season. There hasn't been a shred of consistent defence shown by them in any game so far. Their defencemen can be blamed, the goaltenders absolutely carry some of the blame, and the forwards are on the hook as well. Because this is systemic, head coach Dallas Eakins is also to blame. But can all of these moving parts really fail at once?

The architect of this team - Craig MacTavish - has put together some impressive offensive talents, and locked them up long-term. There is no doubt that the Oilers will score goals. The problem is scoring enough goals to wrangle some wins. The Oilers sit tenth in goals-per-game at 3.20, ahead of some offensively-gifted teams such as Chicago (3.00 gpg), NY Islanders (3.00 gpg), and Vancouver (2.83 gpg). The problem isn't scoring goals for the Oilers at this point. It's stopping them.

The Oilers are dead-last in the NHL in goals-against-per-game, giving up 5.00 goals per game. The Oilers have six players - Hall, Perron, Hemsky, Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, and Ference - at or below a -5 rating, and we're only five games into the season. Ference was brought in to be a stopper on the blue line, and he's done quite the opposite. In fact, none of the Oilers defencemen have a rating above even.

And then we get to the goaltending. I'm not sure why the Oilers continue to stick with Devyn Dubnyk, but it's costing them games. Dubnyk is the worst starting goaltender in the the NHL at this point as he boasts a 5.43 GAA, an .829 save percentage, and an 0-3-1 record. At this point, the Oilers are better with LaBarbera than they would be with Dubnyk. Heck, an open net might have better stats!

Case in point? This goal CANNOT go in under any circumstances.
That's a goaltender who is cheating in trying to anticipate the pass rather than being engaged in the play. That's a goaltender who doesn't understand being tight on the post. That's a goaltender who have up a soft goal. And I'm sorry to say it, but Dubnyk has given up a number of soft goals this season thus far. It will be a long year if he keeps playing as he is.

If the Oilers want to make a change for the better, they should start by looking at their last line of defence in their goaltending. They have enough youthful scoring that they can make a deal for a decent goaltender. While Ales Hemsky may be off the market according to Craig MacTavish, it might be time to put him back on the market in an effort to make the Oilers better long-term. And Eakins would serve himself well if he benched Dubnyk in a hurry.

If MacTavish and Lowe don't want to think long-term on both sides of the coin, it may be their employment that is short-term. While offence is a good defence and certainly worked during their heady days in the NHL, it certainly won't help if you have no defence. Or, in this case, goaltending.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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