October 15 2010 11:33PM
The Auld Enemy make their first visit to the Moneypit (as per wi) this evening, fresh off a haphazard performance in St. Paul Thursday night that lead to their first loss of the season. The first meeting between these two clubs gave most folks that cheer for the Flames a bad case of agita, but from what I've seen of Edmonton since last week, it isn't because they're particularly good.
SIGH SIGH SIGH
The Oilers have enjoyed a bit of fortune in splitting their two subsequent encounters, to be quite honest™, as they escaped their game with Florida on the back on some Shawn Horcoff hoofery. They were badly outshot and out-chanced by the Panthers, and although they weren't as putrid at EV at the Xcel Center, their old PK bugaboo bit them hard, as the Wild scored on four of six chances when a man to the good.
I suppose if nothing else, the last two outings have acted as a corrective to the "plan the parade" exuberance that was seen after last Thursday. That's likely for the best, as that sort of baloney should be left to the experts.
On a more serious note and record aside, I think the Oilers are about what they were expected to be. They can certainly skate, but a few of their young men have some things to learn about defence, and their backline is a couple of players short of being NHL quality. The Oilers aren't without good forwards, though, and the return to health of Hemsky and Horcoff gives Edmonton a reasonable facsimile of a top six.
The weak link in their first two lines is, and barring reassessment will continue to be, Taylor Hall. He hasn't been openly bad, but he's not a world-beater, and the suggestions that he was a top end NHL forward right out of the gate will almost certainly end up seeming optimistic. Still, the Oil haven't been torched when the first two units have been on the ice at EV.
The third line has been an absolute train wreck, though, and the continued use of Andrew Cogliano as a center has drawn the ire of more than a few of the more perspicacious types that follow the Grease. He, Paajarvi and Brule have managed the rare trick of being badly outshot while starting in the other team's end the majority of the time. That's not good.
As I mentioned in the open, I'm not exactly convinced that the Oilers have more than about 3 or 4 proper NHL defenders at the moment, and the ones that they do have are just OK. I will concede that Tom Gilbert is clearly the best of the lot, and the occasional bollocking he takes from the dim for not being physical enough amuses me to no end.
I don't doubt that he'd be perfectly suited as a 3rd D on a contender, but the guy is a very good player, and if the Oilers ever wanted to give him away, they're more than welcome to take a couple of physical stay-at-home guys from Calgary, including one they have some familiarity with.
Personnel aside, the one item that's been of interest to me from a tactical POV regarding this iteration of the Oilers is the fact that Tom Renney hasn't really hard-matched lines this season as much as he's arrayed his forwards by starting position. If you looked at the ZS link I posted, you'll notice the the Gagner line has started in their own end quite often, but not necessarily against the other team's better players.
That's not the norm around the league, and I'll be curious to see if that's a long term plan on Renney's part or just a short term artifact. Like Pat Quinn, he's done his share of rolling lines, and for a team that might not regard winning as this season's end game, I can understand to a degree.
In the opener between these teams, it didn't make any difference who played against who, as the Flames spent the first period in an absolute dither. Edmonton was quicker to the puck at nearly every turn, and if the Flames want to have a chance, controlling tempo is a must. I know people would prefer a fast pace for stylistic reasons, but a slow-down game that forces some of the younger Oiler forwards to work on the boards in their own end is the best avenue to a Calgary win.
"The Flames aren't going to out-skill many teams; two shutouts in three games has the Flames shooting more blanks than any fighting scene in The Other Guys. The Flames first line of Jarome Iginla/Olli Jokinen/Alex Tanguay has combined for zero points" - Jason Gregor, oilersnation.com