Time to Panic About the Oilers Slump?

By , October 29, 2009 11:26 am
I see you all reaching for the panic button...

I see you all reaching for the panic button...

Three straight losses, 7 periods without a goal. Is it time to panic? Is the flu to blame for this problem, or the injuries?

I’d say to an extent, yes, that can be used as a good excuse. I think that there are two main problems with this team right now, and they will be swayed, for the most part, when some of the players return: a) our defense is weak and Quinn’s top pairing is a fairly weak pairing and b) due to injuries/flu, Quinn hasn’t been able to enforce his strategy of building a line of a grinder, a playmaker and a scorer.

I wrote an article about it before the season started, but I think the best pairings of who we have now at this point are Grebeshkov and Visnovsky, and Smid and Gilbert. David Staples also has a great article up in which he draws the same conclusion. In addition to my current point that these pairings would fix the defensive issues on the blue line, Staples also points out that the team’s offense will be improved as well.

Right now, I just don’t feel that Gilbert and Grebeshkov are getting it done at either end of the ice together. They’re harboring a lot of the blame for this team going south in Souray and Staios’ absence. Really, I think though that the back end just needs to be re-structured a bit to play into the team’s strengths. Gilbert and Grebeshkov aren’t strangers to seeing a lot of ice time, even together as a pairing. However, are these the guys we want on the ice versus the other teams top lines? I don’t think so. I’m not sure there’s anybody on this team, that we can feel very confident about against the best lines in the NHL. However, if I had to pick one pairing to send out there, it would be Souray and Staios.

I think Gilbert and Grebeshkov can be a good enough pairing when they aren’t the go to guys (especially on the PK). Right now our top PKers are … who? Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Chorney and Smid (add Strudwick in there when he’s playing D). How scary is that? This team also needs a better balance in its pairings. Gilbert and Grebeshkov bring a similar game. Great puck moving, minimal physicality, and suspect defensive ability. However, if you split them up and put them with another player that can play defense, I think they’re quite a bit better out there. I’d say put Gilbert with Smid, and Grebeshkov with Visnovsky. Permanently. Grebeshkov and Visnovsky do play similar games as well, but they seem to have a good chemistry together. Plus, Visnovsky has speed to burn, which allows him to get back into the play very quickly if need be. Personally, I don’t think Visnovsky gets enough credit of being reliable defensively on the rush. I think the pairing of Smid and Visnovsky looks so good partly because of Visnovsky as much as it is because of Smid being a better player this year.

So that’s the defensive side of things. I know what you’re all thinking though. This team hasn’t scored a damn goal in 7 periods, Racki. Well, this is very true. However, right now, this team seems to be a one-trick pony (or a one line team, to be more correct). Quinn has been forced to go against his regular game plan of putting together two skill players with a grinder, and now we have a much watered down team with our top line having our best skill players, and every line after that fighting for scraps. I must say, I really like Penner and Hemsky together, but if it’s going to be costing us games having our best guys all on one line, then it doesn’t make sense to keep doing that once everyone is healthy. I’d like to see Quinn eventually go back to the same system that was working – build a line with a playmaker on it, a guy with size, and a guy that can shoot the puck (with at least one of these guys being reliable defensively). It’s a formula that has worked for this team. Now that the team has been ravaged by injuries/flu, Quinn has put all his eggs in one basket. It’s obviously not something he feels comfortable as doing, having stated right from the beginning that he wants four lines that can score. When Stortini is on the powerplay and Strudwick and/or MacIntyre are on one of these “scoring” lines, then you know we’re short on offensive players. That stuff will fix itself as the flu passes, so I’m not too worried.

So to conclude, I’ve been saying it all along…. I do think this team needs a better stay-at-home d-man, but I think we can get by with what we have with just some rearranging of defensive partners. Smid and Gilbert haven’t played much together, but what they did, they were solid at both ends. They complement each other’s skillsets well. Grebeshkov and Visnvosky already have proven chemistry. And as David Staples pointed out, these guys provide a pretty mobile and lethal breakout which is critical to this team’s offensive success. The last pairing is where things will get hairy for now. But thankfully they should only be seeing about 11 minutes a game anyways, so this pairing isn’t so critical. Once Souray and Staios are back though to balance the load and provide more defensive stability (who would have thought I’d be saying that?), I think the defensive issues become a low priority. On the offensive side, this team is likely going to struggle any night that our top line isn’t firing on all cylinders, so long as they stay together. But to the credit of the bottom lines, Comrie has been sick, as has Brule. This isn’t doing the secondary offense any favors.

Worry not, Oilers fans… it is far from time to panic. These problems will correct themselves as more bodies come back. This is a situation MacTavish also knew very well a couple of seasons or so ago. The positive side here though is that there are a few bodies due back soon, or who are recovering in the line up right now. Once we no longer have an excuse for Strudwick and MacIntyre on the forward lines, this team should be ok. That all said though, I think this team’s defensive weaknesses sans-Souray/Staios have been greatly exposed. I would like to see Tambellini improve the team in that area, but I don’t see it happening. I also don’t see it being absolutely 100% necessary, especially when the two key d-men return.

14 Responses to “Time to Panic About the Oilers Slump?”

  1. chucker says:

    Great article.

    For me the Oilers are a middle of the pack team with no true superstars that can carry a team on any given night. Factor in the injuries and the loss of a few guys from flu, and you no longer have a middle of the pack team. Once they get healthy, it will lean more towards middle of the pack, but the Staios and Souray injuries are concerning.

    Our PP plain sucks without Souray, and our physical game has suffered with these two being out as well. If they are going to be out longterm, which looks like the case with Souray, then we need to try and pick up a solid D man who plays D and hits.

    I agree that once everyone is available we need to go to the structured lines of the first five games. This will likely produce the best results. Having Stone out is a bigger loss than most would admit to. If Pisani can come back that will be mitigated in terms of skill, but not physically. Pisani’s not going to wallpaper guys with a bad back.

    Nilsson has been a huge liability and is only seeing icetime due to the injuries. He’s got some points, but he’s just not effective. He’s a mini Samsonov and that’s not good.

    When you think about it, we’re basically playing a very green D in terms of veteran presence and not a physical D at all. Pecks seems a step behind and I really don’t know what to think there. Chorney at least hits, but he’s likely better as a sixth guy right now and he’s playing top 4 minutes. Same with Struds. Gilbert and Grebeshkov are fighting it for sure. I’m hoping it’s flu and they turn it around fast because Detroit it slowly coming around, and they will exploit a bad D.

  2. Racki says:

    I agree about Peckham. I’ve been hearing people say “he’s ready!” for a bit now, since before the season even started. Are you kidding me? He’s ready to be spot #7, maybe, but he needs to be worked into the system slowly and not thrown to the wolves.

    And yes, this team minus Souray and Staios is pretty scary defensively, so we definitely agree that they need that big defenseman that will make guys scared to cross our blueline.

    Good point about Stone too. I wouldn’t have thought he was a factor, but it’s all about the balance on the lines. Having him out means someone like Nilsson comes in, and yes, I agree he hasn’t really done much to this point. He’s the type that battles inconsistency. One night he could look great, but just when you think he’s making magic out there, he disappears again (just like the Magic Man, Kent).

    As for Chorney, I actually have been very impressed by him.. same with Smid. They’ve looked very poised out there. Of course, they do make their mistakes at times though.

  3. chucker says:

    Chorney’s been good. He can keep up and is way more physical than I thought he would be. Nice to see, but again a case of a guy who should be breaking in to 5-6 spot and is in the top four.

    I would be very comfortable in us going out to get than NHL level defenseman who plays D and hits. Nilsson and some other assets could be used to get it. Souray’s news today about being out long term was not good at all. I guess Staios is skating, so that’s good, but he alone won’t cure our D woes.

    It’s too bad they didn’t pick up Jones on waivers. He’d have been perfect. UFA at the end of the year and only 1.35 cap hit. I think LA plucked him off the waiver wire. With Souray out, we need to trade for a steady D man for sure. I’d even be in favour of trading Gilbert for a top level shutdown guy. We can always use that money to extend Grebs. I thought we’d be okay with our D but it’s clear we are nowhere near physical enough.

  4. Racki says:

    Yah, I am with you there, Chucker. I have been saying the same things for quite a while now. I really wanted the Oilers to sign Boynton in the off-season, for example. I doubt they were even interested. And well, that’s just one guy, so maybe the Oil have no interest in him, but I’m not sure why they wouldn’t be looking around for a guy of that ilk. We obviously don’t want to load up on defensive defencemen and then be slow as hell and unable to break out. But I’m sure for Gilbert money, they can find someone that isn’t completely useless at moving the puck that will hit guys and do well in his own zone.

  5. LateNightOilFan says:

    chucker – I thought Randy Jones’ cap hit was $2.75m? Does it get split in half with Philly because he was on re-entry waivers? And yes, LA picked him up.

    Oilers seem averse to making any outside moves to address their needs. So given this, I think they should call up Dean Arsene from the Falcons, he’s experienced and physical. Wouldn’t hurt to try him, he signed with the Oilers because he wanted an NHL contract and the Caps were too deep and only offered an AHL contract.

    Re Peckham – It may be he’s not NHL ready, but I think he’s also still recovering from his ankle injury. Missed all of TC, played all of 5 games with Springfield and then called up to the Oilers. His conditioning is likely not caught up to where it would be if he hadn’t been injured.

    edit – and re the story at hand, I’m not panicking. The Oilers are pretty much where I thought they would be this season. Improved effort but not necessarily results was my only expectation coming into the season. I made sure my expectations for results were low after last season. Makes me happier when they put it together and not as depressed when they don’t.

  6. Racki says:

    Yes, on re-entry waivers, Philly pays half the tab.

    In regards to Peckham, don’t get me wrong.. I love what he brings to the team. He’s just not someone we can throw more than 6th d-man minutes at this point, or he’ll get burned.

  7. Racki says:

    Tencer’s twitter:

    Quinn says Souray has digressed. He woke up this morning, had a headache, and went back to bed. Still a ways away to say the least.

    That’s really disappointing. Jason Gregor also speculated that Souray would be at least 3 more weeks before he’s back. As for Staios, he speculated perhaps next Thursday, at the earliest.

  8. Horpensky says:

    We just have to be patient with Peckham like we were with Smid. I agree we shouldn’t throw him to the wolves to help him develop, but unfortunately the situation is less than optimal at the moment. We have a very young D-core

  9. Racki says:

    Agreed, Horpensky. And to be clear, I’m not saying I don’t think Peckham is a good d-man. I think he will be great one day… maybe our own version of Robyn Regehr. But he has a long way to get there. And d-men generally do take a long time to develop. However, if this is all we have for the time being, I hope we get some players back soon. Of course Vis shouldn’t be out long, and Staios will likely be back next week, so that will help.

  10. chucker says:

    Sorry I didn’t reply earlier. I actually did some work tonight on a client appointment. :P

    Yeah Jones is on re-entry, so half price. Could have been a good temporary fit and if Souray came back earlier, they waive him and he goes back to Philly.

    LNOF, I think you are bang on with Pecks. He’s still behind because of missing camp and injuring his ankle. He needs to be introduced like Smid was though. Slowly and with lots of mentorship. Getting Staios back in a week or so will help. Hopefully we have a full compliment of forwards too. That really messes up our new system for the forwards to play some D.

  11. Racki says:

    The only problem with that though Chucker is they still would need to free up cash in order to acquire Jones, but I guess they could have put Souray on LTIR.

  12. LateNightOilFan says:

    Apparently last night Tencer said on his show that Souray would be out for the month of Nov. I didn’t hear it firsthand, anyone listen to Tencer’s show last night? I wonder if this was official word or just speculation, although given that he has ‘digressed’ per Quinn, it does seem realistic that he will be out at least that long.

  13. Racki says:

    I didn’t listen to that, but Jason Gregor of the TEAM 1260 did say that he thought he’d be out for at least 3 weeks. But as he pointed out, concussions are very hard to diagnose, so who knows how long it may be.

  14. Bostonoiler says:

    Well I heard Souray is done until Christmas, its a big loss. Anyway, The Oil are in Boston tomorrow and I’m going. Comrie, Staios, Vish and Pisani went with the team to Boston. Penner’s grandfather is having his funeral on Friday, Dustin will not be going, instead he is flying to Boston.

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