Monday, January 02, 2012
December Report Card - Forwards and Coaches
With the month of December now in the books, it's time to look back at the month that was and dish out my monthly report card. Each players rating will be based on their performance from opening night up to and including the teams last game on December 31st. Today the spotlight will be on the Oilers forwards and coaching staff. While Tuesday's focus will be on the defence and goaltenders.
Eric Belanger - The centre currently sits seventh in the league with a faceoff percentage of 56.7 and he has played a major role in the Oilers penalty kill, which is ranked eleventh. That being said, the rest of Belanger's game has been non-existent. Through thirty-seven games, the veteran has ten points and one goal...that's right one goal. To be honest, that goal shouldn't have even counted as he basically kicked the puck into the net. Simply put, his lack of production has been embarrassing.
Needs To Work On: Actually finding a way to contribute upfront. He has been given decent linemates all season long and has seen more power play time then he deserves but still nothing. If it wasn't for his work in the faceoff dot and on the PK, Belanger would be hard pressed to escape without an F rating.
Ben Eager - After being an occasional healthy scratch, Eager returned to the lineup in early December and started to play a much more active game. It led to the rugged winger picking up his first two goals of the season and seeing him receive the occasional game on the third line. That being said, his meltdown on Long Island, took away any of the positives he was able to bring back into his game, earlier in the month.
Needs To Work On: Being a factor in games on a nightly basis and not in the manner he was against the Isles on New Year's Eve. At times, Eager has used his size and speed to his advantage but on most nights, he has been a non-factor.
Jordan Eberle - Eberle built on a strong November with an even better month of December. The sophomore now leads the team in goals,assists, points and currently sits tenth in league scoring with thirty-nine points. He collected points in ten of the Oilers twelve games and has been a force on a nightly basis.
Needs To Work On: While his toe-drag move is a thing of beauty to watch, he sometimes holds on to the puck a little too long and doesn't use his linemates as much as he could. Having said that, I would find it hard for anyone to argue that Eberle has been the best Oilers forward during the first three months of the season.
Sam Gagner - Sam had a nice run on the top line when Taylor Hall was out of the lineup but that didn't last long. While his play has improved, he still has only four goals this season which puts him on pace for about ten goals and under forty points...simply not good enough.
Needs To Work On: Sam still struggles with making the right decision with the puck in all three zones and it is becoming worrisome. You would think he would start to get after all this time but he continues making the same mistakes game after game.
Taylor Hall - While Hall missed the start of the month due to a shoulder injury. He did play the final seven contests in December and he has been the Oilers best player since returning to the lineup...and it hasn't even been close. Taylor was trying to do far too much on his own at the start of the season but since returning from his stint on the sideline, he has looked like an entirely different player. Hall is the best player on this team and he has been playing like it of late.
Needs To Work On: The biggest frustration I have with the kids game, is his unwillingness to shot the puck on a breakaway/penalty shot. He always tries to score the highlight reel goal in tight, when he should just be using his shot to beat goaltenders in those situations.
Ales Hemsky - After collecting three points in the first two games in December, Hemsky has now gone eight straight without registering a point. His previous longest stretch without a point was six, which was during his rookie season. To say Ales has been a disappointment is an understatement and time may be running out on his career as an Edmonton Oiler.
Needs To Work On: All scoring issues aside, Hemsky has looked completely disengaged most nights and it is simply embarrassing. The guy is obviously struggling with his reduced role on the club but he has world class talent that has been nowhere to be found for much of the season. A change of scenery seems to be in the cards for the talented Czech forward and hopefully it will benefit both the player and team.
Shawn Horcoff - Horc started off the season strong and the Oilers were winning games because of it but that all changed in December. Like Hemsky, he registered three points in the first two games but went pointless the rest of the month, outside of a late goal in Minnesota on Thursday night. Horcoff does a lot more for this team then score and that's why his rating continues to be higher then others that are in the same sort of rut.That being said, they need much more from their captain then he is currently giving them
Needs To Work On: Horcoff has started to lose almost every faceoff when the Oilers are on the power play, which makes his continued spot on the top unit a curious one. Edmonton has a far better option in Ryan Smyth to place in front of opposing teams netminders so if he can't win a draw, why is he out there?
Darcy Hordichuk - Hordichuk got himself into three scraps this month and by dressing in more games, he had much more of an impact out on the ice. Darcy has a role and more often then not, he does what is expected of him on a nightly basis.
Needs To Work On: While he did a great job a getting his team life in two scraps against the Wild on Thursday night, Darcy still needs to stir the pot a little more often then he does. Most nights, it is almost a guarantee he won't see much ice-time over the final two periods so he must ensure he leaves his mark early on in games. Games against Vancouver and Calgary come to mind, as contests Hordichuk was a non factor in.
Ryan Jones - I have always been one who has had time for Jones and was happy when they picked the winger up off waivers from Nashville two seasons ago. I liked his game with the Preds and thought he might be a good fit in Edmonton. Having said that, I have always seen Jones as nothing more then a fourth line guy who you could occasionally spot on the third line. My prediction for Jones this season was for nine goals...he already has twelve. Ryan has become one of the true leaders on this club and has cemented himself a spot on the Oilers third line.
Needs To Work On: At this point in time, there is absolutely nothing else anyone could ask from this kid. Maybe he can make sure he isn't blocking shots in the last minute of a 4-1 game so he doesn't get hurt.
Anton Lander - Oilers colour analyst Bob Stauffer regularly refers to Lander as a "safe player" and at this point in time, that is exactly what he is. He has his moments when looks lost, be it five-on-five or on the penalty kill but overall, he doesn't make many bad decisions on the ice and he's fit in well as the fourth line centre. That being said, I can't say having him play roughly ten minutes a night with the likes of Lennart Petrell, Eager and Hordichuk does a whole lot for the youngsters development.
Needs To Work On: Unless this coaching staff decides to bump him up to the third line, there really isn't much more he can do. As I have said for much of the season, he should already be playing down in Oklahoma City but for some reason they continue to leave him up with the big club. With fellow countryman Magnus Paajarvi already down in OKC, it would be the perfect opportunity to reunite the two former linemates and see if it could spark Paajarvi, while giving Lander more minutes to develop his game further.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - While RNH didn't score at the same clip he had earlier in the season, the kid still managed to put up eight points in twelve games and sits in a tie for twentieth in league scoring. His eighteen power play points put him in a tie for second in the league with the Sedins and Claude Giroux... so what more should exactly be expected out of this kid?
Needs To Work On: Nugent-Hopkins does seem to be tiring a little, which should really come as no surprise but the fact that this team has no secondary scoring, makes the pressure on the youngster far greater then it needs to be. As everyone already knows, he needs to work on his faceoffs but if he were given the occasional chance to take the odd draw, he might just improve a little.
Linus Omark - Linus is still recovering from the broken ankle he suffered back in November and isn't scheduled to have his second cast removed until mid to late January.
Ryan O'Marra - He has played three games this season, picking up one assist while winning 71.4% of the draws he took. Obviously that is a small sample size but that sure sounds like a guy that could play on Edmonton's fourth line while Anton Lander is given time to develop in Oklahoma City. Plus he's a big body and this team could definitely use another one of those in their lineup.
Magnus Paajarvi - While Paajarvi picked up two of his three points in the first four games of December, the talented Swede was assigned to Oklahoma City in hopes of receiving loads of playing time in all situations. Magnus had beecome the forgotten man in Edmonton and he was struggling to find his game. Not only did the Oilers not have good enough linemates for him to play with but Paajarvi had no confidence in his game. That being said, Edmonton has gone 1-7 since the youngster was shipped off to the Barons
Needs To Work On: Magnus doesn't need to go down to the AHL and dominate, all he needs to do is get his mojo back. Paajarvi has never been a physical player since coming to the NHL but he started to drive to the net with regularity over the second half of last year but that hasn't occurred at all this season. If he adds that element back into his game and starts using his size and speed to his advantage, the young Swede will force this coaching staff to find him a regualr spot in the Oilers top nine.
Lennart Petrell - The feisty Finnish winger continues to play his role effectively, even though his penalty killing role has been reduced. Petrell leads all Oiler forwards in hits and trails only Horcoff and Jones for the most blocked shots among forwards. In his limited fourth line role, the winger managed to score two goals last month...the same amount as Ryan Smyth and the total Horcoff and Hemsky combined for in December.
Needs To Work On: While Petrell has had the occasional off night, the 27 year-old rookie goes out and plays his game on nightly basis. He brings energy and chips in where he can with points, not much more you can ask from a guy that typically plays less then ten minutes a night.
Ryan Smyth - All the ice time Smyth was given over the first two months of the season caught up to the veteran in December.Smyth looked like he was skating with cement blocks around his ankles for much of the month and his production dropped to next to nothing. In his defence, it was clear to anyone paying attention that this was going to happen...it was just a matter of when. Hard to complain about thirty points in thirty-seven games when I had him pegged for twenty-one goals and forty-five points for the season.
Needs To Work On: Same as last month because nothing seems to change. Apparently, Smyth needs to let the coaching staff know he's fatigued or they are going to continue to play him into the ground. Also, he needs to somehow convince the coaching staff that he should be on the teams top power play unit instead of Shawn Horcoff. One would think it would be obvious but it's clearly not as cut and dry in the eyes of this coaches.
Tom Renney finally had to deal with the teams first real poor stretch of play this season and the club has yet to get out of that funk. While the club struggled in the middle part of November they seemed to be turning things around by months end but that clearly wasn't the case. An injury to Taylor Hall paved the way to a likely December swoon and Edmonton didn't disappoint. Going 3-9 for the month the Oilers now find themselves in thirteenth place in the Western Conference and are ten points out of a playoff spot. how drastically things can change in a thirty day period.
In the coaching staffs defence, the club has had to deal with some crucial injuries, poor play from many key players and a management team that has done absolutely zero to help this team out of their funk. Edmonton has been paper thin on the backend since training camp but with injuries and suspensions keeping as many as four regulars from the lineup, the Oilers brass did not deem it necessary to bring in help for Renney and his troops. That decision alone is the main reason this club sits where it currently does in the standings. A team can run on smoke and mirrors for so long but at some point during the 82 game marathon that is an NHL season, it is going to catch up to you and Edmonton is living proof of just that.
For the second consecutive month, the Oilers sit with the fourth best power play in the league and the best unit in the entire NHL on home ice. Much of that success is attributed to the three kids, especially Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and this coaching staff has started to recognize that young RNH needs to occasionally be double shifted on the man advantage and the results can not be argued with. The more time the three youngsters get on the man advantage, the better off this team will be.
The penalty kill slipped another couple of slots down to eleventh but when you consider the state of the Oilers blueline, it is a minor miracle that they have been able to remain as high as they have. As I have said on numerous occasions in the past, special teams is one area that coaching can and does play a major role in and this staff continues to work their magic with both.
Need To Work On: These guys are coaching for a new contract and I fully understand where they are coming from but if they are willing to let that ride on the shoulders of some of their "key" under performing veteran players, I hope they are not to disappointed when things don't go the way they hope at seasons end. As mentioned previously, their hands have been tied slightly by Steve Tambellini and company but to continue to just keeping going with the status quo and hope it changes is insanity.
There are two sets of roles on this team, one for certain veteran players and one for everyone else.When those players can continue to make the same mistake in certain situations and are then given the opportunity time and time again to correct that wrong, when players in that other group are not afforded the same luxury, it does sent mixed messages to players. All players need to learn from their mistakes but that also applies to older players and many of Edmonton's longest serving members, sometimes act as if they are some how owed something and they are frankly owed nothing. If I have to hear another Oiler coach or player tell us "how we are a young team and we need to learn from our mistakes" I may just explode! The problem is so rarely those 'young" players that it makes that statement laughable. It is the job of any coaching staff to ensure that "ALL" players realize there are ramifications for poor play and I believe the young players are well aware of that fact. As far as the rest of the squad goes, I have my doubts and by the way ice time is being dished out, it is clear there is a double standard.