Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Oilers Gagner off to a solid start but still has a ways to go

There is no question that Edmonton Oilers centre Sam Gagner has had a good start to the 2013 season but has it really been as good as some have made it out to be? While Gagner has managed to pick up points in each of the Oilers nine games, he has not really stood out in any way shape or form.

Like the rest of his teammates, the former sixth overall selection has produced next to nothing at even strength, while continuing to struggle in his own end and face-off circle. Sam has looked real good on the man advantage but outside of that, he and linemates Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov have had their challenges.

If you look at the Oilers season on a game-by-game basis, the talented twenty-four year old's performance really doesn't stand out:

1/20/13 - Sam scored the shootout winner in the season opener and picked up an assist on Hemsky's third period game tying goal but for the most part, his line had their issues. Plus Gagner and Ryan Whitney were the main culprits in allowing Zack Kassian to give the Canucks a 2-0 lead, on a second period goal.

1/22/13 - Picked up an assist on Yakupov's first period PP marker but like the rest of his teammates, not much good can be taken from the pounding they received at the hands of the Sharks.

1/24/13 - Gagner scored the OT winner on the man advantage and played his best game of the season against the Kings

1/26/13 - Scored a nothing goal in the final seconds of a loss to the Flames, in which he was invisible for much of the night.

1/28/13 - Picked up a pair of assists on the man advantage, one coming on an empty netter, but like the rest of his teammates, was poor over the final forty minutes against the undermanned Avalanche

1/30/13 - Started a nice cycle in the Phoenix zone, that led directly to Petrell's goal. Took a costly penalty late in the third, which was frankly an awful call. Probably his best all around game of the season.

1/31/13 - Was on the ice for both of San Jose goals, thirty-nine seconds apart, though he had played no part in either goal going in. Tipped home his third of year, all of two minutes later, to get the Oilers back into the game. Missed in the shootout but was solid for much of the night.

1/02/13 - Picked up a secondary assist on the Yakupov's opener, courtesy of a brilliant feed from Hemsky. Showed little over the following fifty-nine minutes, in what was a flat performance by the entire team.

1/04/13 - Another secondary assist on Hemsky's opener, kept his point streak alive but did not step up his game after Shawn Horcoff left with a busted knuckle. Was downright awful in the face-off circle.

Nothing there tells me Sam Gagner is having anything more than a solid start to his campaign. Many are confusing a nine game point streak, with Gagner playing some of the best hockey of his career...which he is not.

While he has been collecting a point on a nightly  basis, he continues to be less than stellar in his own end of the rink and has taken a major step back in the face-off dot. After showing a marked improvement from his 2010-2011 totals, 43.8% to 47.6%, his numbers on the draw have been just dreadful.

It may only be nine games but Sam is sitting at 37.5%. To put that into perspective, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has gone 41.9% in the face-off circle. With the RNH and Gagner lines seeing the brunt of ice time at even strength and having at least one of Horcoff and Eric Belanger out of the lineup over the past week, the two now lead the club in attempted face-offs(RNH- 136, Gagner - 120).

The Oilers top line has obviously had their challenges scoring five-on-five but still remain +4 on the season (Hall: +3, RNH: +1, Eberle: Even) and have out chanced their opponents more often than not. On the flip side, the second line of Hemsky-Gagner-Yakupov are a combined -15. Is that all on Sam? Of course not but he has played his part in that number being as ugly as it is.

A guy like Hall has yet to hit his stride but still has nine points and on most nights, has still been Edmonton's best forward on many a night. Same goes for Nugent-Hopkins, who has struggled to find the net but has been the Oilers best centre in the defensive zone ...and it hasn't even been close.

Don't get me wrong, Sam Gagner has looked good to start the season but the fact he has picked up a handful of late goals and/or secondary assists, to keep his early season point streak alive, doesn't mean he has been lights out this season.

The points are great but there are other aspects to his game that he simply must improve on...if he hopes to be this team's second line centre moving forward.

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