I'm not going to go into the obvious reporting of the game, just my holistic thoughts on this team, which I believe I'm quite in-tune with.
Defense -- the "Swarm":
The system that was mightily effective for the AHL Toronto Marlies making them the best defensive team in the league has not yet translated for the Oilers, currently with the worst defensive numbers. Something is out of balance here.
The Oilers executed it much better against the Pens than the Caps. More often I saw two Oilers on one against the boards with a third lurking right behind. And those two Oilers were right on top of the guy too. Against the Pens I even saw Pittsburgh have three of their guys on the boards against our three, which signals to me that this is a smarter system and when executed, a much more effective system than Krueger's, which allowed the wingers to cheat.
But, there are offensive drawbacks. It's also why we don't see Hallsy getting a couple steps ahead of the opposition on the left wing and streaking alone to the net. This is now a "defense first" team. And until everyone buys in (looking at you Yakupov) and executes it all the time, if one guy is out of position, it leaves a hole in the slot for the opposition to exploit, like they did to us time and time again last year and why we were by far the worst defensive team in the league.
The Oilers are improving on this system every game, but they are still struggling on getting the puck out of their own end. Too many backhanded passes up the boards is not quick enough. Belov is still adjusting to the smaller rink on this part of the game. Smid's stick handling is not up to snuff either, it really never was though, but it's affecting the team.
Overall, we know this system works but its the wingers that have to commit to making it work in order for it to be effective.
Offensive style -- crash:
There is heavy competition for the top six wingers and they want to impress with goals and assists. But because the wingers can't cheat in this system, they're trying to make the long, cross-ice pass, which is very risky and teams have been intercepting it. Hall and Hemsky have been the absolute worst in the league on this. Eakins is continuing to promote a more simple game, with less risk.
You'll also note against the Pens, the Oilers were putting more pucks on the net and crashing it, hoping for garbage goals, which Eberle FINALLY got one after what seemed like a million chances from him. I was hoping to see Ryan Smyth or Jones out there for more of that grind.
Our shot total and chances are up from last year and this is a huge improvement, whereas last year, the Oilers recorded their worst shots on goal ... ever ... at 12 and most games, they trailed big time in shots for and against.
Goaltending -- new pads and sticks:
Unlike many Oilers fans who don't look around the rest of the league and take note in patterns, I have. It seems taller goalies are having difficulty adjusting to the new narrower pad and shorter stick regulations, and Dubnyk, being one of the tallest goalies, is having a hell of a time, and so is LaBarbera to an extent. The hot goalies of last year, are not off to good starts either--Lundqvist, Quick, Miller, Luongo, and more. These pads and sticks ARE having an effect. Doesn't it seem odd to you that many goalies appear a bit awkward out there than before?
All that said, there are other goalies doing quite well. Perhaps, their pads and stick from before weren't that big of a difference to the new regulation, but our goalies need to practice and figure this out now.
New Coach - New System
I still feel the Oilers are adjusting to this new coach and system, albeit quite slowly. They appear to be competing for the puck better and gaining possession back more quickly.
Conversely, the coach is adjusting to this team as well and trying to get them to commit to his system. He's had to bench Smyth and Yak to hold them accountable and by this logic, others should be benched too (Hall and Hemsky). Eakins is experimenting with lines and seeing where the chemistry is. I think he should just ask the players.
Some of the line combinations have been odd, but last night's seemed to have the best chemistry:
- Hall - Arco - Ebs: OKC line finds chemistry again quickly.
- Perron - Nuge - Yak: Nuge and Yak need to play more together because I think Nuge is only centre that compliments Yak.
- Smyth - Gordo - Hem: Hem plays better with defensive centreman (re: Horcoff) and Smyth seems way more comfortable on this style of line too.
- Jones - Acton - Brown: Jones is better than Gazdic or Brown. This 4th line overall though needs work. No wonder Eakins limits their time.
What do we do when Gagner comes back? Arcobello has been playing very well both ways and his advanced stat numbers show it, I'd hate to see him go. But is Gagner best at centre or right wing? His faceoffs aren't great and he's a leaky centreman, albeit he has tonnes of skill and scoring finesse. Something doesn't seem right. I just don't think this team has have enough room for both Yak and Hemsky on the right wing.
Why not do this:
Hall - Arco - EbsPerron - Nuge - YakJonesuu - Gags - HemskySmyth - Gordo - Jones
Hall - Arco - Ebs
Perron - Nuge - Gags
Joensuu - Gordo - Yak
Smyth - Acton - Hemsky
The Short Term Goal
I think they're improving every couple of games and adjusting to commiting to this system. All of the above comments hopefully lead the Oilers to be near .500 by the 20th game. If they don't, let's hope some luck goes their way, injuries are kept low, and with the increased number of shots and chances ratio to the opposition continues on this positive path, if I can believe things will go our way eventually, so can the players.
If things aren't on the right path by that 20th game, look for MacT to try and deal a goalie (he is already), one or two d-men, a skilled winger (Yak), a vet winger (Hemsky) and picks in return for a true #1 goalie, defensive winger, or #1 d-man.
I also predict Ryan Smyth will retire either by the Olympic break or trade deadline.