Archive for 2016-10-16

Are the Oilers Really Getting Better?

Over the last few seasons, Edmonton wouldn't have won a hockey game the way they beat the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

As Blues' goaltender Jake Allen described it, "They are not the Oilers of the last few years, I’ll tell you that," This quote came after 3-1 loss St. Louis suffered at the hands of the Oilers. This also came after a presser in which the Blue's coach Ken Hitchcock described Edmonton as a team that looks like the Bruins and plays like the Bruins.


Perception Has Changed


Hitch knows how to blow smoke before a game. He's been doing it for years. Every time the Blues or one of Hitchcock's teams come to play Edmonton, pre-game interviews are full of compliments and praise. Most of the time it's about the Oilers speed or skill. It's nice to hear... until of course, one of Hitchcock's teams mops the floor with the Oilers.

On Thursday, it was a different story. Hitchcock didn't talk about Edmonton's skill much. He talked about their size, their grit, determination and toughness. It was clear, Hitchcock new this Oilers team was a different team and it meant playing a different game.

I believe, this is a sentiment being felt around the NHL.

The New Oilers


What are the new Oilers? Are they skilled? Yes. Are they big? Yes. Are they tough? Yes. Are they nasty? Not yet, but they could be. What the Oilers are, without hesitation, is a team that doesn't rely solely on skill and a team that can't be pushed around.

McLellan made it clear after the Oilers lost to Buffalo that this was a season where excuses weren't going to be tolerated. Laziness wasn't acceptable. It seems as though this wasn't just talk;. Edmonton came out with a far better effort and took this game.


The Defense


What seems evident is the difference on defense. The Oilers came into the season with a new-look blue line and while it hasn't been perfect, even flawed at times, the defense has been far and away better.

The additions of Adam Larsson and Kris Russell can't be understated. The ability to move down players like Darnell Nurse, Eric Gryba, Mark Fayne and fill holes when Brandon Davidson goes down is a blessing and the Oilers are not scrambling on every play to get out of the zone.

The Offense


It's still skilled, but it's also balanced. There isn't just speed, there is an ability to mix speed with push-back and aggression. The fourth line is contributing and the first line is taking over games. The problem is, the second and third lines are struggling.

Overall, Edmonton was defined as a team that could score goals but never did. They are finally putting up points on the scoreboard and living up to their billing. Are they good enough to keep this going?

The first five games have been a pleasant surprise. The beautiful part is, Edmonton seems to be improving. I wouldn't suggest this team is the team we see sitting at the top of the NHL standings. That said, it could be a team that is better than we first thought.

Playoffs? Ask me that question again after another five games. But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.




Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.

Game 5 and Nail Yakupov

Tonight marks game five for the Edmonton Oilers and the return of Nail Yakupov.

In a trade that everyone saw coming, Yakupov was moved to St. Louis for next to nothing in an effort to remove his contract off the books of the Oilers payroll. It was a sad drop from the prospect of what Edmonton thought they were getting in a first-overall NHL draft pick.




The For's


There were a lot of people in favor of removing Yakupov from the team. He has skill; but is the personification of an underachiever. Often he came across as entitled, difficult and not a team guy. For the record, I don't think any of those things are true, but there were a lot of fans who did.

When he was sent to St. Louis as a dump-off, there were people that were happy to see him go. They were settled in on the fact that Yakupov was never going to be what he was projected to be and that he didn't deserve better opportunities than he was being provided by the Oilers. Their argument was, if he couldn't make the most of what was being handed to him, it was his problem and good riddance.

The Against's


There were others who wanted to keep Yakupov. They fell into two sub-categories. The first group felt it was better to showcase him by moving him up the roster to get a better return in an eventual trade. The second group felt Yakupov was better than he'd showed the last couple years and could turn it around. They were Yak fans through and through.

Most of these people blamed the Oilers for Yakupov's failures. It wasn't his fault he had bad linemates or that he was on the third line.

Now

Yakupov was sent to St. Louis and in his first game, scored a goal and an assist. It was at this time the against group spoke up and said "see?". Then the next three games came and Yakupov got zero points, his ice-time dropped and now he averages just over 11 minutes of the Blues. After tonight's game, it's more likely we hear from the for's group who will look for a pat on the back for knowing Yakupov didn't make a huge difference here and isn't in St. Louis.


Tonight's Action


This is going to be one of the tougher tests for Edmonton. St. Louis is a good team and Edmonton hasn't really faced any "good" teams. The Oilers are 3-1-0 and the Blues 3-0-1. If Edmonton can win tonight, it will put them in a great spot after five games and may allows fans to feel a bit more like they have a team that can defeat some of the upper-tier competition.


The problem is, St. Louis has typically dominated Edmonton when playing head-to-head. St. Louis will be running with the following lineup:

Fabbri-Stastny-Yakupov
Schwartz-Steen-Tarasenko
Perron-Berglund-Jaskin
Upshall-Brodziak-Reaves
Extra: Paajarvi, Rattie

It's a combination of speed, skill and grit, but it's a lot different of a team than the one Edmonton has had trouble with. It will be interesting to see how Edmonton fights back.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.




Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.


Splitting up the Oilers Top Line

Is it time to split up Edmonton's top line of Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic?

It's not that this line hasn't done what it's supposed to do, it's that the other lines just don't seem to be clicking. There may be a need to kickstart some of the other Oilers production.


Photo by Lisa Gansky

The Argument For


While keeping up with his speed can be a real challenge, everyone seems to benefit from playing with Connor McDavid.  The Oilers have at least two other forwards who have a proven track record of production including Patrick Maroon and Benoit Pouliot.

If moving one of those two players up to the line where McDavid is and moving Lucic down a notch, would this spark a guy like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jesse Puljujarvi? Perhaps and if the Oilers second and third lines continue to not contribute, there may not be a lot of other options available.

The Argument Against

A player like Benoit Pouliot doesn't deserve to be promoted. He certainly hasn't earned it with his questionable play and, as Todd McLellan called it, stupid tendencies. His exact words were:

“We have some foundation and fabric things that we have to continue to fix. Stupidity is one of them.”
It can also be argued that Lucic is meant for that top line and taking him off of it jeopardizes the success that first line has had to date. Perhaps this is true, but is one lines success more important than two lines if a change can bolster the second and third lines with a little adjustment? It's a risk and I can see why people might be against taking it.

What If


What if the Oilers continue to win but struggle in those victories? What if the Oilers start to see a few losses due to a lack of production? When does the coach make a change?

To me, one more game is all I'd give it. I'm not big on a the "Mac-T blender" that often came with his coaching and new lines every game. There has to be an honest effort to let these players build chemistry with one another.

But five games into a season is enough time if two-thirds of your top two lines aren't doing much of anything.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.




Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.




Game 4: Carolina and the Mandated Day Off

Game four tonight for the Edmonton Oilers as they square off with the Carolina Hurricanes. Edmonton is coming off a disappointing game against the Sabres on Sunday, looking to rebound and shake off some of the media attention that has come as a result of a 6-2 loss.

Typically in a 6-2 loss, the team does it's best to shake it off and move on. In this instance, Edmonton moved a mandatory day off and the team came into practice on Monday. This has caught the attention of a lot of media as did Todd McLellan's presser after the game calling out some of his players — namely Benoit Pouliot.

The Oilers are looking to come out of the gates with a different effort level and show that the team fans witnessed on Sunday, is not the team they'll be cheering for all season.

Benoit Pouliot


It's likely that Pouliot is on a short leash. After a few consecutive games of bad penalties in the offensive zone, he's got the attention of his coach as a player with bad habits. He's an offensive weapon, but if the team is constantly on the penalty-kill, that weapon is difficult to utilize.

Pouliot needs to be better and more disciplined. It's clear the coaches and the rest of the team are not going to let sustained poor play slide this season.

Jesse Puljujarvi


Puljujarvi is on a nine-game showcasing (if you will), that could see him returned to the AHL if he's not contributing. The Oilers have a tendency to rush rookies and it's a mistake they don't want to make again. He's sitting his first game of the year in the press box and will watch the game from the sky as his Oilers take on a team that, like Buffalo, they should beat.

Edmonton will need to make a decision on Puljujarvi and the window to do so is limited. Before the trades of Nail Yakupov and loss of Kris Versteeg to Calgary off his professional tryout (PTO), this decision might have been a lot easier. Now Edmonton lacks right wing depth and if it isn't Puljujarvi in the lineup, they may need to find another option.

Connor McDavid


One shot on net. That's all McDavid was able to muster in the Buffalo loss on Sunday. I don't expect this is going to sit well with Edmonton's new captain. I also don't think he's going to like the fact that he's been caught in the middle of this media storm regarding this changed practice.

McDavid looked upset after that Buffalo game and I can't recall ever seeing that look on his face before. I expect he'll have a big game to put this practice nonsense behind him. Meanwhile, as all of this has been going on, McDavid was named the first star of the week in the NHL.


Cam Talbot


Congratulations to Talbot who is about to have a child. One of the reasons that people are suggesting this "mandatory day off" got moved is because Talbot is about to be a father. It's a huge thing to become a dad. I have two kids and it changes your life. But, I don't know if the NHLPA would consider this a "compelling circumstance" to change the entire teams practice schedule. Maybe, it has to do more with not having a backup since Gustavsson got hurt in Sunday's game.

Either way, Talbot needs to turn it up a bit. He's been shaky in eight of nine periods of hockey. If Edmonton stands a chance this year, he's got to be better than he's been. Perhaps this game against the Hurricanes is the game he needs to bring things back on track.


Tonight's Win Is Big


It's still early in the season, but tonight's game is huge. It's the difference between going up 3-1 on the season or becoming a .500 hockey club. Edmonton has nine favorable games in their schedule to get off to a good start and Carolina should be a team that allows the Oilers to bump up their record in a good way.

Like the Sabres, Edmonton take their opposition lightly. The Oilers now know what happens when they do. How they play tonight will be a defining moment in whether or not this team is happy, once again, to rest on their status as a non-playoff type NHL team, or if they have the wherewithall to come back from adversity and punch it in the face.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.




Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.

The Best Part of Hockey: The Hugging

I have to admit, one reason I love hockey is because I love the celebrations after goals are scored. Rough and tumble men, who sweat, smash, and fight for an hour display toothless exuberance with their teammates –in public no less. It is one of the oddities of hockey that, at least for me, enhances the spectacle and balances the violence. [That along with the highly-advertised Swedish team uniforms, which is another story.]


New York Times


On Sunday, October 16, 2016, the New York Times wrote an article about the University of Houston’s football coach Tom Herman who kisses his players. The article noted that, what seems like bizarre behavior of kissing his players on the cheek before games, helps build a sense of team and helps players understand that the coach cares for them and that they are part of a family – the team.

The article cites Niobe Way, a psychology professor at New York University, as saying that Coach Herman is disrupting the stereotype that boys and men are only driven by competition and autonomy (independence). In fact, Professor Way notes, all the research emphasizes that humans are actually not motivated by competition or autonomy but are, instead, motivated by is the desire to be in connected communities (teams).

For example, Coach Herman’s former boss at Ohio State University, Urban Meyer, tells a story about a soldier who confided that what most compelled him to fight was not self-preservation, hatred, or patriotism, but love for his comrades.

Coach Herman has a rule: any University of Houston football player who scores a touchdown must find an offensive lineman and hug him. “We require a two-handed embrace,” Herman notes. Does it work? Researchers say it is both character building and motivating. An academic paper (published in 2010) found a correlation between emotional openness and high self-esteem in college football players. Who’s to argue?

My Research


This brings me to a connection with my own research. In the first blog I wrote to add to my son Jim’s Hockey Blog “Oil Spill,” I noted that I am a now-retired former university professor and academic researcher who has researched teaching and learning for 40 years. When pulling together what I had learned about motivation from all my research, I came to believe three things motivated teachers and students to perform well. These three things were: (1) Community, (2) Agency, and (3) Service. And, I have often written that good schools need to build cultures that support community, agency, and service.

Specifically, (a) Community means working together. (b) Agency means believing you can make a difference. And, (c) Service means doing “good things” for others.

Community


The tie to sports seems obvious. Sometimes – in fact generally – in team sports the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That is, the team with the most talented players does not always win the championship. What is called “team chemistry,” and what I call “community,” is highly motivating. One can point to teams with elite talent – for example, the Washington Capitals in the 2009 playoffs – who did not win because they didn’t play like a team. In contrast, last year’s Pittsburgh Penguins played with sacrifice, dedication, and had players take on roles they normally didn’t play. [Remind me of Phil Kessel’s bad attitude.] So much of winning hockey is about team chemistry (building a culture of family) and what players willingly do to achieve it.

Agency


Photo By mark6mauno [Flickr]
Second, the belief that you can make a difference – what I call agency – is huge in hockey. Agency is the belief that you can make a difference in what is happening. You are not a pawn of the universe – you have the ability to change events. The biggest Oilers example of “agency” might be how Edmonton suddenly became a Stanley Cup contender when Chris Pronger came to town in 2006. Clearly, Pronger believed he could make a difference, and he did in Edmonton. Sadly, he also did the next year (2007) with the Anaheim Ducks.  Ten years later, Oilers’ fans still remember.

Service


Finally, the belief that one can serve (do good things for others, and in hockey specifically for your team) motivates. For example, although many rank Matt Hendricks sixth on the Oilers’ depth chart at Left Wing (after Lucic, Pouliot, Maroon, Pitlick, and Caggiula), it is tough to deny Hendricks’ impact on the team. In a February 2016 article, the great Oilers’ hockey writer Jim Matheson wrote that, “If there’s a poster boy for what a hockey player should look like, it’s Matt Hendricks.” Matheson saw Hendricks’ swollen cheekbone, scar around his left eye, and willingness to fight his summer-time friend Dustin Byfuglien over a tough hit. Hendricks – the ultimate teammate, ready to serve his team.

Back to hugging after goals. Hockey is quite amazing – a bizarre mix of a culture violence and a culture of team. It will be fun to watch the new Oilers build a “team.” One can only hope for lots of hugging – so far 14 hugs in three games. Good start!

 Guest Post Jim Parsons

Game 3 and the Injury Bug

Tonight the Oilers are home to the Buffalo Sabres. Both teams are dinged up, but Edmonton is a clear favorite with a chance to start their season off with three in a row. The last three seasons it's been at least three games before the Oilers won their first game, so three consecutive wins would be a nice change.

Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, Leon Draisaitl and Kris Russell are hot right now. If the big name players can get a bit of support from guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Benoit Pouliot and Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton should run away with this one.


Injuries


Both teams are extremely banged up. The Sabres are short Dmitri Kulikov, Jack Eichel and Evander Kane. Kulikov is questionable, but two of Buffalo's best forwards in Eichel and Kane are down long-term. The Sabres are 0-1, and aren't the deepest team in the NHL. But they will have forward Kyle Okposo making his debut.

Meanwhile, Edmonton is down Brandon Davidson, Iiro Pakarinen, Matt Hendricks and Drake Caggiula. Edmonton will go with the same lineup from their game against Calgary, but Adam Larsson took a maintenance day yesterday and it should be worth watching to see how much ice time he gets and how he looks. He's been steady so far and it would be a shame if something was bugging him.

The Game


Edmonton has 12 goals in two games. Buffalo isn't the strongest team on defense and let in four goals against the Canadiens on Thursday. This could be another game where the Oilers keep the goal scoring going, but they can't take the Sabres for granted.



One of areas the Oilers will need to shore up is their shots against. Edmonton has let Calgary out-shoot them in two games, but won thanks to the ability to score more than the opponent and did so on a less than ideal showing by Flames goaltender Brian Elliott. If Edmonton catches a hot goalie in Robin Lehner (which so far Lehner has not been), the Oilers better make sure they limit chances against. They started to do so in the last two periods against the Flames and they'll need to continue that trend.

The Lineup

McDavid - Eberle - Lucic
Nugent-Hopkins - Kassian - Pouliot
Draisaitl - Puljujarvi - Maroon
Letestu - Lander - Pitlick 

Larsson - Klefbom
Russell - Sekera
Gryba - Nurse

Talbot
Gustavsson