Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Farewell, Robbie

As Oilers fans have surely heard by now, Robbie Schremp was claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders today.

For a team sorely lacking in front-end offensive talent, Schremp will almost certainly play on one of the top two lines -- perhaps even on the top line with Doug Weight and Jonathon Tavares.

For some Oilers fans, the loss of Schremp will seem like no big deal. After five years of trying and failing to make the big club, something eventually had to give for a player of Schremp's talents. For Oilers fans who remember Schremp's spectacular skill level, the loss is a bitter one indeed.

If Schremp is successful playing for the Islanders, many Oilers fans will justifiably be left wondering what could have been.

Now that Schremp has packed his bags for Long Island, the Oilers would do well at this point to rid them of another player who has failed to earn himself a spot in the lineup this year. In all the preliminary line combinations being tested in practice at this point, Robert Nilsson isn't in any of them.

It's time for the Oilers to cut their losses with the player and trade him. Garth Snow not only has a roster spot for the Islanders draft pick, but may even remember the potent combination Nilsson and Schremp made when they played together for the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins in 2006/07.

Oilers fans should wish each player the best, but the time for each player to move on from the Oilers has clearly come.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Four Words: Assistant Coach Adam Oates

After last night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Oilers' most glaring deficiencies should be immediately apparent to head coach Pat Quinn:

Faceoffs and the power play.

The Oilers had two power play opportunities in over time to win the game -- at that point tied at 3 apiece -- only to fold on a Tampa Bay powerplay with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game.

There was, however, a bigger story behind it. While the Oilers gave up two power play goals -- both to Martin St Louis -- they also gave up two goals off of clean faceoff losses.

To say that the Oilers were atrocious on face offs would be an understatement. It would be difficult to remember a draw that the Oilers did win, as opposed to just the many, many, many that they lost.

The Oilers faceoff numbers are as bad as they've ever been. But they haven't always been this way.

When the Oilers made their march all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 2006, they did it partially on the back of faceoff domination. Shawn Horcoff, Mike Peca, Jarret Stoll, and (prior to his deadline trade) Marty Reasoner had the faceoff dot on lockdown that season.

The Oilers' faceoff domination was no coincidence. During the previous 2003-04 season (the 04-05 season was scrubbed due to lock out) the Oilers made a mid-season addition in form of the now-retired Adam Oates. Oates' addition to the team proved to be a revelation for the team's core of centremen. Over the next year Horcoff and Stoll, in particular, made huge strides toward being first- and second-line centres (the late-season addition of Petr Nedved certainly couldn't have hurt, either).

The Oilers' current crop of centremen -- in particular Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule -- have the potential to become excellent face-off men in their own right. In particular, many players have remarked on Cogliano's improved strength -- a real asset in the face-off circle.

Adding Adam Oates to Edmonton's admittedly already-crowded coaching staff could be a big help in this regard.

But if Pat Quinn and Steve Tambellini are thinking about making this addition, they need to move fast. Oates has been working the Tampa Bay Lightning training camp as a power play coach, and has expressed interest in staying with the team if he gets an offer.

If he gets an offer to come to Edmonton and step behind the bench with the Oilers first, they just might be able to lure him away.

There's little question that they desperately need the help.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Last Chances

When the Oilers face the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight, Robbie Schremp and Jordan Eberle will skate on the second line with Dustin Penner.

After a strong pre-season (and in particular a strong performance in a game given by the referee to the Calgary Flames), Dustin Penner has very likely punched his ticket to be on one of the Oilers' top six lines.

Neither Robbie Schremp nor Jordan Eberle have done that, realistically.

Eberle has certainly played strongly. He's set up magnificent scoring opportunities, and earned some opportunities of his own.

His problem is that he has yet to finish on any of them, suggesting that he may not be quite ready for prime time just yet -- but watch out when he is!

Even with this being the case, he may have earned a spot to at least stay with the team, but the playing time in Regina would likely benefit him much more, as opposed to sitting in the press box waiting for Ales Hemsky or Patrick O'Sullivan to get hurt.

This being said, tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning will be Joran Eberle's last chance to show Pat Quinn and Tom Renney that he deserves to stay with the team, but only for this season. He'll get another chance next year.

Likely no so for Robbie Schremp. Schremp has been trying and failing to make the Oilers for six years now, and in recent seasons his case has seemed utterly futile -- despite being given good opportunities by the coaching staff, Schremp has been largely invisible all through this year's training camp.

He seemed to have turned a corner in four games with the Oilers last season, posting three assists in that stretch, but that promise seems like it has yet to return. If Schremp can't post a strong performance in Winnipeg tonight the time has certainly come to cut him loose.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lubo's Back

As the Oilers get set to take on Jonathon Tavares and the New York Islanders for the second time this pre-season -- this time in Saskatoon -- Oilers fans are finally hearing the big news they've waited for since February:

Lumbomir Visnovsky is back.

Visnovsky is expected to play against Tavares and the Islanders tonight. He may even be playing alongside Taylor Chorney once again -- Chorney, as some may recall, played on a pairing with Lubo during the 2008-09 pre-season.

Jordan Eberle returns to Saskatchewan once again, to play up the highway from his hometown of Regina -- where he also played the last three seasons for the Pats.

The Credit Union Centre, home to the Saskatoon Blades, should prove to be a more familiar setting for Eberle. This may have come at just the right time for Eberle. Although Eberle has played strongly during this pre-season, he's clearly running out of chances to show head coach Pat Quinn that he belongs on this team.

By the time the Oilers play their final pre-season game against the Vancouver Canucks on September 27th they'll be icing close to their full lineup.

And while Eberle can count on being among the final players deliberated on by Quinn and Associate Coach Tom Renney -- Chorney and Robbie Schremp will likely be among them as well -- there's no time like the present for Eberle to solidify his place on this team.

Also returning to familiar territory is Brock, Saskatchewan's Steve MacIntyre. One can expect the admittedly-unlikely NHLer to receive a resounding welcome, perhaps even with a significant contingent from his hometown.

But there's little question that the big story for Oilers fans tonight is the return of Lubomir Visnovsky.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Now to Not Beat the Canucks

There is generally considered to be a way to beat Roberto Luongo and a way to not beat Roberto Luongo.

The former is shots. Lots of them. Quality shots.

The latter is the course the Oilers followed tonight, and the results largely speak for themselves.

The Oilers managed only 24 shots on Roberto Luongo tonight, with only one of them -- a wrist shot by Sheldon Souray -- making it into the net. There was no shortage of shot attempts, but far too many of them were fired wide.

In particular, if Jordan Eberle wants to be a full-time Edmonton Oiler this year he'd better start cashing in on more of his opportunities. Like in his last game against the Islanders, Eberle missed the net on two glorious opportunities. Pre-season jitters or no pre-season jitters, players who pass up their scoring opportunities don't get many to play.

It's as simple as that.

As for other players quickly playing themselves out of a roster spot, Robert Nilsson took an early penalty on the Canucks blueline which resulted in a goal by Alexander Edler.

With the Oilers top six looking awfully crowded, Nilsson may have effectively played himself out of a job by now. There appears to be significant chemistry between Mike Comrie and Patrick O'Sullivan and with Shawn Horcoff looking as if he may return to offensive form, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Dustin Penner just might squeeze Nilsson out off the top lines.

Once one considers playing Nilsson on the third or fourth line they can safely rule it out -- Nilsson's defensive play doesn't justify playing him ahead of Fernando Pisani or even Zach Stortini.

Even if Eberle makes the team at this point it will likely be as a spare forward. This simply leaves Nilsson without any role on this team -- and perhaps, very quickly, a spot on the trading block.

Jeff-Drouin Deslauriers' full 60 minutes of play (minus whatever time the Oilers played with an empty net) may indicate that he's edged out Devan Dubnyk to be the Oilers backup goaltender.

The Oilers power play tonight was as bad as its ever been. The old habit of being handed an extended power play only to waste it chasing the puck around in their own end seems to have reemerged -- the tuteledge of Pat Quinn seems to have done little to end this particular habit.

At the very least one can hope that when the two rosters are merged and the wheat separated from the chaff that a full complement of offensive players will make for a better power play.

On With the Show, This Is It

The Edmonton Oilers will face their first real test of the pre-season tonight as they face off against the Vancouver Canucks.

The Oilers will deploy a lineup featuring Ales Hemsky, Ethan Moreau, Dustin Penner, Ladislav Smid, Sheldon Souray, Robert Nilsson, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Denis Grebeshkov against a Canucks lineup loaded up with Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Mark Parrish, Ryan Kesler, Alex Edler, Darcy Hordichuk, Mikael Samuelsson, Brad Lukowich, Kyle Wellwood and Roberto Luongo.

In other words, the pre-season shoe may finally be on the other foot. The Oilers are facing a lineup loaded with more regular NHLers, not to mention the man who could be the best goaltender in the NHL in any given season (Luongo's playoff collapse against the Chicago Blackhawks notwithstanding).

Whether the Oilers win or lose tonight, this game will finally give Oilers fans a better indication of wether or not Pat Quinn's presence behind the Edmonton bench is making a difference for this team so far.

To date the Oilers have enjoyed the luxury of playing teams featuring mostly AHLers and third- or fourth-line NHLers. Tonight marks their first foray against serious competition in the Pat Quinn era.

Hopefully, they're up to the challenge.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Keep It Up

To pretend that tonight's game against the Florida Panthers was about much of anything other than Mike Comrie re-earning the respect and adulation of Oilers fans would be purely foolish.

If Comrie continues to play the way he did tonight he will win Oilers fans back in spades. Notching four assists in a shutout over the Panthers, Comrie left Oilers fans chanting his name.

Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising.

Part of the anger Oilers fans felt after Comrie's holdout (and subsequent trade) was derived from the fact that, as a hometown boy, Comrie is a player Oilers fans wanted to love. That Comrie could so casually make the decision that playing for the Oilers wasn't worth putting his pride second to the team certainly left a sour taste in many Oilers fans -- like a smitten high schooler embittered because the object of his affection won't date him if he isn't on the football team.

If Comrie maintains this blistering scoring pace -- six points (all assists) in two games -- Oilers fans will come to adore him again. Nothing wins over the Heartland like a winner.

Patrick O'Sullivan also continued his rehabilitation as an Oiler, Scoring a goal and assisting on a tally by Jean-Francois Jacques. With three goals and an assist in the preseason, his total through two games of play nearly matches what he accomplished in 19 games last season, when he scored six points throughout the crucial stretch drive.

Shawn Horcoff and Taylor Chorney had the other two goals for the Oilers. Ryan Stone had two assists and Tom Gilbert also chipped in a helper.

Next to Comrie's sparkling play, the other big story in tonight's game was the debut of Nikolai Khabibulin in the Oilers net. While not nearly as busy as Tomas Vokoun was for the Panthers -- Khabibulin faced 18 shots while Vokoun stared down 34 of 38 shots -- a shutout is precisely how one has to imagine Khabibulin wanted to start his career as an Edmonton Oiler.

If Comrie hadn't been so dominant tonight -- although the Panthers iced a lack-lustre lineup featuring only Brian McCabe, Jordan Leopold, Cory Stillman and Steven Reinprecht as notables -- Khabibulin's shutout likely would have been the big story. But, as has to date become thematic this preseason, the Oilers have shown they can emerge victorious over less skilled and experienced competition.

Tomorrow night's game against the Vancouver Canucks will likely be very, very different. Ales Hemsky and company will now face the task of continuing a (to date) undefeated preseason.