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.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pat Quinn's Promise to Oilers Fans

The following is the text from Pat Quinn's pre-game speech aired before the Oilers/Islanders game last night:

"Hello, I'm Pat Quinn, head coach for your Edmonton Oilers.

This is your team, and everything we do we do it for you -- our fans.

I can't sit here and make any promises about the post-season, but I can promise you this: we will play tough. We will show grit. And we will highlight the skill on this team.

And on every night, even when we're tired and it's cold, I promise you this:

This team will compete.

And when we do this, everything else will fall into place.

We will be taking on the world, starting October 3rd.

Hopefully, Oilers fans will be able to say a definitive "amen" to that.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Oilers Pull It Out in Third Period

The first 48 minutes of tonight's game didn't look especially good for the Edmonton Oilers.

Certainly, there were some good things about it: for one thing, Jordan Eberle's play. He didn't score any goals or rack up any assists, but he did create several quality scoring opportunities -- including an early shot that rang off the goalpost.

The first 6:39 of the game were especially bad, as the Oilers were severely out-played by the Islanders. Perhaps the Isles were energized by the long-awaited presence of Jonathon Tavares in their lineup (playing alongside Doug Weight), or perhaps the Oilers -- icing many more veterans and stars than their opponents -- simply came to the rink with a false sense of security.

The play of Islanders goaltender Nathan Lawson was certainly a factor, as he turned away a golden opportunity by Ales Hemsky, and stoned the Oilers power play on four separate occasions throughout the first two periods.

When the Oilers finally tied the game it game on a goal by Dustin Penner. A few minutes later Sam Gagner smuggled a backhand shot behind Lawson to pull ahead.

The Islanders would tie the game again on a wrist shot, only to have Sheldon Souray chug into the slot and score the game winning goal on a backhander.

Gagner and Souray both also notched assists to have a two-point night, and Andrew Cogliano, Robbie Nilsson and Hemsky also put up assists.

This Oilers squad -- the only two players to compete in last night's game were Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers -- at least doesn't seem to have the penalty troubles that the road squad seems to have.

Souray dominated the puck, firing several heavy bombs off the point (including one almost directly into the Islanders' Richard Park). If he maintains his pace tonight throughout the season, Souray may eclipse the 26 goals he scored for the Montreal Canadiens in 2006-07.

But, again, the competition tonight was far from NHL-calibre. Jordan Eberle managed to outshine Jonathon Tavares as the best player on the ice -- better even than Hemsky -- but one shouldn't necessarily expect that to continue as the Oilers face tougher and tougher competition as the pre-season progresses.

One should remember also that the Oilers will face the Islanders again, in Saskatoon, later in the preseason. That will be a big game for Eberle, as it's just up the highway from his hometown of Regina.

Welcome to the NHL, Jonathon Tavares -- Hope You Survive the Experience!

The Edmonton Oilers will welcome 1st overall draft pick Jonathon Tavares to Rexall Place tonight, as he plays in his first ever NHL game.

Alongside Tavares will be Doug Weight, the highest-scoring active former Oiler in the league today, as well as the last Oiler to amass more than 100 points in a season.

Absent from the lineup will be Dwayne Roloson, who signed with the Islanders in the off-season, and will be duking it out with Martin Biron to decide who will play more games behind Rick DiPietro -- and who replace him if (more likely when) he gets hurt.

Richard Park, Andy Sutton and Jon Sim are the other Islanders of note in the lineup. This may allow an Oilers lineup stacked with Ales Hemsky, Sheldon Souray, Sam Gagner, Robbie Nilsson, Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner, Ladislav Smid and Fernando Pisani to drum up some illusions of dominant grandeur before facing more serious competition later in the pre-season.

Also dressing for the New York Islanders will be Robin Figren. Some may remember Figren as the Edmonton Oil King who dazzled for Sweden at the 2008 World Junior Championships.

But unquestionably all eyes will be on Jonathon Tavares tonight. Big, big things are expected of Tavares in Long Island, as they look to rebuild their franchise around him and try to recapture the heady glories once enjoyed there by Mike Bossy and Denis Potvin (among others).

It will be a long and arduous rebuilding process for the Islanders, who seem to abandon the "Oilers 2.0" theme of the past couple of seasons when they employed Weight, Bill Guerin, Miroslav Satan, Marc-Andre Bergeron and current Oiler Mike Comrie with their team.

Tavares may be the first realistic shot the Islanders have had for a while of developing a superstar all their own, and launching an "Islanders 2.0" program that is sorely long overdue.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Patty O's Big Night

Pat Quin and Tom Renney's debut behind the Oilers bench has come off perfectly, as the Oilers claimed a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames.

To be fair, the Flames regulars in the lineup were limited to Dustin Boyd, Jamie Lundmark, Kyle Greentree and David Moss. Meanwhile, the Oilers iced a lineup featuring Patrick O'Sullivan, Steve Staios, Shawn Horcoff, Mike Comrie, Zach Stortini, Tom Gilbert, Jason Strudwick and team captain Ethan Moreau. But every win in the Battle of Alberta counts.

In particular, Patrick O'Sullivan had a big night with two goals.

Tom Gilbert had a power play marked for the Oil and Shawn Horcoff finished the game with an empty netter.

Jason Jaffray responded for Calgary.

Mike Comrie had two assists, and Gilbert had a helper as well. Alex Plante, Robbie Schremp and Ryan Stone rounded out the other assists.

Mike Comrie seemed to have winning back Oilers finds on his mind as he worked hard, produced several scoring opportunities (and arguably scored one of O'Sullivan's goals).

If the Oilers had any problems tonight, it was the number of penalties they took. Playing against a lineup of minor leaguers and third- and fourth-line players, the Oil had no business giving up seven power plays.

O'Sullivan's two goals tonight equal what he scored in 19 games with the Oilers last season.

Then again, hopefully Pat QUinn and Tom Renney will wait to see how O'Sullivan plays against more NHL regulars later in the preseason before committing to giving him a spot on the top line alongside Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.

Comrie to Re-debut in Cowtown

Oilers fans tuning into the webcast of tonight's preseason opener against the Calgary Flames -- streamed on the Oilers website for those not in the know -- may be disappointed at the absence of Nikolai Khabibulin in net.

But for those few who have awaited the return of Mike Comrie, tonight's game will certainly hold some interest. Comrie will centre Patrick O'Sullivan and Ryan Stone on the Oilers second line, just behind the top line combination of Shawn Horcoff, Robbie Schremp and Jean-Francois Jacques.

Comrie -- who has been wearing #91 in training camp after seemingly having wisely chosen not to fight Sam Gagner for #89 -- could even see some power play icetime with Robbie Schremp. Schremp is one of the players the Oilers selected with the draft picks they received for Comrie when they sent him off for some Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia.

Many, many eyes will be on Comrie to see if he picks up where he left off before the trade.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Hometown boy back in hometown

It's been a long six years for the Edmonton Oilers and Mike Comrie, but it seems like by-gones have finally become by-gones.

At least, so far as the team management and player are concerned.

In those six years the Oilers have made the playoffs but once, while Comrie shuffled his way through the Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders organizations, himself appearing in the playoffs only once.

One can imagine that the weeks between his signing today and the start of the pre-season -- when we'll get the first big indication of how Oilers fans are taking the return of the old number 89 -- will be tense ones. Oilers fans were unforgiving of Comrie during his contract hold out (which was actually precipitated equally by both sides of the dispute).

However, Comrie's return will make questions about who will play in the Oilers top six more pronounced -- particularly as it pertains centre.

As the rookie training camp winds down with tomorrow night's game against the Golden Bears at the Clare Drake Arena and regular training camp gets set to open, Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Mike Comrie and Andrew Cogliano will be competing for two spots at centre, with Gilbert Brule and Robbie Schremp looking to crack the lineup.

Ales Hemsky, Patrick O'Sullivan, Robert Nilsson, Dustin Penner and Jordan Eberle will be fighting over the remaining spots in the top six. That's a crowded pair of lines for Pat Quinn to decide.

Quinn's dilemma should be made easier by the fact that Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner can both also play on the wing -- although Horcoff will certainly be taking faceoffs nonetheless.

As the only Oiler centreman in the lineup to have cracked the 30-goal mark before (he's done it twice in his career, once as an Oiler), Comrie may even usurp Horcoff's spot as top centre (but no one should count on that).

If Oilers fans can get over the acrimony of 2003-04, Mike Comrie should prove to be a welcome addition to the Oilers.