a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Monday, 6 February 2012

02/06/12 I Hate Losing To Toronto

That picture is funny, but losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs isn't. I know there are people out there who will say that Toronto is their second favorite team from back in the day when you could only either cheer for the Leafs or Habs, but damnit, things are different now.

Toronto is now the home of Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel and Brian Burke. Say what you will about them being good at what they do, but losing to them just plain sucks.

Ralph Kreuger has a bit of a hill to climb if he ever wants to be an NHL head coach. Of all Oilers forwards, only the magnificent and exulted Sam Gagner played more than Ales Hemsky (not so much exulted). Hemsky finished as a minus-4 with no points and one shot on goal. Remember that tired old expression about the definition of insanity? That may be a little harsh, except that we kept seeing Cam Barker and Tom Gilbert as a tandem after it was clear that experiment had failed miserably. Gilbert hasn't played since January second, you say? Pair him up with Mr. Unreliable and have at 'er! Barker and Gilbert finished up at minus-3 and minus-2 respectively.

There were calls on Twitter for Gilbert and Smid to be reunited during the game, and that may not have been a bad idea. If Barker is Mr. Unreliable, then Laddy is Old Faithful (minus the geyser part). Smid came in at plus-3 on the evening in a 6-3 loss where there were no powerplay opportunities! His partner Petry was then free to play a more offensive style, which worked out well for him as he banked a goal and an assist. Petry led all Oilers in ice time with 22:59, and made pretty good use of it.

Horcoff and Belanger didn't get a thing accomplished offensively, but they managed to keep the opposition off the scoreboard as well. Both were even on the night, so take from that whatever it's worth. Ryan Smyth, on the other hand, finished as a minus-3 and really could have used that goal of his if it had counted. He's sitting on just 4 goals in his last 31 games played, stretching all the way back to November 26th. In case you're wondering, he potted 12 goals in the 22 games previous to that.

Nugent-Hopkins is in a similar position. He left the game as a precautionary measure to protect his shoulder, but collected a minus-3 in his 15 minutes of ice time. The last goal the Nuge scored was back on December 7th against Carolina. He's been out with injury, but that's still a span of 12 games without lighting the lamp. It's easy to say that if he comes back he should be paired with Hall and Eberle, but having those two with the more mature Gagner seems to have helped them.

Not only has Gagner been other-wordly offensively in the last several games, he's also managed to bring his faceoff win percentage up to a respectable level. After 310 tries in the dot Gagner has won 151 times (48.7% of the time), which is not far off of Shawn Horcoff's total of 49.6%. In a perfect world we'd all like to see Gagner get up to Belanger-like levels of effectiveness, but the leap he's taken means he's becoming a solid all-around option for a second line center. As if you didn't already know. That means the Oilers don't have to send out Horcoff on the powerplay just to win a draw and set up the play, which is a huge boon for the team as a whole.

The powerplay would probably have helped the Oilers against Toronto. The Leaf's penalty kill works its magic just 75.9% of the time. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets are worse killing penalties. Toronto is also tied for 29th with Ottawa for most powerplay goals allowed at 41. Being third-best in the NHL on the powerplay, a game without penalties was not what the Oilers wanted to see.

But that up tempo style of play sure was exciting to watch. Even though the Oilers lost, a fan could watch an entire season of hockey like that and be wildly entertained. I just can't watch it happen against Toronto. So Oilers, do us all a favor and take it to them on the 15th.

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