Tomorrow night the Oilers will go on the road to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets, and just like I did with San Jose last week, I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at the Jackets' recent performance. Once again, I'll be using scoring chances as the basis for the analysis, and in this case, I tracked the chances for the Jackets' last game against the Philadelphia Flyers. After the jump, I'll take a look at the scoring chances, the Jackets' bench management, and talk a bit more about what the Oilers can probably expect tomorrow night.
Before I present the data, I just wanted to explain the chart a little bit. Most of it is pretty self-explanatory, but the "situation" column refers to whether the chance was created by Zone Pressure (ZP) or if it instead came in Transition (T). Any chance that resulted in a goal is in bold font.
|21||J. VAN RIEMSDYK||12:48||1||2||0:22||0||0||0:00||0||0|
|Period||Totals||EV||PP||5v3 PP||SH||5v3 SH|
The Blue Jackets are a very physical team and were on top of the Flyers from the very start of this game. Derek Dorsett, Jared Boll, and Chris Clark were all on different lines, and each guy was definitely doing some running around, but each one was also creating turnovers, which often lead to scoring chances, and in turn, goals. Clark in particular had a fantastic game. In that he was a salary dump from the Capitals last year, and a healthy scratch in Columbus to start this season, I'm going to go ahead and assume it was one of his better showings in the last couple of years, but he was truly fantastic. With 2:28 left in the second period, Clark created a chance by making a beautiful pass to Derek MacKenzie driving to the net, and with 2:12 left in the third, Clark won the puck along the boards in the neutral zone just over the Philadelphia blue-line and went in on a 2-on-1, just missing the net with his shot. When the game was ending, Scott Arniel had Clark on the ice to protect the lead, and when Scott Hartnell started getting frisky in the last twenty seconds, it was Clark who stepped up for his teammates. But his best play by far came in the first period when he picked up the puck in the neutral zone and went on the attack. He beat Chris Pronger wide, then dangled around Matt Carle before getting his shot off, which lead to Kyle Wilson scoring (his first career NHL goal at age twenty-five) on the rebound. Seeing Pronger and Carle made to look foolish by Chris Clark - what a thing of beauty! Now, the Oilers probably don't need to prepare for Superstar Chris Clark, but they had best be ready for a team that's hard along the boards and very willing to hit. I daresay keeping Zack Stortini out of the lineup tomorrow night would be a big mistake.
As for the skill players, most of the Jackets' top players had their good moments in the offensive zone, and some missed assignments in the defensive end. In general, the Jackets collapsed hard to the net when the puck was trapped in their end for extended periods of time, and that sometimes seemed to create confusion as to who had the responsibility in front of the net. On the Flyers' goal, for example, Rick Nash was standing five feet away from the goal-scorer (Ville Leino), but didn't seem to even think of marking him. Traditionally, this would be the center's responsibility, but in this case Derick Brassard was playing much higher in the zone than Nash. With neither guy on Leino, he was able to get both his original shot and a rebound off without anyone pestering him. That kind of thing happened a few times throughout the game, especially to the centers (who, in fairness, had some very tough matchups against Daniel Briere, Jeff Carter, and Mike Richards - they won't be seeing that kind of talent up the middle against the Oilers).
Nash's results, in general, look a little bit disappointing. Arniel was going out of his way to avoid a matchup with Pronger on defense and Richards up front. It worked better with Richards than Pronger, but Nash still managed to get half of his even strength ice time with Pronger on the bench, and yet he only broke even in terms of chances on the night. That said, he was +3 -1 in the first two periods and +1 -3 in the third period with the Jackets protecting the lead, so maybe he deserves a bit of a pass. Even still, he wasn't the guy on his line who was the most fun to watch. No sir, that honour goes to Jakub Voracek for this long-time Oiler fan. Watching him reminded me of a young Ales Hemsky, not in his stride or his ability to dangle, but rather, in his vision on the ice and his proclivity to pass in any and every situation A couple of passes left Rick Nash one-on-one with Brian Boucher, but the Jackets' captain simply couldn't finish the job. Nevertheless, they were truly fantastic passes. On the other hand, with 5:32 to go in the third period, Voracek created a turnover and then carried the puck into the slot... at which point he forced a pass across that barely made it on goal off the stick of his teammate. The guy needs to shoot there even if it's just to keep the defense honest. Until he does, I'd be hoping that all of the Oiler defenders religiously cover the pass if Voracek has the puck on an odd-man rush. Given Arniel's (mostly successful) attempts to avoid Pronger and Richards in this game, I expect the top line of Gagner, Hemsky, and Penner to see a lot of Samuel Pahlsson (although he wasn't hard-matching anyone against the Flyers, probably owing to that team's forward depth), while Nash, Voracek, and Brassard feast on some of the Oilers' lesser lights.
The other forward I wanted to mention is Nikita Filatov, not so much because he stood out, but because Arniel had him playing on the fourth line with Derek MacKenzie and Jared Boll. He played just under 6:00 (all at even strength), a bit less than each of his linemates. For what it's worth, he seemed to be buying into the role somewhat, playing a physical game along the boards, but the kid must be pretty frustrating. This is the second coach in a row to have the same assessment, and it isn't a flattering one. Filatov probably had a wry smile when Ken Hitchcock lost his job - my guess is that he isn't smiling anymore.
Finally, the defense, which was surprisingly good. The defenders played an extremely conservative game, especially when they had the lead, but the result was only very rarely getting caught in odd-man situations and successfully limiting the Flyers quality scoring chances with good coverage in their own end. The only guy I saw bad - and it was really bad - was Rostislav Klesla who seemed to make numerous mistakes throughout the contest. He was beat wide for a scoring chance, misread a play coming down the ice that turned a 2-on-2 into a wide open guy when Klesla and Marc Methot both took the man with the puck (he subsequently dished it off), and he lost players coming off the boards twice leading to open scoring chances for both guys in the slot. Finally, with 1:35 left to go in the game, he needlessly iced the puck, which gave the Flyers a very good chance to tie the score (Laviolette correctly pulled the goalie). If I were Tom Renney, I'd definitely be playing the puck into Klesla's corner, and forcing him to move from the boards back to the front of the net as often as possible, giving him plenty of opportunities to give away the puck or lose his man.
It should be a fun game tomorrow night! Let's hope the Oilers can break their streak of twenty-seven consecutive road games without a regulation win! Goilers!