These guys are happy because they know Marc Staal is the man.
This road trip hasn't been anyone's favourite, and we already know that it won't get any better tomorrow, if only because it's a Sunday matinée. I don't know if the players like these games, but I hate them, mostly because I'm busy in church. Although, given how well the Oilers have played over the last few games, maybe that's just where they need me. Anyroad, tomorrow's game is against the New York Rangers, and I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at their last game, which was on November 11th against the Buffalo Sabres. I've tracked the scoring chances for that game and will use them as the basis for the analysis. After the jump, I'll take a look at the scoring chances, the Rangers' bench management, and talk a bit more about what the Oilers can probably expect tomorrow night.For those who'd like a definition: a scoring chance is defined as a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area - loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots, though sometimes slightly more generous than that depending on the amount of immediately-preceding puck movement or screens in front of the net. Blocked shots are generally not included but missed shots are. A player is awarded a scoring chance anytime he is on the ice and someone from either team has a chance to score. He is awarded a "chance for" if someone on his team has a chance to score and a "chance against" if the opposing team has a chance to score. Finally, a big thanks to Vic Ferrari for making the whole damn thing possible with his awesome scripts.
Before I present the data, I also 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), within five seconds of an offensive zone faceoff (FO) or if it instead came in Transition (T). Any chance that resulted in a goal is in bold font.
|4||M. DEL ZOTTO||16:26||5||9||6:44||5||0||0:51||0||0|
|Period||Totals||EV||PP||5v3 PP||SH||5v3 SH|
With Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal injured, the Rangers are a bit of a mess up the middle at the moment. This was Marian Gaborik's first game back from injury (so at least things are improving), but he can't have been too excited to see that his center was Erik Christensen. Those two played with Alexander Frolov for the entire game at evens, and surprisingly, it was Frolov who took a seat in overtime. John Tortorella didn't seem to be working for any forward matchup in particular for that group, but he did generally try to avoid Buffalo's top defender, Tyler Myers, frequently sending Gaborik's line out just after Myers left the ice or while he was at the tail-end of his shift. The strategy seems like a good one, but that line wasn't able to the chances battle or the Corsi battle (Gaborik was -9) for the Rangers despite finding a bit of shelter. Against the Oilers, there's really no one to avoid, but if Tortorella can get Gaborik's line out there as often against Edmonton's third pairing as he did against Buffalo's (no Buffalo defenders played less total EV ice time than Chris Butler and Shaone Morrisonn, and no Buffalo defenders played more EV ice time against Gaborik than Chris Butler and Shaone Morrisonn), I'd imagine they won't have the same problems winning the chances and Corsi battle.
As for Gaborik himself, considering it was his first game back after a shoulder injury, I was very impressed. He's not the most noticeable guy without the puck, and his passing (accuracy) probably wasn't up to his usual standard, but every time he had the puck, he was exciting - huge bursts of speed, amazing stickhandling and a sharp release make him a really fun player to watch.
The one forward line that was very impressive for New York was Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Ryan Callahan, and not just because Anisimov scored the winner (although it was a beauty). Because Tortorella was protecting Gaborik's group, these three were often out there agains Tyler Myers, and they also spent a good 40% of their ice time against the Sabres top unit. Yet, these were three of the six Rangers to earn a positive Corsi rating and they were able to win the chances battle as well. All three guys are in their early 20s and heading into their prime years. All three are also restricted free agents at the end of this season. If Derek Zona were a GM in this league, methinks the Rangers might have something to worry about.
On defense, Tortorella made sure to use Marc Staal and Dan Girardi when Tomas Vanek, Derek Roy, and Tyler Ennis hopped over the boards and he went well out of his way to protect his bottom pairing of Matt Gilroy and Michael Sauer. That left the second pairing of Steve Eminger and Michael Del Zotto exposed and boy oh boy did the Sabres take advantage of them. With Horcoff out of the lineup, and the Oilers already lacking depth they probably won't be able to take advantage to the same degree, but I certainly hope Tom Renney decides to use Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner on different lines. At least one of them will be exposed to some pretty green (and bad) defenders, and should be able to take advantage. But if they're playing together, the Staal-Girardi combination will be all over them.
And guess what? Those two are very good. Staal is surprisingly good, not in the sense that I didn't know his numbers were fabulous, but in the sense that he just doesn't look all that great when you watch him. Staal isn't particularly fast, but he's fast enough that most players can't beat him wide and get to the net. He's not physically huge, but he's still big, and he plays an effective physical style that sees him staying in position and delivering hits whenever he can do it without losing position. He's also got a very good stick, and he seems like a competent passer as well. The offense isn't there the way it is for guys like Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith, but defensively, the guy is an absolute gem, and pretty much exactly the kind of player the Oilers need to stabilize their defense. Sadly, something tells me that New York's very best defenseman isn't on the market.
Let's end this road trip with a win! (Although, if they don't, it will have been a whole month since the Oilers beat a team that wasn't the defending Stanley Cup Champions... who they beat twice... and that would be kind of funny.) Goilers!