Though the Edmonton Oilers are but 1/10 of the way through the 2011-12 season, two things are for certain: Ryan Whitney isn't a reliable option for the Oilers on the backend and Tom Renney only trusts two of his other six blueliners. Sure, Ryan Whitney might take a pill from Miracle Max and shake off his injury concerns, but it's more likely that his ankles will be an ongoing problem for the rest of his time in Edmonton. That leaves Renney with one proven defensemen, Tom Gilbert, to weave throughout his lineup in an effort to match pairings.
Gilbert might be the only proven defenseman, but Renney has demonstrated an incredible amount of trust in another defenseman: Corey Potter. Renney trusts him so much that Potter has become his go-to guy over Ladislav Smid and the coral reef - Cam Barker and Andy Sutton.
In fact, even in the face of a relentless media assault showcasing "The Kid Line", Corey Potter might be the most significant early season story for the Edmonton Oilers. Potter, a career AHLer until this season, and probably destined to be an AHLer again this year if not for Ryan Whitney's injuries, has made his coach and biggest backer look like a genius:
I think maybe you get into an organization that's hard to emerge from sometimes, ya know, you get a little bit smothered and you might not get that opportunity and the way things are with the new collective bargaining agreement, sometimes contracts just prevent a guy from making that step in. I've felt for a long time that Corey would be an NHL player.
There's a long way to go and it's tough to argue that eight games supersede five years of performance in demonstrating Potter's true talent, but for now, Potter has been remarkable.
So it's Gilbert, Potter and the chaff and Renney proves it each game. The trust disparity was evident again last night against the Canucks. The table below lists the time on ice for the five defensemen other than Ryan Whitney. After Whitney went down, Renney leaned heavily on Potter and Gilbert.
|EV TOI||PP TOI||PK TOI|
While Smid played almost as much at even strength as Gilbert did, Gilbert played 1:30 more short-handed and another 1:45 on the power play.
It's not just total ice time that shows how much Renney trusts the two. Below is a breakout of head-to-head ice time versus the Canucks top nine forwards from last night.
|EV Time On Ice|
While the coach is deploying his forward lines according to zonestart, he's deploying his defensemen by matchup. Renney worked hard to get Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid out against the Sedins and Corey Potter out against the other two lines.
It's not realistic to expect Gilbert and Potter to play 25 minutes+ per night, and face the competition they're facing with the help they're getting and still outperform. But for now, Tom Renney is riding his two righties hard and they're responding.