Much has been made of the Oiler players being held accountable for their play this year. Dallas Eakins has publicly stated, several times, that players must buy into his system and play the way he wants them to play. Put simply, it's supposed to be Dallas' way or the highway.
Now if you're like me and you've had the benefit of logging hundreds or thousands of man hours watching Oiler games and reading about the team, you know that this isn't the first time a coach has come in and tried to make his players more accountable. Pat Quinn threw Gagner onto the fourth line when he felt Samwise wasn't playing well enough in training camp. Tom Renney, in
the only one entertaining moment on Oil Change, went around the dressing room, and stated whether each player needed to be better (most of them), or played okay. This year, Eakins has healthy scratched Yakupov to try and encourage his young sniper to play better/smarter without the puck. The Oiler coaches often seem to look for a young forward to make an example of.
The problem, in my uneducated opinion, is that there are too many players who either aren't playing the system correctly, or are consistently making errors while defending. You can't scratch them all! Every coach since MacT has run into this issue. They all come in talking about accountability, but they quickly realize that scratching even one of the good forwards will nearly guarantee a loss for an already underpowered
AHL NHL team. This 2013-2014 squad is not even close to deep enough to scratch all the forwards who deserve it, and frankly I'm not sure it's the forwards who should be drawing the coaches' ire.
Since we can't scratch the forwards for the aforementioned reasons, let's shift our gaze to the defensemen. This blueline has been, to put it mildly, poor for years. Since 2007, there are two
hundred things Oiler defenseman have been doing that regularly result in scoring chances against. They've been making offensive zone pinches with no forward coverage and routinely leaving opposition players wide open in the slot. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to focus on reducing the number of bad pinches that lead to 2 on 1's, but both these bad habits directly cause goals against and cost the Oilers games. The good news is that these habits can be broken.
The question is, how do we correct this error that has plagued the team for years? Luckily, it might actually be possible to FINALLY address the pinching issue this season. In the offseason, Craig MacTavish made moves to bring in a glut of second or bottom pairing defenders. This blueline has depth at the bottom end. With all these
borderline capable D-men, it should be much easier to scratch a defender to hold these blueliners accountable.
The way I see it, if Eakins really wants to send a message to the D, Justin Schultz would be the perfect man to scratch. Schultz is making 25% more mistakes on scoring chances against per 15mins than the next worst top four defender (according to Staples' Nielson numbers). These numbers support what I think I'm seeing with Schultz, and I've been seeing him BAD! It's not just him, but he's been the biggest culprit. He's creating chances, but he is gifting the other team too many, and the ones he gives up leave the opposition forwards with a lot of time and space. If there's one thing the d-men could do that would improve the team immediately, it would be eliminating these careless plays. I think Tyler said it best with this tweet:
All of this "It does take time" stuff is horseshit. Cover for a pinching player. Don't make stupid pinches. Poof! Down 1-0 instead of 3-0.— mc79hockey (@mc79hockey) October 30, 2013
DON'T MAKE STUPID PINCHES! How many times do you think the coaching staff has told Belov and Justin Schultz to make sure they aren't making a risky pinch with no covering forward? I would guess they hear it before the game, on the bench, between periods, and at the video sessions, yet they continue to make the same errors. Behaviours are learned and unlearned as a result of consequences, and these habits won't change until there is a real consequence for these players. Telling them what they're doing wrong is simply not enough. The next game Justin Schultz allows multiple 2 on 1's against by making bad pinches (which is pretty much every game), make him accountable by healthy scratching him, and playing one of the other defensemen in his place.