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Flames 6, Oilers 4 -- player gradings

I have offered to assist in David Staples' latest project over at Cult of Hockey, namely to grade the Oilers' players on a game-by-game basis. This is a collective effort, I'm just one member of a team of markers.

The scoring system is as follows: 10, perfect game; 9, extraordinary game; 8, great game; 7, good game; 6, above average game; 5, average game; 4, below average game; 3, bad game; 2, terrible game; 1, trade this player or send him to the minors.

This game was different from the Ottawa game and yet in many ways it was the same. Unlike the home contest against the sad sack Sens playing their third game in four nights on a western road trip, this time it was the Oilers who were the tired road team against a rested home favourite. And whereas the Oilers couldn't get the lead against Ottawa, against the Flames they couldn't hold the lead.

However, both games were tied after both the first and second periods, and both games were lost in the third. Both times the Oilers took one penalty in the third, and both times they didn't even come close to killing it. Instead, it killed them.

Having watched the PK unit fritter away two more games with a dreadful 4-for-8 record, I am running out of patience with a group of players who can't kill penalties (or avoid taking unnecessary ones), with a coaching staff that can't seem to teach the skill or the system, and with a management team which continues to sit on its hands while a gaping flaw seriously damages any playoff hopes this squad might have. The Oilers have allowed a league worst 1.17 PPGA/G; 28 clubs are at 1.00 or better, with only defensive lightweight Atlanta even in the same area code in terms of ineptitude. Attention: Management, this is a serious problem.

A not unrelated problem concerns faceoffs, where Oilers rank 27th in the NHL. For the second straight night the Oilers won just 38% of their draws and began far too many plays, including both special teams, without the puck. Again it's a puzzle that this skill is neither being successfully taught or addressed by way of player acquisition.

With that off my chest, on to the player ratings of another New Year's Eve loss in Calgary, an uneven performance in which two lines played well and two did not:

Ladislav Smid - 5: A solid, safe night with 0 GA in 16 minutes of action. Corsi number of -10 suggests play was in the bad end a little too often. Nice to hear Ray Ferraro confirm my observation of Smid's emerging confidence, especially in the area of breakout passes.

Shawn Horcoff - 3: A grisly night for my favourite Oiler. Was officially -3 in 14:07 at EV, was on for 2 more GA in 3:41 SH, while generating 0 GF in 5:20 on the PP. Bottom line, Oilers were outscored 5-0 in the 23 minutes Horcoff was on the ice. A lot of that was against Iginla's line, sure; Jarome himself schooled Horcoff by a similar 5-0 count in the faceoff circle, including all three faceoffs that immediately preceded the three Flames' powerplay goals. Horc finished the night just 8-16, 33% in the circle. His 3 shots on goal all came late with the Oilers down by 2 and shooting from everywhere; he had none with the game on the line. ES Corsi was -8. Had a hit, a takeaway and 2 blocks so was trying hard on the defensive side of the puck, but didn't get it done.

Robert Nilsson - 7: Was the polar opposite of Horcoff, as the Oilers outscored Calgary 4-0 in the 16:24 Nilsson was on the ice. Scored a powerplay goal, otherwise not involved in the scoring other than contributing to the flow of an effective line. Decent night defensively as well. Always seems to play well in his home town. Wish I could say the same of a more of his teammates.

Andrew Cogliano - 4: 2 shots, 2 blocks, 3 hits = a decent effort. Struggled in the circle yet again (2-8, 20%), and his line was badly outshot against medium opposition.

Ethan Moreau - 3: Compiled a spectacularly bad Corsi number of -17 in just 11:20 of EV play, as Calgary attempted 24 shots in that time, Oilers just 7. Was also burned on the decisive PPGA when Iginla outmuscled both him and Cole at the Oiler blueline. Was the second best captain on the ice by a very wide margin.

Steve Staios - 3: -1 in 14:26 at EV, and on for all 3 Calgary PPG in just 4:55 SH. Has struggled badly on the PK all year, both to my eye and statistically.

Erik Cole - 6: Has been Oilers' best player of late. 1-1-2, +2, with a team-leading 6 shots and 3 hits. Alas, like many Oilers, had a tough night on special teams, getting burned for the critical GA in just 1:27 SH TOI, and producing nothing in 5:11 on the PP.

Dustin Penner - 4: Played a much stronger and more involved game than against Ottawa, but didn't get it done. -2.

Dwayne Roloson - 4: Had enough offensive support to at least earn one standings point but didn't get it done. Aucoin's tying goal through his legs was a bit weak, and Boyd's 5-3 goal off a sloppy rebound killed any hope, and eventually stood up as the game winner. Hard to blame him on Iginla's darts, but didn't make the Big save either.

Denis Grebeshkov - 7: High event game to put it mildly. "Gretzbeshkov" was in on every Oiler goal (1-3-4), but was on for one EV GA, one PP GA, and was himself in the box for the game-turning 4-3 goal early in the third. Oilers outshot Calgary 17-10 at EV with Grebs on the ice.

Jason Strudwick - 7: The fourth line was the least of Oilers worries on this night. Oilers outshot Calgary 4-0 with Strudwick on the ice. Had a hit, a takeaway, and absolutely no negative events.

Sheldon Souray - 3: Similar night to Horcoff. -2 at EV, 2 GA in 3:43 SH TOI, and 0 GF in 7:04 on the PP. Moreover, was sitting in the box himself for Aucoin's tying goal after taking a silly delay of game penalty with a 150-foot slapshot over the glass. Ugly night all the way around.

Zack Stortini - 7: Like Strudwick had a very solid, safe game on the fourth line. On a night the team Corsi number was -10, Stortini posted a team leading +7 in his 8 minutes, allowing just 1 attempted shot to the Flames against 8 for the good guys. A shot, a couple of hits, and no negative events and no worries. Moved the puck sharply and in the right direction all night.

Kyle Brodziak - 7: Centred that effective fourth line, posting 3 shots, 3 hits, and 3 blocks. His Corsi of +1 indicates he did less well in spot duty on other lines. At 9-9, 50% was the best of the Oilers in the faceoff circle, and was one of the few PKers who didn't get burned for a GA.
Gilbert Brule - 3: Posted an unflattering Corsi of -13 in just 8:45, and took a rockhead tripping penalty off a lost offensive zone faceoff which led to the 2-2 goal. Didn't have much jump, perhaps due to a late-night call-up and all-day flight.

Lubomir Visnovsky - 6: Decent night at EV, scored a goal, a couple of shots, 4 blocks. But like everybody on the first PP unit, didn't get anything done in 6:55.

Tom Gilbert - 6: Had a far more effective game than his regular partner Souray, contributing an assist on a second-unit powerplay goal and another on Cole's meaningless late tally. Wasn't on for a Calgary goal in his 17:21.

Liam Reddox - 3: Tried hard (3 hits), but was outclassed in a match-up against Cammalleri. Oilers were outshot 7-2 with Reddox on the ice, and outscored 2-0. Brutal night for the rejigged "first" line on a night the Oilers badly missed Ales Hemsky.

Sam Gagner - 7: Centred the club's strongest line, posting 0-2-2, +2. Was on the ice for all 4 Oiler goals and just the empty net GA. Took another in a troublesome series of penalties, which happened to be one of the two penalties the Oil actually killed off. This is one team that can't afford bad penalties, though, and Sam needs to nip this trend in the bud.