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Black Hawks 3, Oilers 1 -- 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.

I had the pleasure of attending the game last night, courtesy a good friend who was unable to go. Unfortunately I got a little lost trying to find his place way the heck and gone in Outer Riverbend (Beyond the ‘Bend?). Some genius has seen fit to name all the streets in the neighbourhood with the same letter, so that all the signs look the same ("Hxxxxx", except in smaller font). It seems I missed the intersection of Hell and Handbasket and proceeded down a logarithmic spiral to Howthehelldidiwinduphere Close.

End result was we missed the first two or three minutes, including The goal. We arrived just in time to stand behind the Zamboni section to see the massive Zack Stortini hit on Brian Campbell and subsequent scrap with Matt Walker. But we only heard the roar for Moreau’s fluke goal just 10 seconds later as we wound our way up to Row 34. Very nice seats in the corner of the Oilers’ "offensive" zone – the Hawks had more shots (18) in their one period coming my way than the Oil did in two (7 +8).

The Chicagos were who we thought they were. They out skated and out skilled the Oilers for 50 minutes, by which time the scoreboard stood at 3-1 and the shot clock at 40-16. Hawks laid back a little in the last 10 as Oilers attempted to come on, but Cristobal Huet was more than up to the task. Certainly the outcome was only in doubt during the 18 minutes that the Oilers somehow held the lead against the torrent of play.

In a typically astute comment Craig MacTavish mentioned the speed of the Hawks checkers, who were all over the Oilers, especially in our zone. In this way this game resembled the 4-0 loss in Detroit, the miraculous 3-2 win in San Jose, and indeed the early-season 3-0 whitewash in Chicago. The Hawks are capable of puck pressure of the same quality as the elite squads of the Western Conference. The Oilers are nowhere close.

Let's turn our attention to individual player gradings, which as usual are cobbled together from sporadic observations and statistical bric-a-brac:

Ladislav Smid – 5: Solid, unspectacular. I loved the way he challenged Adam Burish, then Colin Fraser, then Burish again in the aftermath of a Burish whack to Roli’s glove.

Shawn Horcoff – 4: A very tough night for our #1 C, along with his entire unit of Hemsky, Nilsson, Grebeshkov and Visnovsky. (Especially Visnovsky … sigh) The unit collectively had 5 shots and 10 giveaways, having a great deal of difficulty getting the puck out of their own end, and some of that goes on the centre. Did post a credible 14-8, 64% in the circle, but that didn’t convert into actual puck possession (at least, not for long). Forced two of Cristobal Huet’s best saves in a night’s work that was tougher than 21 shots suggest. After being stoned on his breakaway, made a great recovery and centring pass for a second chance that Hemsky couldn’t convert. Was himself surprised by Gilbert’s great behind-the-back pass that slid harmlessly through his feet with the yawning four by six beckoning. Definitely is fighting the puck.

Robert Nilsson – 3: Virtually invisible. His only official stats for the night were 13:58 TOI, 3 giveaways, and 1 lost faceoff. No anecdotes of his play that I remember, but this MacT quote applies to Row-bert as well as anybody: "What we needed to do was pound the puck out. We kept trying to overhandle it and ended up turning it over at the contact point. It’s tough to exhibit intensity in the defensive zone and we spent a period of time there. [Ed: that would be the second period. And most of the first.] Offensively we were small and slow."

Andrew Cogliano – 4: Another guy who is fighting the puck. Didn’t have a single shot on net, and passed up a couple of shooting lanes for ill-advised passes. Went 0-8, 0% in the faceoff circle, which is a bad night even for Andrew. His linemate Marc Pouliot went 2-0, but MacT seems to prefer Cogliano for whatever reason, even choosing Andrew for a defensive RW zone draw which theoretically was Poo’s strong side. Predictably -– and I did predict it -- Cogs lost the draw.

Ethan Moreau – 4: I saw the replay later of the incredibly flukey goal he scored, in which the puck bounced off the heads of two different Hawks and into the net. Like Horcoff and others, I’m probably giving him one higher grade than his game deserves just for his hustle, but as is usual with Ethan that "bull in a china shop" energy is counterproductive as often as not. Took a rockhead interference penalty at the far end that resulted in the Hawks’ only powerplay of the night, and ultimately the tying goal. Then was directly responsible -– what David Staples calls the Primary Error -- for the winner when his mistimed block turned into a fadeaway slide as Bolland stepped past him and let fire unimpeded from the slot. That’s the second time that’s happened to Moreau in a couple of weeks, and both times I thought his execution was technically incompetent in that he was sliding away from the direction the shooter was moving, thus taking himself completely out of the play. We used to teach this in Pee Wee (Tier 5).

Ryan Potulny – 6: A passing grade. His line with Cole and Gagner generated a few dangerous opportunities. I liked his play away from the puck, esp. his change of pace. Potulny got himself wide open at the edge of the crease for a pass from Cole that came about a second and a half too late; another time got himself loose in the high slot for another pass that never came. Made a fine one-handed pass out to Gagner for a gold-plated opportunity early in the second. 2 shots, a team-leading 2 takeaways.

Steve Staios – 4: Another guy awarded a point for effort, but that did not translate into results. 4 shots at net, but the best opportunity, set up by a fine Cogliano dangle, fluttered harmlessly high and wide before bellyflopping into the end boards with a barely-audible splat. Was unable to clear the crease on either of Chicago’s first two goals, one on the PP and one at even strength. On Bolland’s game winner he and his check formed a perfect screen of Roli even as his doppelganger Moreau took absolutely nothing of the shooter. 3 hits, all kinds of try, but even more come-up-short.

Erik Cole – 6: 4 hits on a night Oilers outhit their opponent 27-17. Erik’s shot off the post was probably the best of several Oiler chances to open up a 2-0 lead, which would have been huge. Likes to carry the puck, isn’t always aware of his linemates, and gets ahead of the play at times, all of which point to why he wasn’t a good fit with Hemsky.

Dustin Penner – 6: A fairly solid game from the big man in an unfamiliar position, playing with the slugs. Took awhile to adapt to the strictly N-S game his linemates prefer, in the early stages making a low-percentage cross-ice pass through the neutral zone when the dump-in was the play. In the zone though, all three like to simply bull the puck towards the net, which they did frequently and effectively. Got stronger as the night went on.

Dwayne Roloson – 7: Let’s start with the negatives: didn’t cover enough net on two long screened shots, let in a flat-out weak third goal (the other Primary Error in my books), had trouble with rebound control, and suffered another puckhandling miscommunication with Gilbert that led to a minute of extended pressure. Fact is Roli was under pressure from the drop of the puck right through that third goal which sealed the deal midway in the third. He battled hard, and won more than his share of them with some fine stops. Was not the reason Oilers lost this game, was the reason the score stayed respectable. Could have stolen a point or even two if his counterpart wasn’t equally sharp.

Denis Grebeshkov – 5: Let’s start with the positives this time: Grebs is a beautiful skater, especially laterally where his fluid movements summon images of Paul Coffey or Nicklas Lidstrom. Unfortunately last night required more backward skating than forward as his unit was constantly flummoxed in its own zone. Grebeshkov actually had the best Corsi number of the group, an embarrassing -13. Made one outstanding give-and-go rush on a third period PP that could easily have resulted in the tying goal.

Sheldon Souray – 6: A solid night’s work with a few mistakes sprinkled in, pretty typical for this proactive defender. 7 attempted shots, 3 giveaways, a takeaway, a blocked shot, and 2 hits, including one beauty where he stepped up and rocked Bolland seconds after Wisniewski had leveled Gagner with a hard shot. A team doesn’t always need to be initiating the physical stuff, but it sure in heck better be ready to respond, and Souray picked his spot perfectly on this occasion.

Zack Stortini – 7: Am tempted to give him even more, as he played his role almost to perfection. It is a limited role, however, where "perfect" is maybe only worth 8 points unless there’s bonus goals being scored. I know I’ll take grief for this, but to my eye Zorg was Oilers’ best skater (don’t read that literally) on this night. His line was by far the Oilers best, consistently jamming up the Hawks deep in their own zone and bringing their bodies with them. With the puck Zack is not so much a N-S player as a N player, always moving the biscuit ever deeper into opposing territory and to the end boards. Did make two fine centring passes, one of which resulted in a good shot by Penner. By Dennis’s scoring chance metric the Oilers had 6 chances to score when Zorg was on the ice, and 0 (zero) against. Played 10:45, least of the 18 skaters by a narrower margin than usual, and led the team with 5 hits, including one wallop of Campbell that led to a subsequent dust-up with Walker. Was on the receiving end of one big hit and had the discipline not to retaliate, but after a Chicago penalty on the continuation waded into the post-whistle scrum chin-first. Said chin was wagging you may be sure, giving the Hawks every opportunity to take a second minor without any fear of a bad one on the Oil. If only Ethan Moreau could learn stuff like this.

Kyle Brodziak – 6: Unlucky to post a -1 on a night when the scoring chances with Kyle on the ice were 7 for and 1 against. His line had the only three positive Corsi numbers on the entire team, with Brodziak and Stortini leading the way at +4. Took the puck to the net with 6 attempted shots. Was also on the ice for Chicago’s PP goal, so the results did not match the performance for the most part.

Lubomir Visnovsky – 4: Oilers needed his slick puck movement on this night, but really had trouble getting going, and when he did was still likely to make the dreaded drop pass to nobody. Lost a few battles along the boards, including the unfortunate contact with Bolland that will put Lubo on the shelf for a few weeks. The Oilers will be very hard-pressed to replace a guy who has had many more good nights than bad.

Tom Gilbert – 5: I thought he was getting owned physically for a substantial part of the game, though he did bring some nice skill plays and was on the ice for a team high 10 scoring chances for, just 7 against. Showed his lack of experience when he pulled up and didn’t take the net off on a second-period tumble into his own crease where a whistle would have been both helpful and unpenalized.

Marc Pouliot – 4: Has those moments where the talent shines through, like the second period manoeuvre where he turned sharply and against the flow into open ice to shake some heavy forechecking pressure, then air-mailed a perfect breakout pass onto Cogliano’s tape. Effortless, first-round talent. But didn’t show it often enough on this, as many nights. In just 12:45 co-led the team with 3 GV, with none of his three attempted shots actually getting through to the goalies. Oilers were outchanced 5-2 and outshot 9-2 with Poo on the ice.

Ales Hemsky – 4: Probably a generous marking giving respect for the nights Ales has led the way in a positive sense. On this night his arrows were all pointing in the wrong direction, as he had a team worst +3/-12 scoring chances and dreadful Corsi of -21 (tied with Horcoff in both cases). Was on the ice and partly responsible for Havlat’s backbreaking 3-1 goal. Ales did dangle effectively at times, threading a great pass through to Horcoff for one breakaway and then somehow disappearing behind a sleep-walking Hawks unit for another. Not often one sees the trailing team get a breakaway with the goalie on the bench. Alas, Ales missed the net, and generally missed the mark all night. Getting cranked by Keith and especially Byfuglien early in the game did not help.

Sam Gagner – 6: A decent first game back, in which his line didn’t carry the play but generated their share of chances (+6/-3 with Gags on the ice). Had one pointblank shot but couldn’t solve Huet, and made a couple of slick passes for others. Decent in the circle at 5-2, 71%. Surprisingly, led all Oiler forwards in TOI with 19:45.