I hate to shoot fish in a barrel, but Tom Renney is either an imbecile or a liar.
Renney comes out and says that he'll be surprised if the Oilers don't make the playoffs, which is hysterical in of itself. Then, in a 2 - 2 tie with a minute and a half to go and the Vancouver Canucks pounding the Edmonton Oilers into kitty litter, he sends out a unit of Ladislav Smid, Theo Peckham, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Sam Gagner.
That's not how you make the playoffs! Are you kidding me? The guy plays proven NHLers like Zack Stortini and Colin Fraser for a handful of shifts with bad zonestarts, and wears out the likes of Dustin Penner. Herp derp, the Canucks sling the puck around almost at will. Vancouver's snipers, who haven't exactly been shooting the lights out, make a few errors that a decent team could have capitalized on but the Oilers just give it right back. Kevin Bieksa gets the puck up by the blue line and Sam Gagner, of whom I am normally a big fan, does exactly the wrong thing and charges up directly towards Bieksa, full-tilt, screening the everloving hell out of Nikolai Khabibulin while never giving himself a chance to actually get the puck.
Bieksa cranks it. Gagner's screening Khabibulin, there's plenty of traffic in front, and that's your hockey game. A two-goal lead, some good luck on a disallowed marker, and sixty minutes of hard work, and the Oilers walk away with nothing. Good effort, boys. Thanks for coming out. The Canucks will take that win; you gave them a scare for a second, but in the end you're still one of the worst teams in the NHL.
Playoffs. Ha. The only Cup this team will be playing for next summer is the Ryder Cup. They have a chance at that one: for some of these guys, going -2 is nothing.
I don't mean to criticize the Oilers' effort, merely their leadership. Indeed, at times the team seemed to be trying a little too hard. Theo Peckham, of whom I am a staunch defender, spent the night regressing to the old habits of 2009-10. He was directly at fault for the break leading to Jeff Tambellini's goal when, playing four-on-four, he went on a mad dash up the ice with Sam Gagner then failed to control Gagner's relatively pedestrian pass. Peckham was left well in the dust when his turnover led to Vancouver taking it the other way, and Tambellini sniped the puck past Nikolai Khabibulin admirably, all because Peckham wanted to get on the scoresheet so badly he forgot his common sense.
You can't complain that Peckham, who I can promise you we'll be seeing again later in this article, wasn't trying. He was flying around the ice, he was trying to do everything, and he was forgetting that he was Theo Peckham. Similarly, Magnus Paajarvi was flying up and down the ice. What a pity his skates moved faster than his brain: he passed when he should have shot, whiffed scoring chances through the crease behind Cory Schneider on the power play when it seemed easier to score, and was out of position defensively often enough that I eventually just stopped counting and put on Queen's "Under Pressure". He always tried to be the first one up the ice and the first one back, and it sure didn't work. Again, plenty of smoke, just no fire.
It comes down to Tom Renney. The head coach's job is to put the best players out on the ice for a given situation. That is literally pretty much the only thing he has to do. He could even get Ralph Krueger to tie his tie for him if he wanted: if Renney isn't running his bench like an imbecile, he's still fine. Well guess what.
Would it be repetitive to say that the power play was ridiculous again? People fault Ales Hemsky for ruining the Oilers' power play: he keeps the puck on the half wall, tries to make plays from there, relies on his skill more than his teammates and generally makes the whole unit too easy for defenses to deal with. It would sound like a valid criticism except that Hemsky gets hurt and the rest of the team does the exact same thing. Try to fling the puck off the boards to set up an improbable pass that, even if it completes, you're probably not going to score on anyway, set up a big shot from the point, or somehow score on a break. That's pretty much the only way the Oilers play with a man advantage, no matter which player is running the show. It's hard to blame Tom Renney for this too much, given that the exact same boondoggle took place under Pat Quinn. But whatever Renney is trying to do, it's obviously not going to work.
And how about his fourth line? I can't defend how Renney used Zack Stortini: you can count Edmonton's proven NHL outscorers on one hand after a fretsaw accident, yet one of the few semi-reliable players Renney had at his disposal played a total of eight shifts of which one came in the critical third period. Jean-Francois Jacques was similarly epoxied to the bench, which I understand since Jacques is terrible, but then again why are you playing Jean-Francois Jacques in the first place? If you went to Steve Tambellini and said "this piece of meat is useless, give me Liam Reddox or Teemu Hartikainen or somebody", would Tambellini say no? (If so, that would explain a thing or two about this team, but all the same...)
I won't even get into the penalty kill, since I'm not Derek. Suffice to say that it impressed me against Vancouver's marvelous power play by not being completely terrible, and yet did not impress me enough that I'll take back all the awful things I've said in the past.
Taking a moment to accentuate the positive, congratulations to Ryan O'Marra on his first career NHL goal. I'm going to repeat that so you know I didn't mistype. Ryan O'Marra. Ryan Frickin' O'Marra scored an NHL goal against a team that might win the Western Conference, and it wasn't anything to be ashamed of, either: a great heads-up play when he spotted the puck coming towards the hashmarks before anybody else did, closed in quickly, and let go an off-balance but accurate shot that beat a sprawling Cory Schneider. You talk about some players being throw-ins to certain big trades? Ryan O'Marra wasn't a throw-in to the Ryan Smyth trade, he was a punchline. Last season O'Marra got in three NHL games, recorded an assist, played pretty well, and we still scored him thirty-second on our Top 25 Under 25. That's how little faith we had in Ryan O'Marra.
He's teaching us a thing or two. That's not to say that O'Marra has looked good or set the world on fire. If this actually were a playoff team, Ryan O'Marra wouldn't be on it. At the same time, based on the last few weeks, would you rather have Ryan O'Marra or Colin Fraser? I think O'Marra is playing himself an awful long way up the depth chart. At the very least, we'd probably put him ahead of Troy Hesketh today.
It was a ridiculous game and we thoroughly deserved to lose it. For all the Oilers' effort and hustle, this was just one more reminder that the playoffs remain completely out of reach. As if we needed it, but apparently a few folks involved with the Oilers are more delusional than we mere fans.
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars (Special "Nikolai Khabibulin is Definitely Not On This List" Edition):
18th Star: F Andrew Cogliano. In the game-day thread, I made a joke about collecting a new statistics just for Cogs: Marchants With Hands. Cogliano would get an MWH every time he used his speed, got away from a defender, broke in on goal and did something hilariously inept. Like firing the puck sixteen inches high and wide on a partial break, or bearing down on a two-on-one and, rather than shooting or passing to the other man, instead whipping the puck leisurely onto the defenseman's stick.
Andrew Cogliano collected a lot of MWHs tonight. Not that he was the only candidate, by any means: Magnus Paajarvi has already been spoken about, and Dustin Penner very nearly took this spot through sheer "I'm getting paid for this, right?"-ness. Penner has one of those Frank Mahovolich nights where it really looked like he wasn't trying. Of course, big men often look like that, but the problem with Frank Mahovolich was that sometimes he really wasn't trying.
19th Star: F Ryan Jones. The Tubthumper is back on this list for the second game in a row. He did very little tubthumping: as this game wasn't in Edmonton, Jones had no need to compete with our mediocre ice and was therefore able to stay on his feet. He also did very little of anything else. To go into further detail would be to almost repeat my words about Jones from our last game, and I was drunk then so I was probably saying it better.
Here's Ryan Jones in a nutshell. At his best, he flies around the ice and makes people miserable. He disrupts passing lanes, he checks guys or at least knocks them off balance. He's generally a shit-disturber, a pest on the macro scale: rather than annoying you by telling you what he's going to do to your sister or hitting you when your back is turned, he annoys you by always being there to make your job just a little bit tougher. When he's not doing that, he's not doing anything. Don't be tricked by Sportsnet's "breakaway specialist" nonsense: he's not a skill player. He's hustle and energy and grit and determination and "goddammit, where did he come from, I thought I left him behind at the blue line." What we got out of him, instead, was coasting and thinking so hard about positioning that he wound up not doing anything even when he was in the right place. That's not good, not for Ryan Jones.
20th Star: D Theo Peckham. I went over some of Peckham's travails above: he really was just working hard and failing, like me at school only the exact opposite. The problem is that, when Peckham made these sorts of mistakes last season (and oh boy, did he ever), we could say "this is his first real taste of the National Hockey League, it's not like he really knew any better." This season, we can be certain Peckham knows better because he's proven it. He is, almost without question or competition, the most pleasant surprise on the Edmonton Oilers this season. If Jim Vandermeer ever comes back, Peckham had better not be the odd man out because he's up there with Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert in the conversation for best Oilers defenseman this year.
But that was an awful game, Theo. It brought back all the memories and all the fears, everything that made us worry Peckham would never get this game. He's a smart kid off the ice and certainly is strong enough to play with anybody, but he makes mental mistakes sometimes and he hasn't got the skill or the foot speed to correct them on his own. When Peckham was keeping it simple and sticking to his strengths earlier this season, those limitations were minimized. In this game, he did not do that and it may have cost us two points.