I always find, when I’ve been away from Canada for a couple of weeks, that I start to miss the rhythms of Canadian life. My dad and my godfather travelled to Europe in the 70s, at a time which I understand the internet was not widely available. There’s something comforting about being able to listen to Steve Tambellini justify his
recommendation to the guy who’s really in charge decision that Tom Renney be fired while being on the other side of the world. It’s like one of those Tim Horton’s commercials about a guy away at Christmas, only Tim Horton’s is massively successful and the Oilers aren’t. Except at winning draft lotteries and ensuring that public money isn’t spent on things like roads or libraries or retained by the people who actually generate it.
Tambo’s press conference was, of course, a complete train wreck. Whatever his other talents might be, public speaking isn’t one of them. Actual quote from press conference: “…We just wanna prepare us going into a phase here where we think we need to get to a different level of compete, a different level of competing for playoff spots.” So was it not winning? Not working hard enough? Who knows. You get the sense that the Oilers are aware of Tambo’s media skills because they’ve adopted this curious habit of putting up videotaped statements online before Tambo faces the media and makes no sense for a while.
Following the Oilers is increasingly bizarre, in that Tambellini is so incapable of speaking that you’re left hoping that what he’s saying doesn’t actually represent his thought patterns. You’re left to try and suss things out from the media and the only guy who seems to be really plugged in to what’s going on internally is Bob Stauffer. I don’t listen to Stauffer that often – I find he gets a bit repetitive but then I’m happy I don’t have to fill two hours of radio a day talking about the OIlers. I happened to be listening to him earlier this year, the day that Ryan O’Marra was traded, and he as much as announced the trade well before it was announced. It was couched in “I think you’re going to see something like this happen…” and no names were given but it’s obvious that he knew exactly what was going on.
All of this is to say that he’s far and away the guy to listen to if you’re wondering what might happen and why with the Oilers. Or what has happened and why. The guy in charge is either unwilling or incapable of doing it so they seem to have found another employee who can. This is, of course, bizarre but hey: it’s the Oilers. It’s just how things work.
I went back through the Oilers Now archives and listened what Stauffer had to say immediately after the announcement:
“…I also think the closest the Oilers played to where Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini imagined them playing, the style of game they played, actually occurred when Ralph Krueger was the head coach. The Oilers’ best game this season, 6-1 victory in Calgary, Krueger was the head coach. I think that was the game that Hordichuk and Eager had a regular shift, now you can do that in a 6-1 game as well, play your fourth line more.”
I’ve heard Stauffer repeat variants on this sentiment enough to suspect that, when he says it, he’s reflecting the sentiments of Tambellini and Lowe. It’s probably worth looking at a little bit. Now, before I do this, I should say: I am extremely skeptical of the idea that the Oilers could learn much from the five games in which Krueger was head coach. Renney was still the boss, although there were some obvious signs that he was in trouble. He was presumably going to watch the games and if Krueger was making massive changes, there presumably would have been some sort of fallout. Running a hockey team doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of thing that you can turn on a dime.
Krueger ran the bench against Toronto on February 6, 2012, Colorado (Feb. 17), Vancouver (Feb. 19), Calgary (Feb. 21) and Philadelphia (Feb. 23). The scores were 3-6, 1-3, 2-5, 6-1 and 2-0, respectively. So nothing special as far as the record.
The 6-1 game in Calgary is the one that Stauffer raves about and, presumably, the one that really caught the eye of management. Gabe Desjardins at Behind The Net assembles Fenwick graphs for each game. (Fenwick, for those of you who don’t remember, is Corsi without shot blocks taken into account.) The one for that game is interesting.
As you may recall, Edmonton ended up blowing Calgary away, both on the scoreboard and Fenwick wise. Edmonton ended up +12 on the night, outFenwicking 40-28. At the 16:39 mark of the first period, Edmonton was down 1-0 and losing 10-9 in the Fenwick. They proceeded to take 21 of the next 23 Fenwick events between that time and 14:34 of the second period, which seems astonishing, which takes the Fenwick to 31-11. Doing the math, Calgary had them 17-9 in the Fenwick the rest of the way. Of course, it was 4-1 Oilers at that point, and they added a goal at 18:56 of the game to just kill things off.
You’d expect, as a result of score effects, for Calgary to outFenwick the Oilers in the third period of that game. Sit back, kill the game – every team does it with a large lead. So if Tambellini and Lowe (and Stauffer) are excited about what the Oilers did and how that was the best game of the year for them, it has to be what happened in the first two periods and, more specifically, during the 21-2 Fenwick run that made them think something exciting was happening.
I went back to watch the video of this extraordinary event, just to see what it looks like and see if there was anything that caught my eye. Observations (all times are times to go in the period, just like the TV clock):
3:35: Taylor Hall makes a bad cross-ice pass in his own end. It bounces of Alex Tanguay’s stick and is scooped up by a passing Sam Gagner. Oilers breakout.
3:21: Kiprusoff passes on a chance to freeze a puck for a whistle and gives it to Chris Butler. Butler slowly bounces it around the boards, putting the Flames into this position. Now, Smid hasn’t given up the blue line but you’d have to think that’s usually easily cleared and could even have been turned into a 1 on 1. It takes another 34 seconds before the puck finally leaves the Flames’ zone. The Oilers get some shots in there.
2:02: Stajan doesn’t even get a stick on the puck on a pretty great one timer chance, despite not being touched.
1:18: This is right before Eberle tied the game off a rebound from a Corey Potter shot. I noticed this throughout – Calgary was playing awfully passive hockey. Notice how there are four guys tight down low and a passing lane that a guy like me could have zipped a pass across to Potter at the point. The passivity here led to three shots against – a point shot, a rebound off that and then a rebound off the initial rebound shot.
The commentators had mentioned earlier in the game that Calgary had been outshot seven games in a row. One wonders if there might have been something they were doing that contributed to it. Calgary is essentially letting Edmonton shoot here – it’s not anything the Oilers are doing.
Related to this point: the Oilers were getting to a lot of loose pucks on the outside during this. Of course, Edmonton had guys arrayed around the perimeter and Calgary had there guys pulled in tight – the Oilers had a head start in a lot of foot races.
18:40 Blake Comeau and Potter come together at the point in a 50/50 that could have gone either way. Potter wins, puck stays in.
18:36 Tom Kostopolous has an easy clearance and puts it right off Taylor Hall’s stick and the puck stays in.
18:32 Shawn Horcoff makes a great pass (the puck still never having left Calgary’s end) and Taylor Hall gets a great chance.
16:13 Here’s another example of the passivity. I’m talking about. Tom Gilbert has just dumped it around to Ryan Smyth behind the net who does nice work to control the puck. Notice the three Flames in tight around the net – Smyth’s going to give it to Eberle and a scoring chance will follow but Eberle has days to do something with it when he gets it, because of how much room Calgary’s conceding on the outside.
15:10: And again. This leads to a shot from Potter, all alone at the point.
11:55: Calgary turns it over in mid-ice. The puck kind of bounces around a bit and ends up on Horcoff’s stick. He threads a backhand pass through one of Calgary’s players to Taylor Hall all alone, who goes in two on one with Hemsky and Hemsky scores.
Of course, Hall’s pass hits Chris Butler’s stick, screwing up Hemsky’s timing. Hemsky doesn’t hit it cleanly and it comes back across the net, hits Kiprusoff’s right pad and goes in.
10:25: Anton Lander, Lennert Petrell and Darcy Hordichuk are on the ice. The Flames are, of course, collapsed in a defensive shell.
9:56: Jason Bouwmeester and Ryan Smyth footrace to touch a puck for an icing call. Bouwmeester, one of the best skaters in the league, doesn’t pull away from Smyth, uh, not one of the best skaters in the league, and Smyth touches the puck first. An Eberle shot follows.
7:43: Calgary wins a faceoff in Edmonton’s end after penning the Eager/Belanger/MPS trio deep and forcing an icing that led Krueger to use his timeout to give them a rest. Eager races the length of the ice, shoots and Belanger finishes it off.
Gagner added another shortly thereafter and at that point the game was basically over. Score effects soon took over.
The Flyers rolled into town next game and outFenwicked the Oilers, also outshooting them 26-24 at ES.
Really, the whole thing, the 21-2 was like a blip. I don’t think anyone would deny that there’s a tremendous amount of getting the breaks in any sort of a run like that – if you could be that good, teams would be that good, and teams aren’t that good, so there must be something else to it. Personally, I think there’s something to the passivity idea. Remember I mentioned that the commentators were talking about the Flames getting outshot a number of times in the period leading up to this game? Here are the 5v5 shots for the Flames’ 8 games preceding that one:
And for the Oilers’ game and the two after:
There’s nothing like getting outshot 332-222 over eleven games. Taking 40% of the 5v5 shots is a not a recipe for success.
Against that background, what the Oilers did against Calgary is a lot less surprising. For whatever reason, Calgary was in a portion of their season where they were giving up piles of shots. There was a chunk of the game where the Oilers were getting bounces and they got a bunch of shots and chances. That’s hockey.
What makes this a bit worrisome, to bring this back to my original point, is that I’m convinced that the management thinks that there’s something more to it than that. That somehow this collection of players that they have assembled would have done that with considerably greater frequency if only the right coach had been in place. If you’re the guy who assembled the group of players and you have bosses above you, one coach who needs to be replaced is much easier to explain than a catastrophic collection of players.
If you believe that actions speak louder than words, there’s some reason to think that that’s what management is thinking too. We’ve been told that Khabibulin’s coming back. Stauffer tweeted the other day that Theo Peckham will be re-signed. It sure looks like the only changes to the team are going to be around the edges. That makes some sense…if you think that your coach was holding you back, not the players.
In any event, Krueger may well be the right man for the job. I’ve no idea whether he is or not. What I am pretty sure about is that you can’t tell anything from a single game, let alone 17:56 of a single game when it comes to determining whether or not someone is the right man for a job. As we’ve discussed here since about, oh, 2007, hope is not a plan, and fooling yourself into thinking that some other coach can say a few things and turn the team into the monster is pretty classic example of a hopeplan.
Hopefully (no point in me planning; I have no control here), this is the last coach Tambo hires.