The Smyth/Hemsky/Hall line had a complete nightmare to start the game last night. They played a total of 2.1 minutes together during the first period at 5v5 and generated 2 SAF while allowing 9 SAA. These things have consequences and they didn’t really play together after the first period. Today, we heard that Ryan Smyth’s fallen down the lineup and that Taylor Hall will be going back to LW, presumably with RNH in the middle.
The funny thing about this is that it’s easy to blame Ryan Smyth because he looks awfully slow out there. I did it myself in a phone conversation with a friend after the game. Then I ground through the scoresheet and went back and looked at the video. It really wasn’t on Smyth, at least the biggest mistakes. Let’s look at the six first period 5v5 shifts that this line had.
Shift 1 – 19 seconds, 0 SAF, 0 SAA
Not a whole lot to see here because it was brief but note the attempted breakout from the Oilers. Justin kind of flips the puck backhanded to Hemsky there. Look at the size of the turn that Hall takes and the line he’s intending to take out of the zone. That’s not much in the way of supporting the winger with the puck – even if Hemsky had controlled before the Canuck player was on him, it requires a long pass through dangerous waters to get the puck to Hall.
Hemsky tries it anyway, it doesn’t work and the Oilers concede a shot attempt, albeit not one that was recorded. The Oilers end up icing the puck. Andrew Ference and Jannik Hansen got into their little thing before the ensuing faceoff and the game went to 4 on 4.
Shift 2 – 51 seconds, 1 SAF, 4 SAA
Contrast the support that Hemsky and Hall are giving Smyth here at the 10 second mark with the support that Hemsky had on the preceding shift. It works, in that the Oilers are able to get to centre ice and make a pass before the puck bounces of Hemsky’s stick.
The play turns around, Hemsky’s the first forward back and the Oilers are in decent position at about the 17 second mark to attempt another breakout. If Petry had just made a soft little pass to Hemsky, everything would have been fine. Instead, he goes to Hall at the blue line (Hall having swapped into Hemsky’s spot when Hemsky was first back) and Hall throws it blindly into the middle.
We don’t know what, precisely, the Oilers expect their wingers to do. Smyth’s kind of over on the moon and it’s possible, given how Hemsky moved when they came out the other side, that Hall had a legitimate expectation that Smyth would be supporting the breakout. That being said, he can’t see him there and he knows that Hemsky had dropped low, given that he’d seen it and reacted by sliding into Hemsky’s spot.
Four shot attempts ensue for the Canucks before the Oilers are able to clear the zone.
Shift 3 – 12 seconds, 0 SAF, 1 SAA
Not much here. This was an abbreviated shift because Hemsky got stuck on the bench. The shot against is from an utterly undangerous spot on the ice.
Shift 4 – 31 seconds, 0 SAF, 1 SAA
At about 13 seconds here, the Oilers are breaking out. Again, very little support from Hall. Maybe that’s not unusual – you start to think about these things when you watch video like this but, normal or not, Hall’s not giving Smyth any help. Smyth goes for the tough pass, which could have sprung Hemsky but enough of it was stopped by the Canucks D that Hemsky was placed in an offside position.
I think Hemsky kind of surprised everyone by not touching the puck there. The Canucks come swiftly down the ice and dump the puck in. Justin recovers, has no support on his backhand but throws a soft backhand up the boards anyway that Kesler easily jumps on and generates a shot. I have to confess – I’m not entirely sure which forward was supposed to be where here. Smyth switched wings somehow when the play went down the ice. Still though – Justin had no Canuck in front of him, could have skated forward and instead backhands it softly and blindly.
Shift 5 – 29 seconds, 1 SAF, 0 SAA
Smyth actually makes a nice play off the draw here to knock the puck deep but doesn’t have the speed to put any real heat on the defenceman. Even so, the Oilers force a turnover with the forecheck and a good chance could easily have followed. Everything’s ok to this point.
Then the puck comes down the ice. Hemsky sort of whacks it into two oncoming Canucks and it goes behind the net. Dubnyk, perhaps having seen enough attempted breakouts, covers it up.
Shift 6 – 21 seconds, 0 SAF, 3 SAA
And things really come off the rails. There’s nothing on anyone but Petry and Dubnyk for the first goal. The second one though…yeesh.
Hall loses the NZ faceoff. The Oilers are forechecking with both wingers after lost NZ draws this year, which I like. Contrasting this with the Preds forecheck from last year, which got excellent results, the difference is that there isn’t a dman stepping up on the side of the ice that the puck’s on, something that the Preds would do to force the turnover.
Petry ends up with the puck. He goes blindly up the boards. If you watch Hall’s feet there, you can see that he’s gambling on the puck going into the neutral zone – believe me, I can recognize a centre who’s cheating for offence by doing this. We can smell our own, as Brodie Bruce once said. The puck doesn’t get out and the Canucks have a on 3 on 2. A shot attempt follows.
Then, at the 38 second mark, Hall makes the brutal pass. The Canucks steal it and a few seconds later, it’s 3-1.
On some level, it’s dumb to try and switch a guy from being LW to C if he doesn’t want to play centre and he’s the best LW in the world. It’s been two games, Hall’s looked pretty bad playing centre and I kind of suspect he doesn’t really want to be there. That being said, I do think it’s worth mentioning that we all suffer from a sort of knee jerk tendency to try and fit results to what we already believe; in this case, that Smyth is slow and close to being done. That may or may not be the case but I don’t think that last night’s Smyth/Hall/Hemsky first period really does much to prove the point.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org