I don’t expect the site will be up for long but there was something in last night’s game that I can’t figure out. Dallas Eakins ran eight forwards down the stretch. I’ve got the changes in the table at left from the second last TV timeout through to Florida’s winning goal. It’s the last one that I want to focus on.
Smyth replaces Hemsky at left wing. This can’t have been a change that Smyth has made too many times in his career as an Oiler – this is the eighth year that they’ve played on the same team by my quick math and neither’s really been the sort of guy who flops wings. Hemsky’s an RW and Smyth’s an LW. With the Oilers being down so many left wings, Hemsky’s flipped over.
The first photo here is right after Hemsky’s gone to the bench on a change. Smyth has entered the play.
The play goes up ice and Eberle goes to the bench. He’s replaced by Gagner, who is presumably playing RW.
Gagner slides into the RW spot for the breakout and moves it up the wall…
…to Smyth (?) who is being supported by Boyd Gordon.
The puck goes down the ice and Gordon puts some pressure on the Panthers. There’s Smyth, inexplicably on the right side of the ice.
The Panthers come out and Smyth’s still committed on the right side of the ice. The Panthers pass the puck past him and enter the zone. Gagner has now shifted to playing on the left side – that’s him, kind of playing as a sort of third defenceman on the left side.
The puck goes around and up the left wing side in the Oilers zone – there’s Gagner, challenging the point man while Smyth seems to have wandered an awfully long way across the ice.
The Oilers defender rims the puck around the boards – nobody is anywhere near it.
After the Panthers turn it back in, this shot results.
I’m not entirely certain but I’d be very interested to hear Eakins explain what wing Ryan Smyth thought he was supposed to be playing on this shift. It sure looks to me like he thought he was the right winger. It doesn’t really make any sense that he’d actually be the right winger – Smyth’s spent his career on the left side and it’s better to have one guy out of position (Gagner, shifting from C to RW) instead of two.
I’m not sure how much this affected the outcome of the play but any time you’ve got people confused about what position they’re supposed to play, it probably shows up in their play. One wonders if Smyth was sort of looking for a shift back to the left side when the puck came back around to the right.
It may be that the Oilers want to string three guys across the blue line or something like that late. Connoisseurs of Oiler leads blown in the last minute of play will remember the sequence of events in Toronto, where Hemsky seemed to just abandon the offensive zone to sprint back to the defensive zone. Even if you wanted to do something like this, it seems to me like it would still make sense to stick the extra forward on the side you want him defending.
In any event, a bizarre sequence of events and one that I suspect illustrates the perils of trying to run a short bench down the stretch. Guys get confused as to who they’re replacing and what position they’re supposed to play. It’s a problem that’s not unknown in men’s league hockey – my team managed to pull our goalie and not put anyone on the ice at one point last year – but it’s a very unusual thing to see at the NHL level.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org