Rent-A-Thug Christmas Special 2009
Friday — December 25th, 2009

Rent-A-Thug Christmas Special 2009

Merry Christmas, folks! With only five minutes to spare.

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Oilers Pre-Season

First and foremost: having to listen to a game on the radio because the online streaming server was overwhelmed in the first 8 minutes of the game is lame. Seriously, put it on TV or get a server that isn’t a piece of crap.

And because I can’ t watch the stream, I’m going to pontificate on last night’s 4-1 win against the Calgary Flames.

Patrick O’Sullivan: Won 60% of his faceoffs, scored two goals (including the game winner), and was generally effective whenever he was on the ice.

Penalty Killing: The Oilers penalty killing was pretty shakey last year, but last night the Oilers killed 6 out of 7 penalties. Hopefully they’ll keep that up into the regular season, because a 27th place PK isn’t going to get them into the playoffs. Edit: The Oilers vs. Islanders game is finally working on the Oilers site now, and I was pretty surprised to see some of the guys that were out on the penalty kill. Cogliano, Penner, Hemsky, and Gagner all took turns throughout a 4 minute PK, which was killed off successfully. Hemsky was especially intriguing, because although he hasn’t played on the Oilers PK before, he was very good. He had a few steals that he worked hard for.

Quinn’s System: The Oilers were crashing, banging, and generally a handful to deal with all game long, which I think can be attributed in large part to the new system put into place by head coach Pat Quinn. When the Oilers didn’t have the puck they were throwing bodies around and battling in the corners to get it back, and did a much better job of it than usual. Part of that was probably due to the size of the players that Quinn chose to dress in the tilt, as he shifted away from the small-but-skilled forwards to some of the big boys, and it worked fairly well.

JDD & Devan Dubnyk: Goaltenders Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk were stellar, and lead me to believe that the Oilers are going to be just fine in goal for a good long while to come, especially as they grow under the tutelage of Nikolai Khabibulin.

Edit: In the Oilers/Isles game, Sheldon Souray has broken the glass with a slap shot TWICE. Holy crap.

Rent-A-Thug returns Sept. 15/’09

Due to a variety of reasons, there won’t be any new comics until next Tuesday, September 15th. Thanks for understanding.

One Dollar – A Comic You Should Read

A few minutes ago I ventured over to DrunkDuck.com, pretty much on a whim to go see which of my favourites over there had updated. One of the featured comics had an intriguing premise, so I read the entire thing, and you should too. It’s called One Dollar, and documents the adventures of a one dollar bill as it changes hands in a beautifully drawn journey. It’s fairly short, so check it out. Definitely worth the time.

One Dollar.

Oilers Rambling part 3

So last time I mentioned that Fernando Pisani was either first or second in playoff scoring in 2006. Earlier today I looked it up and confirmed that he did, in fact, lead the scoring in the Stanley Cup playoffs with 14 goals. I wasn’t sure about that from memory, because Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes is a scoring juggernaut, but Pisani was ahead of him by four or five goals. Staal ended up with a Stanley Cup ring, though, so I doubt he was disappointed.

Next up in my long-winded analysis of the Oilers heading into the ‘09-’10 season is the defence. The Oiler blue line is stacked, and very much the strong point of the club. There was a rebuilding period after the departure of Chris Pronger and Jaroslav Spacek after the 2006 playoffs, and the Oiler defence was pretty terrible the following two seasons. Sheldon Souray was acquired for the ‘07-’08 season, then went down with an injury in the first half of the season. Which turned out to be a good thing in the long term, since it allowed Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, and Ladislav Smid to really pick up their game and come into their own. Prior to last season, Matt Greene and Jarrett Stoll were dealt to LA for d-man Lubomir Visnovsky (which is super fun to say. Try it).

The ‘09-’10 top six blueliners are going to look pretty much the same as last year’s gang. The pairings might change up a little bit, but based on last season I’m expecting Souray and Gilbert to be the first pair, Visnovsky and Grebeshkov the second, and Steve Staios and Smid the third. The scary thing about the Oiler defence is that beyond the top six there’s Jason Strudwick, a rock-solid shutdown guy who rarely makes a mistake, Theo Peckham, a mean piece of work who will likely make a hard push for a job on the big club this year, Taylor Chorney, and a few others. In a recent interview with Oilers GM Steve Tambellini, the point was brought up that the Oilers defence is so stacked that Ladislav Smid and Steve Staios are relegated to the third pairing, when on most other teams they could be the top shutdown pair. There were also hints about the possibility of moving a defenceman to improve scoring up front, which might not be a bad idea. That would probably bump Smid up to second pair and bring Strudwick into the line-up fulltime. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Strudwick/Peckham pairing that did pretty well toward the end of last season were reuinted. Strudwick helped Peckham’s development quite a bit, since Peckham never had to worry about him causing a disaster and could just focus on his assignments.

I won’t be surprised at all if the defence continues to be an integral part of the Oilers offence next year. Last season, Sheldon Souray notched 23 goals (tied with Ales Hemsky for the team lead) and was second on the team in overall points. Gilbert, Grebeshkov, and Visnovsky were in the top ten on the team for scoring. Visnovsky probably would have been in the top five if he hadn’t separated his shoulder and missed the last 30 games or so of the season. Strudwick had the best offensive year of his career last season (with 2 goals and 7 assists for 9 points), which isn’t a lot in terms of sheer numbers, and certainly not much by Oiler blueliner standards, but those are pretty decent numbers for a shutdown guy (Smid and Staios had similar numbers).

The Oilers defencemen will also be busy during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, most likely. Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, and Lubomir Visnovsky have all been invited to training camps for their respsective national teams (USA, Russia, and Slovakia, respectively). Smid might have been invited to the Czech camp, but I haven’t stumbled up on the rosters for the Czechs yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a regular for the Czechs in international play in the next few years, though. I was a little surprised that Souray wasn’t invited to the Canadian camp, but Canada’s talent pool is so deep that there are plenty of top notch d-men who didn’t get the call.

There isn’t really a lot to talk about with the Oil’s goaltending situation. It’s pretty cut-and-dried that Nikolai Khabibulin will be the number one, with Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers backing him up and probably playing 30 games or so. JDD will get his first real shot, which I’m excited to see. He was incredibly entertaining in the few games he played last season, although he got put into some bad situations by the team.

And I think that’s about it for this… thing, about the Oilers. Unless they make a trade or a signing or something. So for your sakes, hopefully they don’t. For theirs, hopefully they do.

Oilers Rambling part 2

All right, so last time I talked about my opinion of signing Nikolai Khabibulin as a free agent, then talked a bit about the first and second forward lines. I also mentioned that Blair Betts would fill the vital defensive centre role, and coincidentally the Edmonton Journal sports section reported today that the Oilers were interested in signing Betts, but there were some salary cap issues getting in the way. It also reported that Betts was a native Edmontonian, which I didn’t know. Hopefully that signing happens. The article suggested that some contracts would need to be moved to clear up space for it to happen, but I doubt the Oilers would miss Marc-Antoine Pouliot and/or J.F. Jacques all that much. Anyway, onward and upward.

The Oilers’ third line of Ethan Moreau/Andrew Cogliano/Fernando Pisani was, in my estimation, their most effective last season. After the realization that the “Kid Line” of Nilsson/Cogliano/Gagner wasn’t recreating the second-line magic from late ‘07-’08, Cogliano was shuffled to the third line between Moreau and Pisani. Cogliano proved that the offensive wizardry he displayed in the stretch run at the end of the ‘08 season wasn’t a fluke, as he matched his goal total and took only a slight dip in the assist category despite being on the checking line for most of the season. Cogliano’s time on the third line may have negatively affected Sam Gagner and Robert Nilsson’s assist totals, though, since he was clearly the trigger-man on the Kid Line (18 goals, compared to Gagner’s 13 and Nilsson’s 10). Moreau and Pisani have been anchors on the Oil’s checking line for years now, and both of them manned those positions in the ‘06 march to the Stanley Cup Finals. Pisani, in fact, had a brush with superstardom during those playoffs, as he led the Oilers (and possibly everyone, I don’t recall) in goals, including the only short-handed overtime game-winner in NHL playoff history. Moreau, the team Captain, adds all the grit you can pack into a man-sized frame, as well as defensive reliability, and he’ll find the back of the net more than you might expect out of a primarily defensive player.

If Blair Betts is signed, he’ll probably end up playing the centre position on the third line, which would likely bump Cogliano up to the second line (likely resigning Robert Nilsson to the press box). Liam Reddox spent the majority of last season on the third line while Pisani was out with a broken ankle, and might end up there again if injuries or performance issues crop up. Reddox plays a high-energy, aggressive game and can chip in with a goal every so often. I expect that he’ll be starting this year on the fouth line, but he proved last year that he can play on any of the four lines if he’s called on. When Ales Hemsky suffered a concussion it was Liam Reddox who played in his place. While it was obvious to pretty much everybody that Reddox is no Hemsky, he took some of the defensive pressure off of Shawn Horcoff.

The fourth line is kind of a question mark this year. Kyle Brodziak, the fourth line centre for the last couple of years, was dealt to the Minnesota Wild for a draft pick, which opens up room. The common wisdom is that Gilbert Brule will finally make the Oilers this year, and his physicality should get him the fourth line job. Flanking him will probably be Zack Stortini on the right and Liam Reddox on the left. Stortini is energetic, hard-hitting, and increasingly competent shovelling pucks into the back of the net. I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch for Storts to reach 10 goals this year, especially with Brule at centre. Steve MacIntyre and Jason Strudwick will probably draw in on the fourth line every so often, as well. MacIntyre is there for goon deterrence, having exchanged blows with most of the Western Conference’s heavyweights and usually giving better than he got. Strudwick generally plays defence, but played up front a few times last year when injuries or ineffectiveness meant an extra body was required.

Next time: the defence.