Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Importance of the Center Play

The Oilers are mired in another hopeless season. Reasons abound on why the Oilers are stuck in the plight they are in. The goaltending is too inconsistant, the defense is too slow, the wingers haven't brought enough throughout the lineup. The biggest reason why the Oilers haven't progressed is because of the play of their centers. The reason why successful teams have elite centers is because they are the card counters at the blackjack table. They have a direct effect on the game in all three zones, but their effect is in what battles they choose to participate in and what battles they stay out of. They have a percentage meter that goes off in their heads, the higher the percentage that they can win the battle, the more engaged in the battle they become. Elite centers do not engage in low percentage plays, because what it does is take them out of position leaving someone else to attempt to clean up their mess, setting off a bad chain reaction with the 6 defenders on the ice. Everything starts and ends with the centers' initial reaction.

All of this leads me to the current version of the Oilers. Shawn Horcoff is one of the elder statesmen on the current Edmonton Oilers. He's been around for awhile, and his play has started to deteriorate over the years which has culminated to this year where its apparent he cannot handle playing tough opposition anymore. Horcoff is a team worst -21 which shows that other teams' elite players are having a heyday with the Oilers checking line. When you cannot win this battle, its awfully difficult to win games with any consistancy. The Oilers brought in Eric Belanger as a free agent over the summer, but he's -13 and has shown little to prove he can handle the difficult task either. The Oilers have 2 veteran centers that have shown they cannot handle playing the toughs which really hurts their ability to keep pucks out of the net. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner and Anton Lander have all had their shots as well at center, playing in reduced roles. Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner have played in mostly offesnive roles playing against other teams' weak parade to decent result. They are treading water alright but not thriving like they could if the vets were holding up. Anton Lander is the heir apparent to eventually be tasked with playing the toughs, but he is a few years away from that.

The point of this thread is if the Oilers had better "card counters" at center, that would understand the concept of strong positioning and understanding when to battle and when to hold back, the Oilers may not be in such a predicament. The thing is, if a team has solid centers, the defense starts to look good and if the defense looks good, the goaltending looks strong. All of this has a trickle down effect throughout the lineup and it all starts with the centers. The reason why the Oilers got off to a strong October start is because the Oilers centers were playing lights out, but as the games wore on and the minutes were piled up on Horcoff and Belanger, they started to break down and eventually their season just gave way to mistake after mistake. Then the defense started to look shabby as did the goaltending.

Its all a trickle down effect and it starts with the centers.

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