November 23 2008 08:18PM
Joanne Ireland has some good news in today’s column – Craig MacTavish is going to go back to a more traditional set of lines.
Based on Saturday’s practice, the top three forward lines will look like this:
Penner – Horcoff – Hemsky
Nilsson – Cogliano – Gagner
Moreau – Pouliot – Cole
I’d look at this as a chance to get the struggling members of the Kid Line back on their feet, and I think it’s a strong bet to work well. Once the Oilers get into Decemeber, they’ll play 8 of 13 at home, which will give MacTavish the advantage in line-matching by virtue of having last change. With the first and third lines facing the opposition’s top players, Nilsson, Gagner and Cogliano have a chance to play against lesser lights and in offensive situations, something that should revive their offensive stats and add some scoring punch to a team that needs it badly at even strength. The decision to use Pouliot as the third line pivot is a good one; Pouliot has failed to show the offensive touch he had in the QMJHL as a professional, but plays a very smart positional game and should be able to handle a defensive role given that he’s flanked by a pair of quality veterans.
The fourth line is a bit of a question mark, given these lines:
[Ladislav Smid] will play up front again against the Kings.
The Oilers will also recruit another farmhand, Gilbert Brule would be a good bet given the intent is to add more jam, but a call won't be made to Springfield until after the Falcons close out their weekend set.
The only (relatively) sure things at this juncture is that Smid will play on the fourth line, and that there will be a call-up. That likely leaves two of Kyle Brodziak, Zack Stortini and Liam Reddox on the outside looking in, and it may be the two veterans who are scratched. Stortini has not played to the same level as he did last season and has only appeared in 11 games, while Kyle Brodziak has been a healthy scratch already and seems to be in the doghouse.
Now, if MacTavish would just scratch Strudwick and move Smid back to his natural position, I’d be a very happy guy.
Pressure on the Front Office?
Also in today’s Edmonton Journal, Dan Barnes gets some excellent quotes from Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish on the possibility that MacTavish is experiencing new pressures from higher up. First, Kevin Lowe:
"I think that any pressure Mac would feel is out of common sense, out of having been around the game forever, and is totally self-imposed," said Lowe. "And that's a good thing. For the naysayers who think we sit around and feel comfortable in our positions, I'd like to take them and throttle them. They have no idea how much we put into this, how much we grieve and sweat and the other emotions we exude after losses."
For the record, I do not agree with the common sentiment that Lowe and MacTavish were rather carelessly meandering through their assignments. Lowe has always shown a ton of emotion as the G.M.; recall, for example, his “Is it me?” moment with Terry Jones shortly before the Dustin Penner offer sheet, and there should not be any doubt that he feels the struggles of this team as personally as anyone. His decisions are certainly subject to criticism; he has made some brilliant moves and some jaw-droppingly dumb ones, and deserves to be criticized where appropriate, but his heart has always been in it.
Next, Barnes asks MacTavish if he was feeling the heat from higher up:
"No," MacTavish said Saturday, when hit with the time-worn theory. "We're on the same wavelength in terms of where we want to get to. Sometimes I'm the most impatient. As a coach, you need to be. Coaches are more in the here and now, dealing with the day-to-day emotional roller-coaster of wins and losses, where managers thankfully are more longer-term. Tamby and Kevin, they're seeing lots of potential in the team. As a coach, I want immediate results."
There’s a lot of truth in that statement, I think. Coaches (and most hard-core fans, for that matter) live in day-to-day mode, following the team’s every struggle and every success. It is very difficult to take the long view when the team is coming off a disappointing loss, much like it’s hard to see the faults after winning a couple of games. Craig MacTavish entered this season sounding as optimistic as I’ve ever heard him, and after a brutal 20-game schedule, loaded with back-to-back sets and a 30/70 home/road split, the Oilers are two games below five hundred. It’s natural that he be disappointed, and he wouldn’t be human if he wasn’t putting pressure on himself, and then on to the players as well.
Interestingly, though, MacTavish also had this to say about treating players the way he treated Penner:
"I don't believe in it."
The fact of the matter is, once November is in the rear-view mirror, the Oilers will have played 16 on the road and 7 at home. Over the next two months, they’ll play 17 of 25 at home, and it’s up to the team to capitalize on this easier schedule and climb the Western Conference standings. If they can do that, everyone will be breathing easier. If they can’t, I’d be very surprised not to see changes behind the bench.