November 27 2008 07:04PM
Dancers dance, singers sing and fiddlers fiddle, unless they're dancing, singing and fiddling with the Edmonton Oilers, who seem to be morphing into a homogenized pile of mis-cast goo before our eyes.
At least that's the way I see it, and how it seems coach Craig MacTavish wants it, after listening to him talk today about what it might take to solve the Oilers’ offensive woes as they stagger into the Show Me State to face the St Louis Blues with a 9-10-2 record.
Unless I need an ear trumpet:
"Let's try a simpler approach," MacTavish said of trying to jump-start an attack that was feeble in a 2–1 loss to Los Angeles Wednesday and has produced just 54 goals in 21 games.
"As long as I've been in the game, that's how you prime the well offensively. You get in there and get your hands dirty. You go to the areas where you can get a break offensively."
All the same?
Now, I assumed MacTavish was talking in a rule-of-thumb way about a short-term fix at Millennium Place—drive the net, blah, blah, blah and get your nose dirty, blah, blah, blah—but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered.
In a season in which MacTavish has stubbornly favoured forcing square pegs into round holes—playing Erik Cole on left wing, Fernando Pisani at centre, Dustin Penner on the right side and Laddy Smid at forward, for crying out loud —rather than exploit the strengths of individual players, this talk about a "simpler approach" got me thinking.
Is a physical, crash-the-net-ask-questions-later style going to play to the strengths of Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson, now that the Kid Line is reunited? Is that what MacTavish wants and what he thinks will most benefit this quick, skilled and under-sized trio?
"We're trying to preach a power-game to Cogs and Bobby Nilsson," MacTavish said. "It's not necessarily their game, but that's where you find your game."
Call me crazy, but wouldn't it make more sense to turn Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson loose and have them make use of their quickness, puck-handling skills and ability to create offence off the rush?
I get it that everybody has to work within the framework of systems play for breakouts and forechecking etc, but is there wiggle room to freelance a bit based on the relative strengths of each forward line?
"We're really in a stage now where we're trying to explore those six-foot saucer passes across the crease for empty-netters and it's not effective," MacTavish said.
"Nobody can convince me it's an effective way to create offence when you're in the stage we’re in right now. It's a tough journey and a tough sell for the coach to try and get offensive players to play a more simplistic game, but that's what we need."
How many puck battles are Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson going to win by throwing it at the net and getting after it? That'll work fine for the line of Ethan Moreau, Kyle Brodziak and Cole, but the Kid Line? And what about Penner, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky? It seems to me they should have their own approach. No?
If I'm the coach, I'm telling Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson: "Fly, boys. Burn them with speed. Make them chase. Play catch-me-if-you-can. Let's see how (insert-name-of-lumbering-defenceman-here) likes playing tag."
I'm telling Penner, Horcoff and Hemsky: "Dustin, get your big backside in front of the net and let Hemsky and Horcoff do the rest. Give the stopper a healthy Ryan-Smyth-style whiff of that big butt. Ales, while you're circling, keep an eye on Penner. Shoot it when you can."
I'm telling Moreau, Brodziak and Cole: "Cycle, baby. Get the rubber down low and lean on them. Toss everything at the net and get after it like the other guys owe you money. Erik, let it hum if you've got a shot."
I'm telling Reddox, Pouliot and Stortini: "Give me 40 seconds of mayhem. Knock somebody on their ass once a shift. Play every puck in the crease through to the whistle. Raise hell."
And, going into St Louis and Dallas, I'd try something completely different and leave these forward lines together longer than two periods. I'd keep repeating what I expected from each threesome. And it wouldn't be the same thing for Sam as for Zack, for Ethan as for Ales.
Then again, I'd have never thought to use Laddy on left wing, so what the heck do I know?
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.