Line match-ups: Oilers vs. Blue Jackets, Nov 5/08

Jonathan Willis
November 07 2008 03:12PM

Two nights ago, the Oilers put in an effort that had Craig MacTavish spewing venom in his post-game comments:

“It's not just disappointing to lose a game where you're leading by two goals, but to do it in the fashion that we did. It's a painful lesson, a painful, painful lesson.” "There's a right way to play this game and a wrong way to play and we got on the wrong side of it early." "The thing I said at the end of the second period is let's just go out and have a good third period and not be sitting on a bunch of regret, and we're sitting on a mountain of regret right now."

It was a 5–4 loss, and the fact that the Oilers blew an (undeserved) 4–2 lead made it much worse.

Edmonton’s Lines

Penner – Horcoff – Hemsky Nilsson – Cogliano – Gagner Moreau – Pisani – Cole Pouliot – Brodziak MacIntyre

MacIntyre played just under half the minutes that Pouliot and Brodziak did; I’ve listed him separately, and given that a laundry list of players saw some time on the 4th line, I haven’t listed any one player there in his place.

I’ve also listed the defensemen (Visnovsky, Souray, Staios, Gilbert and Strudwick) individually, as Ladislav Smid only managed a little over five minutes of even strength ice-time after taking a head-shot from Raffi Torres.

Columbus’ Lines

Nash – Umberger – Chimera Torres – Peca – Modin Murray – Malhotra – Boll Huselius – Brassard – Voracek

Hejda – Commodore Tyutin – Methot Backman – Tollefsen

I’m guessing that the vast majority of fans who dislike Craig MacTavish have a nearly equal amount of hatred for Ken Hitchcock. Consider, for example that the troika of Torres, Peca and Modin played just a hair less even-strength ice-time than the Nash line did. Consider that two of those forwards (Peca, Torres) are generally considered to be checkers, while talented youngsters like Brassard (NHL’s Rookie of the Month for October) and Voracek (selected one pick after Sam Gagner) play half as much even-strength ice-time as the dependable veterans. Kyle Brodziak’s 8.3 minutes of even strength ice-time was more than any member of Columbus’ 4th line received.

Matchups

Penner – Horcoff – Hemsky

Umberger Line: 37.1% Peca Line: 55.1% Malhotra Line: 6.7% Brassard Line: 1.1%

Hejda Pairing: 37.2% Tyutin Pairing: 58.5% Backman Pairing: 4.3%

Nilsson – Cogliano – Gagner

Umberger Line: 22.4% Peca Line: 19.4% Malhotra Line: 32.7% Brassard Line: 25.5%

Hejda Pairing: 33.3% Tyutin Pairing: 31.3% Backman Pairing: 35.4%

Moreau – Pisani – Cole

Umberger Line: 27.1% Peca Line: 36.4% Malhotra Line: 17.8% Brassard Line: 18.7%

Hejda Pairing: 42.6% Tyutin Pairing: 41.7% Backman Pairing: 15.7%

Pouliot – Brodziak

Umberger Line: 43.8% Peca Line: 16.4% Malhotra Line: 20.5% Brassard Line: 19.2%

Hejda Pairing: 29.7% Tyutin Pairing: 4.1% Backman Pairing: 66.2%

MacIntyre

Umberger Line: 48.6% Peca Line: 10.8% Malhotra Line: 40.5% Brassard Line: 0

Hejda Pairing: 24.3% Tyutin Pairing: 0.0% Backman Pairing: 75.7%

Visnovsky

Umberger Line: 36.4% Peca Line: 42.2% Malhotra Line: 14.5% Brassard Line: 16.4%

Souray

Umberger Line: 42.2% Peca Line: 46.1% Malhotra Line: 10.2% Brassard Line: 9.8%

Staios

Umberger Line: 29.7% Peca Line: 16.1% Malhotra Line: 29.7% Brassard Line: 24.5%

Gilbert

Umberger Line: 35.7% Peca Line: 34.9% Malhotra Line: 15.9% Brassard Line: 13.5%

Strudwick

Umberger Line: 16.5% Peca Line: 15.5% Malhotra Line: 34.0% Brassard Line: 34.0%

Notes

  • As usual, the Horcoff line took the brunt of the difficult forward match-ups. In a game where the Oilers were outscored 4–2 at even strength, they broke even (1–1). The problem clearly stemmed further down the depth chart.
  • The Kid Line looked at relatively easy ice-time (nearly 60 per cent of their ice-time against the bottom six) and was 0–1 at even strength. This line hasn’t been producing offensively, and Gagner in particular looked bad, with a brutal giveaway at just over a minute left (although it should be noted he was out with Pisani and Moreau). With MacTavish feeding them softer minutes, the offence will come.
  • The checking line was once again out of its depth, going 0–2 at even strength. Given that the bulk of the heavy lifting was being done by the first line, and that this isn’t a remotely new occurrence, I think it’s brutally obvious that a line-up shift is necessary. The Oilers will not win a lot of games when their veteran core is bleeding chances and goals against.
  • The three defencemen that the coaching staff trusts played a lot again. Souray, Visnovsky and Gilbert played against top opposition, and with Gilbert’s improved play of late, it looks like the Oilers will have a decent top-four. Staios and Strudwick are both capable of covering bottom-pairing roles, and when Smid and Grebeshkov return, this defensive group could be one of the team’s major strengths. I must admit, I’m greatly surprised by the effectiveness of both Visnovsky and Souray in difficult match-ups.
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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 Unleaded
November 07 2008, 04:15PM
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Can't agree with you on Lubo. He has not looked sharp, and has been making bad mental errors. Pinching when your team is up by 2 is not wise. I have no trouble with him gambling when the situation warrants it, but you'd think someone would talk to the man about strategy... I'd much rather see him playing 2-3 pairing where his defensive weaknesses aren't exploited by the top guns of the opposition and having 2nd pp time so he can actually use his bomb and create chances. He's wasted in his current assignments.

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#2 Jonathan Willis
November 07 2008, 04:21PM
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Unleaded - It's a matter of expectations. I knew Visnovsky was a riverboat gambler, but I didn't realize he could go against top opposition without getting thoroughly schooled.

He still makes the occasional bad decision, but he moves the puck as well as anyone at evens, and he creates more than he gives back (at least, to my eye).

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#3 Jonathan Willis
November 07 2008, 04:25PM
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Oh, and I agree about the powerplay - Gilbert and Souray for the top pairing, Visnovsky and Grebeshkov for the 2nd.

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#4 Sean
November 07 2008, 09:32PM
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I agree on the PP matchups but I think the source of the problem of the PP is that its way too predictable. Switching up the pairings wont matter as much. They need to create chances down low. To me that means 89-27-83. It doesnt have to be a big guy (27) either as long as the PP cracks the perimeter. Look at Pittsburghs goals by Satan/Sykora. All in tight in "goal scoring areas" by soft players. IMO once Sourray's bomb becomes "an option" and not "the option" it will turn around.

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#5 Jonathan Willis
November 07 2008, 11:24PM
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Sean - I agree that the powerplay is too predictable, but this is a MacT team. He's never been able to run out a good powerplay.

At this point, I'm just hoping for mediocre, and I think the two units should look like this:

Unit One: 27-89-83-44-77

Unit Two: 12-10-26-71-37

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#6 David Staples
November 09 2008, 12:32PM
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You nailed the power play units, Jonathan. Gagner, Penner and Hemsky could create a few goals down low, and that is what's missing right now.

MacT seems hesitant to use Gagner down low on the left, where Gagner made some strong plays last season. But it's this role where Gagner will thrive and break out of his slump, as I see it.

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