Craig MacTavish Line Blender – Just Add Ice

Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009 03:17PM

O'Sullivan

After rotating his lines around mid-game against Colorado on Saturday, Craig MacTavish has decided to employ new units for tomorrow’s game against the St. Louis Blues. I know that the concept of Craig MacTavish moving players from line to line with abandon is novel in these parts, so I thought it deserved full analysis.

The First Line: Patrick O’Sullivan, Shawn Horcoff, and Ales Hemsky

I like this line. Patrick O’Sullivan is a far superior player to Ales Kotalik at even-strength, and his 208 shots is well ahead of anyone else on the team, so it’s conceivable that he could be the triggerman that Ales Hemsky has needed for some time. This line will be run power-vs.-power, and I’d say this is an experiment that needs to be tried and has a decent shot at working.

The Second Line: Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner, and Ales Kotalik

Sam Gagner has been the Oilers’ hottest player offensively of late, and that’s going to be tested here. Robert Nilsson has had a miserable season (although he’s looked better since being reinserted into the lineup), and Ales Kotalik has started his inevitable slide down the roster as his limited offensive game becomes apparent. Still, Kotalik is supposedly more comfortable on right wing, and Gagner’s been red hot so this should give him the best possible opportunity to be come a factor at even-strength. Plus, if MacTavish holds true to form he will shelter these guys from the best players as much as possible, so while this isn’t my preferred second line it has a decent chance at working out.

The Third Line: Liam Reddox, Andrew Cogliano, and Fernando Pisani

Welcome back, Liam Reddox. This line is a rather bizarre combination that I haven’t understood for some time; they aren’t quite reliable enough for checking duties, and they aren’t offensively capable enough to be a scoring unit. It seems to me like a waste of Andrew Cogliano’s offensive game and Fernando Pisani’s defensive game.

The Fourth Line: Ethan Moreau, Kyle Brodziak, and Dustin Penner

This line features three players who could all arguably be playing higher up in the lineup, and I would imagine they will be Craig MacTavish’s first choice for defensive zone deployment. It seems likely that the coach plans to use these guys to help ease some of the defensive burden off of the shoulders of the Horcoff line. None of these guys will be putting up pretty point totals in this particular scenario, but Brodziak has had this duty all season and has done alright, while Ethan Moreau and Dustin Penner add some size and should be equal to the task of containing the opposition. This looks to me much more like a specialized defensive line than a typical fourth line.

This isn’t a bad setup, all things considered, although the third line doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and of course I’m still wondering what Ales Kotalik brings to the lineup. Neither Zack Stortini or Marc Pouliot made the cut here; frankly I’d prefer either of them to Liam Reddox or Ales Kotalik.

The good news for those two players (and of course Jean-Francois Jacques) is that it likely won’t be long before everything is shuffled again.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
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 The Towel Boy
March 16 2009, 03:22PM
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MacT line blending again?

Who saw this coming?!?

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#2 Rick
March 16 2009, 03:22PM
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I had no issue with MacT benching Penner but in doing so I would think he should also give Penner a punchers chance at redemption. Playing him on his off wing on the 4th line doesn't do that.

I would have rather seen Penner up in Reddox's spot and then go with an energy line of Moreau Brodziak Stortini.

Playing Reddox is once again playing not to lose and that hasn't worked well to this point, why would it be any better tomorrow.

Colour me unimpressed.

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#3 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 03:25PM
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Rick wrote:

I had no issue with MacT benching Penner but in doing so I would think he should also give Penner a punchers chance at redemption. Playing him on his off wing on the 4th line doesn’t do that.

I don't know - I've been unimpressed with MacT's handling of Penner, but if he plans to run that fourth line out for every defensive zone draw that Horcoff doesn't take it makes some sense. Not as much sense as making Moreau - Brodziak - Pisani the third line and sticking Penner with the scorers, but some sense.

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#4 risto
March 16 2009, 03:32PM
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Looking at that lineup, it blows my mind Stortini isn't playing. He is a linemate who inspires Penner, and those two with Kyle are an effective 4th line.

Reddox's play in Montreal was so bad as to make The Ghost roll over in his Forum grave. I Miss the Electric Norseman!

O'Sully deserves his spot. Happy St. Patty's!

Hope Northlands brings out the green dye.

Let's go for 2 points in reg, fellas!

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#5 Ryan
March 16 2009, 03:32PM
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Guys, seriously, when can we get an RSS feed? I hate having to keep coming back to the site to check for new articles.

Though maybe you do that on purpose to get the hits up? Devious! :)

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#6 Ryan
March 16 2009, 03:33PM
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You know what, I'm an idiot, never mind. I found it.

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#7 seth
March 16 2009, 03:34PM
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i think it will work out well go oilers

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#8 Rick
March 16 2009, 03:34PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Perhaps, I guess the bottom line is that there are a number of different combinations that could work....I am not liking this one as one of them.

For a team that was preaching the need for a killers instinct, I simply can't wrap my mind around Reddox as being part of the solution.

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#9 Ender the Dragon
March 16 2009, 03:35PM
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Regarding the line-up in terms of the players playing here, I actually like the selections; I think JFJ, MAP, and even Huggy-Bear are where they need to be until someone (Nilsson?) goes stone-cold or gets hurt.

Regarding the lines as stated, I might come up with some different combinations on my own but I will offer these observations on what's here:

1) I like the first line and think it took long enough to get here. This should have been plan 'A' after the trade.

2) I don't think we're seeing traditional third and fourth line roles here; expect equal ice-time and scoring from both of these lines.

3) It appears that MacT is attempting to make every line a little dangerous and none of them 'safe' for the opposition to take for granted. It's not the dumbest idea I've seen, if you have the offensive depth to make it work.

4) I fully expect to see Penner back on the second line, huggy-Bear back on the fouth, and Nilsson sitting within a game if Nilsson's line doesn't put up points against St. Louis.

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#10 Slurve
March 16 2009, 03:35PM
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MacT doesn't let Kotalik develop any synchronicity with Hemsky. Some lines develop chemistry quicker than others but I find it hard to believe that there are almost no chemistry at all for any lines to stay long enough together. I guess the players must find it hard to learn and play to MacT's system (whatever that is)-especially more so for the new guys of Kotalik and O'sullivan...Just when you think you are getting accustomed to the style of play to a particular player, *poof* like magic, you have been moved to another line.

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#11 Librarian Mike
March 16 2009, 03:36PM
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You make a great point at the end, Jonathan, that at the end of the day the line combos don't matter. By 6:37 of the first period they'll be all shuffled around.

I wonder if MacT is a big fan of speed dating, and if that's where he learned about line juggling.

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#12 Archaeologuy
March 16 2009, 03:38PM
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Lines 1 and 2 seem fine, 3 and 4 make me wonder. Doesnt it seem like Reddox and Penner ought to be switched? But if the 1st and 2nd lines click who really cares about the bottom feeders.

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#13 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 03:39PM
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@ Slurve: @ Rick:

I'm guessing that the reason for Reddox being reinserted and Kotalik getting dropped is because he read my piece showing that Reddox is likelier to record a point on any given shift than Kotalik.

Okay, probably not, but I think Reddox has shown some good stuff this season (often at the expense of better Oilers, but that isn't his fault) and I don't see why anyone figured Kotalik would help out Hemsky.

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#14 oilerdago
March 16 2009, 03:40PM
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JW: I think that 3rd line is a mess. Don't get me wrong, I think Reddox is a useful player, but I think you've nailed it - Cog's is being wasted here and once more MacT's missing it with 78. The second line is not much better.

I do like the 1st and 4th line though.

Hopefully, the MacT countdown of game's remaining behind the bench is at 14 because I can't see this team making the playoffs. A loss at home to St. Louis not only would not surprise me (in a dissapointing kind of way because I want this team to succeed) but I really expect it at this time.

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#15 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 03:41PM
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I guess my biggest problem with Reddox isn't his performance so much as the fact that I think he's an inferior player to two of those guys sitting in the pressbox tomorrow.

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#16 Rick
March 16 2009, 03:48PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

But if the 1st and 2nd lines click who really cares about the bottom feeders.

Actually I care about how he sets them up because on the surface MacT looks like he is trying to get some sort of interchangable balance to even out the ice time. Or worse yet give him options to try and sit on a lead...yet again.

I call BS on it. The Oilers have already proven they aren't deep enough for that and their position in the standing pretty much demands that MacT needs to start whipping the horses down the stretch.

I would rather an energy guy like Stortini be in the line up where he sits the last half of the game and allows a skill guy or two to get double shifted than have a safe guy like Reddox on the bench tempting MacT to once again hold a lead...assuming they get one...which may be a stretch.

Based on how lethargic the Oilers have been playing 5 or 7 minutes of Stortini seems like more of a gain than 10 or 12 minutes of safe play from Reddox. Hell even though I railed on Pouliot in the other threads, given the choice I would rather see Pouliot in there.

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#17 Ender the Dragon
March 16 2009, 03:49PM
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oilerdago wrote:

I can’t see this team making the playoffs.

Although the fear is there, I honestly can't see how a team this talented (yes, I still really believe that) could fail to record 8-6-0 in their last 14; given the recent play of the others in the Western 'race' (what a joke), that could well be enough. Hang in there, 'Dago. We'll pull this out yet, even if we're not playing at home like they promised.

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#18 Dennis
March 16 2009, 03:52PM
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JW: On paper, I can see hard matching the new 51 line against the other team's second offensive line but somehow I doubt that's what we'll see when he took a look at the Tues night game sheet.

It's a shame that 78's been drummed out for the couple of guys mentioned but MacT painted himself into a corner with 21 so I imagine he'll stay there for the time being. Although, today, I did notice in his comments to the press that 21's been downgraded from one-shot scorer to "a 20 goal scorer who looks like a 40 goal scorer when he's hot..." I forget the rest but it's a significant downgrade nonetheless.

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#19 Chris
March 16 2009, 03:53PM
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UH-OH! No Pouliot. Dennis will be p!ssed.

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#20 Chris
March 16 2009, 03:54PM
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@ Dennis: I took a phone call... and you beat me to the punch. HA! Funny.

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#21 Quinn
March 16 2009, 03:55PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I guess my biggest problem with Reddox isn’t his performance so much as the fact that I think he’s an inferior player to two of those guys sitting in the pressbox tomorrow.

I am with you on that one. Especially picking Reddox over Stortini. As has been pointed out here, he's the best point per minute man in the bottom six right now. I think that's what I read anyways.

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#22 OvenChicken8
March 16 2009, 03:58PM
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@ Slurve: I respectfully disagree. MacT has given Kotalik enough time on the first line to show that there isn't any chemistry between him and Hemsky.

If there was some, you would see a flash of it several times a game and personally I haven't seen any.

I hope this does work out for O'Sullivan because we have him for the next 2 years.

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#23 Chris
March 16 2009, 04:01PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

I love that first line... I have been crying for this combination since the 4th. (I immediately assumed O'Sullivan was being brought in to play with Hemsky)O'Sullivan skates well, shoots lot's, and is a natural left winger. I like his defensive game also, should MacT continue deploying line-one in a power vs power scenario. Great move. Not sure about the other lines though.

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#24 Archaeologuy
March 16 2009, 04:09PM
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@ Rick: I dont disagree with you, but honestly, the well has run dry on the top line lately and secondary scoring has been missing too.

I truly dont believe that MacT is capable of fixing more than one thing at a time (more than zero?). So if these lines get scoring under control then Roli might be able to shut the door long enough to squeak out a win.

I have so little faith in the management/coaching of the team that I am now waiting for the MacBlender to come up with a combination that produces instant chemistry. It's our only hope, because coaching wont have anything to do with it. It's all down to spontaneous and random success.

MacT is basicly playing Black-Jack and saying hit me until he hits 21 or busts. It hasnt worked for 60+ games, but it's bound to hit eventually.

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#25 Chris
March 16 2009, 04:21PM
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I like the first line... But why not skate: Penner-Gagner-Kotalik. Not a pile of speed but Gagner and Penner have worked well together in the past. Penner can buy Sam some space; they both cycle well, and apparently Koltalik can really shoot. (not that I've seen much of that) Bury the hatchet MacT... Penner has the tools. If he isn't engaged, then demote him and bring up Nilsson. Nilsson-Coglino-Pisani. I like the chemistry between Nilsson and Cogliano...I can't understand why MacT doesn't play these guys as a unit. I see Pisani as an experience based upgrade on Pouliot. Moreau-Brodziak-Stortini. GRIT AND HEART. ~Besides... Stortini can score!~

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#26 Peter Pan
March 16 2009, 04:26PM
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Where the hell is Brownlee lately?

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#27 Rick
March 16 2009, 04:26PM
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@ Chris: I don't mind that look, actually I quite like it.

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#28 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 04:28PM
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@ Chris:

I knew you would like the first line - my first thought when I saw it was, "Hey, Chris is going to be happy."

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#29 oilerdago
March 16 2009, 04:28PM
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@ JW:

The reason I can see them missng the playoffs is that StL is coming on strong and has been playing very well the last 2 months. I saw them in Nashville a few weeks back and they completely outplayed them Preds with tight defensive hockey.

Dal/Min/Ana/Nash/StL all have enough games against each other that the Oilers will have to win 7 games to get to the playoffs and they look like they are running out of gas in the homestretch.

All the OT losses have been dissapointing of late (start back in Nashville - all games they could have won) but not backbreakers. A loss tomorrow could push them into a freefall.

A win staves off judgement day to the upcoming road trip but that could very easily go south fast. This team just seems like it is ready to get pushed and I'm looking to see who can real them back.

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#30 topshelf
March 16 2009, 04:40PM
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Why is Stortini out of the lineup? Up until he got scratched I thought he was playing the best hockey of his career, let alone this season. To me, Reddox brings absolutely nothing to the table. The players in the dressing room must be baffled because I sure as hell am.

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#31 topshelf FMNF
March 16 2009, 04:41PM
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ohh.. FMNF!

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#32 shakey
March 16 2009, 04:48PM
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I can see it already... The Oil are going to hang around the .500 mark for the next 12 games going between 7th and 9th place. We're going to need 3 points to make the playoffs and then we play the Flamers in the final 2 games of the year. This is not a scenario I want to see come true but I can see it happening and I hate what the end result of that would be. Can you imagine the noise from them? At least until they choke out of the first round and forget about us.

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#33 topshelf FMNF
March 16 2009, 04:51PM
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@ shakey: They are choking right now. Good job playing your goalie 75 games a year and watching him gas it in the playoffs. ~Haven't seen that before.~ I hope the Canucks catch them. Calgary sucks.

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#34 shakey
March 16 2009, 04:57PM
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@ topshelf FMNF: Can you imagine where we'd be if Roli had been less than awesome for us so far? We would be talking about Tavares and not worrying about the playoffs.

And yes...Calgary sucks.

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#35 Jay
March 16 2009, 04:58PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Jonathan, you mentioned JF Jacques in passing near the end of your article. I've been wondering for awhile, how did he manage to play his way out of the lineup? I didn't watch too closely, but i thought he was okay when he was in a couple weeks ago. Anything you could say about that? Possibly some mad stats to refute or back up him being scratched? eh? mad stats?

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#36 Dennis
March 16 2009, 05:08PM
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In his zeal to discover new secondary scoring, MacT forget that the 89-78 combo had racked up goals at Nsh, Mtl and vs Atl before disbanded. So, goals in three of their five games together and outchancing the opp in those of those games as well.

Anyway, all this won't matter if they A: don't change their PK approach or B: decide to take a penalty;)

Sure, it IS dumb to leave 78 out of the lineup but they also minimized his role on Sat night and we wound up outscoring the Avs 2-0 at 5-on-5.

Anyway, the 12-89-78 line absolutely kicked in Mtl and then they scored and outchanced vs Atl as well. But, it's only goals scored.

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#37 Chris
March 16 2009, 05:16PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: I hope it works... because I love the team, and more importantly, I LOVE BEING RIGHT!

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#38 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 05:28PM
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@ Jay:

I liked Jacques too in his admittedly small debut. I'd just assume that MacTavish doesn't have enough confidence in him to give him minutes this late in the season. It seems reasonable enough to me.

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#39 Traktor
March 16 2009, 05:37PM
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"It seems to me like a waste of Andrew Cogliano’s offensive game and Fernando Pisani’s defensive game."

I agree 101%. In fact I posted the following a couple days ago:

As much as Cogliano and Pisani play well together it doesn't make sense if we're trying to win games.

1. Cogliano's biggest weakness is taking draws. 2. Pisani greatest strength is his defensive play.

On defensive zone draws late in the game you want Pisani on the ice.

Do we really want Cogs taking defensive zone draws late in the game?

To me a better bet would to play Horcoff or Brodziak, 2 centers that you want out in defensive situations on a line with Pisani. This would maximize Pisani's strength - defensive play.

Right now by playing Pisani with Cogliano we either limit the defensive responsibility of Pisani (his strength) or we set Cogliano up to fail by taking defensive zone draws (his weakness).

------

The only forward with more goals than Cogs is Ales Hemsky and Cogs shooting % tells us that he can find the open space - common sense tells us that it would be wise to place a passer on 13's line.

Reddox and Pisani have a combined 11 assists in 65 games.

Sigh.

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#40 oilersseasonticketholdersince99
March 16 2009, 06:39PM
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These are the lines to start the game.leave it to Mac T and his blender 5 minutes into the game and these lines will no longer exist.

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#41 Chris
March 16 2009, 06:39PM
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@ Traktor:

I don't envy Tambellini this offseason. The Oilers have too many centermen that should be playing in the top six... yet none of these guys are clearly dominant. Can the Oilers contend for the division with both Cogliano and Gagner playing center next season? Neither is particularly strong or able to win faceoffs... So can you keep them both? Who do you move? I sure wouldn't give up on Gagner, but Coglino has been the more effective of the two... It's an impossible decision. How do you integrate a shutdown PKing center into the lineup with both these guys still on the roster? Neither guy is dominant; Neither guy has developed a complete enough game yet to be heavily relied on moving forward; And Neither guy is effective on the wing or in a purly shutdown role. You absolutely need them both; but the Oilers simply can't go into another season with only Horcoff and Brodziak deployed to win draws!

Traktor, you wouldn't play Cogliano with Pisani... but how do you manage having three substandard first line centers on one roster? Horcoff will get ice, if only to win draws... besides he may rebound and Tambellini probably can't move that contract even if you want to move the player. Neither Cogs or Gagner are quite ready yet to usurpe Horcoff, but both are too good to move... It's a conundrum that drives me mad...

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#42 Puckbag
March 16 2009, 06:47PM
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@ Deep Oil:

or back at the hypnotist, with a heater hangin' out the corner of his mouth while sitting at the back of the room.

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#43 Dan
March 16 2009, 07:06PM
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@ Chris:

I think your conundrum is an easy yet gutsy decision. Have Horcoff center Moreau and Pisani and give them first line minutes even strength. I would play these guys head-to head with any line in the league.

Have Gagner center Kotalik and Hemsky. This is scoring line one, up its minutes when we are losing. I see why they used Kotalik first with Hemsky. They really want a RH shot on the LW with Hemsky. Not sure Kotalik is the answer since he has problems finding open ice. If Kotalik doesn't work out they should use the summer to find another RH sniper.

Have Cogliano center Penner and O'Sullivan. I'd hope that Penner could keep up, if he couldn't then I guess Nilsson is an option although it makes this line very small.

Have Brodziak center Jacques and Stortini. Need energy and the ability to soften the other teams Defense up. Need these guys to hit everything that moves epsecially in the first periods of games, it will pay dividends in the third period for our skill players to thrive.

I really believe these lines are the best option for the Oilers to win. They may not be the most prolific offensively, but they will give MacT a better hold of being able to manage any given game.

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#44 Jay
March 16 2009, 07:11PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: thanks for the response. just frusterating to see a guy who looks like he might be playing well on an overall underachieving team get pulled out of the lineu

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#45 David S
March 16 2009, 07:33PM
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Dan wrote:

@ Chris: I think your conundrum is an easy yet gutsy decision. Have Horcoff center Moreau and Pisani and give them first line minutes even strength. I would play these guys head-to head with any line in the league.

Bzuh?

Sorry man. Horcoff (Whiffcoff) is a trigger man. Neither Moreau (puck hog) nor Pisani (?) are playmakers. Any team's first or second line would eat these guys for breakfast.

These new lines MacT's working with are the last act of a desperate man. Our first line royally sucks right now. This and the total failure of the special teams is killing us. We might be able to skate by with one of the two MIA, but both? Nuh-uh.

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#46 letterman
March 16 2009, 08:43PM
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I personally believe MacT is doing the best he can considering what he has. Nothing seems to be fitting this year so what does he do, he keeps trying. You have to admire him for that. Most coaches/people would of given up by now. MacT has the support of the GM and the Head of Hockey operations. MacT has the support of the 17,149 people who attend the Oiler games. I could see if the building was half empty or if Steve and Kevin were not solid hockey people, but come on folks, how can 17,149 people plus Steve and Kevin be wrong. MacT is doing great. I almost forgot, he has 100% support of the dressing room, that is why the players are trying so hard. Look at them all.

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#47 Hanson#4
March 16 2009, 09:01PM
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First line: looks good to me; Sully get open, Hemmer pass !

2nd line: Both Gags and Bobby can pass, bottom line is they HAVE to play Ales K. and he was not working on the front line ....

Cog - Moreau - Pisani : big time forechecking, defensive help when the faceoff is lost. Brodziak-Penner-Stortini : Offensive zone containment with cycle down low (and maybe just maybe Stortini energy gets infused in the Big P, also the agitating Stortini wading into lots of scrums after the whistle perhaps drags Big P into more scrums and wakes him up)

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#48 Bruno
March 16 2009, 09:35PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Has anyone brought up Zack? I think Penner on the 4th line is B.S!!!! Didn't Mac T expain that he wants the 4th line to bring energy?? Energy!!! What does this guy want now? Zack at least did somthing to create a type of atmosphere that we need. His constant beeking drives the op. crazy. Very effective if you ask me.So why is Zack out???

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#49 MoBOMB
March 16 2009, 09:43PM
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More importantly, does anyone know if Rexall will be serving green beer tommorow?

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#50 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 09:45PM
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David S wrote:

Sorry man. Horcoff (Whiffcoff) is a trigger man. Neither Moreau (puck hog) nor Pisani (?) are playmakers. Any team’s first or second line would eat these guys for breakfast.

Seriously? All three of those guys have gone head to head with the best in the league and done just fine, thank you very much. As long as you don't rely on them for offensive production they should hold their own against any unit in the league ala the "Nothing Line" in Anaheim or the Madden line in N.J.

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