November 29 2010 09:29PM
40 years ago, the GAG (Goal-a-game) line took the NHL by storm and dominated for several years. The line's makeup was traditional: a smooth, playmaking center (Ratelle), a marksman (Gilbert) and a big man to do the corner work (Hadfield) and drop the gloves when needed. There's more than one way to put a line together, but the key element is that certain chemistry or 6th sense required to maintain possession of the puck long enough to find an open man in scoring position. The Edmonton Oilers have been working on chemistry all season, and it looks like they may have found something. Times three.
From the season's opening whistle, Edmonton Oilers management married the veteran C Horcoff to the two gifted Canadian rookies (Hall and Eberle). The 2nd line (until recently) was Sam Gagner centering Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky, which has also been a solid EV line. After that? Chaos, and increasing concern about the other gifted rookie (Magnus Pääjärvi) and his decreasing effectiveness. On top of that, Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule were not delivering enough offense and coach Renney couldn't find the right formula for lines 3 and 4. In fairness, making chicken salad out of chicken poop is probably about as difficult as it sounds.
The breaking point as it turns out was the injury to Ales Hemsky. I'd like to take this moment to thank the Oilers for being so forthcoming with regard to Hemsky's injury, and not leaving the fanbase high and dry worrying about how long he'll be out of the lineup. Completely open, our Oilers. God bless 'em.
Anyway, since the new lines have been placed together the results have been very good. Using Dennis King's fine work at mc79hockey, here are the EV scoring chances (for and against) in the three games since Hemsky was injured:
- Horcoff 16-11; Hall 15-13; Eberle 14-14
- Cogliano 9-13; Penner 9-9; Brule 9-13
- Gagner 10-12;Jones 10-13; Pääjärvi 10-12
That's a pretty nice balance and much better than previous combinations early in the season. I don't know what this means for the future (what do they do when Hemsky returns?) but can say that the Cogliano-Brule combo works well with Penner and that Gagner-Pääjärvi might be something special down the line. I'm not certain we can completely trust the toughness of minutes information Gabriel Desjardins is passing along at this early point in the season, but that Horcoff line is doing some damn nice things.
Now, if JF Jacques could turn into Vic Hadfield........