Where do we go now?

Where do the Oilers go from here? After a difficult start to the season, with 18 of their first 26 on the road, they are a surprising 13-11-2 with 12 of their next 15 at home. Their three road games are single treks to Calgary and twice to Vancouver , so they will enjoy home cooking from now until the 11th of January.

The big question is: Can they take advantage of it? They are an average 3-3-2 at home so far and have only played two solid home games v. Calgary and Dallas. In the next 12 home games they play six teams below them in the standings: Panthers, Senators, Coyotes, Stars, Islanders and the Blues. The other six nights Oiler fans will see the Canucks twice, the Blackhawks, Ducks, Predators and Sharks.

They won’t play a home game on the backend of a back-to-backs, but two of their road games will be the second game of a back-to-back set. That will be the 10th set of back-to-back games for the Oilers, but not once in their next 15 games will one of their opponents be playing for a second straight night.

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The schedule definitely hasn’t done them any favours so far, but if the Oilers have serious thoughts about winning the NW division they have to become a solid home team. Of the eight western teams currently ahead of them, only the Ducks and Wild aren’t at least four games above .500 at home. The Wild are two games over, while the Ducks are 7-6-1.

The Oilers can look directly to their home record last season as the reason why they didn’t make the postseason. Here are the home records from last year.

Home Record (Points)
Detroit 29-9-3 (61)
San Jose 22-13-6 (50)
Minnesota 25-11-5 (55)
Anaheim 28-9-4 (60)
Dallas 23-16-2 (48)
Colorado 27-12-2 (56)
Calgary 21-11-9 (51)
Nashville 23-14-4 (50)
Oilers 23-17-1 (47)

The Oilers missed the playoffs by three points, so it is pretty clear that if they have playoff aspirations this year; they need to rack up at least 8 wins in their next 12 home games.

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The Oilers did not skate today, but if Sam Gagner returns to the ice with his teammates on Monday it will be interesting to see which line he will skate on. I know you aren’t supposed to lose your spot due to injury, but Gagner wasn’t producing before he got his bell rung.

Rob Schremp has three points in three games, which is three fewer than Gagner has all season, while Marc Pouliot has two goals in the last three games. Even for the most anti-Pouliot fan, it is hard to say Gagner deserves to go back on the second unit.

MacTavish has publicly ripped Dustin Penner, sat Kyle Brodziak and demoted Robert Nilsson for lack of production and effort. And in all three cases the players have responded. Why can’t he do the same with Gagner? I don’t think #89 is so fragile that he won’t be able to handle it; in fact, I think it might ignite him. He is very competitive, and even through the slump he hasn’t looked that distraught.

Maybe the view from the pressbox during the past two games has been enough, but it is still hard to argue why he automatically goes back to the 2nd unit. And maybe playing him with Gilbert Brule and Liam Reddox for a game might force him to compete a bit harder and simplify his game.

Every coach has certain biases towards players, but with Gagner clearly struggling offensively it might be a hard sell within the lockerroom to just give him his spot back.

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– Listen to Gregor weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m on TEAM 1260 or online at www.justagame.ca

  • I tend to agree with you. However I think Gagner has done a lot for his line. His defensive is play is quite good. Quite often he is the 1st one back to do the back checking. He is hitting more this year and he isn't afraid of getting his nose dirty. He has played on the PK. I quite like his overall game this year. He isn't putting up the number's that we all expected but his overall game is good.

    I would like to see him center Cole and Brule/Nilsson. I think that that kind of a line would work. Sam has great passing and that might spark Cole to start scoring. No harm in having 3 scoring lines right?

    Then you have a Reddox Brodziak Moreau line to shut down the #1 line.

  • Goat Roper

    Yeah. I hear yah loud and clear, Gagner doesnt deserve to be on the second line right now, especially in light of the kick that line 2 has right now.

    Line 2 started looking better B4 Gagner went down, but that was mostly due to improved play by Cogs and Nilsson waking up a little. Sammy was still sucking and holding those guys back.

    The 4th line option has me wondering if Sams game is suited for the dump crash bang that we come to expect from a line 4. No. But I think it should be tried because, although this may be the smallest line 4 in the history of the mighty oil, they could probably dance around their line 4 opposition (all those home games means easier line matching) Then maybe we can finally get some offence out of line 4 for a change.

  • Travis Dakin

    I've been saying to anybody who will listen, (usually only me) that the best way to get cole and Gagner going is to play them together. Gagner dishing to Cole on the fly would be great. Throw Nilsson on the left and magic will happen. The first line is set. Keep Schremp up in an offesive role and let Poultiot get a fair shot for a while on an offensive line too. Schremp-Cogliano-Pouliot will keep going strong. call it 2A and 2B.
    Suck it up and have Moreau playing fourth with Brodziak and Reddox. That is a solid third line. Forget the crap fourth and have 3 scoringing lines and a solid defensive line.

  • alphah

    I think they could give Gagner his spot back immediately. Just don't be afraid to pull the plug. See if watching from the PB for a couple nights has changed his perspective any; and if he isn't clicking there then give it right back to the next guy in line.

    Most of our other young guys have had the rug pulled out from under them in the middle of a game if they were slipping; let Gagner experience it too, If he can't turn it around. But don't take his spot away because of the injury. Let him have a look there at least before making the change.

  • There haven't been enough shootouts this year and we're seeing that sophomore slump that wasn't supposed to happen. Anyway, we should have made the call to Springfield a lot sooner and Gagner wouldn't be in this situation now. But hey, better late than never. I think if the callups have any measure of success Gagner and/or Nilsson will realize their jobs aren't etched in stone the way the Hemskys and Horcoffs are…

  • Travis Dakin

    You also don't want to run the risk of screwing him up the way Columbus screwed up Brule. I think MacT has done the right thing by not being too hard on him and allowing him to work out his struggles. I just don't think he has quite used him properly. Like I said, Throw him out with Cole and Nilsson and/or Schremp and it will be golden.

  • Chris

    This article is similar to the Brownlee offering at the season quarter pole when Brownlee suggested the Oilers needed to go 14-5-1 over the next twenty. Since then the Oil have gone 4-2-0. The daily cries for MacT's head are somewhat silent thanks to Roli's heroics Saturday. Does anyone think the Oilers will go 10-3-1 over the next 14? This is where the team should be at the half. Why make excuses, apologise, or lower your expectations as the season progresses? After 8 years of the same coach, scouting dept, and management the fans are entitled to results; or to change.

  • Henry

    Gagner is going to be a terrific player, but he is struggling to make plays and is just a bit behind the play. I like that he is stronger on the puck than last year, but creative guys need confidence let their skill come out. Maybe a way to get there is to send him to Springfield for a couple weeks for 'conditioning after injury', let him kick some ass then bring him back sharp and hungry. It gives everyone more time to evaluate Schremp and Brule at this level too.

  • Fiveandagame

    @ Travis Dakin:

    Totally agree. Imagine a Moreau Brodziak Pisani (when he's healthy) fourth line. They could go out and play 10-14 mins a night. Be a shut down line AND you have three scoring lines you can run with.

  • Dennis – agreed. I think that Pouliot's lack of energy and goal scoring is why the Oilers have done so poorly lately. The goals that he's scoring are hurting the team, because guys just aren't fired up about getting one back or killing off a penalty, the way that they are after a Rick Rypien shift. Defending leads or playing at evens is just too boring; nothing like the desperate attempt at a comeback.