Craig MacTavish Line Blender – Just Add Ice


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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    @ 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.

  • Hippy

    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! 🙂

  • Hippy

    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!

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.