Last year when Tom Renney spoke about his team the word he used the most was the "Process." We were never exactly sure where the process would take the Oilers, and what it entailed, but when I spoke to Renney about their six-game road trip that starts tonight in LA, he revealed one specific element of the process.
As the losses piled up last season, many of us wondered why Renney didn’t match lines very often, instead allowing his young players, and veterans, to play in every situation against any opposition. Often the results didnt’ end favourably for the Oilers, but it seems that was indeed part of Renney’s process.
The process has, however, looked completely different this past October.
Through eleven games Renney ensured his young guns, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, rarely started a shift in the defensive zone or faced the other team’s top D-pairing, while Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Smyth and Ryan Jones got a steady diet of top lines and defensive zone starts.
I asked Renney to explain the drastic change in philosophy.
"As it became clear to me what this lineup would look like as a finished product, not that it is just yet, you realize that you have to match some lines, given the disparity in our ages and experience.
"Last year was a year of experience. We played hockey. We had to make sure our players had the opportunity to play against big, strong people and survive it and know they could. We had to make sure our players understood the value of not having the change you are looking for on the road and survive that and play through that.
"Now with that experience and the combination of people we have now, we have had to line match, if you will, and make sure we have a line dedicate to at least keeping it even. Another line that has the opportunity to maybe create offence and sting some people, another line that is a bit of a sleeper line that can contribute and still be very effective on both sides of the puck and a fourth line that can bring it and push the other team back and maybe soften them up a little bit.
"There is more line matching in my make up this year, certainly more than there was last year, not unlike how I sort of evolved things in New York." he explained.
Sounds like there was a method to Renney’s open-the-door-and-play madness last season, and it will be very interesting to see how hard he tries to get manageable matchups during this six-game trek.
Renney will stick with the same forward lines for the 6th straight game, which has to be the longest streak of consistency in over a decade. It makes a coach’s job much easier when his lines have some chemistry and consistency.
The blueline will see another new pairing as it sounds like Colten Teubert will make his NHL debut against the team who drafted him 13th overall in 2008. Teubert has played well in OKC thus far, and if he had his passport with him during the Barons recent road trip he would have been recalled instead of Alex Plante and played on Sunday. He’ll be paired with Theo Peckham tonight, and I’m curious to see how the Oilers 2nd and 3rd pairings handle the Kings top lines. You know Terry Murray will try to get that matchup as often as possible.
During his worst stretch with the Oilers Dustin Penner was never this ineffective offensively. Penner registered six points in his first seven games with the Kings last March, but since then he has one assist in 21 games. I wonder how excited Dean Lombardi will be when he watches tonight’s game knowing that in the past seven months he’s given up Ryan Smyth, Colten Teubert and Oscar Klefbom in exchange for Dustin Penner and Colin Fraser.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Kings are good. They have a great mix of size, skill, aggresive forwards, mobile D-men and a solid netminder. The Oilers will play well but lose 4-2 on an empty netter by Dustin Brown.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Renney will change on the fly often to try and get better matchups, and during the 2nd period the Oilers will get mixed up and be called for their league-leading, 5th too many men penalty.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Early in the 2nd frame Hall will be wheeling down the left wing into the Kings’ zone as Doughty lines him up, except unlike last year, Hall realizes how quickly Doughty can close the gap and slips past him as Doughty slams into the boards. Hall won’t score on the partial breakaway, and while skating back to the bench he winks at Doughty and says, "Not this time." Both have a laugh, but Hall is still pissed that he can’t score on breakaways this year.