Chemistry

This is Joe Murphy. A November 1989 trade that brought him to Edmonton was a key element in the Oilers run to their 1990 Stanley. Murphy developed great chemistry with Adam Graves and they formed the heart of the "Kid Line" that spring.

Sometimes a slight adjustment is all it takes.

In recent games, Sam Gagner has been placed on a line with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. Although it took some time (Gagner is also recovering from an injury and adjsting to a move to RW), the trio is starting to find the range and offer the Oilers another scoring option on a nightly basis.

Old timey fans will remember the days of the high flying Oilers, a time when the dedicated skill lines had a third threesome who could do damage too. I think the Oilers might be close to having enough skilled personnel to fill the required 9 slots for three skill lines.

The problem may be chemistry.

CHEMISTRY

A month ago, the Oilers top 3 lines went like this (C-L-R):

  • Horcoff-Smyth-Hemsky
  • RNH-Hall-Eberle
  • Belanger-Jones-Gagner
  • Lander-Paajarvi-Petrell

That’s from the Detroit game on Remembrance Day. Since then, injuries and ineffectiveness have led to some shuffling, and the RNH-Smyth-Eberle line has had a very nice run. The Horcoff-Gagner-Hemsky line is also playing well in recent games, and even the third line (Belanger-Paajarvi-Jones) has shown some things.

Taylor Hall is close to returning, and Anton Lander might play in the Oilers next game. So the club has some options, and chemistry will play a major role in how things play out. Veterans Smyth and Horcoff appear to be the most adaptable of the old hands, and I’d suggest that Jordan Eberle can be creative with pretty much everyone and leads the youngsters in this area (at least at even strength).

So, if we "pair up" three lines, like this:

  • RNH-Smyth
  • Hall-Eberle
  • Horcoff-Hemsky

it’s a matter of finding the best chemistry available from the group that includes Gagner, Jones, Belanger, Paajarvi and Lander. Ben Eager may also be in photo. I’d suggest leaving Gagner on the Horcoff-Hemsky line (they’re already creating) and trying Ryan Jones with Smyth and RNH (he’s done well everywhere else they’ve tried him this season).

Which leaves us with the choice of Belanger between Hall and Eberle. Now, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know when saying Eric Belanger has struggled this season offensively. However, he’s also endured a terrible Zone Start and hasn’t had the best linemates this season. This might be a time for Belanger to get the "push" to see if he can help this team get something they haven’t had in ages–balanced scoring.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

The Oilers have enough talent to reach the tipping point offensively–icing a team with three lines that could make you pay at any given time. The gifted kids (RNH, Hall, Eberle) married to the quality veterans (Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky) could form the foundation for a strong 9 up front. 

Sam Gagner is better and finding the range; Ryan Jones is having a terrific season in all areas; Eric Belanger is a veteran with successful offensive seasons in the recent past. Jason Gregor wrote a fine article on Belanger today and it’s probably time for this solid veteran to step up.

The opportunity exists for the Edmonton Oilers to roll three lines that can score goals. 

  • yawto

    All I can say is that fist line has shown tremendous Chemistry and hope it keeps rolling. GO Oilers!!!

    Also Lowetide, like the new digs with your updated site. Oilersnation is always the fist stop but lowetide is a close second. Keep up the fantastic reads.

  • With these “pairings” does that put Paajarvi on the 4th between Lander and Petrell? Would Paajarvi be better off getting 1st line minutes in OKC (especially with the recent injuries of Omark and Harski). I don’t want us turning this kid into another Schremp, Maggie has all the skills and potential to be a top 6 forward moving on but we need to be careful how to handle his next few months….

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I actually don’t think Smyth has been as effective with RNH/Eberle

    I’d like to see:

    Gagner/Horcoff/Smyth

    Eberle/RNH/Jones

    Hemsky/Belanger/Hall

    PRV and Jones could swap for a few shifts/game to see if he can get going

  • I have been trying to come up with alternate lines, and while I don’t think you can switch RNH and Eberle I can’t help but look to the future of the Oilers.

    I just don’t see Hemsky in it long term, or even after this year. So why not move PRV around, see if something works, why not give Gagner Smyth and Jones and see if that works. Why do we have to concentrate on who gets to play with the Vets, let’s start seeing what they can do without them?

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Don’t split up RNH and Eberle.

    I think Hall can carry any line or make any line a threat I would keep the top two lines as is. and play Hall at LW with Paajarvi at RW and either Lander or Belanger at C, with Hall and magnus on the wings that is alot of speed that teams would have to account for. Maybe Hall can knock Paajarvi out of his slump.

  • Semenko and Troy

    RNH-Hall-Eberle

    Horcoff-Smyth-Jones

    Belanger-Gagner-Hemsky

    Challenge Gagner and Hemsky to draw the heat away from the kids.

    Let them show(case)their value to the team.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      I have to disagree with putting Hemsky on the 3rd line. That is just wasting his talent. Gagner and Belanger have combined for 1 goal in 47 games.

      I think Hall-Horcoff-Hemsky had some good chemistry before Hall got hurt. Unfortunately Hemsky and Hall have been injured but I think they could be dynamic together with Horcoff providing a solid option at center.

    • A-Mc

      Completely Agree.

      Go back to what worked for us at the beginning of the year.

      Those lines were shuffled because of a returning Hemsky, and a chain of events led by Poor play and Injury.

      Now that Gagner has his Legs again and Hemsky is picking it up with each game (Shoulder Woes), I think those lines you’ve listed are a great top 9. If Belanger proves he cannot keep up, then move him down and try lander up there.

      Forget the 1st, 2nd, 3rd line titles. If we have those 3 lines Assembled; Their Output, Their +/- and Our Opponent will determine the ice time they receive that night.

  • I don’t like Jones and Smyth on the same line. They’re very similar players… Opportunistic guys around the net, sneaky puck-strippers, decent cyclers, wall guys.

    I should say that I feel the same way today about Nuge-Eberle that Woodguy felt about Horc-Smyth about a month ago–I don’t want to see them broken up. But that didn’t work out well for him, turns out the two are plug n play, so. I don’t want to believe too hard in the same kind of idea, but not sure if the same is true for the kids.

    Hall is such an individualistic guy, that I agree with the poster above that I don’t think it matters what line he plays on. In fact I’d say the biggest hole in his game is that he doesn’t know how to use his teammates optimally.

    But Eberle is a guy who needs to find space on the ice to shoot. He’s greatly helped when he plays with someone who creates space, pulls players to him and can dish. Obviously both Hemsky and Nuge do this well. Hall can create space for his linemates but his focus is to finish not dish, sometimes to his detriment (and passing would create space for himself).

    I think things could change if Hall wasn’t the guy carrying the puck through the neutral zone. There’s probably only 3 Fs on the team who can keep up with him, so he’s often in the zone without support (he also needs to learn to buy time). I would go back to Hemsky being the puck carrier and dangling to dish to Hall for the finish.

    And I’m not sure, given the choice of Hall or Gagner playing that RW spot, that he wouldn’t choose Hall every day. He could though play the injury card and say Hall on the 3rd while he’s getting back to game speed. Tough to see though, and I don’t think the coach would necessarily be wrong.

    At the end of the day I’m a big believer in the effect of the give and go in hockey, and those are the pairings I would look for. That’s Gagner’s weakness–he doesn’t have the speed to give n go with the team’s top talent. Paajarvi needs a guy who can do it with him.

    And I will also add that Renney has shown a proclivity toward using the same units in lines as he does on the PP units, and I don’t see Hall missing any PP time.

    Hall and Eberle on the 3rd line…. Can’t see it happening.

  • We’d all have lower blood pressure if discussion of Belanger being anywhere other than centering the fourth line and working the PK was summarily banned.

    I don’t know what sort of inside info on the Oilers he has in his possession, but it seems it’s the only explanation I can think of for him occupying third lines and sucking up PP time from guys who, you know, can be effective on the PP.

    Dude is a stone cold momentum killer.

      • Oilerbill

        So you want to see him on the first or second line? Who exactly do you put him ahead of? Keep in mind his highest ever point total was last year at 40 points playing higher on the depth chart. We already have that guy in Horcoff who is a much better center than Belanger ever was or will be. Besides I am sure his 7 points with all that PP time is surely deserving of a promotion.

        Sorry Sam, I know you have played almost a third less games than Eric and you seem to be comming around after injury and you’re 10 years younger and have more points but we are going to keep you on the wing so our 34 yearold FA that we signed to be a face off guy can try and match his career high 40 points.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          Did I say that?

          I said he’s always played much higher then the fourth line on teams far better then ours.

          He’s clearly a top 9 forward on this team.

          • Oilerbill

            You didn’t answer my question. Ahead of who? At center we have: RNH – a phenome in his own right Horcoff – Career 50+ point player, Captain always gives 100% Gagner – 22 year old 6 over all pick with clearly better hands and offensive vision.

            The only one that he has any leg up on is Gagner. So as I led to in my previous post and have posted before. Sam Gagner can NOT play as this teams 4th line center! While he has improved his foot speed he is not a checker and he is still developing. He can’t do that playing 6-8 minutes a game on the 4th line and he can’t go to the minors.

            So that means on THIS team clearly Belanger is a 4th line center or he doesn’t belong on this team.

          • Oilerbill

            Of those three only Lander is a center. Now if I was Nostradamus I might predict that one day Lander will be a better option than Belanger.

            BTW last year MPS had 15 goals as a rookie. Belanger has had a career high of 17.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            You keep trying to take this off point Oilerbill… stay focused please.

            David claims Belanger isn’t one of the best 9 forwards on this team, I’m dying to know which 9 are better. Also it’s irrelavant if Lander MIGHT be a better option some day, we’re talking about today.

      • Oilerbill

        The point is that just because someone played on a different team in a different system in a different roll doesn’t mean that he will fit in the same place on every other team.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          Multiple coaches on mulitple teams have played him 15+ minutes/night…. most/all of those teams were far superior to this Oiler team.

          Thinking his not a top 9 forward on this team is laughable.

          • I really don’t care what he did, or what he might do. Admittedly I’m not a stats guy so there might be something to that.

            All I know is what I’ve seen so far this year. Belanger is a cracker on the FO and a decent option to spell-off Horcoff in a PK role.

            However, there’s been NOTHING to indicate Belanger belongs in the top 9 with this group. What I have seen is muffin shots from the perimeter, an extreme inability to mesh with skilled young players, missed passes o’plenty, ZERO offensive flash, craploads of missed opportunities due to a complete inability to find an open spot and a shocking ability to stifle any sort of offensive push.

            You sign guys like this if tanking “rebuilding” is high on your agenda. They have just enough ability to look legitimate, but not nearly enough to actually help you win games.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Yet you fail to address what a superior top 9 would be.

            Doesn’t take much of being a “stats guy” to understand that coaches trust this guy. A quick look at TOI and you see they rely on him …. heavily. Especially for a “4th liner”.

            I mean the talent rich 09/10 Capitals, that finished 1st overall in the league played the guy 15+ minutes per night…. but I guess he’s a 4th liner on this stacked Oiler team.

          • I think it has alot to do with LT’s post. Belanger has yet to develop chemistry with any of our top 9 players.

            He might be a top 9 guy on Washington because his style and experience fit that team, but he’s been a solid gold bust with the Oilers so far in the top 9 outside of the areas I mentioned above. He may or may not be better than some of the players we have in that role, but right now he simply doesn’t fit. Thus he belongs on the 4th line until he works his way up, like Sam did in the past.

  • paul wodehouse

    David:

    Totally agree, but there’s another side to that:

    Would we have choked up so many leads lately if Belanger was used in his normal role of a faceoff center on a defensive line? Especially at home when the last shift change lets us put a defensive line on the ice when needed??

    Renney pushing him up on offense and wasting his ice time on the powerplay is wasting his excellence at his usual role.

    • DoubleJ

      I totally agree with this line up.

      Renney is over playing Smyth and Horcov. These guys have been playing amazing so it’s worked so far. BUT, It’s a long season and if Renney continues to over play them a couple of things might happen.

      1) they will burn out.
      2) they will get injured.
      3) they will get injured!!!

      They need to trim down their minutes. 20+ minutes is too much. Horc will be out there on the pp and pk so moving him down to play on the third line should help out on his ev minutes.

      Smyth can trim down his minutes on the pk. Lander, Belanger, Petrell and Jones can take those minutes.

      Either way Gagner should be playing with Hall and Hemsky.

  • Oilerbill

    Ryan Jones with Smyth and RNH – Belanger between Hall and Eberle – Horcoff with Gagner and Hemsky

    Those three lines scream bad news. Who is your checking line? It’s all nice to believe that you have 3 lines that can do some damage. But who are you putting out there against: Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk & Todd Bertuzzi or Dan Cleary, Henrik Zetterberg, Jiri Hudler?

    The problem is that you spread your offence out and leave yourself open defensively. You can not rely on, Hall, Eberle, Hemsky, Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner on a nightly basis to play responsibly at both ends of the ice. There are different reasons for each player but it still ends up with the same result. When you have two defensive liabilities on the same line it spells goals against. With one or even two lines being a defensive issue you can protect that by smart line changes.

    I would like to see something along the lines of Hall, Hemsky, Gagner – Smyth, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle – Jones, Petrell, Horcoff – Eager, Hordichuk, Belanger,

    Send both Lander and Paajarvi to the minors for some seasoning. We still need to grow these players. Putting Gagner with Hall and Hemsky is either going to showcase him or expose him. Either way we need to know. Having RNH with Eberle and Smyth has been very good, so leave it. Jones Petrell and Horcoff will obviously be your #1 checking line. They will still be able to chip in offensively but you’re not sacrificing any of the creativity and potential magic that can happen by having offensive guys with offensive guys.

    Also if you’re going to make guys play out of position, do it on the bottom 6 guys. JMO

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Wow LT… Belanger eh? That’s a bold move.

    I’d probably prefer to leave him as a defensive, pk, fo specialist and wait for a goal to go in off his face to get him going offensively than moving him so far up the depth chart…. But, it couldn’t hurt to try I guess.

    Incidentally I believe Renney is talking about Belanger on the PP at the start of the video “Raw: Renney Monday” for dec. 5th 2011 post-practice press gaggle:

    http://video.oilers.nhl.com/videocenter/console *

    can’t hear the question, but if he’s talking about Belanger he seems to justify his presence based primarily on his left handed shot, experience and puck movement…. not sure I agree with that assessment, but so it goes.

    *sorry don’t know how to link to an individual video. but it’s easy to find.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Hopkins exposes the Oilers weaknesses thru his play with different forwards . Chemistry takes a little more time and injuries makes that processs take even longer . The Oilers now know they can compete , they just don’t know to what level they are capable of as yet . No comfort level found as yet , especially amongst the European contingent . Things will fall into place barring major injuries , and progress of defensive game . Stellar goaltending will help speed up processs , and lately it has not been as good as we got first 15 or so . The difference between winning and losing is small now as compared to last few seasons . Another winning streak would do wonders for our team confidence and chemistry . We are good and need to play with that swagger consistently .

  • A-Mc

    More teams now that outshoot opponents are coming up with more losses than wins – by quite a huge margin . The more offence the less chance you have of protecting your own , or winning a game? I thought the new rules were to open up hockey to the offences ? Unfortuneately it has stiffened the defensive side of hockey even with all the pansy penalties linked to the game . Allowing goaltenders to board up the net with their huge equipment has hurt offensive hockey more than anything else . Most games now look like a venturi tube in front of opponents net (closet hockey).

  • Oilerbill

    Sure, not like being small down the middle is bad… our wingers are all small. We have Hall and Jones who can hit on the top six wingers. We will be one heck of a forchecking team for years like that. There are lots of areas that still need work with this team. One of the biggest for the past few years have been being soft on the puck. Moving Gagner to the wing is a bad idea. He needs to play center on the second line on this team with wingers who can play physical and draw attention to them and give gagner some room to move with the puck. That’s how he will be effective.

  • paul wodehouse

    trippy LT …we’re all but nine and a half weeks into the season and there she is … Kim…

    many thanks for the reminder…gotta watch that flick one more time

  • paul wodehouse

    trippy LT …we’re all but nine and a half weeks into the season and there she is … KimB.!!!

    many thanks for the reminder…gotta watch that flick one more time

  • Oilerbill

    L.T – Chemistry on any line that embraces all 5 on the ice is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle at best.

    When none of your top 6 forwards exceeds 200 lbs and there is a decided lack of a physical component in the top 6… chemistry could be a moot point. The Oilers have chemistry when the opposition tries to run and gun with them. When the opposition decides to lay on the beef all the chemistry in the world is much less of a factor imo.

    Also I wonder if these Oiler coaches are going to develop 5-man lines so the D-men can become more cohesive with the forwards and thereby operate with 5-man units going forward.

  • Oilerbill

    RHN, Hemsky, Gagner, Horcoff, Hall, Eberle, Jones, Paarjvi and Smyth.

    Of course this year Belanger is 9th on team scoring among forwards (4th among centers). So sure you can say he MAY be technicaly by points someone that should be in your top nine. But by that reasoning then Gilbert should be playing in the top six forward lines. Which would bump Belanger down.

    For the record that has been my point and I also imagine that’s what David is trying to say also. You have still not answered my question. Who do you take out of the top 9 to make room for a 34 year old career 35 point center who hasn’t scored in 27 games twice in the last 2 years?

    Wait that’s right Gagner on the wing. I think I already addressed that by going off the point earlier

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      It’s a joke that you think PRV is a superior player at this point.

      Jones has gotten off to a nice start, but that’s also debatable.

      You didn’t address anything with your Gagner to the wing, all you posted was your opinion.

      I think it’s fairly safe to say that Gagner has played the best all around hockey of his career the last 8-10 games or so…. which has predominantly been on the wing. He also had the most productive set of games in his career on the wing in his rookie year.

      You are pretending that he’s proven to be a far better center and pretending that he and the team aren’t flexible enough to have him on the wing.

      • Oilerbill

        All anyone has to offer is their opinion. I think Paarjavi has more upside and is a more talented player than Belanger.

        Your short sightedness in this matter is your opinion. I will not call it a joke but if you want a team full of pluggers then go cheer for Phoenix or someone.

        If you think the 4 or 5 points in 8-10 games that Sam got as the most productive of his career then this conversation is over.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          “I think Paarjavi has more upside and is a more talented player than Belanger.”

          And that’s where your whole feeble argument falls apart.

          You don’t win games on potential, you win games with current, quality hockey. PRV certainly has far more potential and if I could only keep one I’d keep PRV…. unfortuntly for you though the question is to build the best top 9 possible for today.

          Also, are you being intentionally obtuse Bill?

          I made two pretty clear points here, Gagner had a fantastic finish to his rookie year. Putting up something like 27ish points in his final 30ish games…. that was done on the wing.

          The second point is that his last stretch of games have been arguable the best of his career for 2 way hockey. He’s producing (6 points in his last 7) and appears to be playing responsible defensively…. the majority of this has been done on the wing.

          Now, we can continue to pretend that he’s a center or nothing, or we can accept that he just might have a future on the wing (or at least the versitility to play W or C effectively)

          • Oilerbill

            Really I am being obtuse? Everyone that has played on a line with Belanger has slumped. The guy has been an offensive bust.
            If Belanger is so good at center and Gagner is so good on the wing, why did his game stink until they moved him off of Belangers’ line?
            That is very clear and not obtuse.

            Your argument has fallen apart like the play when the puck hit Belangers’ stick.

            If you think insulting me or my opinion is going to make your stance on things any better you are sadly mistaken.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Yes Bill, you are being Obtuse. I say Gagner has been great lately on the wing and was very good on the wing as a rookie to which your reply was.

            “If you think the 4 or 5 points in 8-10 games that Sam got as the most productive of his career then this conversation is over.”

            Now what does your reply have to do with what I stated Bill? I was talking about his recent play on the wing and his play on the wing as a rookie, not whatever 8-10 game stretch it is you are refrencing.

            I didn’t say Belanger and Gagner are good together, I don’t know why they would have to be good together for Belanger to be a good C and Gagner to be a good W.

            I said Belanger is a good center…. which should be pretty clear… I mean you’d think the 3 or 4 coaches that have coached him the last 5 or 6 years would be correct…. or maybe not… maybe the 3 or 4 pros are wrong and you are right.

            And I said Gagner has had success on the wing and that I think theirs a good chance that will continue… which has also been proven by his results on the wing at different times.

            Pretty basic stuff.

          • Oilerbill

            “I think it’s fairly safe to say that Gagner has played the best all around hockey of his career the last 8-10 games or so…. which has predominantly been on the wing. “.

            Must have been your Jedi mind tricks.

            “this is not the posts your looking for”

            This is not the post I’m looking for

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            See here’s the thing Bill, he didn’t have 4-5 points in his last 8-10 games, he had 6 points in his last 8 games… predominatly on the wing?

            7 points in his last 8 games now, mostly on the wing.

            Your theory is crumbling, fast.

  • The m.o. of this team has always been speed. I remember watching Roman Hamrlik’s first game with the Oil. World class Dman, world class athlete. But he didn’t make it through his first game. Pulled out in the mid-3rd with leg cramps. Way more skating than he was used to in Tampa.

    Belanger is a journeyman. He’s changed teams many teams and been able to adjust. The speed can be difficult to adjust to. Your foot speed needs to be faster, your hands have to keep up with you and you have think the game faster too. Not only do you have to be faster to keep up with your linemates to be able to act in unison, but by nature, the speed forces the opposition to be faster in order to check you. So everything is faster and it can take time to adjust. But, as I indicated, Belanger is a veteran at this and I am sure he will make the adjustments necessary to be a larger contributor to this team.