Yesterday Ralph Krueger suggested he is contemplating making a switch amongst his top two lines for tonight’s tilt v. Dallas.
Which move makes more sense? Turns out it wasn’t what many were thinking.
Will he move Sam Gagner between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, and slide Ryan Nugent-Hopkins between Nail Yakupov and Ales Hemsky, or will he stay with the duos he liked at the start of the season, Eberle with RNH, Gagner with Hemsky and swap Yakupov and Hall?
I think both moves would have merit.
The Hall/Gagner/Eberle trio had success last year, most notably Gagner’s 8-point night against Chicago. Hall and Hemsky are the two best forwards right now at backing off the defenders on the rush, so keeping them on separate lines makes sense.
Right now Nugent-Hopkins has shown he is better defensively than Gagner. While RNH isn’t producing like Gagner, 9-game point streak, he has shown remarkable improvement with his defensive zone coverage. If you put RNH between Yakupov and Hemsky, they likely won’t be eaten up 5-on-5 like the 64/89/83 trio was.
Also, putting RNH with the Yakupov, who has been the best shooter early on, could lead to more offensive chances. The great news for Krueger is that he’s the first Oiler coach in a decade who has six legitimate offensive players that he can rotate through his top-two lines.
Krueger could also throw Yakupov with RNH and Eberle, and give them better matchups, while putting Hall with Gagner and Hemsky and give them the harder minutes. Hemsky has faced the top defenders for most of his career, so he’s used to it, and right now Hall’s overall speed and strength make him the hardest to defend amongst the young kids.
Nugent-Hopkins will not play tonight. There will be some switching of lines and positions, but it will involve Mark Arcobello and Ryan Smyth.
Arcobello will have one of the best opportunities any player has had for his first NHL game. He’ll play between Hall and Eberle, while Smyth will move to centre with Lennart Petrell and Darcy Hordichuk on his wings.
RNH is listed as day-to-day, and according to Krueger if this was a playoff game he’d be playing. Krueger said they expect him to play Saturday in Detroit. His shoulder is bothering him, not sure which one, but after a hard hit in OT v. Vancouver the Oilers have elected to rest him.
The Stars roll into Rexall looking very different than last year. They have lots of new faces, young and old, and it will be interesting to see how they and the Oilers match up.
Alex Goligoski is a healthy scratch. He hasn’t played as well as the coaches would like, so he’ll take a seat upstairs.
- Devan Dubnyk is tied for 7th in SV%, .925%, with goalies who have started at least five games. He has faced the most shots in the NHL at 295, and along with Jimmy Howard, Mikka Kiprusoff and Jonathan Quick they are the only goalies to have started every game for their team.
- The Oilers are 30th in shots against. They are allowing 34.4 per game. They are 24th in shots for with 27.4/game, which ranks them 29th in SF/SA ratio at a woeful -7.
- The positive for tonight is that the Stars are 30th in SF/SA ratio at an awful -9.2. The Stars are only averaging 24.6 shot per game while allowing 33.8.
- Smyth, Petrell, Lander, Gagner and Paajarvi will rotate on the penalty kill.
- Yakupov tweeted out a pretty neat picture of him and Jaromir Jagr. "Nail10_1993 : That was 2004 -Jagr played in Russia , in Lockout time . And it’s me 11 years old Boy 🙂 Good eh ?)))) "
- Yakupov is excited to play one of his idols tonight.
- Krueger wouldn’t say for sure who would be on his first powerplay unit, but you will likely see Arcobello slide in to Nugent-Hopkins spot. I’d look at putting Ryan Smyth on the first unit in place of Shawn Horcoff, because they need to try and win the faceoff and he is good in front of the net.
- The Stars have been shorthanded a league-high 50 times this year. They were preaching discipline this morning, and admitted they are leery of the Oilers powerplay. The Oilers are 2nd in PP goals, 12, and 3rd in PP% at 28.6. The Stars PK is solid at 11th, but their PP only has 4 goals on 33 chances and sit 27th at 12.1%.
- Hall fought Roussel in the minors this year, and Stars analyst Darryl Reaugh called him mini-Pepe today, a Claude Lemieux reference. Roussel is great at getting under people’s skin, and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves to protect himself. Look for him to try and fire up the Oilers tonight.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers are without three centres, and since most expect them to lose tonight, they will do the opposite and win, 3-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers will struggle in the faceoff dot, and Smyth will have the best percentage.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Early in the 2nd period, Arcobello will saucer a cross-ice pass to Eberle who scores his first goal in five games. Right after he scores Roussel will give him a cheap shot in the back. Arcobello skates in and jumps Roussel. They drop the gloves and Arcobello takes a few heavy shots. While sitting in the penalty box, they announce the goal and Arcobello’s assist and the big screen shows Arcobello in the sin bin, nose leaking with a huge grin. The crowd loves it and gives Arcobello a standing ovation.
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