After the four to nothing loss to the Maple Leafs Tuesday night, Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins said his team was simply "out-finished." There is no doubt that James Reimer played a solid game for the Leafs but I know there was more to this loss then the Oilers being "out-finished".
If Dallas Eakins wants to simply chalk this one up to that reason the Oilers will continue to play a very high-risk style with no guaranteed results going forward. Scary thought. These types of teams are happy to play a track meet type of game with lots of chances both for and against. The Oilers will just have to hope they score more goals then the other team. They will also need to go out and find the greatest goalie of all time because he will be under siege and expected to make huge saves nightly to give his team’s chance to out gun the opposition.
This has never and will never be a recipe for success in the NHL. It is a lot of fun to watch for fans, it is exciting hockey but no real long-term success will be the result.
The good news about this comment of being "out-finished" is that it is most likely not what Eakins really thinks about the game. He is trying to protect his club after a very poor start to the season. In my experience most often coaches say one thing to the media and another to their team. I am guessing that Eakins sees a fragile team and realizes there is no need for him to beat them up in the press. I get it and agree with him.
Matching lines is a great way for a coach to tip the balance of a game in his team’s favor. It isn’t easy to get the match ups you want on the road but at home, with last change, it becomes a whole lot easier.
Again last night Eakins seemed to want to have his first line of Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov out again the top line of the Leafs. Oh boy. He also seems to like having Justin Schultz and Anton Belov on the ice with Gagner’s line. Oh no.
Having the J. Schultz pairing on the ice with your top offensive line makes sense from a pure offensive firepower point of view. When those five get skating and are on the attack their creativity is a lot of fun to watch and can produce goals.
The dark side of that combo is what we saw on the first two goals from last night. On the first goal, Belov pinches down, Yakupov is the high man and should back him up. Yakupov doesn’t back him up which results in a two on one for the Leafs two most dangerous players. Goal! Barely a minute into the game.
On the second Leafs goal, the same five Oilers are out there against the top line for the leafs. The Oilers have a good offensive rush going up the ice. Belov stays back because J Schultz jumps in and has a great chance to score but Reimer comes up with a big save.
When a d-man jumps into the play, one of the forward needs to stay back a little to be in a position to defend. No one hangs back. Quickly the two most dangerous Leafs, Kessel and Van Reimsdyk, turn the puck up ice for a full ice two versus one. Goal!
The day may come when these five Oilers can match other teams top line both offensively and defensively, that day is not upon us. One school of thought could be that Eakins is putting these match ups together so that these young players can learn tough lessons now. Maybe Eakins wants them to learn under fire.
I can see the reasoning behind this approach long-term, if the players learn the lessons. In the short term these match ups will make it very hard for the Oilers to win games. To many nights this season opponents’ top lines are having a field days against the Oilers. If the Oilers specialty teams continue to struggle and opponents’ top lines produce points the wins will not come for the Oilers. The second to fourth lines can’t score that many.
I would suggest a slight change in approach to Eakins. No more Anyon Belov and Justin Schultz on the ice at the same time as the top line. Yakupov and J. Schultz are two extremely offensive minded skaters. The issue is they create far too many offensive chances for opponents and having them on the ice at the same time doesn’t work at this point in their development.
The other way at looking at Eakins choice in line match ups is it could be he is uncomfortable with matching any if his other lines up with opponents top lines. This is the scarier thought for me. If he feels his best option is a young group of forwards then this team needs help.
To me Boyd Gordan is a no-brainer to match against top lines. But who should be his wingers? Who does Eakins trust to get the job done? Who has the skating ability, defensive awareness and physical requirements to challenge a top line?
If you are having a tough time answering that question just think how Eakins feels.
The Leafs have a great line that can do this. David Clarkson, Mason Raymond and Dave Bolland, three veteran players from winning organizations. I am not a huge Raymond fan but he fills his role on that line. A line like this would go a long way to helping the clear match up issues the Oilers are having.