In the summer after taking over as GM, MacT said he wanted to change up the look of his bottom six forwards. He wanted them to make a positive difference in the game rather than – at best – to have been a neural influence on the game. His changes have been slower to work than most had hoped but I think we are starting to get there.
The bottom six lined up like this last night.
- Jones – Gordon – Hendricks
- Gazdic – Smyth – Joensuu
That is four new players in this group from last year. Gordon, Hendricks, Gazdic and Joensuu are all big guys. They all play hard (I am giving Joensuu the benefit of the doubt here). Dallas Eakins needs to have players that are predictable, pillars. With Gordon, Hendricks and Gazdic he has that predictability. It is not that their games are not played without mistakes. He just knows they will go hard every night.
Both lines have played well but I really like the Gordon line. This line can all kill penalties, gets in on the forecheck and are responsible defensively. Often you see Eakins putting them out there against the top line of the opponent.
I especially like their ability to cycle the puck in the offensive zone. They work it in the corner, cycle around and have been getting scoring chances. The momentum they create with those types of shifts is huge. Something the Oilers have been lacking in recent years. It sets the table for the next line and puts an opponent on their heels.
The truth of the matter is that this type of line is the fourth line and not the third line of Stanley Cup contending teams. That is due to the depth of high caliber teams. The Oilers are not at that level yet but it give you an idea of what the Oilers require.
I think that next year there could be up to three new players in this group. Younger, faster and more consistent players will find their way in this group. Expect Tyler Pitlick to get a long chance to prove he can be one of those guys after the Olympic break.
I have found it hard to praise Nail Yakupov this season. The defensive lapses and giveaways have been the reason. Lately he is starting to give me reason to change the way I see him.
He has been more responsible with the puck. He has not been holding on to it so long that he gets smothered and coughs it up. He is using he team mates more, something they will appreciate, and is getting the puck back in open areas.
When Yak is playing well he is emotionally connected to the game. His play improves when he is playing with passion. Passion lets his game flow, he is not thinking as much. He doesn’t look frozen with indecision.
He is at his best when playing with an edge. He is chirping the other team and at times being dirty. Last night he hit Ryan Stanton from the Canucks from behind and it should have been a penalty. It draws a crowd and gets Van off their game. We saw it earlier this season against the Jets. Two of their leaders, including their captain Ladd, were distracted by him.
Yakupov needs to play this way. He is at his best and the other team gets off their game. When he is in this mode he also moves his feet when he has the puck. Too often we have seen him stand still with the puck, it doesn’t work for him. He needs to attack with speed and take the puck to the net.
We saw this last night on Perron’s second goal. He drove the net with the puck, shoots which creates a nice rebound for Perron. Sounds simple to do but skilled players like to slow the game down. I don’t think Yakupov is at that place right now.
Back to Back
If I were a coach and management team I would want to see what a newly acquired player was made of. Ben Scrivens played Sunday night at home versus the Predators and Eakins went with Bryzgalov in Vancouver Monday.
I know that the stats for playing goalies back to back do not suggest it is a good idea. At this point of this rough season for the Oilers I would have gone against the stats and played Scivens.
Can he handle playing back to back games? Eakins might know because he coached him before but what about the management or his teammates? Don’t you the fans want to know?
The situation may come up where the Oilers need to win a pair of back-to-back games. Maybe the he is your starter next year or the other goalie is hurt. Can the Oilers count on him to know how to handle that work load and preparation?
As a teammate I wanted to know the answer to that question? This weekend was the perfect time to find out.