The Dynamic Defensive Duo

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We don’t know the precise makeup of Edmonton’s “fourth” line for this coming year, but it’s a fair bet that the duo of Matt Hendricks and Mark Letestu will form its heart. It’s also a fair bet that these two veterans will be putting in appearances in a lot of high-value defensive situations.

The New Fourth Line

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We’ve talked about how we want to build our team going forward. We want three offensive lines and we want a line, probably centered by Boyd Gordon, that can start much like Chicago is built, that you have another line that you can start predominantly in the defensive zone. Then you’ve got three possession lines, or three lines that you can count on for offence.

– Craig MacTavish, July 1, 2014

Gordon’s gone and MacTavish’s business cards no longer say “general manager” but the basic line of thought expressed above reflects a real shift in the way teams build their rosters across the league. Increasingly, the stereotype of a third line with a primarily defensive focus and a fourth line built around energy players has given way to 3A and 3B lines, one built on outscoring opposition depth and the other built on being able to take on any defensive situation.

That defence-focused line looks like it will be back again this year, and like it will be built on the duo of Hendricks and Letestu. We don’t know who the third member of that line will be, and it’s entirely possible we’ll see a rotation which features Lauri Korpikoski, Rob Klinkhammer, Luke Gazdic and others, but the first two players are going to be the heart of it, even as Hendricks and Gordon were a year ago.

Different Hats

The penalty kill. There really isn’t any serious question as to which forwards will be Todd McLellan’s go-to-option while shorthanded. Letestu led all Blue Jackets forwards in TOI/game last year (2:41/game) while Hendricks was second to Gordon among Oilers (2:10/game). Both are smart, veteran forwards with plenty of experience in the role, and it only makes sense that they would work as a duo here.

Defensive zone starts. Hendricks is a reasonably strong, left-shooting faceoff option and Letestu is a very strong, right-shooting option. This gives the Oilers a good option on either side of the goaltender. McLellan isn’t as tied to having a specific defensive zone unit as someone like Alain Vigneault or Joel Quenneville (or Dallas Eakins) but it’s a fair bet that for crucial faceoffs in Edmonton’s end we’ll see Hendricks and Letestu more often than other lines.

The shift after the power play. No matter how good the power play, failure is a more regular occurrence than success. The shift immediately following a failed power play is a dangerous time for the team losing its manpower advantage. As a rule, that team’s stars are tired and the opposition’s stars are chomping at the bit, so it’s one of those rare occasions where the opposition coach consistently has a favourable matchup regardless of the arena the game is played in. Hendricks won’t be on the power play and Letestu probably won’t get much time there, so this is a set line that McLellan will have at his disposal and will likely deploy in these situations.

Some nights, particularly nights where the Oilers have the lead or there is a lot of special teams play, Hendricks and Letestu are going to be the heart of Edmonton’s third line. On other nights, particularly nights where Edmonton is trailing early, they’ll likely settle into a fourth-line role. Both are liable to see moments where they are double-shifted as faceoff insurance, and Letestu’s varied skill set means he may see some time on offensive lines on nights where McLellan wants to shorten his bench. Mostly, though, they’ll likely be playing together and in situations where the coach just wants someone reliable to put out fires or prevent them from starting in the first place.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • TheBirdOfAnger

    Really want to talk about the pre season game that just happened.
    Few things. My negativity towards Schultz is changing. He’s more responsible now (seemingly anyhow). Slepyshev, and Klinkhammer are making a tough case to stay on the lineup. I thiiiiiiink maybe Klinkhammer might be the one who gets the most time beside Hendricks and Letestu. Just a hunch.

    Seriously, I’m convinced Oilers can hold their own now. We’ve seen what the squad can do divided (as they’ve been playing with AHLers); I can’t wait to see them in regular season together.

    • I was feeling pretty good about Schultz’s game until the 3v3. No reason for him to be tentatively hanging around the general area of the opposition net while the play goes the other way.

      But, on the whole, he had a nice game. That tee-up for Klefbom on the 2-0 goal was lovely.

      • AJ88

        When are you and ON going to start giving Schultz a break. The way writers and the rest of the ON clan go on about him you would think without him last year the Oilers would have made the playoffs. Time to start going somewhere else.

        • TheBirdOfAnger

          When he proves he can become more reliable consistently. Nobody will tolerate it from Hall, what more for Schultz? And that was Willis just saying what happened.

        • bradleypi

          Totally agree. And it’s funny how everybody is now saying things like “he’s turned his game around completely”…… after watching him in 3 preseason games. Lol. I’m of the thinking that his game was always there last year and stated that hundreds of times this summer as we were force fed blog after blog about how horrible of a hockey player he was and how he had no heart. I’m sure a lot of it had to do with him taking golden boy petrys spot. Pretty hard for an offensive dman to thrive on a team that couldn’t score and I put a ton of the blame on Eakins for that. It’s clear to see that coach McLellan has these guys playing at a high tempo which absolutely suits schultzs style. I see lots of points coming his way this winter

          • hagar

            Do you watch the games? Shultz was horrible last year!! It isn’t some skewed perspective that makes people say that. It is as obvious as it gets how poorly he played.

          • AJ88

            Horrible as compared to who? Using analytics as ON like to do tell me where Schultz ends up as compared with the rest of the team. No, guys like you just need to have a scapegoat to blame for all your woes. There were numerous factors contributing to the Oilers shortfalls but ON likes to single out players so they can pat themselves on the back as to how obvious and simple the winning solution is. Wrong!

          • hagar

            This isn’t a discussion about who to blame for how bad the oilers were, it is about how well Shultz has played since being acquired. He has played poorly, and it isn’t a biased view point that makes me say that… he simply has played bad.

            As for the “guys like me,” I am just as hard on Halls lack of effort at times, Jordans pathetic back checking, and the entire teams attitude as a whole.

            The difference is that most players also offered positive things on and off.. shultz just looked like a horrible player the entire time.

          • AJ88

            Again, you and ON like to rag on Shultz, but tell me from an analytical standpoint why he is singled out repeatedly for his poor play as compared to others that have worse analytics?

          • AJ88

            Well for me, it’s the combination of ice time, zone starts and poor defensive play. If you’re looking for specific analytics, I’d start with his ZSO% Rel (+19.92) over the past 5 years, no defenceman had his ice time and zone start ratio. So when you say he’s an offensive Dman and look to see that he finished 49th in points among Dman, it’s a little less impressive than it already is knowing that no other Dman in the league got the zone start push that he’s got.

            Now, that’s just pointing out that’s he’s not a very good offensive Dman. If he was, it’d be a little easier to swallow just how terrible he is defensively. I can get into that later if you like But I gotta go to work…

          • I Remember the Orange Jerseys

            “Pretty hard for an offensive dman to thrive on a team that couldn’t score”.

            I’ve seen you use that phrase on a couple occasions now. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if Schultz is, as you call him, an “offensive dman”, are you not then suggesting that it is, in fact, his job to score?

            Just curious.

          • hagar

            Bradlypi has a thing about sticking up for the past oilers players and staff to no end, and disputing the recent moves.

            It’s like he wanted to actually see the end of “stay the course.”

        • CMG30

          Schultz has been brutal for the Oilers since he started. He hasn’t been the only problem, but he has been a significant one. Right now he’s showing some good stuff. If he is able to continue this on into the regular season, it would be huge for the Oiler blue line. But it’s going to take more than 2 preseason games to erase 2 years of terrible play.

        • “But on the whole, he had a nice game. That tee-up for Klefbom on the 2-0 goal was lovely.”

          I’m not sure how that’s being hard on Schultz.

          If you don’t like me critiquing him for not skating on the backcheck in 3v3, he should skate on the backcheck in 3v3. I made the same comment about Draisaitl (who also got burned) in my postgame write-up at the Journal’s website.

          • AJ88

            And you don’t think ON has been somewhat over the top “critiquing” Shultz as compared to a number of other Oiler players? Sorry, even after a 3-0 shutout and a “lovely tee-up” you still had to rag on Shultz for not back checking hard enough…Ever watched Yak back check?

          • You know they scored on the play where Schultz didn’t backcheck, right? If we’re giving him credit for setting up one goal we certainly ought to dock him for the other.

            As for Yakupov, two things. First, we talk about him when he makes mistakes. Second, a failure to backcheck from a middle-six winger isn’t at all good but it’s decidedly less of an issue than a failure to backcheck from a top-four defenceman.

          • AJ88

            You do know the oilers were playing 3v3 and Schultz took the pass down low and had a good scoring chance and was then caught low while there was a forward covering for him on defense, right? Maybe we send out 3D in OT and we will make sure the opposition doesn’t score and go to a shoutout. I think your criticism of Schultz on this particular play is somewhat biased.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Madjam’s final 25 estimation .

    Pouliot, Hopkins and Eberle . Hall, McDavid and RW Draisaitl . Korpikoski , Lander and Yakupov . Hendricks , Letestu and Klinkhammer . 13th and 14th forwards are Miller and Slepychev .

    Goalies (2) : Talbot and Scrivens .

    Defence (7) : Nikitin , Sekara , Klefbom ,Schultz , Reinhart , Gryba and Fayne . That’s total of 23 .

    Upstairs at 24 and 25th I have Gazdick and Ference . If a defenseman gets traded then Nurse might pull back in .

      • AJ88

        Slepychev has shown to be a very good utility players so far , and I can not find anyone better than him currently . Pakarenen might be , but he is still injured . Name one better option if you know of one . I can think of 4 , but none have outplayed or shown as much as Slepchev has , or his versatility . That being Pitlick , Chase , Munoz and Yakimov .

        • Cowbell_Feva

          The Point is: these are training camp games. Slep needs to get north American game experience with lots of ice time.

          I like him but for his benefit they should start him in AHL. they have damaged too many players by keeping them when they have a good training camp. Gagner, Lander, Shultz and on and on.

          McLellan claims each 10 game segment is different.

          Slep doesn’t have enough experience yet. He will start in the AHL.

    • pkam

      What happen to Purcell? He is listed as day to day so he will be back before the regular season, probably back for the last couple of preseason games. Are you going to send him to the minors once he is healthy?

    • bazmagoo

      Dude how are we supposed to take you seriously when you don’t even know that an NHL roster is 23 players? 20 players on the team, 3 in the box. Ok gonna skip over your comments from here on, ha.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    madjam,

    You have 25 people on the roster which is 2 too many.

    Shlep and Miller will be in Bakersfield.

    We may very well see Anders over Benny. Anders’ has had the upper hand so far with his play and has the higher ceiling.

    The other question is how they will run Bakersfield with one of those two there (subject to clearing waivers) – Laurent needs the starts.

    • TheBirdOfAnger

      No .I have 23 on roster and 2 upstairs if you read it again . Whom would you have/prefer as better options at 13th and 14th forwards ? I have 14 forwards , 7 defence , and 2 goalies = 23 players on ice with 2 upstairs ( 1 forward and 1 defenseman). I would think others might have different lists , but none have come forth with any . Management has a bigger sampling of Scrivens over Nillson and I have no idea of what you mean Nillson has a higher ceiling ? I know he has not shown it in the NHL as yet .

      • bradleypi

        Those “upstairs” at 24 and 25 are part of the roster.

        You have two to many players.

        Only 20 players dress, including two goalies. Not 23.

        The team can carry 3 extra players for “upstairs” taking it to 25.

        You have two to many players.

        • I Remember the Orange Jerseys

          That is just ridiculous. If that was true it would mean that madjam has no idea what he is talking about and I refuse to believe that.

        • AJ88

          HOCKEY OPERATIONS GUIDELINES : MAXIMUM 23 on game day roster can be dressed at any one time . Minimum that can be dressed is 20 players (18 skaters and 2 goalies ) . I don’t see how players upstairs can be called dressed for a game with no equipment on , as I see no reference to it in hockey operations guidelines . I know injured players do not count .

    • bazmagoo

      If Anders ends up winning the back up battle, I’d think the Oilers will move Scrivens. Eat half his salary and get a 4th rounder for him. Just a hunch. Seems to me that would be the smart thing to do in that situation.

  • TheBirdOfAnger

    I’m perplexed about this sudden love in for Schultz… It’s like people don’t realize it’s preseason, and It’s like people forget that he always looks good for the first 20 games… This is all part of the same old story…

    • bradleypi

      Oh. Is that because it’s groundhog day in your world? And every hockey season is exactly the same. Different coach, different systems and some new teammates = a better schultz. You better hop on his bandwagon like the rest of oilersnation before it’s full.

      • #97TRAIN

        Would you give it up about Schultz already! Whether it was the coaches or managements fault the last few seasons is irrelevant . He just hasn’t been that good. However can’t you see that the views of him in general on here have been good and positive overall ! Give it some time it looks like Oilernation is warming up to him.

    • pkam

      If people are gonna put this much stock into preseason, then Slepyshev should be named the new oiler captain and Hall should start the season on the condors…

  • pkam

    Well Oilers cut down to 32 already and my Miller did not make the cut , as he has been put on waivers like Pitlick , Hunt and Hamilton for now , It’s on Oilers.com . Slepy getting more looks .

  • hagar

    Cuts:

    Bogdan Yakimov
    Matt Ford
    Ryan Hamilton
    Braden Christoffer
    Josh Winquist
    Jujhar Khaira
    Greg Chase
    Kyle Platzer
    Kale Kessy
    Jordan Oesterle
    David Musil
    Laurent Brossoit
    Eetu Laurikainen
    Brad Hunt
    Tyler Pitlick
    Andrew Miller
    Joey Laleggia
    Phil McRae

    No surprises.

    I think Pitlick and Yakimov were a bit disappointing in camp this year.

  • Johnnydapunk

    Im starting to not dig this whole “optimistic” feeling I keep having about the Oil, it’s weird to think of having like proper NHL players on the 4th line ?!? Like all three are NHL quality, Its been a while since its been like this.

    Though I may get trashed for this, but I really think the Oil have a bit of a pickle in net, this makes me think of 2010 when the Oil signed Martin Gerber to a one year deal and he was called up cause Khabibulin was injured (quelle surprise) and he played really well, and was far better than Dubnyk, but because of roster size and I guess Waivers, they couldn’t send down Dubnyk or ‘Bulin. This is a similar situation now weirdly.

    Essentially based on performance so far, I would say Nilsson (despite my feelings towards Swedes) has been the best and has given something the Oil haven’t had in steady goaltending. I know it’s preseason and stuff, but Talbot and Scrivens haven’t been so convincing and Nilsson has been pretty good.

    I would go so far and say that the Oil should go with Nilsson/Talbot and see how he handles the proper season, a team always plays better when they can trust that their mistake won’t cost them a goal, as they play nervous otherwise if that makes sense.

    • bazmagoo

      “Im starting to not dig this whole “optimistic” feeling I keep having about the Oil, it’s weird to think of having like proper NHL players on the 4th line ?!? Like all three are NHL quality, Its been a while since its been like this.”

      I’m comfortable with all 3 players on the 4th line moving up in the lineup temporarily. As well I’m comfortable with Klinkhammer, Gazdic, Miller, Slepyshev and Pitlick to fill in for injuries. Agreed, it’s a weird feeling!

  • bazmagoo

    Pete Chi, wanted the team to play a so called
    “heavy game” !. Please tell, who on the top 3 lines plays that heavy game…. maybe Pouliot to a degree. On defense you have Gryba.

    This is still a very soft team.Dont care of fast and skilled you are, you can’t do too much when you are dusting the snow off your pants most of the night.

  • oilslick

    I don’t think that we should get to excited about Schultz’s game just yet, that being said he has taken some strides forward in his overall game and might thrive under a coach that actually knows what he’s doing. I wouldn’t get to bent out of shape on how he played 3 on 3 there will be a lot of players who don’t know what do in that situation early on.