With a 0-2 record and just one (fluke) goal to show for those two games, the Edmonton Oilers need to start finding ways to put the puck in the back of the net when they face the Dallas Stars in Texas tonight. I know, thanks for the insight, tips.
To that end, coach Todd McLellan will change up his lines again against the Stars, notably putting Nail Yakupov alongside Connor McDavid to kickstart an attack that’s produced 55 shots but just that lone goal – an own-goal by St. Louis credited to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – in a 3-1 loss to the Blues and a 2-0 loss to the Nashville Predators.
At the same time, Yakupov, still looking to carve out a niche among Oiler forwards as he begins his fourth NHL season, could do himself a world of good in terms of making a positive impression with his new head coach by getting something done alongside McDavid.
Framed in that, what we’ll see tonight is a perfect example of circumstance intersecting with opportunity. From where I sit, I can’t imagine better timing or a better situation for Yakupov to begin to put his up-and-down tenure with the Oilers in the rear-view mirror and gain a foothold.
What will he do with it?
IT MAKES SENSE
This isn’t about “giving” Yakupov anything, as the more hardcore residents of Yak City have been prone to demand in the past — no matter how well, or poorly, their man has been playing. The cries about Yakupov getting screwed over by this coach and that coach are tired and old, and usually without merit based on his overall play.
This is about putting Yakupov, who has had plenty of jump and has done some diligent work hustling into the corners and retrieving pucks in his first two games, a look beside McDavid because he’s played well and, given their respective styles of play, because they might be a match.
With Jordan Eberle out until November and McLellan still trying to get a feel for his forwards and looking for combinations that work, he’s still using pencil rather than ink as he tries to get things sorted. That won’t change no matter what happens against the Stars tonight, but a good showing, reason suggests, will mean another look when the Blues come calling at Rexall Place Thursday. A little rinse and repeat and maybe Yakupov turns a corner – in terms of his own confidence and with his new coach — here.
Yakupov has been a tough player to fit for his coaches, mainly because he tends to dash and dart all over the ice with less-than-great regard for what wing he’s playing and because his defensive awareness has at times been lacking, as is the case with most young offensive-minded players. Still, I, like many of you, see potential for a fit with McDavid.
FINDING THE MATCH
McDavid is, first and foremost, a guy who likes to carry the puck. He’s a transporter of the rubber who can draw defenders with speed and then either deal the disc or take it to the net if he gets a step on a defender. I wanted to see McDavid with Taylor Hall because they brought a double-dose of giddy-up to the table, but they’re too much alike and didn’t get much done.
Yakupov is a completely different animal. He’s a shooter who seems better suited to a give-and-go situation. He’s not an end-to-end guy because he doesn’t have the top-end speed to flat-out blow by opponents. Get the puck, move it and head to open ice. Get open. Take the shot. This, we know.
On paper – there’s a jinx if ever there was one – Yakupov with McDavid makes sense. Of course, that’ll go out the window in a hurry in Dallas if that doesn’t translate on the ice because going 0-3 in the Oiler graveyard that is Texas with the Blues and then a date in Calgary on deck is no way to start the season.
The way I see it, with Eberle out of the line-up and the equation for at least another 10 games, Yakupov’s greatest window of opportunity as an Oiler begins tonight. What he does with it will go a long, long way in the mind of McLellan as to where he fits, or doesn’t, going forward.
Let’s see what you got, kid.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- Hall didn’t take the morning skate in Dallas today. Word is he’s ill and his status for tonight will likely be a game time decision. The top two lines at the skate in Hall’s absence had Benoit Pouliot with Nugent-Hopkins and Teddy Purcell and Lauri Korpikoski moving up to play with McDavid and Yakupov.
- It looks like Brandon Davidson will draw in on the blue line while Griffin Reinhart will sit for a second straight game. Davidson is a terrific young man and a wonderful story, but I didn’t see anything in Reinhart’s first outing (against St. Louis) that justifies having him take a seat in the press box yet again.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.