New line combos…

Connor McDavid’s injury and Jordan Eberle’s return to the lineup has forced Todd McLellan to change his top two lines.

In practice, Eberle skated on the right side with Leon Draisaitl and Taylor Hall, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins slid into McDavid’s spot in the middle of Nail Yakupov and Benoit Pouliot.

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Losing McDavid hurts, but the return of Eberle and the emergence of Draisailt softens the blow a bit. The Oilers’ top-two lines still consist of skilled forwards. The Oilers don’t have to promote AHL scorers like Marc Arcobello or others to play above their head in a top-six role in the NHL like they did in the past, and that is a testament to the Oilers finally having some depth.

Moving RNH between Pouliot and Yakupov makes a lot of sense. He is their best centre and the Hall line will likely face the top-pair defenders. It will make life more difficult for Draisaitl, but I believe these two combos give the Oilers the most balance.

It would have been risky to move Draisailt between Yakupov and Pouliot. Yakupov’s play away from the puck has improved, but he and Draisaitl as a combo could have led to some defensive zone adventures. Better to let both of them continue to develop and mature on separate lines.


  • Ten minutes into practice McLellan blew his whistle and then ripped into his players for not working hard enough in a drill. He encouraged them to shoot the puck from the bleeping slot and get in front of the bleeping net and score. He refuses to let this group become complacent. Consistency is still their biggest challenge most nights, and he believes that consistency will only come from practicing fast, hard and intense.
  • He has to break some of the players’ bad habits, and it will take time, but he won’t let up and the players have responded. I love that he focuses on shooting to score. It is an offensive mindset, and lack of effort or attention to detail in the offensive zone is just as egregious as doing it in the defensive zone. I’m glad he is constantly reminding his team to bear down in the scoring areas.
  • Hendricks/Letestu/Purcell were still a line, while Lander was centering Gazdic, Miller and Pakarinen. Those three were rotating on both wings.
  • The PP units had: Hall, RNH, Eberle, Purcell and Klefbom on one unit. This gives the Oilers two right shots on the first unit and will allow them to line up more one-timers if needed, but the PP has been rolling for the past two weeks.

    Yakupov, Draisaitl, Pouliot, Letestu and Sekera were the second group.

  • The D pairs looked the same, and if that is the case Mark Fayne will sit out a third straight game. If he and Ference sit out again, the Oilers will have $13.675 million in the pressbox/AHL.
  • I thought McLellan would go back to Talbot tomorrow, but he said this morning he is “leaning” towards Nilsson tomorrow night. He also said he would watch the rest of the Penguins/Canucks game before deciding on his D corps..

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    • Tys35

      I disagree with going to Nilsson next game. I don’t disagree that Talbot is to blame for that final goal against Calgary, but if Talbot was indeed brought in to be a starting goalie, which his body of work thus far would indicate, he needs to get back in the net. Shouldn’t be demoting a player for one bad mistake. Only going to hurt his confidence, and a goalie’s confidence is arguably the most determining factor in his play. The Calgary game was his worst of the season, yes, but he has been very solid up to that point and needs to be given the opportunity to get back to the game he was playing before that night.

      • A-Mc

        What does it do to a goalies confidence when he gets a W but the coach still benches him to get Talbot back in?

        Reading the players confidence level is part of a coaches duty; Its pretty hard for fans to speak against a coaches decision when we dont see the players every day (or ever, for that matter).

        • Tys35

          You’re not wrong, that’s definitely a fair point, but I think to this point, Nilsson knows he is the backup. He won against Vancouver (I believe) and din’t play next game. It’s part of a backup’s job. And you are correct, obviously I’m not in the room, but I am a goalie and I am both a coach and goalie coach, and I do understand goalies and how confidence works for them; obviously it’s different for each player, but the standard rules apply.

          • Jay (not J)

            They’re both in the same contract situation. I’m not sure based on this season’s limited body of work that Talbot is so locked into the #1 slot that Nilsson can’t steal it from him. The best thing for the Oilers is an intense fight for the job that lasts from now right through to about the trade deadline when presumably, one of the two will be resigned and the other traded.

      • Ready to Win

        Not that his bad performance that night should put him in the doghouse forever, but Talbot did not just make one bad mistake against Calgary. At the bare minimum he gave up two goals that were really awful (the non-icing and the Scrivens-like mishandling of the puck behind the net).

    • Eulers

      I like the idea of the goaltenders starting every other game regardless of play. As someone suggested a few days ago it is a way to beat the mental fatigue of being hung out to dry 4 to 5 times every game. 1A and 1B for the rest of the year, maybe a clear cut number one will emerge for next year.

    • NJ

      Play the goalie that wins. It’s healthy tonhave competition and at this point, if Nilsson is better, play him… Heck, they both have 1 year contracts.. Resign the best guy. We always pee and moan about not icing the best line up, why go with a goalie who isn’t winning. Talbot allowed not one but two stinkers against the Flames. He needs to think about it from the bench, especially with the Oil winning.

      For the record, I think Talbot is the better goalie, but only if he’s razor edge focused.

    • Maverick

      Now we are going to see the impact of McDavid on Hall and Drai. I haven’t seen the breakdowns, but from watching the games, it seemed like the primary defensive focus was on McDavid’s line, which meant Hall and Drai were not facing top defensive pairs every night. Now they obviously will. Good luck to them.

    • Wendy01

      Our top line were playing amazing last game, i really don’t know why you wouldn’t ride that into tonights game again.

      Will be interesting to see how McLellan handles the matchups.

    • Maverick

      Talbot was not given the job , it was a great opportunity for him to be the #1. Just as in Calgary , someone needs to grab the net and go. You cannot play favorites with goalies , there I svery little moving up and down the line up , you are either in or out, cant just move you around. Talbot will win it eventually but if Nilsson pushes him all the better. Someone get on a roll of .915 or better.

      • Tys35

        Absolutely, I don’t disagree that he was given the job. But if you look at the body of work Talbot has played, it would suggest he has been given the starter’s role TO THIS POINT. My only argument is that I disagree with giving up on a player or demoting him after one game, that is all

    • NJ

      I’m not an NHL caliber coach, but if I was I’d reunite Pouliot, Nuge, and Eberle. It forces Nuge to elevate his play while giving him familiar linemates to do so. I would imagine they’d fall right back into old habits pretty quick.

      That would also draw attention for the Pens to key in on. Then having Hall, Draisati, Yak on the second line would keep the Hall, Draisaitl chemistry going while allowing to let Yak continue to play the game he’s been successful at: finding open ice and taking shots from the passes of the play driver. in this case Hall.

      Yak also has always played well with Hall, while statistically he plays like crap with Nuge.

      I give it all of half a game before McLellan either goes back to the classic Pipe line, and puts Draisatil down with Yak and Pouliot. Or goes back to the Nuge Hall Drai line, and promotes Lander up to centre Pouliot and Eberle, thus short changing Yak yet again.

        • Tys35

          Good point. I would say yes, except any line with Hall is going to go in one direction of play. Also, Draisaitl is not the same timid player that was trying hard not to screw up under Eakins last year. Also he wins more draws than McDavid and is better at protecting the puck.

          And finally, Yak is also not the same trying not to do anything wrong under Eakins player he was last year. He is playing a simple game that involves a good forecheck, a decent back check, and then a lot of finding open ice.

          But more than that, it’s about having the best two lines, as oppose to one good line and one struggling line.

          Anyway, it remains to be seen, but that is just my take.

      • Randaman

        Yak needs to show he can play well with anybody like most #1 picks can, don’t you think? Sorry, not sold on Yak yet. We’ll see how good he is without #97.

        The time is now Yak. Run with it and prove yourself

        • camdog

          Hall couldn’t play with McDavid…

          Yak has done well when paired with NHL calibre centres, McDavid, Roy and Horcoff, however he has struggled playing with AHL centres.

          At the beginning of the season I believed that LD could play the wing at the NHL level and succeed, however I wanted him to succeed at the AHL level at centre for this exact scenario. Nobody knows if LD is ready to play centre at the NHL level, we will all know pretty soon though.

          • Randaman

            Well, Yak couldn’t or hasn’t played well with Nuge so are you calling Nuge an AHL Center?

            He has to learn to be more than one dimensional is all I’m saying

            Oh, and he has to hit the net way more often

            • camdog

              I can remember 3 -4 games in 3 years where they have played together, I don’t mind trashing Yak’s game, he has problems, I just don’t like it when people make things up to get their point across.

            • Randaman

              You mean like how Hall and McDavid were split up after 6 games or so?


              I’m not intending to trash Yak at all, just pointing out that he needs to step up and live up to his perceived potential because at this point it is only perceived, not proven

        • camdog

          There are those in the camp who think his development was badly mismanaged, and those not in the Yak camp who think he has to prove himself.

          Likely both camps have a good point.

          I’m just going from what has worked for him in the past, and what gives the team the best chance to win.

          I don’t think this is the time where the top six is arranged to make Yak prove himself. I think this is the time the to six is arranged to cover McDavid’s injury and keep the Oilers relevant through November where they only get to play at home 3 times.

          But, as I said before, I am not an NHL coach. Shocking I know.

    • Leaking5w-30

      So Leon leads the league in points per game. I know he had only played three games and that the numbers are unsustainable. I just want to enjoy it while it lasts.

      Dria for Calder!

    • Spoils

      I really like Lander playing on the 4th line. Ultimately, if all goes according to plan, Lander will only have access to the 4th line roll as a center.

      It’s good to see how he performs there.

    • The Future Never Comes

      Gregors segments always resemble the most informative discourse that the fans care to read. Such as how Todd handles his practices. Unlike that negative number crunching Willis.

    • Eulers

      What is God’s name did Fayne say to get in the doghouse beyond one game? Must have repeated Marincin’s line from last year…

      Oiler’s D-deployment is like the Republican race: up is down and down is up!

    • Randaman

      The d pairing keep being ignored. The most pressing questions that need answering for this club are on the blueline.

      Can Nurse continue to earn his spot? Will Kelfbom rise to the level he was at last year, will Reinhart continue his strong play, can Davidson keep improving and hold his spot? If we can start playing .500 of better hockey, what does that say about Schultz’s roll with the club?

      It is our blueline that needs work and with all the vets taking a seat the test is now. Our success depends as much on these guys as it does on McDavid’s absence or forward line combos.

    • JuicyKillerWhale

      The defence is functioning fine without Shultz, that just goes to show that he really isn’t needed on our back end. The best option would be trade him. I’m not say trade him right this time but he isn’t needed on this team, he hasn’t been stellar offensively or defensively and all he does is make the team more expensive.

    • Anton CP

      A coach who actually parctice hockey play during the practice and yell at them for not being responsable on their assignment. It is something different from our last coach…huh, can’t seen to remember who was that.

      Hall-Drais-Ebs line maybe something he saw during his Canada gold touney. Drais seems more settle in with Hall and Ebs have great chemistry for playing together with Hall for many years.

      I’m not too sure with Nuge-Yak, they have not showing good chemistry before. Maybe things are different this time around.

    • Oiler Fan 16

      Yak-Nuge may have a decent chance to succeed than before. Yak has settled down more when he has the puck and wins more puck battles. He also seems to be hitting the net for a nice change.

      McDavid gave him good puck support and offered easy exit passes to him. Nuge will need to move out of the d-zone quicker than he has recently to improve his transition to offense.

      Nuge needs to recognize when a puck battle is being won and get to offense quicker. Last couple years we won zero puck battles, so I know he is still nervous to transition too early, but he has the tools.

      Now he has to trust his wingers and d-men to win those battles and get moving up the ice quicker. I think he will and success will continue for him.

      That is what McDavid has brought that makes every other player on the ice better. His presence somehow pressures the other players to win their battles because they see the chance for success (points, plusses, bigger contracts, wins) if they do.