Will McLellan remain patient?

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The Oilers are 7-2-1 and in first place in the western conference. This is not a typo. They are actually in first place. Early success can alter one’s expectations, and while the Oilers had a great start, in terms of wins, they still have areas of their game they need to improve.

The good news is they have banked 15 points already, and despite some individual struggles the team is well ahead of where most people thought they would be.

Is it time to make some changes or will head coach Todd McLellan remain patient?

I’m guessing he sticks with the latter for at least another game.

Jordan Eberle, pointless in five games, and Milan Lucic have struggled the past two games. The reality is Connor McDavid also had an off-night in Toronto last night. It’s okay for him to have an off-night, and it’s okay to mention it. We all know he’s their best player, and will be their main driver all season. It was a rare off night for him, but when that happens you’d hope his linemates would pick up the slack.

Eberle needs to produce more, and the same goes for Lucic. It is that simple. When you play with McDavid the expectations are you will produce, and if you don’t, I assume at some point McLellan will switch the  lines. I do wonder if Eberle has a hand/wrist injury. His best asset is stickhandling and lately his puckhandling hasn’t been as crisp as it usually is. 

Through ten games Zack Kassian has been the most consistent right winger. He has 2-2-4, but he’s been very good on the PK, aggressive on the forecheck, smart defensively and he’s added a lot of emotion. I’m not sure you can expect more from him.

He isn’t as offensively gifted as Eberle, but he’s been more consistent thus far. Maybe he’d produce more with McDavid, although he and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have had some great chemistry and McLellan is using them in a checking role at times. If Kassian gets promoted it would most likely be a short-term thing.

Jesse Puljujarvi had a slow start, but he’s looked much better the past few games. He had seven shots on goal last night, and has 14 in his last five games. Once he finds his mark on one-timers his SOG totals will likely increase even more. Puljujarvi has played exclusively with Leon Draisaitl and they had a strong game last night, but if you move him up with McDavid he’ll face much more difficult competition.

Do you really want an 18-year-old winger, with only eight NHL games, playing against the other teams top defenders? He only has two points playing against easier competition, and I’m sure McLellan would rather let his young Finn gain confidence than throw him in the deep end against Ryan McDonagh, Travis Hamonic and Kris Letang for the remainder of the road trip.

Earlier this season when Nugent-Hopkins’ line wasn’t scoring, McLellan kept his lines together, and now that Eberle and Lucic are in a drought, I’m not sure he will change them up, at least to start the game.

McLellan has shown he isn’t afraid to switch the lines during the game, and we might see that Thursday against the red-hot Rangers. They dominated the Blues 5-0 last night and crushed a very good Tampa Bay team 6-1 on Sunday. Tomorrow’s tilt will be a very good test for Edmonton.

I can see merit in McLellan keeping his lines together, but the concern is Eberle and Lucic haven’t created any chances the past two games. When RNH’s line wasn’t scoring early on, they were at least producing some scoring chances.

The Oilers played well for long stretches last night, and dominated the shot clock, but the Leafs had more quality scoring chances, despite having 15 fewer shots. The Oilers have settled for outside shots the past two games, and haven’t went to the net often enough.

By a very rough calculation of marking shots down as I watched the game last night, I noticed the Leafs were on average 10 feet closer to the net with most of their shots. (I’m sure someone tracks it exactly, but I’d bet that is close).

BLUELINE FIRING


Part of that is due to the Oilers’ blueline firing at will last night, which is great, but often there wasn’t enough traffic in front and Andersen was able to steer the puck out of harms way rather than struggle controlling the rebound. Every blueliner had at least two shots on goal, while Darnell Nurse had six and Oscar Klefbom had eight.

Clearly, shooting from the point was the Oilers’ game plan, but when your defence fires 22 shots on goal, your shot distance will be further away. The forwards need to go to the net more and create more havoc.

I loved when Nurse walked the blueline on his goal, rather than just shoot from the boards. It was a great play, and another sign he’s getting more confidence every game. Klefbom rang one of the goal post that beat Andersen cleanly, but he didn’t get any puck luck. The Oilers created a lot from the blueline, which is great, but their forwards need to get to the greasy areas more if they want to have some scoring success the rest of the trip.

I’m liking Puljujarvi’s improvement the past few games, but I’m leery of tossing him in the deep end against top D pairs just yet. If Eberle’s slump continues, McLellan might have no choice but to make the move, but if I was going to make a switch on the right side, I’d swap Kassian and Eberle in the short term.

Eberle has proven he can score with RNH. Those two and Pouliot had a lot of success last year, so I could see merit in making that move. However, I probably wouldn’t make it just yet.

McLellan was patient with his second line, and I suspect he will be with his top line, but if Lucic and Eberle don’t get going tomorrow, I could see McLellan juggling his lines with the hopes they will produce like they did in the first five games.

Would you make any line changes?

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    • bazmagoo

      I think the problem with Eberle is entitlement. I’d think switching him up with Kassian for one game could light a fire under him. I wouldn’t mess with the 4th line right now, they actually have chemistry.

    • tileguy

      Lucic is not earning his salary. Why was he signed,
      1- to ride shotgun for 97, he did not do his job last night letting a few Leafs take liberties.
      2- to hold on to the puck down low in the O zone. We saw this in the first couple games but looking less and less interested in flexing his muscle

      3 – to stand in front of the goalie, we seen this a couple times with a wonderful tipped goal but again not enough.

      He has to give us 2 out of those 3 every night to earn his pay, if not this contract is going to look like a boat anchor in a couple of years.

    • Thumby

      I’m liking how the sentiment is coming around to my way of thinking regarding Eberle the last 2 games.

      I would definitely put him down with Nuge and run this for a few games to see if it works once Drake gets back:

      Lucic McD Drai

      Pou Nuge Eberle

      Maroon Drake Kassian

      Letes /Lander / Pit / Puju pick your favourite 3

      That first line is a sick combo of size, speed and skill.
      Line 2 is solid if not a little soft and was our top line 2 years ago.
      Line 3 can match up with most 2nd lines.
      Line 4 has been playing great lately.

      If you are would rather have Drai centre his own line, fine…put Pit or Puju up on line 1 and roll them.

    • Total Points

      Eberle always has been a streak player. His career is something like this. Check it out but I am pretty close.

      1 – 10 game segments at 1 per segment equals 1 goal…
      4 – 10 game segments at 5 per segment equals 20 goals….
      3 – 10 game segments at 3 per segment equals 9 goals…..

      Total 30 goals for year……………….He is on pace to do this. Who could replace him and get 30 goals. Not many 30 goal scorers in the league.

    • McDynasty

      Maroon-McDavid-Kassian
      Lucic-Draisatl-Puljujarvi
      Pouliot-RNH-Eberle
      Lander-Letestu-Lance Pitlick

      Kassian has been recovering a lot of pucks and Maroon is a good finisher.

      Draisatl can slow down the play well enough to give Lucic more chances to be involved in plays.

    • bazmagoo

      I kind of hate to say this, but I think Connor should have stood up for himself with Nazem taking liberties. He could have easily fought back, punched a couple of times (with gloves on) and facewashed a bit.

      We can’t be expecting Lucic to fight all his battles, that’s not the way the NHL works anymore.

    • I’m against the idea of putting lines into a blender, and more of a fan of a slight tweak.

      Swapping Kassian for Ebs makes the most sense to me, because you’ll have instant familiarity on the Pou-Nuge-Ebs line.

      Kassian has decent hands and a decent shot, but can forecheck well, protect the puck well, win battles on the boards, and when opponents play the trap against the Oilers, he can retrieve the puck on dump ins (or at the very least make their D pay after they retrieve the puck).

      I think we can all agree that Ebs is having troubles in all of those areas.

      I think we can all agree that Ebs is a talented player and when he plays the 2nd and 3rd D pairing of the other team, he could potentially have a decent amount of success.

      I’m just thinking about how the other team scouts the Oilers, and looks at our first line and isn’t very concerned about Eberle at this point. But Looch-McD-Kass instantly intimidates their first line, and first line D. Eberle as a second line threat would definitely concern the opponents.