When a team’s go-to guys go away, as they are bound to do from time to time over the course of a season, coaches are left with a couple of choices. They can keep dancing with those who brung ‘em, as in stand pat, or they can change-up the dance card and hope that does the trick. There really isn’t one tried-and-true way that works.

Those are the options facing Edmonton Oilers’ coach Todd McLellan right now after Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a defeat that leaves the Oilers with just one win in their last five games. McLellan did a little bit of both against the Blackhawks at Rogers Place. He stuck with lines that had been struggling to produce goals before changing things up.

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I’m not sure what the long-term answer is as McLellan and the Oilers try to get things sorted out – you can certainly make arguments for going either way – but what isn’t up to debate is that McLellan isn’t seeing nearly enough from the players he leans on to put the puck in the net. He’s been getting a whole lot of nothing from his go-to guys over these last five games, a stretch in which the Oilers have scored just five goals. Change things up to provide a short-term jolt? Sure.

Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, Pat Maroon and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, McLellan’s best six forwards, have hit the scoring skids at the same time, combining for just three goals on 74 shots during this stretch. They can’t put the puck in the ocean off a pier. That’s a whole lot of bupkis from a top end that has been far better than this. So, go back to the old lines and hope they get straightened out or make changes beyond in-game blending – notably separating McDavid and Draisaitl — to generate some zip? You tell me.


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There’s been plenty of talk about the merits, or lack of same, of separating McDavid and Draisaitl of late. Those in the shake-things-up camp believe splitting them up might serve to jumpstart two lines. McLellan was asked about that going into the game with Chicago when he still had them together on the white board and on the ice despite a sputtering attack.

“Most of our offensive opportunities have come through Leon and Connor together,” McLellan said. “We expect Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins and whoever plays with them to get it going a little bit and then that will take a bit of pressure off.” When that expectation didn’t come to pass Saturday, we saw Eberle moved up alongside McDavid and Draisaitl in the middle between Lucic and RNH.

So, what might we see against Arizona Tuesday? What are the options? With everybody in the tank at the same time, it’s not like McLellan can lean on a hot hand or two to throw everybody on their backs and get things moving – at least not based on these last five games, when the Oilers have been outscored 14-5.

  • McDavid, who has 18-43-61 this season, leads the way with 1-1-2 and has 16 shots.
  • Draisaitl, second in team scoring behind McDavid with 20-27-47, has 1-0-1 and 13 shots.
  • Eberle, 11-21-32, doesn’t have a single goal or a point to show for the last five games. He’s had 12 shots.
  • Lucic, 11-19-30, has managed just one assist and seven shots during this stretch.
  • Maroon, 19-8-27, finally found the net again vs. Chicago with the opening goal and has 1-0-1 and 13 shots.
  • Nugent-Hopkins has zeroes across the board and 13 shots in his last five games.


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Of course, all of the blame for this 1-4-0 rough patch doesn’t fall on the go-to guys, but the bulk of it does because scoring goals is what the guys in the top six get paid for. Yes, teams need to find secondary scoring – that’s been discussed plenty of late, too – but it’s difficult to find a spark when nobody on the top two lines is getting much done. McDavid, it goes without saying, is looked upon to be the catalyst, but he’s in a lull, too. It happens.

It should be noted that prior to this five-game skid, the Oilers won four of five games and outscored the opposition 21-10, a stretch that included a 7-3 waxing of the Calgary Flames, a 4-1 win over San Jose and a 4-0 blanking of Anaheim. No shortage of scoring there. Same group of forwards. Yet, here we are in the wake of another punchless loss. So, does McLellan put more weight in this five-game stretch and fire-up the blender we saw late against the Blackhawks or look to the previous five games for answers?

For now, it appears to be the former. At today’s morning skate, the lines looked like this: Maroon with McDavid and Eberle, Lucic with Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev, Drake Caggiula with Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian and Matt Hendricks with Mark Letestu and Benoit Pouliot. So, the short-term jolt it is. We’ll see how long this lasts.



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  • The shot clock hasn’t told the tale for the Oilers in the last 10 games. In the last five games, they’ve outshot the opposition in every game, winning just once. In the previous five games, when they won four times, they were outshot four times.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.


  • Heschultzhescores

    Besides, McDavid, they all need to work harder. Do they not see how much coasting they are doing out there? When you become a hungry team, the goals will come…lazy teams get just what they’re getting. They are lazy, let’s call a spade a spade. It’s like every game they need to be motivated…what happened to self motivation…like Gretz said the other night, He played hard every night! There is the solution, it’s no great mystery. Work and results will follow…and that’s both ends of the ice!

  • toprightcorner

    I would like to see Nuge on the right side with McDavid. Nuge is cheating to defense and ignoring offense. Playing with McDavid will get him skating and moving the puck more offensively. If Nuge gets going offensively then he will help Eberle. Eberle does not create offense for his line, he finishes, so Nuge needs to start creating offense to play in the top 6,he won’t start creating offense by moving him to the 3rd line.

    Getting Nuge playing more offensive is probably the most important thing the team can focus on, that spreads the offense and takes heat of McDavids line.

  • TruthHurts98

    If TM plays Poops on the right side we all might as well bang our heads on a brick wall. Nuge, Ebs and Looch’s work ethics are flat out discouraging and pathetic. Yes they’re in a funk, but work your A$$E$ off until results come back. I can’t stand Ebs and hope he’s gone next year. McDavid can’t do it all himself and if the other lines chipped in the game would open up for him more. If only the other players would work as hard as Connor… if only. TM needs to up his coaching game too, motivation seems to be a reoccurring theme with this team outside of a select few.

  • Bringer_Of_Snow

    Why can’t Eberle take a one timer? It is actually so pathetic. He would have has an extra 30 goals over the last 2 seasons if he could one time a puck without having to dust it off and cradle it first.

    • SSB1963

      I agree with you that if he could take a one timer he would have more. But when you have never done that in your life it is foreign territory. Need to be doing that in practice all the time and then maybe it will come. But definitely would help his game.

  • Natejax97

    They are like a bunch of atom players right now. They all want to win so much but they want it to be easy.

    Other teams are ramping it up and the oilers are leaning back towards skill. Oilers are learning slowly what it’s going to take.

    Grit boys…blue paint grit. And Kane should have been on his backside instead of scoring from behind the net.

    Todd said it well. The Blackhawk players weren’t mad at any oiler players last night. That should tell us all we need to know about our team right now. Good news is we have the pieces to fix this problem, just need to convince everyone not to play pond hockey before it’s too late.

  • Slapshot

    The play of Lucic and Eberle has been brutal this year,you would expect a lot more from these two , Eberle seems to have (Hall) withdrawal syndrome and Lucic on way to many nights just goes through the motions.I would trade Eberle plus to get that right shot d man this team desperately needs. The Oilers are only a few pieces away from being a really good team ,I just hope Chiarelli can make a deal soon the Oilers cannot afford losing many more games as they are losing all the ground they gained at the beginning of the season and it would be a huge disappointment if they missed the playoffs.

  • OilCan2

    My feeling is to spread the talent so I like this latest line shuffle. No matter what the Oilers will start winning games when they face less than super human goalies.

  • Johnnyo

    I’d like to see a game of:

    67 – 97 – 93

    19 – 29 – 14

    27 – 51 – 42

    36 – 55 – 44

    I know it’s not happening given that 51 is in the A again. But that’s where I would have gone in the third last night if I’d been behind the bench.

  • BobbyCanuck

    ‘A few pieces away…’

    No, we are a 2nd line, top RHD, and back-up goalie away, that is very far…

    I posted a few days ago we are 2 losses and 2 games in hand over the Kings away from being in a scrap for a wildcard spot.

    Brownlee refuted me with his points projection to end of season, what he forgot to factor in, was that according to common consensus, each month games get 10% harder to win.

    In a few weeks, the teams fighting above their weight class, will start going into a tale spin, which is exactly what is happening to the Oilers, a tail spin, which turns into a death spiral, which brings us back to discussing lotto picks.

    Due to the parity in the league, and so many teams still clinging to the play-off hope, perhaps it is time to move the trade deadline to March 15th

    No matter my target for this season was 82 points, we can still achieve that

    • I refuted you? You’re either making things up or mistaken. My points projection in the pre-season picks was as follows:

      “Robin Brownlee:

      I have them finishing fifth in the Pacific Division with 84 points.”

      You had 82. I had 84. I don’t see how you think I was at odds with you in our projections. Care to explain?

      • BobbyCanuck

        @Robin, maybe it was not you…I tried going back to look at it. But could not find it

        Anyways it was a points estimate based on our currant standings, not summer-time projections, perhaps after our loss to Minny, before/during our recent 4 losses out of 5 games.

        I was winghing (Aussie slang fro whining) about if we keep playing like this we will miss the play-offs

        You or one of the other journalists on this site was projecting us to finish around 96 points, and assured me it would be next to impossible to miss the play-offs.

        The standing are too tight for the Oilers to go on another 4 game loosing streak

  • Poloismz

    This coaching staff is a joke with how they have handled the forwards this year. Its no wonder the entire roster isn’t struggling outside of Mcdavid, Maroon and Draisatl … oh wait …

    • Rama Lama

      I have to agree a little with this comment, but I would go a little further……….to me it’s more of the system play, or the lack thereof to TM’s system.

      I get the collapsing system moving as a five man unit in all three zones, but the fact the players are still struggling with understanding TM’s system is most confounding. I’m not suggesting that the system cannot work, just that by now everyone should know what the hell it is. More importantly do we have the right type of players to play this system?

      What is blatantly obvious is we need a natural puck moving defence men that can dish the puck to the guy that is moving, not the guy that is standing still………that is on the GM.

  • Oiler Al

    There is no structure on this team. Its every man for himself. This is evident by the way they come to play on the PP and PK.
    The work ethic for a lot of these guys is not in their vocabulary.Coasting and Cup Cakes are.

    All these short comings are in the hands of the coaching staff!!!! yet they do little. Guys in the NHL for 4-5 yrs plus, often cannot make a tape to tape pass, or hit the net from 6 ft. out.Lucic cant make or take a pass. etc etc.

    Excuse the pun, but this is not a well oiled machine.
    Five more games like this and McLellan should be shown the gate, along Woodknob.

  • nuge2drai

    Why not bring up Jesse and let Ebs watch a game from the pressbox.

    In all the years Eberle has been an Oiler he has never been benched.

    This lack of accountability has set the Oilers back.

    While im at it: why is the Drake not in the A?

    Cannot wait to see Khaira back, awesome player.. exactly what the Oiler are missing…

  • Big Jacks Meat

    If we Miss the playoffs , 2 or 3 players will be looking at themselves in he Mirror every stinking day knowing they let down the rest.

    And that wont cut it, I really hope with this roster movement there is a trade coming.

    A message now needs to bent sent.

    Are you listening Nuge , Eberle , Pouliot
    well you are another matter, If you don’t want to be here SPEAK UP The Oilers will accommodate you.
    Secondary scoring , damn you were paid to provide front line power, Give some of the money you make back because you are not earning 1/3 of it.

    I’m done with the old core , 1 is gone and he was the best of this so called core.

  • IRONman

    We need better coach. One that can motivate.

    The Leafs have 3 rookies doing awesome. Why? Coach

    How can 3 rookies on the Leafs for F sake be better in pts vs 27,93 and 14

    That’s 18 million in pay!!!

    There is a coaching problem

    • I am Batman

      How is all the coasting from some of the players the coach’s problem?

      Rookies having motivation comes almost natural: they want to establish themselves in the league, and yes, Babcock is a fantastic coach. That is why he is Team Canada coach consistently.

      But…. if 6 million dollars that these guys make do not motivate them…. what else will? It needs to come from within. Somebody needs to get p…..ed off in that room and have a yelling match.

      Then press box for a couple, just to prove a point… win or lose, the team is in it together.

      If Lucic and Eberle ended up in the press box next game it would be something…. very controversial, and maybe the spark the team needs: there are no untouchables.

  • OldOilerFan

    Back in the day Glen Sather would have guys watch from the press box – Eberle is due for that. IMO I think that “A” on his chest should be stripped off, in a display right in front of the team. He’s got talent but he has choked me with his work ethic this year, not consistent at all.

  • Kepler62c

    Despite the loss, I thought Lander had one of his best games of the year last night. Disappointed he got demoted following a hardworking performance like that.

    • I am Batman

      No points for effort. Especially in a 4 goal differential night. At home. No place for individual performances when the team seemed to be ready to phone it in from minute 12 of the first period.

      And Eberle better be shown the press box…. how much rope do this people have?

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    Taylor Hall was a dear pice to pay for 2-3 defensmen.
    (I begrudgingly agree that Larsson was necessary)

    I just think that trade could have been made with a 3-1 deal.

    Eberle -Nurse and a prospect.

    Trading Hall really messed with the top six.

    • Bringer_Of_Snow

      Im not upset with trading Hall, even though he was my favourite player on the Oilers by far. I was upset with the asset management. Even though the oilers are a better team because of it, its poor asset management. Even if he could have gotten a prospect or 2nd round pick, it would have been better. The same goes for the Reinhart deal. Its a little concerning.

      If you have seen the video of him trading Seguin you’d know what I mean. He asked for Dallas to add a 1st, when they said they didnt have one, he was like “okay”, we have a deal then”.

      I’m worried that he’ll pull a few more of those over his tenure with the Oil

    • Reg Dunlop

      Because Lucic has not really contributed anything, I think trading Hall is the biggest reason that the Oilers presently sit in a playoff spot. Please explain what Hall brings to a team’s success as to this point in his career his teams have had ZERO success.

      Getting Larsson AND cap space for Hall was a GREAT trade. And if Chia can unload Eberle’s contract for anything, even draft picks, he really is a Jedi GM.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Imo, I think the team misses Nurse more than it realizes. Sure he wasn’t without fault but at least he, for the most part, had some crust to his game. Other than Larsson who else hits and is nasty in front of Talbot?

    Nurse can’t come back soon enough, maybe sit Russell more.

  • Oilersrule99

    I’m trying to be positive so I think they will find ways to get points like they did before the all star break but if they can’t make the play offs the most frustrating part will be that we have a whole 2ND line that can’t seem to put up points anymore in the NHL despite being payed as first liners on most teams and to make things worse are all signed for another 3 years .it’s enough to turn you against Nhl hockey and the big contracts signed by Rfa s and Ufa’s with no performance incentives attached . It’s really too bad as the team have played alot more competitive this year ,have good goal tending,a generational player,tougher players in the lineup but when you can’t score goals what can you do?

  • slats-west

    A few thoughts on lines:

    – Poo- party is hit and miss from shift to shift thus he has to at best 3rd if not 4th line

    – the biggest jump I’ve seen from someone who’s been trying to effort his way onto the score sheet has been Slep …. this should be rewarded with 2nd line minutes or perhaps with MCD as he hits hard on forecheck and separates dman from puck often

    – Eberle continues to want to put the puck on a tee every time he shoots. I genuinely feel he thinks he has more skill than the Avg NHL goalie so that’s why he does it… well maybe that works in practice when the dman backs off and gives him time and space … but these days no way that happens. These are all playoff games now there is NO time and space to be had … Eberle has to shoot the puck off a one timer every time. If you play him you have to put Eberle with our best Responsible forward as his position on back check is brutal (see Goal #1 from Blackhawks game) … if it was me and khaira or Puljuvjari were ready I would sit him for 2 games.

    – my lines are:

    42 – 97 – 93

    19 – 29 – Puj/57

    27 – 51 – 67

    36 – 55 – 44

    sit #14

  • Looch#27

    I really do wonder what is going on in that dressing room, you watch the leafs play and it’s always go go go!!! Watch us play and i don’t see that energy and drive. Everyone needs to step it up but TM needs to adapt his systems to his personal or please just retire! He sure looks like a one trick pony with his loading up one line all this talk of benching players makes sense but if your coach can’t coach what’s the difference? Players see the stumbling and bumbling and I’m sure that’s very demotavating. I for one would be more then happy with the continued Bruinization of our team and hire Claude Julien a proven winner what exactly has TM done at the NHL level? Lots of years on a great Sharks team but never getting out of the first round but I guess he’s better then Dallas Eakins :/

  • btrain

    I am not saying Eberle is not accountable, he is. But as the article reads, he is one of several individuals currently not contributing. I just hope that once this franchise gets use to winning again, that we can move away from the goat chasing and stop responding with such panic every time the team faces a little adversity. Only but a couple teams any given season are able to cruise through a regular season without much struggles. The Oilers were awful for the last decade, so not sure why we expect them to be one of those cruising teams already.

    Fact remains that this is a team sport and 5 goals in 5 games is not a Jordan Eberle only problem. Eberle doesn’t keep the top unit power play from scoring goals, he is not part of a struggling PK. He doesn’t hold back the three other lines who are not tasked with playing against the other teams top line. Yes, he is part of the problem, but he is not THE problem.

  • McPucker

    I got trashed a lot for mentioning this before but I figure the Oilers do not and have not been getting quality o-zone shifts. They’ve been getting more o-zone time lately. Mainly from cycling but they lose more puck battles than they win.

    Most of their goals are off pass-bang shots or off the rush. I didn’t watch much of the Chicago game but I’m pretty sure most of the Chicago goals came from the top of the crease and through battling. Oilers need to score more ugly goals. More from inside the slot area.

  • ricardo2000

    This article reminds me of the babling I heard on the TV before the game.

    According to the commentators 1-4-0 is significant, 7-0-1 is significant, but,

    8-4-1 isn’t significant enough to mention.

    Extended over the complete season the record would be:

    50-25-7 for 107 points.

    Just because someone can add-subtract-multiply-divide without taking off his socks does not make him a statistician.

    Statistics only matter if the numbers measure something that matters on the ice.

    Sample size is the next most important. Numbers trend up, and they go down, but eventually the numbers regress to the average, to the mean, if the sample size gets large enough to reveal the actual trend.

    Standard deviation is third. It is a measure of how meaningful the data set might be to the job at hand. Take two sets of numbers, both with an average of 100:

    50 – 100 -150 ,and, 99 – 100 – 101.

    It’s clear that the second is much more useful as a performance measure.