22

The New Second Line

The 2016-17 season has been a breakthrough year for the Edmonton Oilers as a team, but at the individual level a number of veterans have had underwhelming years. That includes all three members of the club’s current second line: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle.

There’s been a shift the last few weeks, though, as all three are starting to produce for the Oilers.

Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle has six and seven points respectively in their last eight games. Lucic has six points in his last nine. Critically for Lucic four of those points have come at even-strength; prior to this latest run he’d needed 30-odd games to record his last four even-strength points.

The increased production mostly corresponds with head coach Todd McLellan’s decision to unite the three players on a single line. They’ve been basically full-time partners over the last five games, and saw some time together in the couple of games before that.

“Nuge and Ebs have played a lot in the past, and [we] looked at Looch’s size on that line and somebody that will go to the net for them,” he explained in his availability on Monday. “They’ve gelled well, they’ve played well together over the last three weeks. For us to have success moving forward they’re going to be a pretty important line for us, so we hope that they can continue to play the way they have.”

The line certainly played well against Detroit, but this is more the start of a new trend than it is the continuation of an old one.

We might start with the shot clock. Edmonton has turned things around impressively in terms of puck possession this season—after years of getting shelled by shot attempts, this year the Oilers are an upper-third NHL team by any metric. Against the Red Wings, Edmonton’s second line was a big part of that, winning the Corsis by a 20-10 margin.

That wasn’t the case previously.

At the start of the month, McLellan ran 27/93/14 together for parts of four games. They were out-Corsied 53-32 and outscored 2-0. Understandably, the coach then took the line apart.

But he went back to it after just a few games of total separation, playing it sparingly (an average of four minutes per game) over the first two contests of the Oilers’ six-game road trip before committing to it full-time again. Over that road trip, the line took a 2-0 edge in the goals department but was meh on the shot clock (38 attempts for, 39 against) despite a steady diet of offensive zone minutes.

In all, despite that great Detroit game tipping the scales, the line has been even by goals (3-3) since it was put together at the start of February. The opposition has held a 102-90 edge in shot attempts during its run.

The question then is whether the game against the weak Red Wings was a sign of things to come, or a one-off, and I don’t know the answer. Most of a month isn’t a particularly long time, and 10 shot attempts worth of difference can be made up quickly. One more game like the last one would do it.

What is certain is that Edmonton’s coaches need to find a second line that works during this run of home games in March. The playoffs are right around the corner and the roster is set; this is the final opportunity to fine-tune the lineup and get it operating at maximum potential. If Lucic, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle can bring out the best in each other, it will be a major item removed from the to-do list.

RECENT POSTS

  • McRaj

    If Lucic-Nuge-Ebs can produce like we know they can, the Oilers look have a second line as good as any in the league to compliment a first line that is without a doubt as good or better than any line in the league. I have a feeling that this is a line that can produce in the playoffs as Lucic is going to be a monster in the post-season and Eberle will finally have something to play for since World Juniors.

  • Spydyr

    After the first round of the playoffs the pace of play slows down. This is one reason why Lucic is better in the playoffs. Eberle is not the most fleet of foot either. Hopefully the Oilers can get into the second round and further.

  • freelancer

    “3 of the Oilers top 6 players are having career low years.” If you said that was going to be the case to someone at the beginning of the year they would probably assume that means another no playoff year. It’s incredible that the Oilers are in 2nd in the division despite that fact. If that line continues to be a 6-7 point producer over a 10 game stretch that will be a huge boost.

  • TKB2677

    The fact that the Oilers are where they are today and they have done it largely with both Nuge and Eberle especially being lousy should be applauded. For me, while I of course want more offense from Lucic, the fact that he isn’t lighting it up doesn’t totally shock me. If you look at his stats, he’s a 20 goal, 50 pt guy offensively who physical play, intimidation, board work, goes to the net, big, tough, nasty, brings leadership and experience. For the most part he’s done that. He will probably end up with high teens in goals and mid 40’s in pts. Maybe a little off but not horrible. He’s got a few fights, definitely is a leader, definitely helped change the attitude and culture of the team and will be close to 200 hits. I personally think that next season he will be a lot better. If you look at Sekera. His first year he was OK, this past season for the most part he’s been excellent. What people forget is these are people. Moving you and your family to a new City, even though he is Canadian, to a new country is a big adjustment for he and is family. It takes people awhile to get familiar and used to your new place to live, new schools. All that life stuff affects a person. No different than when a person starts a new job. It’s pretty rare that you walk into a new job and are instantly a star. It takes you a while to adjust to your boss, new routine, new co-workers. What I like is in the stretch drive when the games matter the most, Lucic is finding his game. I was at the Detroit game and Lucic was a force and if not for Mrazek being excellent, he has a couple of goals.

    In the case of Nuge and Eberle I am surprised at how lousy they have been. They don’t have the distractions of moving to a new City. They know what to expect with the media. They have the same coach and GM. They aren’t learning a new system. They aren’t learning to play with new linemates.With McDavid back, healthy and being all world, some of the attention will be off of them. They aren’t going up against the Doughty’s anymore, they are up against second pairings. The trading of Hall I felt was something that needed to happen but it should have been a shot across their bow. They along with Hall were the big 3 for a lot of years. Their buddy got traded and it should have said to them. Enough is enough, you need to be better or you are gone as well. I fully expected them to be very good and they haven’t been close. But in saying that, I hope and pray that they are starting to come around and will take off. I am very curious to see what Nuge and Eberle do in the playoffs. Those 2 are used to being big game players. Eberle scoring big time goals in WJC. They have never tasted the playoffs before. I think we Oilers fans have been relatively subdued at games, people saying how quiet it is. Well 10 yrs of getting your head kicked in and bad things happening will make any fan gun shy and are nervous expecting something bad to happen because that’s how its been. But I feel that we fans are just dying to explode. We have 10 yrs of being a laughing stock to let out and in that first playoff game, PCL better go around and tighten up those bolts because that place will rock. Nuge and Eberle I am sure heard about how the building was in 2006 but until you experience it, you have no clue. I hope that when the building is full 30 mins before puck drop and the roof to their dressing is shaking, that it will be the shot in the arm that Nuge and Eberle need to get back to where they used to be.

  • Twitch

    I will admit I have been very hard on Lucic this year while being also very unceremoniously easy on RNH(his two-way play has been great) but to see all 3 flying at this time of year makes me take back all the bad thing I’ve said. The best players know the right time of year to catch fire and this turn around for them right when the Oil are battling for 2nd in the division or maybe even 1st if they can win the last 2 games vs. the Sharks is a very good sign for the upcoming playoffs wherever we end up seeded.

  • S cottV

    It would be huge to have the 2nd line continue to produce, but I have my doubts. Red Wings hockey matches up pretty well with Nuge and Eberle. The key is to produce with net positive offense.

    Also – good start for Desharnais but not sold on a 5ft 7in 3c.

    Keeping McD and Drai together – hinges on these guys all coming through.

  • Total Points

    Nuge and Eberle will never produce offensively as in the past.

    They now have to play a playoff style 200 foot game so their offense will be not as good.

  • OilCan2

    The new site is OK. So is the new second line. I’m also liking the boost from the D in getting some points on the board.

    If I remember correctly we started our previous dynasty by sinking the Isles. Let’s do that tonight.

    • TKB2677

      Well if what you say is true and Eberle can’t score like he used too, then you need to dump him as fast as you can. Eberle is getting paid 6 mill to be a guy that scores at least high 20’s in goals and 60 pts. He’s not big, strong, physical or tough. He’s never going to be a complete player. He’s not a guy who can shut down other teams. He’s a streaky scorer so if he’s not scoring, he’s not doing anything for your team.

    • Wintoon

      It would appear that the Oilers may have actually done something right in terms of developing a young player. Not perfect mind you because they have blown some time on his entry level contract when they didn’t have to.