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Todd McLellan Talks About the Oilers’ Struggles, Leon Draisaitl, and Changing the Lines

I don’t think I have to tell you guys that last night’s loss was not only stressful but also seemed to trigger the Nation’s sense of doom and gloom. Needless to say, we’re not an overly positive bunch at this point. This morning, Todd McLellan spoke to the press about the loss to Montreal, Leon Draisaitl’s recent struggles, and whether or not he was going to change the lines for tomorrow night’s game against Dallas.

I’m always interested to see what head coaches say the day after big losses. I find it interesting to see what their approach will be and whether or not they’ll critique their team or try to be supportive and encouraging. Todd McLellan chose the latter as he seemed to steer the conversations towards the positive things that are happening with the team rather than pile on them for another lacklustre performance like the rest of us are doing. Let’s break it down.

WHAT HE SAID

When asked about how things are going right now, McLellan gave an honest review but immediately looked for positives as he finished his thought.

“They’re not going great. They’re not going the way we want as far as results but if you look at a few of the games on the homestand I thought we played quite well.”

T-Mac specifically pointed to the games against Detroit and Pittsburgh as positive points that the Oilers can build from as a means to get out of this slump. I’m not saying that I disagree with him — the Pittsburgh game was fantastic to watch — but they weren’t exactly world beaters against Detroit and were lucky that the offence was able to carry them through. That was not the case against Montreal.

“Last night, our execution wasn’t where it needs to be.”

That seems like an understatement to me. Last night’s game was gross to watch and the Oilers were completely outclassed by Montreal. Games like that shouldn’t happen for a team that is pushing for home ice advantage. That said, I understand why he wouldn’t want to kick them while their down. Moving on…

“Panic and apprehension (aren’t) going to help our group.”

While I completely agree that the Oilers shouldn’t panic about where they are at, I do think they need it’s imperative that they find a sense of urgency. They need to truly understand that they have a serious chance of blowing this playoff push unless they can turn it around. I’m not saying that they need to panic, but they do need to at least show up like they want to be there.

“We gotta learn to navigate our way through the ups and downs.”

Keep an even keel. Got it. That could also be a nice way of saying they were hot garbage against the Habs, but maybe that’s just me. What else?

“I know the veteran players that have been through it before are saying and doing the right things.”

I’m always curious what a quote like this means. I mean, what are the veterans doing exactly? Is Milan Lucic walking around the dressing room telling guys to play better? Does he have his giant wing wrapped around the shoulder of his younger teammates and telling them that everything is going to be okay? Is this the, “it’s not your fault” moment? If you guys had to guess, what do you think the veterans are doing to get this thing back on the rails?

Anyway…

When asked about tomorrow’s game against Dallas, and whether or not this is a good matchup for the struggling Oilers, McLellan avoided any doom and gloom.

“Tomorrow is an opportunity for us. We parked last night’s game and we look forward.”

Annie? Is that you? You can bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun? Totally.

On Draisaitl’s Struggles

If you’ve been watching the games lately you’ve likely asked yourself what’s up with Leon Draisaitl. Is he injured? Tired? Feeling down? Regardless of what the answer actually is, I think it’s fair to say that Draisaitl doesn’t look like himself right now. He’s not the dominant force that he has been and the slump couldn’t have come at a worse time. When asked about it, Todd McLellan offered the following:

“A little bit of his play, I think, is based on fatigue. He’s played more hockey than probably anybody in the league. He went, prior to the World Cup, over to Olympic qualifiers – he started his season in August. (He) went to the World Cup and has played a lot of minutes lately.”

Draisaitl has definitely played a lot of hockey this year, and I wonder why McLellan doesn’t ease off his minutes during games if he believes that Leon is that tired? Draisaitl has played over 20 minutes in six of their last 10 games with a high watermark of 23:30 in Friday’s game against Pittsburgh.

“The biggest thing we can do for him right now is rest him both physically and mentally.”

Draisaitl wasn’t at the optional practice this morning and I guess giving him days off between games is alright, but if he truly is tired I wonder if it would also make sense to make a bigger point of monitoring his minutes. Yes, I know that’s easier said than done, especially when the team is struggling and needs to score.

What else did he say?

“We believe that he’ll get back to where he was before.”

I hope McLellan is right, and I think he’s right, but it also matters what Leon Draisaitl thinks. Confidence is a tricky mistress in professional sports and the Oilers need to do whatever it takes to help Big Sexy 2.0 start feeling better about his game.

“He’s hard on himself right now and I think that sticks with him a little bit longer than maybe it should.”

Going back to what McLellan said about veteran leadership, I think that this is one of those times when a guy like Looch needs to sit with Leon and talk to him about trusting his instincts. Maybe the words would carry more weight if Lucic was having a better overall season, but he’s playing well right now and maybe there are some tips he could offer about what he did to get out of it? I mean, that’s the kind of leadership Katz is paying for, right?

“In the form of a slump… if we’re just going by point production that can be dangerous. It’s the actual input into the game and whether you’re generating chances or opportunities, and (Leon)’s still doing that but not at the same rate he was before.”

From where I blog, I see a player that’s fighting the puck a little bit right now and the Oilers should be doing anything they can to try and get Leon’s confidence back. Does that include changing the lines to get him some “easier” minutes? Not necessarily.

On Changing the Lines

One thought that I’m sure we’ve all shared is the idea about the Oilers changing up the lines to try and get something going. When asked about it, McLellan said:

“It’s been talked about and debated a lot. It’s often done to get players going yet we think that we’ve had some good hockey out of Nuge, Ebs, and Milan as a group right now.”

While I agree that the EberNucic line is playing well, I don’t know that that means you can’t do anything to the rest of the lineup. If Todd wants to keep Connor and Leon together that’s fine, but what about rotating someone else in on the left wing? Patty Maroon has one goal in his last 11 games and I wonder if he might benefit from seeing some softer defensive pairings a little bit lower in the lineup? Would it make sense to switch Lucic and Maroon for a minute?

“To take what they’ve repaired and break it up… maybe we’re going to end up trying to help more players than we are right now.”

Alright, I get that. I understand why McLellan wouldn’t necessarily want to play with the one line that is actually producing consistently, but there has to be other options?

“We’re debating on whether we move a couple of players around.”

What does that mean and who are we talking about? If the EberNucic line isn’t changing then who’s going to be moved? Pouliot? Caggiula? What are you really saying here?

“We’ll likely give this group an opportunity again.”

Oh.

“It’s not for lack of chances. They’re creating them but they’re just not finishing them. If we were at the other end of the scale where nothing was going on then we’d be a little more concerned.”

I guess that’s fair enough, and it worked for the EberNucic trio, but I do wonder how long he’s willing to wait around for people to get going. We’re only 14 games away from the end of the season and it’s not like there’s a whole lot of real estate left to play with. While it may not necessarily be time to knock on the panic door just yet that doesn’t change the fact that we’re standing in the driveway.

  • Stack

    I feel that McLellan has been trying to drive home the strategy of “get shots to the net and clean up the garbage” but the execution is not there. Oilers need to score some greasy goals tonight against Dallas.

  • toprightcorner

    The Oilers have been able to avoid long losing streaks this season and that has allowed them to be in the position that they are in. I am confident that this losing streak will end against Dallas and they will start a new winning streak. Every time the Oilers have 3-4 rough games, they come back with a strong 10 games. One 4 game losing streak turned into a 5-2-3, a 0-3-1 streak turned into a 6-2-2 streak so after a bad run, one they get that next win, they get their confidence back and go on a tear. Thy can easily go 5-2 in their next 7 games.

    Oilers are only 3 points back of ANA with a game in hand and Gibson is now injured, Oilers are in a prime spot to pass them over the next 10 days.

  • toprightcorner

    Everyone needs to stop being worried because of the Flames hot streak because what they do doesn’t necessarily matter. Oilers need to focus on ANA, STL and LAK.

    Oilers are 3 pts behind ANA with a game in hand and with Gibson injured, they have a chance to pass them over the next 5-7 games. They play ANA twice more this year, so those games will make a difference.

    The Oilers are 7 pts ahead of LAK and they play each other 3 more times. If the Oilers win 2 of those, they are golden.

    With the easy schedule ahead, the Oilers could easily go 5-2 over the next 7 games, and then will be in a very good position to lock up their playoff spot.

    No need to worry unless LAK get withing 3 pts of the Oilers so keep calm and stay positive

  • toprightcorner

    I agree that Draisaitl looks a bit tired and i think reducing the minutes he plays over the next few games could help. Obviously, it would be nice if the Oilers could get some 2 goal leads to make it easier, but T-Mac can reduce his minutes down to 16-17 minutes for a few games quite easily. Play Kassian up with McDavid for a few shifts a game as he has been playing really well and has the speed, reduce his PP minutes, and give Eberle 3 more shifts a game with McDavid.

    if you can reduce his TOI by 2-3 minutes for the next 4-5 games, Draisaitl will get rejuvenated and be ready for the last 10 games of the season.

  • toprightcorner

    I would NOT mess with the Lucic-Nuge-Eberle line. We have been waiting all season for them to get going and they have been playing extremely well as of late so don’t take any chances of messing that up. It would be manna from heaven if the Oilers could get a consistent scoring line behind McDavid.

    If you want to make any adjustments, give Pouliot some shifts with McDavid as he seems to be coming around after returning from injury, maybe they can find last years chemistry.