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Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Load up Now…Get depth later

Everyone has their go-to shirt. You know the one. You open your closet, you look at all the options, but often you gravitate to the one shirt. It is your money maker. You love it. It makes you feel great. You look good and when you wear it you’re more confident. Everybody has their favourite shirt. If you have a hot date you wear it. When you are going out with your friends hoping to meet Mr. or Mrs. right, you wear it. It never lets you down. Todd McLellan needs to do the same.

I’ve seen some dry spells in my time, but I can’t recall seeing a team struggle to score like the Oilers this October. Last night, Kailer Yamamoto missed a wide open net. Mark Letestu did everything right on his one-timer, but Matt Murray made a heroic stop with this stick. Patrick Maroon had an open net, made a quick release and his shot hit the shaft of the Penguins defender. Three grade “A” scoring chances and none went in. The Penguins made two good plays, but they were also a bit lucky on those two situations.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, the Oilers would have no luck at all around the net and that is why if I’m Todd McLellan, I reunite Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for Thursday’s tilt versus Dallas.

The Oilers need to get at least one line scoring, and in the final ten minutes versus the Penguins, those two created magic again.

I recognize the need to have two productive lines in the future, but the Now is more important.

The Oilers need some wins. They did play better on the road trip, but they scored four goals. It is hard to win averaging 1.33 goals/game.

McDavid and Draisaitl are one of the most dangerous duos in the NHL, and while it does limit the potential for scoring depth, I’d rather go with what worked last season.

When those two were a tandem the Oilers won, and won frequently.

This team needs to get back on track, and playing those two together is the best bet to fire up the offence. Not only do they produce, but their dominance and puck possession in the offensive zone creates momentum for the other lines.

The moment McLellan reunited them with ten minutes remaining, they dominated. McDavid and Draisaitl work off each other very well. They see things most players don’t and they can read and play off one another.

SCORING LINES

Mar 1, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and center Leon Draisaitl (29) before a game against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, you want scoring depth. It is usually very necessary in the playoffs, but in order to make the playoffs the Oilers need to start winning in October and November. Now is not the time to experiment with other combinations or remain patient hoping the lines will gel. Put McDavid with Draisaitl because you know they will score. They will get some goals, and the team will win, which will build confidence and eventually the scoring will seep down the lineup.

The Oilers haven’t played with the lead in 417 minutes and 51 seconds. That isn’t a typo. They haven’t had a lead since Bo Horvat tied the game seven minutes in the first period in Vancouver on October 7th.

Tomorrow is October 26th. It has almost been three weeks since they played with a lead. Teams chase the game when playing from behind.

The best bet to produce offence tomorrow is to play McDavid with Draisaitl. You can experiment with any combinations you want in lines two through four, but put those two with Patrick Maroon and let them weave their magic.

PARTING SHOTS

The topic of scoring depth for the Oilers is brought up often. Some have suggested that if McDavid and Draisaitl drove their own line, maybe the Oilers defeat the Ducks. They might have. For a few games those two were separated and Draisaitl was great. But I don’t think that cost them. The fact Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle didn’t score one goal between them versus Anaheim was the bigger issue. Darcy McLeod (Woodguy) outlined 2016/2017 teams and their scoring depth in a good article here. The Oilers were 13th last year, which was respectable. But the four players who produced the most away from McDavid in the regular season — Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Benoit Pouliot and Tyler Pitlick — didn’t score a single goal in the playoffs. Pitlick was injured, but the other three hit the skids at the worst time. I’d argue that hurt the team more than loading up McDavid and Draisaitl.

So far this season very few players are producing. It is only eight games, but 15 goals in eight games is ridiculously unproductive. The goaltending and defensive zone coverage was much better on the road trip against three solid teams, but McLellan has to get the offence going. I only see one option that ensures production. I wouldn’t over think it at this point. Get the team going. Get the offence back on track and when the calendar turns to 2018 you can look at finding more consistent scoring depth. They need Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev, Milan Lucic. Ryan Strome and Nugent-Hopkins to get going, but until they do, play McDavid and Draisaitl together because you know they will produce.

I know many were down on Eberle last season. I could understand the frustration, but I warned people they would miss his goals. He wasn’t a perfect player, and his playoffs were far from good, but he’d been a consistent goal scorer for seven years. You don’t just find players who can score 25 goals regularly. I understood the salary cap implications of the trade, but if you only focus on what a player doesn’t do well, you can often overlook the good aspects of their game. Eberle was a productive goal scorer and the Oilers need someone to step up and score. The problem is that is asking someone to become competent and consistent in the most difficult aspect of the NHL: scoring goals regularly. Peter Chiarelli made the move to clear cap space, but he’s yet to replace it. It is completely fair to question his motives thus far. He decided to let give some young players an opportunity to produce, and while it is only eight games, he needs to rectify the situation. He dealt Eberle, so he must find someone who can score.

I caution Oilers fans who compare the 2016 and 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins to the Oilers. It is an unfair comparison. Crosby and Malkin were in the NHL for a decade, and the Penguins added another elite scorer in Phil Kessel which put them over the top. From 2009/2010 to 2015/2016 those three were all in the top-15 point producers over a seven-year span. Of course the Penguins had scoring depth with three elite forwards to play with. But in the regular season Kessel played with Malkin. It was only for the final 10 games and then the playoffs in 2016 where they were each on their own line. The rest of the two years they were on the same line, same as now, so I’d safely say the 2016 playoffs were an outlier for having three productive lines. It worked for a short time, but they don’t do it regularly.

If you want to compare the Oilers to the Penguins, I believe a more accurate comparison is to look at their 2009 team. That was Crosby’s fourth year in the league. In his third season they lost in the Cup finals and then won in 2009. But Crosby and Malkin carried that team offensively all season. In the 2009 regular season Malkin had 113 points and Crosby had 103. Jordan Staal was third on the team with 49. In the playoffs, Malkin had 36 points, Crosby had 31 and then next highest scorer was Bill Guerin with 15 points. The Pens won on the backs of two young superstars who carried the team.

In 2016 and 2017 those two were still good, but they didn’t carry the load. In 2016 Crosby had 85 points and Malkin had 58 in 57 games. Kris Letang had 67 and Phil Kessel had 59. In the playoffs, Kessel led them with 22 points while Crosby had 19 and Malkin had 18. Last season Crosby had 89 points, Malkin had 72 and Kessel had 70. Connor Sheary and Justin Schultz had 53 and 51 respectively. The Penguins had more team depth, no question, than the 2009 Cup winning team. But they won in 2009 off the backs of two dominant stars.

Could the Oilers do the same in 2019? They might, because McDavid and Draisaitl will be in their prime scoring years. In 2026 and 2027 McDavid and Draisaitl likely won’t score as much as they will in 2018 and 2019. If you want to compare the Oilers to the Penguins, then use the 2008 and 2009 teams, not the past two seasons when Crosby and Malkin were veterans with a decade of experience and the team added another elite scorer in Kessel.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Hemmercules

    Not looking good. Reminds me of the old Oilers of the decade of darkness, some nice individual efforts and a bunch of passengers.

    Nuge is no longer an offensive threat at all, he’s just a shut down centre making too much money.

    Looch looked good a couple games this season, other than that he’s a giveaway machine with no finish, hardly ever see him in front of the net.

    Strome. What can you say? Below average player, doesn’t really do one thing really well. He’s new so I’ll give him until Christmas before writing him off.

    Lowest scoring team in the NHL. Seems like everyone got paid and mailed it in.

      • Hemmercules

        I expect too much from Nuge, I will admit that. I like my first overall draft picks getting lots of points.

        Sadly they wont ever move him to the wing and he never seems to land line mates that compliment him. I will actually be surprised if Nuge is still an Oiler by April.

          • Hemmercules

            Someone will want him. If you can Trade Eberle and his zero playoff points, Nuge will be a cake walk. Chia sometimes takes bottom dollar too so its not like the other team necesarily has to give up an equal player.

            Not saying I want him gone. Would just like to see some more offence from him. I have a gut feeling Chia will shop him before the season ends.

  • Druds

    Oh a few wins will stop the whining, but Its beginning to look like PC maybe should have been working a little harder in the off season. I think we all were hoping for a miracle to occur with Yamamoto and Strome and it looks like it aint happening.

    • camdog

      Mact went into season hoping the defence would be successful, PC hopes the wingers will have success. When your GM is hoping for miracles, generally your team ends up having issues.

    • ponokanocker

      I’m thinking they might have hoped that Pulijajarvi might have been ready as well, especially with the Jokinen signing. Either way, it was a lot of hoping that a winger would step up into the top 6 role that was left open with the Eberle trade. Maybe they should have taken a gamble on Pitlick(injury plagued) or Jagr instead.

    • Seriously Bored

      How is it the coachs fault they can’t bury the puck? I blame him for using lucic in ot and the struggles on special teams but 5 x 5 this is 100% on the players.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I agree, I do reluctantly blame Todd McLellan…
      It seems that the team doesn’t have total buy-in… to his system.
      Anyone else questioning Cherry’s comments about “publicly calling out the team effort”?
      Is that an issue that affects a team, or is that just Don being Cherry…?
      That comment seemed to be in concert with lack of effort on the team…
      Coincidence?

      • Glencontrolurstik

        Also, is it me or is the Oilers play ending with Looch a bit too often?
        Me thinks passing practice for him…
        He seemed to pass it to Sheary all night…

    • do you blame McClellan for the Murray stop on Letestu? Do you blame him for Yamamoto missing a wide open net? Or are you implying that if he had someone out there other than those 2 players in that situation, they would have scored?

      • OldOilerFan

        Theres no one single reason why the team is playing the way they are. But IMO, I don’t think we should jump on comments questioning McClellan. He refuses to take a time out. Winnipeg did and they scored twice right after. We shuffled lines producing nothing. Then Lucic out for the 3×3 last night? Gimme a break. I like Lucic for what he was brought in for – let’s not lose sight that we are a tougher team and we don’t get pushed around as much. But he is way too slow for a 3×3.

  • Lucas McDavid

    Frustrating to watch this team right now. They have so much potential, but just can’t quite deliver!
    I agree with you Jason, lets stick with 19-97-29 and get some goals. Talbot’s in the groove now, and they will get some momentum back soon.

  • Clayton

    “The Penguins made two good plays, but they were also a bit lucky.” I must have watched a different game…I can recall more than a handful of good chances the Penguins missed on some good saves from Talbot, but also some missed shots, or bobbled pucks (ie. Kessel on 2-on-1).

    The idea of putting Drai and McD together is smart though. Connor is so much harder to defense against when the Oil have the lead. When the Oil are tied or behind you see other teams play more defensively when Connor is on the ice. Put Drai and McD together and get a lead and force the opposition to open things up more and losen up the D a bit. That will open up more scoring chances for all lines.

  • Roberto

    Too many Favors for the Old boys club this summer (And last)… Signing management and Players who have a connection to the team rather than making the best possible moves to help the club in every way. Maybe this start is Karma for some of those moves. The moves made this summer make the OIL seem like a Mickey Mouse organization.

  • Harry2

    One of the writers here suggested the Oilers go out and get Grabner. I think thats a great idea. Chiarelli isnt the type of GM to sit on his hands so if these struggles continue there will be changes

  • AJ88

    100% agreement with Drai and McD playing together. Yesterday’s lineup left me scratching my head. Malone out, Slep out, Khaira in, Pak in, Draisaitl with Letestu and Lucic in OT. For me it was not a good night for McLellan. Does a sportswriter ever ask a coach how he thinks he handled the game from a strategic point of view?

    • Shameless Plugger

      I wish they (the media) would ask the hard questions. But for some reason they just lob softballs at the coaches and players. It would be nice once in awhile to hear some to the point questions. Hey Todd why would you put Lucic on the ice in three on three? Or why do you constantly juggle lines ? Or why do you take out a player (Malone) whose playing his best hockey in favour of a guy (Khaira) who has no consistency in his game? Or Hey Looch isn’t it imperative you hit the net on a two on one in three on three overtime?

      Something, ANYTHING with even a hint of making it difficult to spit out cliché answer to cliché questions would be welcome. But I won’t hold my breath on it.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    I am 100% behind the idea of having Pat McDraisitl play on thursday vs Dallas. Heck, going by what we saw yesterday, they hadn’t missed a step. However that creates the problem of drying up the offence should that line be shut down. Honestly I feel bad for McLellan. His team is struggling, he’s trying his best to find combinations that work, and nothing is changing.

    Honestly we just need things to start clicking for Edmonton, once that happens, this team will be back to what we saw last year. Sadly, each game passes and it looks less likely. Still, they’re playing well so I’m not too frustrated with the losses.

  • Chris Prongers Rake

    Completely agree, load up that top line and tell the rest of the lines to push the puck to the net, score dirty goals, they don’t need to be fancy, and score first. If they could score first they would play looser, get some confidence and stop gripping the sticks so tight, I still believe its a matter of when, not if.

  • madjam

    Big question going into season was how Oilers would/could cover the scoring they traded and gave away from last year and possibly improve on it . Guess what ? It is not there after allis said and done , nor will it be entire year with current lineup makeup . Jokinen and Strome were busts , plain and simple . Jesse never developed and looking like Yam will not either . Hopkins looks like a 30-40 point player now after 7 years . Lucic looks all the part of a 6+M flop to boot . We are deservedly a last place club with 3 players worth keeping Connor , Leon and Cam . One thing you can readily spot with your eye , is the serious lack of decent NHL players beyond our top 3 .

  • Ryan Jones Is Still My Hero

    We should call up Pool Party. I thought the lines after Yam got switched down to Draisatl’s line were effective. Nuge’s line cycled the puck and I thought Caggiula and Yam complimented Draisaitl well. There were chances but we just had some bad puck luck/Murray stood on his head.

    I think Letestu on McDavid’s line was a necessary move last night, but it means we should call up Puljujarvi going forward. We need an injection of life, and if anybody is going to be motivated to put the puck in the net, it’s Jesse. Moving forward with 1 big line isn’t sustainable, so I think we might as well give him a shot now and keep the big duo apart.

    • Hemmercules

      I don’t understand the love JP gets?? Its it just the name everyone loves or what??? The guy has yet to show he has any offensive prowess in either the NHL or the AHL. He’s still young, let him play out the year where he belongs and hope to the hockey gods he shows something in the AHL and in camp next summer that makes him worthy of NHL time. If he was really that motivated to score dont you think he would have a goal against lesser competition by now in the AHL? Only 5 games so far but still, can’t just call a guy up because he has a good attitude.

      • Ryan Jones Is Still My Hero

        I’m more emphasizing the fact that Letestu is 100% not a first line RW. Puljujarvi is supposed to be that guy, so if we can generate chances with Draisaitl away from McDavid, why wouldn’t we give it a shot before putting the Big 2 back together? Maybe he has a Draisaitl moment and seizes the opportunity and runs with, maybe he doesn’t. But Letestu is not your first line RW, and I think the Oilers are better off spreading the depth around the forwards rather than putting it all on one line. So why not call up a guy that we all know has real offensive potential, stick him with McDavid, and see if that stirs the drink.

        • Hemmercules

          I think you overvalue JP.

          “Supposed to be that guy” and actually being that guy are very different things. Bottom line is, he has yet to show in North American that he is capable of being an NHL regular, let alone your first line winger. Let the guy prove he belongs before just handing him big minutes in the best league in the world just because he was drafted in the top 5.

          Go with what worked last year. Make a trade if it doesn’t start to improve in the next 2 weeks.

          • Ryan Jones Is Still My Hero

            I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying. I’m just convinced that McDavid can do the same thing with JP that he did with Maroon, and in the long run that’s what the Oilers need to truly be a Cup contender year in and year out, not have all their eggs in one basket on the same line. If they need to do it to string together a few wins and it works, then go for it, but it needs to change eventually. We have a need for scoring on the RW, and sure he hasn’t proven he can score at this level yet, but neither has literally anybody on our depth chart other than Draisaitl, so why not fully exhaust your choices so you know what you have before you go back to old reliable?

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      You really think Puljujarvi is the answer? Yamamoto isn’t the answer either to a team that can’t score. He may be somewhere down the road, but not now. He’s a prospect. Go out and get players that compliment the team. Trade Nuge or picks or prospects or all of them. If you are seriously contending this year for the cup, then prove it. Getting career years from a large amount of players, then shipping off one of your top points producer isn’t a recipe for success. Doesn’t matter if he sucked in the playoffs; you have to get there to matter. How many years did Marleau or Kessel look like a waste of money in the playoffs?

      Now the Oilers have players that are producing like their normal selves. You can’t magically just replicate a previous season. You have to improve every year or regress.

  • Oilers8597

    I can see why they wanted to split up Connor and Leon but I think everyone was over looking what that really was doing to the team, Connor and Leon were not only a very good pairing, they were the BEST duo in the NHL last season, they shouldn’t split them up cause other players on the team can’t score, those players should take responsibility for that like, It’s time to put the big line back together and start filling the net, lets make it to the playoffs first like you said Gregor then go from there

  • madjam

    Beyond Connor and Leon one has to seriously question coaching staff for teaching the offence right out of rest of club – negative in every case including PP . Chia took club to playoffs last season and in off season took the club back 2-3 years for this season . Message to Chia : TRADE, TRADE, TRADE and more TRADE,TRADE , TRADE to get out of current mess . This season looks and feels like it already over , at least make trades so we can see some newbies at least able to score more than once every 5–10 games . Bored to tears watching a very uninspiring club flounder and getting minimal goals . Maybe if club brings up Jesse and Bear we can watch as coaching staff teaches offence out of them , at least for variety . In a bit of an owly mood today .

  • Jaxon

    If you want Draisaitl and McDavid together what about playing Draisaitl on LW and keep Yamamoto there for a game or two to see how it goes.

    Something like:
    Draisaitl – McDavid – Yamamoto
    Maroon – Nugent-Hopkins – Slepyshev
    Caggiula – Strome – Kassian
    Lucic – Letestu – Jokinen

    • Dean S

      The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
      Good: McDavid, Drasaitl, and Nuge. 3 really good young centers. Leon is back (fast, healthy), Nuge (can play/matchup against anyone), McDavid (world class talent). Larsson and Klefbolm very good young #1 tandem. Nurse has done a real good job in top 4 role.
      Bad: Top 4 D man out (Sekera), Inconsistent Goaltender (Great, good, yanked??) what do we get tonight?
      Traded away 3rd leading scorer (Eberle) no replacement for 25 goals. Lowest scoring team in NHL at this point.
      Ugly: Team speed (Lucic, Strome, especially) unable to keep up (with top 2 centers), Kassian skates well but doesn’t score much (with Maroon and Lucic, 3 similar type players), no proven backup goaltender should injury or inconsistency happen, Other teams usually win the races to the puck along the boards with our wingers.

  • Spoils

    The Letestu to the wing move was pretty interesting, you can’t blame Todd for lack of shuffle. We are just not deep enough from a scoring perspective.

    Poetic in OT the way that Kessel, their “bonus piece”, scored just after our secondary unit failed. Oil win that game 7/10 with normal puck-luck but 10/10 if they can have one more piece.

    Would you make a move, or would you wait?

    Would you consider trading JP, KY, and or a high pick, along with some ancillary pieces to a bottom dweller to pick up more scoring?

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    When a team has 25% of their salary cap in only two players, there will obviously be problems fielding a balanced team. Especially when one of those players is out with injuries. The fact is the Oilers went into this season with a sense of entitlement, and other teams are basically out working them. Teams like Vegas, Avalanche, and Canucks are all in playoff contention because they are outworking their opponents and truly playing a team game. Until Oilers straighten this side of their game out, they will be lucky to stay ahead of the Coyotes in the standings.

  • 99CupsofCoffey

    Pulyujarvi has 2 Assists in 5 games….in the B League. *sigh* I had high hopes for him, but he’s starting to frustrate me a little bit. So these folks who are begging for Jesse to be brought up? What’s he going to do better than anyone else already on the Oil?

    • Jaxon

      I think we need to be a bit more patient with Puljujarvi. He is less than 5 months older than Yamamoto, and he just had a year of adjusting to the North American game coming from a low scoring league. He’s only 19. I don’t know what we have in him, but I do know we’re not seeing his complete game yet. Not even close.

  • Serious Gord

    Perhaps I missed it, but could someone explain why RNH couldn’t be tried as the winger on MCD’s line and have drai centre the second line and Strome the third (stauffer et al keep saying he’s a natural Centre).

  • Field Marshal

    Absolutely agree. Reunite a duo/line that works and get them going. At this point, the goals have to come from SOMEWHERE and the McDavid-Draisaitl tandem excels in every opportunity.

    At the same time, how long can the Oilers wait for RNH’s offence to begin? Strome hasn’t shown he has what it takes as a 2C and Letestu/Khaira aren’t realistic in that role.

    IMO, this is an internal problem the Oilers need to figure out. They didn’t overachieve last season – the team played a full 60 minutes often and it resulted in an impressive winning season. Last night’s loss was frustrating, but they *were* getting chances. Murray made some unreal saves and open nets get missed from time to time. Imagine the pressure Yamamoto is feeling playing up front with McDavid and the team hasn’t scored consistently – unsurprising that he misses chances right now given the morale of the team.

  • McRaj

    McDavid has 9 points in 8 games. He had 12 in 8 last year. Scoring is up this year. McDavid is not getting any criticism for the Oilers slow start and I think that is incorrect. Being the captain and one of the, if not the best player in the league, we praise him for when the Oilers win, we need to be critical when he is not producing like how he should be.

    • MrBung

      Other star players are just doing better then him (he is sitting in the 50s in the stats leaderboard). For whatever reason – poor line mates, coaching decisions, more opposition focus, etc.

  • bored

    Trading Eberle was understandable. Him dodging that hit instead of clearing the puck against Anaheim was enough. However, when Nuge/Looch went out in OT instead of Nuge/Ebs (as was the case last year) it was pretty sobering to realize what a massive whole now exists on the wings…

    I’m a fan of the Chia Todd combo…but Barzal would have been en excellent replacement for Ebs!

  • Bob Lawblaw

    The Oilers will work themselves out of this funk. I’m sure of it. When they do I believe McD and Drai should center their own lines. It’s 8 games into the season and a lot of fans are losing their minds, wanting to get rid of this player or that. We should all go back to our happy place near then end of last season when we were so happy about players, coaching and management. We have good hockey minds (players and coaches) in Edmonton so can we not just be patient and let them do what they do best.

    • MrBung

      Check the standings dude. Where are the Oilers in the Pacific at the end of October? Also, the Oilers have scored the second least goals in the NHL?! The hockey minds might be good in Edmonton, but they are better almost everywhere else in the NHL. That is what matters.