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.
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.
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.
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