It’s Monday, the Oilers have been off for a couple of days before heading to Winnipeg to finish up their road trip, and I have some questions that need answers. This week, I’m thinking about when some secondary scoring is going to show up, how long Matt Benning and Zack Kassian will be staying in the press box, and what to do with the power play. Are there answers to these questions? Let’s explore it together.
WILL THE REAL SECOND LINE PLEASE STAND UP
At some point, someone other than Connor McDavid (or his linemates) will have to contribute offensively and I would really like to know when that will be. In the three games played so far, the Oilers have scored fives goals total and McDavid has either scored or assisted on all of them. Now, I know Connor plays this game like some kind of hockey-god robot, but he can’t be expected to do it all by himself. If the Oilers are going turn Saturday’s win into something more than a one and done, other lines have to contribute on the scoresheet and they need to start tomorrow night.
I know Todd McLellan said that he wants to keep the lines consistent as much as possible, the players requested more consistency with their linemates in their season-ending interviews, but there also comes a point when you have to try and get some people going. The problem, of course, is what do you do to try and make that happen? Personally, I wouldn’t touch the first line ever, they’re the only ones that are scoring right now so I’m not sure why would you mess with it, but the second and third lines will eventually need fresh looks. Do you change the look of the second and third lines three games in? Do you give them more time?
With only one RW having a point this season (Ty Rattie btw), I want to know how long McLellan will wait before re-arranging that right side? Does Jesse Puljujarvi shave those sideburns, giving himself an opportunity to move into the top six? Does Kailer Yamamoto get a chance to move up? Would he move down?
WILL BENNING AND KASSIAN STAY IN THE PRESSBOX
Both Matt Benning and Zack Kassian had tough outings against the Bruins on Thursday night, and that landed both of them in the press box for Saturday’s matinee against the Rangers. Considering the Oilers won that game, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Todd McLellan will roll with the same lineup and you can definitely make the argument that he should. Does that win mean Kassian and Benning stay in popcorn country? Do they get back in on an extremely short leash?
In the two games he’s played, Matt Benning has averaged 19:01 worth of ice time and to say that they’ve been eventful would be an understatement. Benning has clearly struggled on the second pairing and has been on the wrong side of some costly mistakes, but how long will McLellan let him watch from upstairs? The Oilers signing the defenceman to a fresh contract this past summer to it seems safe to suggest that he’s in the long-term plans. Is one game out of the lineup enough of a message? As for Kassian, he’s been more or less invisible for a while now and that’s a real concern for a guy making the kind of cake he does on a team that desperately needs cap space. Does he stay out on Tuesday night as well?
What happened to the guy that ruined the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs two years ago? Will the current version of Kassian get back in for the game against the Jets on Tuesday? How about Benning? Is one game in the press box enough, or do they keep Garrison in as a steady partner for Bouchard?
HOW WILL THEY REFINE THE POWER PLAY
Through three games, the Oilers five-lefty power play unit has gone 2/10 which isn’t by any means horrible but definitely with room to improve. Considering McLellan has given 90% of the power play time to his first unit, those five guys have to be running like a well-oiled machine to make sure they’re converting at a higher level. So what do I see? I thought you’d never ask. For me, the Oilers are still far too stationary and that makes it a lot easier for the opposition to predict what’s happening — they can just sit in their box formation and wait. There’s still a lot of perimeter passing going on and not enough attacking the net with shots and rebound attempts, at least by my eye. I don’t know why the Oilers think power play goals have to be pretty but I want the boys to get out there and get greasy. And as Gregor and Nielson have both said, I’d also love to see McDavid setting up on the left side hash marks instead of the right on the power play. If they flipped McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins, Connor could set up on his strong-side wing, opening himself to a few different options with the puck.
If moved, McDavid could obviously still distribute the puck like normal from the left side, Nuge would be shuffled over to his off-wing and now in a better spot for a one-time shot, but he would also have an easier lane to the goal line/net with the added option of shooting in close from his strong side. To me, the left side makes perfect sense for Connor as it gives him more opportunities to create offence. Another thing I would want to try is to pull Lucic off the first unit and replace him with Draisaitl as the net-front presence. Draisaitl has similar size, better hands in tight, and having him there would allow McLellan to keep the three Cs on the first unit while also sliding in an offensive guy like Bouchard onto the point without having all the defensive responsibilities of being the only d-man out there. I’m not saying to gift Bouchard minutes, but it does make sense to put him in more spots where his offensive prowess can be utilized.
Though going 20% on the man advantage to start the season is certainly decent, some adjustments need to made to make sure that the power play is a lethal option for this team, especially if the plan is to run the first unit for most of the two minutes. If the opponents are going to continue to hack and slash and hold McDavid then the PP needs to make sure to shame fools for their cheating ways. Can that happen with the current configuration and deployment?
***UPDATE**** Oilers have changed up first unit
Rattie now on top PP unit. Playing right point. McDavid set up on left side. RNH net front.
— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) October 15, 2018
Clarification on earlier tweet. McLellan says they weren’t working on their own PP, they were simulating Winnipeg’s PP, and that’s why there was a different look with Rattie
— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) October 15, 2018
What’s been on your mind? Let me know in the comments section.