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Reuniting McDavid and Draisaitl isn’t the solution

After a disheartening loss that saw the team’s losing streak extend to four games, Todd McLellan has whipped out the blender. This time, he’s going back to his old, trusty solution of putting Leon Draisaitl alongside Connor McDavid on the top line. Unfortunately, that isn’t the solution to what ails this team.

The issue plaguing the Oilers how to manage the ice time when Connor McDavid is on the bench. When he’s on the ice, as you’d expect, the team does well. It’s when he’s watching from the bench that the team struggles. Specifically, the team is virtually devoid of offensive flair unless McDavid is on the ice, driving play forward.

McDavid has played 277:18 minutes at even strength this season. In those minutes, the Oilers are outshooting their opponents 172 to 145 and they’re outscoring their opponents 12 to nine. When he isn’t playing, things go to hell pretty quickly. 524:37 minutes of even strength ice time have been played with McDavid watching from the bench. In those minutes, the team has been outshot slightly, 256 to 250, and they’ve been outscored heavily, 22 to 13.

McLellan’s way of shaking things up and dealing with the issue is going back to the old familiar of loading up a line with McDavid and Draisaitl. Everyone knows the McDavid and Draisaitl pairing is dynamic, as the duo has outscored opponents 76 to 53 since the beginning of the 2016-17 season when together, but this doesn’t fix the bigger issue at hand.

What the Oilers need is to generate offence without McDavid on the ice. Moving their second best forward from his own line on to McDavid’s line isn’t going to help do that. Even if McDavid and Draisaitl score at a better pace than McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have so far this season, the issue of how to manage the other ~30 even strength minutes still looms large.

McDavid has proved that he can generate offence pretty much no matter who he’s playing with. He has a positive goal differential at even strength over the past two seasons when playing with literally everyone except for Drake Caggiula. With that in mind, McLellan should be focusing more on how to navigate the team’s non-McDavid minutes than adding another weapon to the wing of a player who can thrive regardless of the setting.

One thing McLellan, oddly enough, has never tried, is loading the second line behind McDavid with Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl. Between 2017-18 and so far in 2018-19, Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl have played just 99:22 minutes of even strength ice time together. In that small sample, they outshot opponents heavily, 66 to 44, and outscored them seven to five. At the very least, in pairing these two up, you’re putting your second and third best forwards on a line together to take some of the pressure off of McDavid.

If you look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, their strategy has generally been to play Sidney Crosby with two random wingers while another line, like one featuring Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, and Carl Hagelin, gets loaded up. That way, they become significantly more difficult to line match and shut down.



  • munch34m

    Connor is going to generate chances with whatever plugs he plays with in his wings, put Drai and RNH together to create a second line with some offensive flair. At this point the Macblender is only out to save his job!!!

    • Randomfan

      I think the problem they have is the finish hence drai goes on top line. Noone has been able to finish the chances cteated by #97. Nuge has hit more posts than the number of potholes in the city of edmonton. And trust me we all know there are tons. Who knows if they can score 2-3 games every game and goalie can do the rest. Again its just a band aid solution but it is what it is given the roster.

  • Oilers_1978

    TM is completely clueless…leon-mcd on same line makes it a one line team again…

    Caggiula-mcd-chiasson
    Reider-nuge-leon
    Lucic-Strome-marody
    Khaira-brodziak-Kassian

    • Oilers_1978

      Once yam and jp are back they should run
      —mcd-leon
      Jp-nuge-yam

      Jp and yam are still cheap for next couple of years

      And nuge is more mature to help those two..

      And hope by then leon will be matured enough to drive his own

  • FutureGM

    I was all for his hiring at the time of, but it is becoming apparent TM is faking his way through this or just an idiot.
    Took two yrs to figure our RNH could be a ppg player with McD
    Still hasnt tried Drai and RNH for possibly 2 scoring lines
    PP is brutal. Loads up PP1 and has no distributor on anemic PP2 (take one of your natural LHS setup guys onto PP2 and a RHS one-timer on PP1 dumbass – hint Bear was solid in preseason)
    Refuses to give kids a chance
    His golden boys can do no wrong
    Never heard him talk about changing strategy once in post game, likely cause he never has
    Why I would fire him yesterday: In the 1st period last night Leon lost a puck battle in the offensive zone. It happens. But instead of going to try and win the puck back Leon skated away from the guy that just stole it from him!! To change you would think? Nope, stayed out for another minute after skating away from a puck battle!! Does he get his ass stapled to the bench, something easily done when your 4th line is the best of the period (and game) NOPE – he instead gets rewarded by playing with Connor in the 3rd. Now Rattie and Nuge are like WTF, the Drai gets the message its OK to coast (his fav thing to do unless he’s on a line with McD) and bad messages are being send to the lineup.
    It astounds me how he talks such a great game in interviews and talks so much about the mental aspect and then makes decisions that are completely contrary to rational thoughts. I’m not sure what his messages to his players are, but they look lost, overthinking the game and lacking the passion they had when they made their run. Chia hasn’t made his job any easier, but I’d be calling coach Q about as often as I buzzed Stevie Y…

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        Like Lucic, if Drai is moving his feet he can go quicker but when he is near standing still or a stop it takes him a bit to get going and by that time it is catch up mode. Strome stops and glides way too much and he looks like he tires easily, half the time he is like straight up that is the sign a guy is tired. I think if Dari kept active and his feet moving he would be harder to contain

  • Real Oiler Fan since 83

    I haven’t been one of these guys calling for a coaching change…. well that has all changed for me. How TM doesn’t rip these guys post game is beyond me. The same cliche BS mumbo jumbo. I feel so bad for Mcdavid giving it his all meanwhile 4 or 5 plugs a game take the night off. So tired of the same rhetoric. Somebody do something or say something ffs.

  • MrBung

    This is all desperation moves at this point. The bottom line is that this roster is not good enough. The pieces are just not there. It is almost akin to a general moving around divisions on a map that are not there.

    The Oilers are not making the playoffs this season. Chia has just made things worse and probably couldn’t make moves because he already urinated a bunch of value and his mistakes have caught up to him.

  • LordVallko

    I said it two years ago and ill say it today, every year of Todd is a wasted year of McDavid. move Todd upstairs and give him a walkie talkie with Joey Moss on the other end and let Joey translate his coaching suggestions to the new coach in charge. Focker out!

  • Reinman

    By the way, putting Leon and Nuge together, is exactly what TM shoudl do, but he is so slow to shake it up, we might see it the last 5 games of the season, and next year too, when Chia does nothing again in the offseason.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    The Oiler should have just left Nuge Cagguila McDavid together till they werent producing then stuck Rattie back up with them, Chaisson Draisaitl and Reider need to stay together, it gave teams another line to focus on other than the first and that can only help both our 1 and 2 line if other teams have to worry about covering those two lines,

    Strome needs to come out, he isnt useless right now, doesnt want to go iinto the dirty areas for pucks , doesnt want to get hit and cant get the led out and skate. Throw Rattie and another centre from the AHL to make a third line and leave the 4th intact for now or move brodziak up and put someone else to centre the 4 th line.

    Yes Draisaitl and McDvaid can make magic together, but then a lot of teams will shift focus to that one line instead of two lines we had going.

    I dint get why TM blendered the 1 st line as soon as Rattoe was able to go, Cagguila was putting up some points, is Cagguila the solution for the first line no, but at least they were putting up points and he had a hand in it.

    TM I have no cinfidence too much blender work, not enough smarts to change things when tehy arent working and a reluctance to staple guys to the bench or send them to the pressbox when guys arent getting it ton

    • nbandito

      Caggs is more of a quick touch player, if you look he has a tendency to chip and chase and then try to recover. Perfect for the third line but if you’re playing with McD you need to recover and control pucks, get your head up and then find a way to feed it back to him. Caggs might settle down over time and trust himself more, but Rattie has a bit more composure and vision with the puck on his stick right now. Rattie could have easily had two goals in the last two games but had some bad luck.

  • nbandito

    We are definitely missing some skill in our top 6.

    I would like to point out that McLellan shifting Drai to the top line did work last game. I mean Colorado took their foot of the gas for most of that third period, but still.
    There were two games this year where McDavids line couldn’t get much of anything done and that was against Boston and now the Avs. Perhaps the answer is to roll Drai with McD against top heavy attacks. I don’t see Montreal posing the same risk.

  • Reinman

    The problem is we are paying someone second line money, bu the is not good enough to play on the second line. If you replace Lucic with Hall (or a multitude of other 6 million dollar players), the problem would be solved. You can’t win with three offensive players. You need at least 4.

  • Arfguy

    I would consider putting Nuge with Draisaitl, only because RNH does not seem as comfortable shooting as Draisaitl. That’s one of the biggest reasons McDavid and Draisaitl work so well together. McDavid is mainly looking to pass and Draisaitl loves to shoot. Maybe the top two lines can look like this:

    Rieder-McDavid-Rattie
    RNH-Draisaitl-Chiasson

    The only thing is…it does not resolve the issue with that awful third line. Ryan Strome is looking worse than he did last year. He just does not seem to be skating, shooting or passing very well. Pairing him with Lucic is also not helping. Since they’ve called up Marody, maybe try Marody at centre with any combination of Caggiula, Strome and Lucic.

  • Heschultzhescores

    I actually like your logic and how you presented it. Sounds like a better option than what we have going now. All I ask is that they give it 5 or 10 games to give it a fair shake

  • Logic18

    Does anyone else see the real albatross? Talbot is not on his game; hasn’t been for quite a while. Get him out of the top spot!!! We’re sunk if he continues to be between the pipes!!! The last game probably would have been a tie in regulation if he wasn’t playing. I don’t know why we had to “change” everything when we were on a roll last time. Back to back games is not an excuse. Let’s get the ball rolling, stop scratching your head and do the logical thing!!! Duh!!!!

  • JBeck

    Again, the issue is finding someone for Draisaitl to play with. Why? If he is as good as everyone thinks he is, why doesn’t he produce more without McDavid?

    Trade Draisaitl, he is to the Oilers what Hall was. Use him for Nylander.

  • toprightcorner

    I have no issue putting Draisaitl with McDavid for 1 or 2 games max. Get them both on a roll, move Leon doen to the second line again and hope the roll continues.

  • toprightcorner

    The biggest change that has to happen is reducing Nuges minutes. Last year, Nuge’s TOI was the lowest of his career and his PPG was the highest. Even before playing on McDavids line, Nuge was scoring more goals per 60 than he ever had.

    Play Nuge 17-18 minutes a night. He will stay sharper and be able to play harder. 19-21 minutes is too much, especially trying to keep up with McDavid.

    With McDavid playing 23-2 minutes a night, double shift both him and Draisaitl together for 7-8 minutes a night. You can do it with Nug on the lines sometimes as well. If the other teams top line is playing less than 20 minutes a night (90% of the time), then fill in the extra 5 minutes that McDavid plays with Draisaitl. When at home, if you can get McDavid and Draisaitl out when the other teams top line is on the bench, there will be fireworks.

    Those shifts can be momentum changers for the team. The score a goal here and there and that crap is contagious and the rest of the lines start getting confidence and putting the puck in the net.