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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Oilers Questions: What Are The Answers?

Last night Cam Talbot played his best game in 40 days. He made some huge saves — two on Cole Sanford and the breakaway stop on Ryan O’Reilly — to keep the Oilers in the game and allowed Oscar Klefbom to tie it late in the third before winning in a shootout.

Talbot is capable of stealing games, or at least keeping his team in games, and he did it regularly two years ago. However in the 83 games since, Talbot’s overall numbers aren’t good. He has a .905sv% and a 3.06 GAA, and the Oilers are 37-40-4 in those games. Last year the Oilers had no other option than to play Talbot, because the backups had worse numbers, but this year Mikko Koskinen is 8-3-1 with a .925sv% and 2.33 GAA. He has been more effective than Talbot this year.

But Talbot played great in St.Louis and now head coach Ken Hitchcock has a tough decision. Who does he start in goal tomorrow v. Minnesota? We’ll discuss that question and a few others today.

1. Who starts in goal tomorrow?

No question Koskinen has been better, but Talbot was great on Friday. I suspect Hitchcock will split them this weekend, but who gets the call tomorrow v. the Wild? I see an argument both ways.

Go with Talbot, because you need both goalies playing well and historically he plays better when he plays more frequently. Hitchcock compared Talbot to Brian Elliott yesterday before the game, at least in their competitive nature, but I found it an interesting comparison because Elliott has never started more than 48 games. He can be good for stretches, but has never been capable of caring the load all season. Was Hitch only referring to their competitive comparison, or is Talbot going to be splitting duties with Koskinen?

Koskinen has earned more starts. He’s been excellent and has proven every doubter wrong to this point. However, he has never played more than 41 regular season games, and he played 23 and 29 last year. Do they have to monitor the potential for fatigue, or do they let Koskinen play a lot if he is playing well? Every starter at some point has to take the jump to playing more games, so maybe he is ready now.

Prediction: Hitchcock gives Talbot the goal on Friday and Koskinen plays the Flames on Sunday. Calgary will be playing their third game in four nights on Sunday. Darcy McLeod (@Woodguy) wrote about this before and over a six year period the team in the Oilers situation has won 62.5% of the time. They have to win that game, so that’s why I see Koskinen on Sunday.

Who would you start?

2. Is it time to split up McDavid and Draisaitl?

The Oilers are 5-2-1 with Hitchcock on the bench. They scored four goals in his first game in San Jose, but they’ve only scored 12 in the past seven. They are 4-2-1 in those seven, and wins are the most important, but over the past seven games the McDavid-Draisaitl combination hasn’t produced very much. They each had three points v. San Jose, but since then Draisaitl is 0-4-4 in seven games and McDavid has 1-4-5 in six games. Draisaitl had an assist on Jujhar Khaira’s goal in Dallas when McDavid was sick, but the 97-29 duo only has two goals at 5×5 in the six games together.

Many have wondered why the Oilers don’t play Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl together on the second line and put two wingers with McDavid on the first. McDavid can score regardless, but I see it as potentially weakening your best weapon by playing him with wingers not as skilled as Draisaitl and RNH. So I understand why Hitchcock and Todd McLellan didn’t do it very often.

But right now the combo isn’t working. Granted it is only six games, a very small sample size, and there is no debate that Draisaitl and McDavid are the most dangerous duo. I understand Hitchcock’s hesitation to separate them, because the odds are still better 97-29 will break out for a big game instead of McDavid with any combination of Drake Caggiula, Alex Chiasson, Ty Rattie, Jujhar Khaira, Valentine Zykov or Jesse Puljujarvi.

However, with the offence in a funk, Oscar Klefbom leads scorers with seven points in the past seven games. Would Hitchcock consider the following lines to start next game?

Khaira-McDavid-Chiasson
RNH-Draisaitl-Zykov
Rattie-Spooner-Puljujarvi
Lucic-Brodziak-Kassian

I have RNH on the wing so the right shots can play the right side in the top six. Draisaitl and RNH can switch on defensive responsibilities similar to how RNH did with McDavid. I’d even consider swapping Chiasson and Rattie, because Rattie has had more success with McDavid in the past. Khaira scored in Dallas, was on the ice for an extra attacker and assisted on Klefbom’s tying goal, so the coach likes his play on the right, and he’s producing some offence so I’d keep him up in the top six for now. Valentine Zykov has been skating in Edmonton since being claimed on waivers, but due to immigration issues he couldn’t play on the road. My understanding is he is cleared to play in Canada so he will likely dress tomorrow and I could see him getting a shot in the top-six right away.

The problem with taking RNH and Draisaitl off McDavid’s wing is you downgrade the skill he plays with. I realize he is the best offensive player in the NHL, and can create scoring chances regardless of who he plays with, but no player has produced at the same rate with McDavid as Draisaitl. When your entire group is struggling to score it is a risk separating your most dangerous combination, even though they have had a slow six-game stretch.

You could start the game with new line combos and always revert back to 97-29, but if I’m coaching I’d stick with my most dangerous duo and be confident they will produce like they have historically. The fact the Oilers didn’t practice today is another reason why I wouldn’t do it yet.

Do you think it is time to try RNH-Draisaitl together and McDavid with two other wingers?

PARTING SHOTS…

Dec 21, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Drake Caggiula (91) celebrates a third period goal against the St. Louis Blues at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Drake Caggiula will get an MRI on his hand today. There is concern this could end up being more than short-term. He won’t play this weekend. He was one of the few depth guys scoring, so losing him is not ideal at this time. It makes it worse that he got injured in practice during a reaction-time drill with players seeing who could grab the glove on the ice the quickest. Seems like a pointless drill to me.

Zykov has a great shot. Can he get open to use it and can he get if off quick enough? If he can do those two things, he should get some good looks playing with any of McDavid, Draisaitl or RNH. The Oilers are desperate for anyone who can score so I expect he gets a look right away in the top six.

In eight games under Hitchcock the PP and PK are dead even. The PP is 4 of 22, while the PK has allowed four goals on 22 kills. The PP has been dreadful for the past three games, however, going 0-for-11 including an ugly two-minute 4-on-3 in OT last night. The Oilers were way too static. The opposition loves it when McDavid is standing still. When he is moving he scares teams, but the set up played into the Blues’ hands by having very little movement. I also don’t think four lefties is ideal, but the lack of movement was the bigger issue for me. Too easy to defend, regardless of which way the players shoot.

MONTH OF GIVING

Thanks to Steve and Riley for their bids and to On The Rocks and The Ranch for the great packages.

DAY FOUR

Package #1:

  • Four Loge Seats for the Oilers/Canucks game on December 27th.
  • $200 GC for dinner at Atlas Steak House

You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.

Package #2:

We will have a Pyramid of Giving for The JCI Holiday Hamper. Tune in at 2 p.m. to hear how you can help feed 900 families at Christmas.

You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.

Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out the Christmas Bureau and The Holiday Hamper.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Rama Lama

    If trading the best left winger in the NHL gets us a defensive defenceman ……….what could we get for LD? I’m not saying that LD is bad, but he is NOT a 7.5 Million dollar player. He skates one way fast ( offensive) and is not a strong defensive player.

    I’m not sure how he could run his own line when he cant even play with the best player on the planet!

    • Towers-of-dub

      Are you talking about Taylor Hall, who’s team is at the bottom of the eastern conference? I remember when he was an oiler and they were bottom of the western conference.

      • The Ghost of Alex Plante

        Not sure what his team’s success has to do with his ability? If you think that do you also think McDavid isn’t the best player in the game then? After all how could he be, the Oilers finished towards the bottom of the league last year.

        For the record I don’t think Hall is the best LW in the league, but come on, think of a better argument than that.

        • BobbyCanuck

          Well McDavid has won the last 2 Art Ross trophies, so I guess you could call him the best player in the game, regardless of where the Oilers finished, McDavid may not win the scoring race this year, so an argument could be made that he is not the best hockey player in the world as at today (‘as at’ an accounting term denoting a snapshot of current events)

    • grumpyKoala

      Drai won’t get us a fair return, his contact is not ideal but also not very far off what he really worth. He does a lot of good, he excellent at slowing plays, have a decent vision and a strong body when he use it. I do not think he a good complimentary player for mcDavid, they only work great together because both are talented individuals. McD need speed, puck retrival and somebody to open space. Then there is the Nuge case where he is a 1 center on a lot of teams. Having McD on the first line and nuge and drai centering 2nd and 3rd could be a thing. Especially is you can double shift mcD at specific momment.

      McD is fine with whoever he play with. Neither Drai or Nuge made enough difference to afford to pack one line and cross our fingers the other 35/40 minutes

  • Jerri Kurli

    That third line is pretty weak. I don’t think Khaira should be playing above a third line role. Rattie has shown past chemistry with McDavid, however I doubt Hitch will let him play on the top line. Seems to be on a tight leash with Hitch. I’d like to see Spooner go up and play left with McDavid, and Khaira Center JP and Rattie. Might get Spooner going, he has shown offensive outbursts in the past.

  • TKB2677

    I have said it all season. Playing McDavid and Leon together while fun to watch is a mistake. They simply can’t score enough to justify it. I am a big Nuge fan but he’s not a good enough scoring center. He’s got 25 pts in 28 games so on pace for a career year but people need to really look at his numbers. He’s for 10 pp pts so far. Plus the bulk of his 5 on 5 points were on McDavid’s wing. I would run with the lines similar with what Gregor suggested. I would swap Rattie for Khaira as he showed some offensive success with McDavid. Plus Khaira can help at center on the 3rd line. When Rieder is ready you could put in on McDavid’s left wing, drop Rattie down to the 3rd line and put JP in the minors because he’s not ready.

  • Rufio Barcoli

    I remember months ago when I suggested that Oilers split Drai and Connor, and play Khaira up with McDavid.
    Oh the amount of trashes I got, hopefully I scroll down and see the same amount of groupies trashing Gregor for his suggestion.

    • NickL89

      To be honest I found it hard to keep reading these lines after I saw Khaira on the first line. If that’s even in the realm of possibility then this team needs more help than I’d figured.

      • Ryan Jones Is Still My Hero

        Well ideally that would be Caggiula, but that’s not possible right now. I would like to see 97-98 and 93-29 as pairs for a while, and I think Rattie plays better on the right side, so that left it between Chiasson, Spooner, Zykov and Khaira for me. I don’t think Chiasson is suited for top 6 minutes, Spooner does not go into any dirty areas, and we don’t know what Zykov is yet, so that left Khaira. I think he could play a similar role to what Maroon played before, just dig pucks out and make plays around the net. Like I said, definitely not ideal, but while Caggiula and Rieder are out I think it’s an option to look at. It’s not like they can really score less than they have been anyway.

  • Chiasson has gone a bit cold. Put Nuge back with McDavid but the guy with the best shot and goal numbers with McDavid is Puljujarvi. Let Zykov get settled before throwing him into the top six.

    Nuge – McDavid – Puljujarvi
    Khaira – Draisaitl – Rattie
    Zykov – Spooner – Chiasson
    Lucic – Brodziak – Kassian

    And oh my Gord, that powerplay is DULL! Put Nuge behind the net. He’s crafty. Draisaitl isn’t that great on the PP.

    ——————–Nuge(L)———————
    Puljujarvi(R) – Chiasson(R) – McDavid(L)
    —————–Klefbom(L)——————-

    ————Rattie(R)—————–
    Zykov(R) – Khaira(L) – Draisaitl(L)
    ———-Wiedman(R)————-

    • El Oilero

      I would try Zykov – McD – Rattie
      Rattie only has value as an offensive minded player and try Zykov who has a cannon for a shot with a passer like McD
      then
      RNH – Drai – JP
      Khaira – Spooner – Chiasson
      thug line

    • grumpyKoala

      Zykov – CheatCode – Rattie
      Khaira – Draisaitl – Chiasson
      Lucic – Nuge – Puljujarvi
      Brodziak – Spooner – Kassian

      I put drai line as the second one but 2nd an third are fairly ballenced. Of course you double shift McD for Khaira and Looch whenever you can.

  • Hemmercules

    Play your better goalie both nights. Play Koskinen. I don’t see how that’s so hard? They need to stop treating Talbot like they owe him the net. He probably won’t even be an Oiler next year. Keep him on one game of the back to backs type schedule if you ask me.

  • Sparky Blue

    Play Talbot for the scheduled loss on Friday then Koskinen against the Flames. Oilers usually suck against the Wild but play above their usual level against the Flames. Maybe Koskinen can steal a win on Sunday.

  • jesse says yep

    @jason Gregor
    “Valentine Zykov has been skating in Edmonton since being claimed on waivers, but due to immigration issues he couldn’t play on the road”

    didn’t Zykov come from the States? What is holding up his visa?

    • toprightcorner

      He had a working visa to work in the US, not in Canada. It is tougher to get a working visa in a country when you already have a working visa in a different country. He can skate because that is not considered “work”, but he cannot practice or play with the team.

      This is actually not that uncommon as many young European hockey players only get a working visa for the country of the team that drafts them and typically you have to have a work visa for 5 years in one country before you can register for a work visa in a different country before actually working in that country. It happens once or twice a year in the NHL.

  • BR

    NHL Lines

    ???? – Mcdavid -????
    Nuge – Draisaitl – ????
    Kharia – ???? – Chiasson/Puljujarvi
    ?Lucic? – Brodziak – Kassian

    Rest of the forwards on the roster should be in the Minors.

  • Spydyr

    They should change up the powerplay. I mentioned this a couple days ago. The stationary players passing the puck around the perimeter isn’t working. Try having two guys cycling in waves towards the net on one side with McDavid/Nuge with the puck on the other half boards.Set one guy in front of the net and one defencemen up in the middle of the ice at the blueline.

    The Oilers are their most dangerous on the rush so try and create some space by moving a couple guys around opening up the ice while having a guy in front of the net an a guy going to the net.

    • NickL89

      Couldn’t agree more. The Oilers are a threat when they come in with speed. When two stationary players are passing back and forth it doesn’t take much to lose the puck.

  • ChrisG

    Todd would run Leon on Connor’s wing for a while, then he’d notice Leon stopped moving his feet. He’d switch Leon back to center to get those feet moving and get him skating again. Maybe there’s a shelf life on the move to wing…. play 6 or 8 or 10 games and move him back to C for 4 or 5, then back to wing?

    • tealyn

      Hopefully Hitch can change this about Drais, can you imagine if he didn’t act like a 5 year old when the game doesn’t go perfect. I think Draisaitl is great but needs to man up.

  • FanBoy

    Caggiula/McDavid/Rattie – only spot I’d put Zykov in
    Rieder/Draisaitl/Chiasson
    Spooner/RNH/Puljujarvi
    Khaira/Brodziak/Kassian
    Lucic needs to sit a couple games

    I think Nuge and McDavid do pretty much the same thing on the PP so you gotta separate them and we need to righties on both units.

    PP1: Rattie/Draisaitl/McDavid/Chiasson/Klefbom
    PP2: Puljujarvi/RNH/Caggiula/Spooner/Benning

    As of today, Nuge has been our second best forward even though Drai is PPG. I think he’s really flown under the radar all year

  • Natejax97

    End of the day we got 2 awesome points last night. Saves the sting from Anaheim and San Jose winning. Great stuff…had several victory beers!! Maybe the lines should stay like this?

    As far as goaltending I remember this same conversation repeated about Talbot 2 out of 3 of the last year’s and he gets going and is really solid for the rest of the year. November is always a rough month for him for some reason. So run your hot guy. I don’t really care who plays tomorrow. I hope Talbot has a record year moving forward and I hope Koskinen never lets another goal in.

  • Heschultzhescores

    The solution is just what we are seeing. 3 shut down lines and one scoring line. It’s all we can do with the horses we have. Also wait and hope our young prospects can give us more depth in the future.

  • Heschultzhescores

    I can’t be the only one that writes down the lines and thinks; We have one line I would like to make and the rest are borderline, interchangeable NHL’ers.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      How many times do you have to shuffle the deck chairs to realize we only have 3-4 scoring forwards.
      It isn’t pretty. Our GM created this Big/Heavy Bruin’s roster.

  • A-co

    As for the goalies ride the winning goalie until he loses then rotate out and repeat the process…why not run the 3 centers down the middle…one of the lines will face weaker competition..they are centers so play them in their natural position and rotate the wingers accordingly…and play the “IDENTITY ” line as a 4th line with limited ice time since they produce 0 offense..let them bang for 6 minutes a night

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    I wouldn’t put Khaira on the first line – ever. Eventually RNH, McDavid and Caggiula. Until Caggiula is healthy use RNH as the left winger. Also, I think the Chiasson experiment on the first line should be over for now and he should drop down to the second line. Rattie, or JP if Rattie doesn’t work there.

  • OldOilFan

    Best playmaking center is… RNH

    Why do I say/think this?
    1. McD tends to be a solo act, albeit a brilliant one. I don’t know if this is a problem or not. I just observe the team and conclude McD’s line(s) aren’t very successful. At least not like we’d hope to see. Meanwhile a number of teams like Dallas, Boston, Avalanche, Leafs, etc, all seem to have better top lines.
    2. Drai -for whatever reason- just doesn’t enjoy playing center? (Makes me wonder how Mark Messier felt, years ago, about getting moved from LW to C).

    • OldOilFan

      edit: moving JP to center could succeed. Trash if you must, but think about what JP has: size, reach, speed, shot… What he lacks is “engagement.” Play at C would keep him engaged.

  • OilersBro

    I think Chiasson is comparable to Letestu right now. Sure he can score but it never made sense to play Mark with McDavid. I’d love to see Rattie back with McDavid and Jujhar, a strong second line of Nuge Drai and Jesse, the identity line, and Chiasson used as a PP specialist

    • OldOilFan

      Chiasson’s track record is to start off “hot” with his new team, then trail off steeply. It’s a strange stat/pattern, but it’s something to consider. At the same time, he’s got hands and he manages to put some of his shots into the net. Can’t say the same for any other Oil winger this season… it remains a puzzle.