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GDB 14.0: Knoblauch Makes His NHL Coaching Debut (6:30pm MT, SNW)

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Jason Gregor
3 months ago
Kris Knoblauch will make his NHL head coaching debut tonight for the Edmonton Oilers. He was an assistant in Philadelphia for two years under Seattle Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol, whom he will face on Wednesday, and Knoblauch did fill in six games for David Quinn during the 2021 season when Quinn was out with COVID, but it wasn’t his team. He knew it was temporary. Tonight it is his team, and it is a big moment for Knoblauch.
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When he was asked about who helped get him here, he got quite emotional, which I think is wonderful. This is a big moment, and no one gets to the NHL without a lot of support.
“That is tough,” said Knoblauch as he tried to hold back the tears. “First it is my wife,” he said while putting his hand to his heart, taking a big inhale and a pause. “It was a little emotional leaving my family to get here.”
He went on to thank Rob Daum, who coached him at the University of Alberta, and Dave Hakstol for his time in Philly. He then went back to where his coaching journey began.
He started coaching with the Prince Albert Raiders in the fall of 2006 as an assistant coach under Peter Anholt. He moved to Kootenay the following season and worked with head coach Mark Holick. He thanked those two for getting him his start. “I was an assistant coach. I knew nothing, very little. I had a really strong work ethic, and spent many hours in the coaching room and had ideas of what I needed to do. I don’t think once they said, ‘No let’s not do that.’ Instead they said let’s do that and you go tell the players. If I didn’t have the support and belief from those two guys it would have been different. I appreciate that.”
Tonight will be much different than those six games with the Rangers. Tonight, Knoblauch will officially become an NHL head coach.
“It is quite different,” said Knoblauch. “When I was there as interim head coach it was fun. There was no pressure on me as I was running the bench, and being in the NHL was exciting, but now it is a bit different. When you are the head coach and it is your decision, your decisions are being questioned and evaluated. Obviously there is a lot more pressure, but I’m more excited now that it is my call, my decisions and eventually it will be my team. It will take some time to implement all my systems and my expectations to the players, but it is a process that I’m really excited to get going.”
Knoblauch’s first game-day press conference was impressive. I respect men who are in touch with their emotions and aren’t afraid to show them. To me, that is being comfortable with who you are. He was open and honest. He admitted it will take time before he considers this his team. You can’t make massive changes right away, and he needs to get to know all the players. This is a wonderful opportunity for him, as the Oilers have underachieved thus far. The odds are in his favour they will get back on track. Very few NHL head coaches get to take over a team with this much talent.
He outlined his plan moving forward.
“I try to make it as simple as possible,” said Knoblauch. “Obviously there will be changes due to the record and having a new coach. It is really important the players feel themselves, be confident and put the start of the season behind them. We’ve talked about some minor changes to our systems, and we will move on from there. As the season progresses there will be more and more changes, but we aren’t reinventing the wheel. We aren’t doing anything drastic, we just have to get better at executing details and things will take care of themselves.”
One change he made is separating Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Are they a better team with them apart, I asked.
“I think so,” said Knoblauch. “But it is a difficult situation. You have two players who have to play a lot. When they are separated, you are looking at 19-23 minutes for McDavid and 19-23 for Draisaitl, and then you don’t have many minutes for your third and fourth line. It is important to have your third and fourth lines contributing and creating an identity, but when your top two lines are playing so much, it takes away from the bottom. It creates problems, and to solve that problem, you can play them together and roll the other lines, but I do think we are better off having them on separate lines. There will be games when they are together after penalties, final shift of a period and stuff like that they will play together.
“I’d love to win games with them playing 19 or 20 minutes, but I’d be ridiculous to say they won’t play 23 minutes, because there will be times there are many power plays, we are chasing a goal or they are playing very well. I’d like to keep them down a little bit, but I know when you are on the bench and you have two players like that is is hard to hold them back,” said Knoblauch.

PRESENTED BY BETWAY

LINEUPS…

Oilers

RNH – McDavid – Gagner
Kane – Draisaitl – Hyman
Holloway – McLeod – Foegele
Lavoie – Hamblin – Ryan
Nurse – Ceci
Ekholm – Bouchard
Kulak – Desharnais
Skinner
Knoblauch will run the above lines tonight, and based on his comment yesterday about consistency, I think we could see these lines stay together for a bit, excluding injuries. Connor Brown skated with the main group today and could be ready for Wednesday. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him slot in with 93 and 97, and then Gagner or Ryan are the fourth-line centres, with James Hamblin being returned to Bakersfield after his emergency recall.
He might try a few different looks, and I could see Kane and RNH swap lines, but if the Oilers start playing up to their potential, I think you will see line combos last a bit longer under Knoblauch. But as he said, when you are standing behind the bench it can be inviting to play 97 and 29 together.

Islanders

Barzal – Horvat – Holmstrom
Engvall – Nelson – Palmieri
Lee – Pageau – Wahlstrom
Gauthier – Cizikas – Clutterbuck
Aho – Dobson
Romanov – Polock
Bolduc – Mayfield
Sorokin
The Islanders will likely be without one of their top defenders in Adam Pelech. The Islanders made no new offensive additions in the summer, and it should surprise no one that they are still struggling to score. They are 30th in offensive zone possession time and 21st in high-danger chances created. This is not a team the Oilers need to take risks against. Play safe and smart and be confident you can generate chances.
Sorokin has played below his standards through his eight starts with only a .907Sv% compared to Varlamov, who has a .940Sv% in his five starts.

NEW COACH BUMP…

Will the Oilers have the new coach bump, or guilt from seeing another head coach fired? Likely a bit of both. Leon Draisaitl spoke about Jay Woodcroft’s departure and the notion he had lost the room.
“He was a great coach. He will have lots of success where ever he goes,” said Draisaitl. “There is no way he lost anyone in this room. As players, we are the ones on the ice and we were as prepared as any team in the league and it is on us to be better. We have won over 100 games the past two years, and some people seem to tend to forget that. Definitely not the start we wanted and that is on no one other than us players. Individually we haven’t played to our standard, and collectively as a group we have to play better. It has gone on for too long and unfortunately the coach is the one who has to pay for it. Those days are tough, they suck, there is a lot of guilt you carry within yourself, and now we have to move on.”
The players seem to recognize that Woodcroft and Dave Manson paid the price for their lacklustre play. That, and trying to impress their new head coach should be more than enough motivation to play better. Draisaitl knows he can play better.
“My game isn’t at the level or expectations I have for myself,” he said. “I’m looking to bounce back tonight. I’ve seen this group play very good hockey in the past and there is no excuses. Just play better hockey.”

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers win consecutive games for the first time this season with a 4-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid produces a point. He has never gone four games without a point. This is the fifth time in his career he’s pointless in three consecutive games.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Two of RNH, McDavid and Draisaitl score a goal. They’ve only scored two goals in the past 10 games combined.

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