Below is part of the Weekend Q&A my colleague Minnia and I put together over at The Copper & Blue.
Minnia: With McDavid being paired with so many different wingers, especially on the right side, who have you liked best so far?
Sunil: This guy is so incredible that it doesn’t even matter who his linemates are. Usually we look for which two or three players have chemistry and how they can work off of each other. With McDavid, you look at who needs to play with him to get going or which player’s potential you can maximize. At the start of the year, I would have pushed for Maroon to be McDavid’s left side instead of Lucic, just based on Maroon’s 16 games with Edmonton last season. And I would’ve wanted Eberle on the right side, as he had great chemistry with McDavid and has the speed and finish to produce on the top line with him. Today, I’d rather have Maroon playing on other lines, as he’s been a positive influence on others and has been able to generate goals with McDavid on the bench, something that remains an issue for the Oilers. As of today, I’d keep Lucic with McDavid as they’ve been productive together, and I’d add pretty much any of the depth right wingers to that line. It wouldn’t hurt to have Puljujaarvi there, since the Oilers have no idea what to do with him, or even Slepyshev who has the skillset to fill a complementary role. Whatever the Oilers do, they have to ensure that the other three lines behind McDavid are loaded up so they can start producing goals. This means they may have to have the more depth players on the first line with McDavid.
Minnia: It seems McLellan is quick to “punish” this season, whether it’s reducing ice time drastically for mistakes in-game (Klefbom, Larsson) or sitting players for extended periods of time (Pouliot)– do you like his approach in leaving very little room for mistakes, or would you appreciate some more leeway for players?
Sunil: I think it’s ridiculous how McLellan has been handling/punishing his roster to be honest. A coach is responsible for putting together optimal line combinations and defence pairings, and then properly deploying them to increase their odds of winning games. If a player is struggling within a game, it makes sense to give ice time to the players you’re trusting. But after the game, re-set, work with the player, and base your future decisions not just on one bad play, but a larger sample size. Klefbom is a prime example here. He’s done very well paired with Larsson this year, all areas of the ice, against the other team’s top lines. The duo have a 51.79% share of all of the shot attempts when they’re on the ice this season, which is great considering the competition they face (Source: Corisca Hockey). Their 345 minutes together is the most on the team, so why not stick with that? After a bad play last week, Klefbom still isn’t back with Larsson, who is now getting caved in when it comes to shots against paired with Russell.
Minnia: Taking a look at Bakersfield, who are some of the players on the cusp you’d like to see up on the Oilers in case of injury (#knockonwood)?
Sunil: I would love to see Jujhar Khaira with the Oilers at some point this season. He’s a good skater and showed last season in limited minutes that he can keep up with the more established players. In 2015/16, with Pouliot out, Khaira skated with RNH and Eberle for a total of 53 minutes at 5v5, and played the same level of competition that RNH is accustomed to. The trio had a 50% share of the shot attempts, which was great considering the rest of the team was below 48% for most of the season. Long term, he should be a depth centerman, but it wouldn’t hurt to continue breaking him in on the wing. This season in Bakersfield, he has 5 goals and 5 assists in 12 games and ranks second on the roster when it comes to points per game (0.83). He’s also one of the team leaders in shots per game (3.1).
Minnia: What do you make of the interesting trend that the Oilers seem to lose a lot of games when they win the Corsi battle, yet win a lot of games when they lose the Corsi battle?
Sunil: A lot of that has to do with score effects. Basically, when a team is trailing in a game, which the Oilers have done often recently, they increase their output of shots as they start taking more risks and might shorten their bench and get their top players out there to find offence. On the flip side, when a team is leading, they often slow down their offence, start playing a safer game, off-the-glass-and-out tactics in an attempts to stifle the shots against. At the end of the game where the Oilers lose, it might look like they were outshooting the other team, but that usually happened after they were trailing.
Full article is at The Copper & Blue.