Okay, so we’ve seen the Oilers start the season with a reasonably impressive 5-2-1 record in spite of an OT loss to Calgary resulting from tying goal with less than 2 seconds on the clock in regulation. As well, in the first game against the Flames, we lost with a goal that resulted from Khabibulin mishandling the puck with less than a minute left in the game. However, though the current line approach has created success both in terms of balanced scoring lines and winning games, we’ve seen our top line players struggle in terms of point production.
To be certain, Ales Hemsky, the Oiler perennial leading scorer, is currently 6th on the team albeit after missing one game due to illness. In contrast, Shawn Horcoff, a player who’s played with a foot injury, still leads the team in faceoffs taken. Pat Quinn has still relied heavily on Shawn Horcoff to take faceoffs for the Oilers despite his suggestions that he would try to avoid it. In fact, in 8 games played, Horcoff has one goal, one assist, two points, and a minus 3 rating. As for faceoffs, Horcoff has taken 176 vs. 260 or 40.3% of the total for the entire team.
The Oilers who’ve played together most consistently as the first line thus far into the season (Jacques/Horcoff/Hemsky) have combined for just 11 points in 8 games (total player points). Of note, this hasn’t been the Oilers top line throughout the first 8 games as there have been various changes during games and other combinations tried. Whether due to the string of recent player illnesses or lack of point production, it sounds like Pat Quinn’s going to shuffle things around heading into our next game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets.
From the Oilers website, here’s where we stand as possible line combinations:
- Penner/Gagner/Hemsky [19 points total]
- Comrie/Horcoff/O’Sullivan [15 points total]
- JFJ/Brule/Nilsson [13 points total]
- Moreau/Cogliano/Stortini [9 points total]
Assuming that everyone is healthy enough to play, I really like the looks of this line combination.
The other day at Oilers Nation, Robin Brownlee proposed a top line of Comrie/Gagner/Hemsky which my initial thoughts were that it would be a bad choice. Starting with Gagner being weak on the faceoff circle and seeing that the line would have lacked both size as well as two-way players, I thought (my 2 cents) were that this line would have been a waste of Hemsky. Any line with Hemsky on it has the theoretical risk of drawing the other team’s top line. Who on that line would win puck battles, protect Hemsky from the Regehrs of the world, or back check reliably?
Fortunately, Pat Quinn IMO has thought of a new set of lines that look to have balance and potential to distribute scoring. I think Comrie could benefit from playing with Horcoff since Horcoff’s faceoff abilities will lessen the need to retrieve the puck particularly in the offensive zone. As well, Horcoff will provide a back checking presence on this potential line along with O’Sullivan. On the other side, both Comrie and O’Sullivan have had hotter sticks than Horcoff, so he might get a boost in point production himself.
For the second line, one concern might be the play of Gagner and Hemsky during the preseason. There’s no question that they lacked chemistry in the preseason, however, it’s possible this is more a reflection of Hemsky’s seeming disinterest during the preseason itself. As well, Penner’s strong on the puck and he has played better than ever this year. Last year, there’s no question that Horpensky was our best line while this line is a Horpensky lite version as it has 2/3 of the previous years players on it.
With Stone potentially sidelined with a meniscus tear, we can expect to see Nilsson playing for the some time. To start with, JFJ moving down on the roster will probably help him play better as he will face softer opposition on a line with less pressure. Gilbert Brule has started the season off very well and has held his own in the faceoff circle. Nilsson should add some skill to this line that already benefits from one grinder (Jacques) who’s learned to crash the net. As well, Brule plays both with skills and grit (for a smaller player) so he help hold this line together.
As for the fourth line, it’s somewhat hard to see Cogliano so low down on the roster playing with 2 muckers. Yet, it’s also hard to argue against this line as it’s been pretty succesful so far. From what I can recall, they’ve done a surprising amount of heavy lifting with playing against some team’s top lines.