A few days ago, we talked about what Tom Renney might want to do with his forwards. The first line (Gagner, Penner, and Hemsky) was doing very well against a variety of opponents, but rolling through the lines meant that everyone on the third and fourth line was getting hammered. The three options that I presented to deal with the situation were (1) to keep the status quo and hope things improve, (2) shuffle bodies on the third and fourth line and hope to get better results, or (3) break up the top line and hope their success spreads like gangrene. There was some support for each of the options, but with several consecutive days off, the one guy whose opinion matters most - Oilers' head coach Tom Renney - decided to break up his top group (although his redistribution of the top talent differed from my suggestion). After the jump, we'll talk a bit about the new groupings and whether or not they might be successful.
Paajarvi - Horcoff - Hemsky
Penner - Gagner - Eberle
Hall - Cogliano - Brule
Jones - Fraser - Stortini
If Renney continues to run the bench the way he has in the first four games, the bottom of the lineup is just as screwed as they were before. But I don't think he will. The lines as constructed imply to me that Renney plans on being more aggressive in matching lines and doling out starting positions than he has been to this point in the season (let's hope that's not wishful thinking).
The Oilers have four solid players (Horcoff, Hemsky, Gagner, and Penner), so putting three of them on one line meant that there were just too many bodies to hide. That meant rolling lines and hoping that each group could find the range. As we all saw, it wasn't working. Splitting those four into two lines changes things. Each of these two pairings (Horcoff - Hemsky and Penner - Gagner) have been able to play tougher opposition in the past with some success. In fact, history shows us that each of these pairings has been quite successful at controlling territory in the recent past (thanks to Vic Ferrari for the data):
As we can see, Hemsky and Horcoff have been much better together than they have been apart over the last couple of seasons (at least at EV). Similarly, Penner and Gagner formed a formidable top line last year when Hemsky was out of the lineup, and were more successful together than they were apart. Paajarvi and Eberle are rookies, and will no doubt (continue) to make plenty of mistakes, but at least they're playing with pairings that have been successful against the league's best. It's a real opportunity for them to grow and if it turns out that these lines can hold their own in the deep end... well, then there's hope for more than a few extra wins this year than last.
If the top two lines are in fact taking on the toughest minutes (effectively), Renney has successfully provided some shelter to the bottom two units that have been so badly exposed so far this season. My preference would be to see Jones, Fraser, and Stortini taking on more of the defensive zone draws to allow Cogliano, Brule, and Hall to come out in more offensive situations against some lesser lights. No doubt the fourth line would continue getting hammered (as most fourth lines do), but the third line might actually stop bleeding, and three lines that can hold their own with this group of forwards is pretty darn good.
So far this season, Tom Renney hasn't done any line-matching, but if that changes, and he aggressively protects the new third line, these new combinations may give the Oilers a decent chance to win.