The Oilers are struggling mightily at even-strength on this current road trip as the club has only scored two goals, both of which came from Iiro Pakarinen against the Red Wings. The top six has been ice-cold over the past three games with only Teddy Purcell notching an assist so far.
In the most recent game, Todd McLellan reunited Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle with Benoit Pouliot, which was a fine idea considering the success they've had in the past. This allowed Taylor Hall to stay with Leon Draisaitl, with Teddy Purcell serving as the second winger. There's obviously some hesitation splitting up Hall and Draisaitl, as the two have demonstrated some good chemistry and the ability to generate scoring chances. The problem is the team isn't scoring and something has to change for the remaining two games in Pittsburgh and Toronto.
The issue with leaving Nugent-Hopkins and Pouliot together is that, while they have done well together possession wise, they don't have a history of outscoring opposition together. Below is a quick snap shot of their possession numbers and goals for percentage with and without one another over the past two seasons (even-strength).
While a 44% goals for percentage isn't terrible, it's a significant drop off from when they're apart from one another. Pouliot's success this year has been with McDavid in the lineup, but the veteran still plays a vital role in the team's overall ability to generate shots. The good news is that RNH can generate goals (just under a 50% GF%) with Eberle, so keeping them as a pair, a tactic that McLellan has alluded to several times now, would be a wise decision.
The most effective left winger for these two players is Taylor Hall, who has a history playing with RNH and Eberle and can drive the team regardless of where he is in the lineup. He's been the team's MVP this season and would be the best remedy to help Eberle break out of his slump. Below are Hall's possession and goals for percentage with Eberle, as well as for RNH.
What About Leon?
If Hall is moved over to play left wing with RNH and Eberle, young Draisaitl would shift down to play with two very reliable veteran players in Pouliot and Purcell. There's a better chance that the opposition on this current road trip would deploy their top line to contain Hall and RNH, with Draisaitl taking on more favorable competition. I think this would be a good way to build the young player's confidence, while having two savvy veterans to support him in a pinch. Draisaitl has played limited minutes with Purcell (195 mins) and Pouliot (74 mins) over the past two seasons, but we can still glean some insight form their goals for and possession numbers with and without one another.
As a result of being paired with Hall, the opposition has been sending out their absolute best against Draisaitl during this road trip. In Washington, Leon played most of his minutes against Backstrom and Ovechkin. In Carolina, he saw a lot of Jordan Staal. And in last night's game, he spent most of his time against Datsyuk and Zetterberg, He and Hall still managed to do well when it came to shot share. But considering the slump he's in right now, he might need to be deployed differently, and get some more favorable competition (good luck with that in Pittsburgh though).
Draisaitl should do just fine possession wise with Pouliot and Purcell, which will be important in the upcoming games. There is a decent history of goal production when Draisaitl is paired with Purcell, but not so much with Pouliot. This latter issue might be due to the fact that they have not played together a whole lot, but it might be worth experimenting with to get Hall up with RNH and Eberle to play the tougher competition.