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Weekend Q&A: McDavid’s Wingers, McLellan’s Short Leash, and the Rogers Place Crowd

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Some banter from Minnia and Sunil around key questions involving the Oilers this week

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Edmonton Oilers
Pulju is thirsty for knowledge!
Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning! We hope you are enjoying the beachy Edmonton weather-- don’t forget your sunscreen today. We’re trying out a new feature where we do a casual Q&A on some of the top-of-mind issues around the Oilers. This week, Minnia and Sunil discuss McDavid’s wingers, McLellan’s propensity to punish, the Corsi question, the quiet Rogers Place crowd, and more. Feel free to add your thoughts on any of the questions in the comments.

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.

**REVERSE ORDER, YAY**

Sunil: What's your thoughts on Rogers Place being too quiet? You're not in Edmonton, so I'm wondering how it comes across when you're watching/listening to the game.

Minnia: Let me start by saying it's my dream to go to Edmonton and experience the negative 30 degree weather watch an Oilers game. I've gone to a couple of Oilers games on the road (Vancouver, Toronto), and don't know what it's like to cheer for them when everyone else in the rink doesn't hate me.

That being said, I've heard a lot in the past about the Edmonton crowd being quiet-- for a fanbase that's been so irrationally loyal, this really surprised me because it seems that in Edmonton, hockey is religion. I attribute a lot of this to the fact that for the past few years there hasn't been much to cheer for, the fans were too into the game to make noise, and apparently the new in-arena production at Rogers Place has not done much to reverse the culture. For someone watching on TV, I don't really notice the lack of noise until I watch another sports team and actually notice the crowd for its plethora of noise. For example, the contrast between Jays games (the crowd noise is one of the best parts about it) and Oilers games is definitely noticeable-- for Jays games, or even Jets games, I consciously notice the crowd and how their reactions ebb and flow throughout the game; for Oilers games, I usually just forget there's a crowd there. The lack of "signature" chants for certain players (i.e. the clap clap Tulo, Jose-Jose-Jose-Jose for Jays games, Luuuuu for Luongo) is something I'd like to see more of. It doesn't matter too much to me, but the Oilers' abysmal home record has me wondering whether some better in-game production at Rogers Place could make a tangible impact on the mood there.

What this made me realize is that crowd noise can never be taken for granted, despite an amazing fanbase. Having been a Jays fan for 15 years, though, I've seen how it can change-- I suspect if the Oilers make the playoffs, the fans will really let loose the emotions of the past ten years and it will be loud.

I am also willing to just fly to Edmonton and become a one-woman hype machine, but not sure how effective that would be.

Sunil: Can we start talking playoffs?

Minnia: I think so. As an Eternal Oilers Optimist, but also a cautious person in real life, there's the half of me that is leaping across meadows, fantasizing about McDavid toe drags for OT game winners in game seven. But there's the other half that knows for every playoff fantasy scenario, the pain of possibly not making the playoffs will multiply. It's really a struggle.

I think we all know this team is not going to be going super deep into the playoffs, but I very badly want them to just get a taste, even if it's one round, because it will do so much for the experience and morale of a team that doesn't know what it's like to play in such an atmosphere. I read something that 80% of teams who are in a playoff position by Thanksgiving end up making it. It almost feels inappropriate to think about it, but I think they can squeak in.

I think there are two things important for me in order for the team to make the playoffs:

  1. More polish-- Coach Todd has mentioned this many times, but the Oilers have been throwing away points during very winnable games due to lapses in concentration and effort. This is what makes the difference between playoff teams and non-playoff teams. I can think of at least four games that the Oilers could have easily won, but let go due to the briefest of lapses-- we would be looking at something like 18-10-0 if it weren't for those games. It's important that they learn from these experiences and stop repeating them over and over.
  2. Stay healthy-- the team started the year snakebitten, much like last year, but haven't really lost any core players yet (I get scared each time I say this). It HAS to stay this way for the Oilers to have a chance-- as it stands now, unfortunately they are hard carried by a few key players, namely McDavid and Draisaitl. When they mentioned Philly on the radio, I clutched my head as traumatic memories filled my consciousness. I cannot imagine losing any of them, or even someone like Andrej Sekera, who logs minutes like a machine on the blueline.

Sunil: If you're on the management team, who are you protecting for the upcoming expansion draft?

Minnia: Forwards- Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic, Leon Draisaitl, Patrick Maroon, Zack Kassian, Tyler Pitlick

Defense- Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera

And I hide Brandon Davidson away from the world until it is safe for him to go outside again.

Sunil: Do you like the defence combinations? Good enough to make the playoffs?

Minnia: I really have hesitated talking about this because Klefbom and Larsson are two of my favourite players and my bias shows, but I think the way they have been "punished" by McLellan has been counterproductive-- my small gripe about Uncle Todd this season is how quick he is to punish. They had been paired together and showed some great chemistry, logging top minutes and Klefbom coming into his own offensively, but due to a few gaffes in one or two games, they were torn apart and thrown with random partners. They haven’t fared much better since being split up. Larsson, in particular, who wasn't even struggling prior to losing his defensive partner, has looked really unsteady of late. Larsson and Russell are getting hammered in possession almost every game, so it's negatively affected Russell's game, as well. I want to see McLellan reunite the Larsbom pairing (which he has)— if not, try out the Klefbom-Benning pairing, who played briefly together but looked like they had great chemistry, and then the steady Sekera-Larsson as the top pairing, rounded out by Russell-Davidson.

As of 12/8:

Oscar Klefbom (5v5)

  • CF%- 52.20%
  • CF% with Adam Larsson (332:46 TOI)- 51.23%
  • CF% without Adam Larsson- 55.32%
  • CF% with Matt Benning (31:55 TOI)- 63.64%
  • CF% without Matt Benning- 51.35%

Adam Larsson (5v5)

  • CF%- 50.11%
  • CF% with Oscar Klefbom- 51.23%
  • CF% without Oscar Klefbom- 47.60%
  • CF% with Kris Russell (61:46 TOI)- 38.05%
  • CF% without Kris Russell- 51.89%
  • CF% with Andrej Sekera (34:46 TOI)- 54.67%
  • CF% without Andrej Sekera- 49.69%