Sometimes you stare at a problem so long it’s impossible to see the forest for the trees. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes can solve the puzzle. That’s the task for Ken Hitchcock over the next 60 games of this NHL season. Find a way to win enough games to make the second season. He has some advantages: A lifetime of hockey knowledge dancing around in his brain, a Pacific Division that gets rickrolled routinely by the other, better divisions, and the best player in the game. Hitchcock’s challenge, McLellan’s challenge, Chiarelli’s challenge: How to outscore opponents when Connor McDavid is at rest, or at least play those opponents to a draw. We begin.
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- New Lowetide: A shot in the dark: What are the Oilers getting in Chris Wideman?
- New Justin Bourne: Why switching coaches provides short-term benefits for an NHL team.
- Lowetide: With not enough talent, and outside the playoffs, Todd McLellan’s Oilers career ends where it began.
- Jonathan Willis: The Edmonton Oilers get their 2018-19 quarter pole report cards.
- Black Dog Pat: It’s going to be a long winter.
- Pierre Lebrun: The chance to coach his hometown Oilers was an offer Ken Hitchcock couldn’t refuse.
- Jonathan Willis: Hiring Ken Hitchcock is Peter Chiarelli’s final chance to make his Oilers vision work.
- Eric Duhatschek: Ken Hitchcock will be motivated by move to Oilers, now what can he get out of flawed roster?
- Lowetide: Oilers No. 2 Prospect winter 2018: Kailer Yamamoto.
- Lowetide: Oilers No. 1 Prospect winter 2018: Evan Bouchard.
OILERS AFTER 22
- Oilers in 2015: 7-14-1, 15 points; goal differential -12
- Oilers in 2016: 12-8-2, 26 points; goal differential +10
- Oilers in 2017: 8-12-2, 18 points; goal differential -14
- Oilers in 2018: 10-10-1, 21 points; goal differential -8
The McDavid Years are shown here, the one playoff team jumps off the page. Edmonton 2018 is the second best team among the four but the goal differential is a concern. A win today by two or more goals would help the cause.
OILERS IN NOVEMBER
- Oilers in November 2015: 3-6-2, eight points; goal differential -6
- Oilers in November 2016: 4-6-1, nine points; goal differential -3
- Oilers in November 2017: 4-6-1, nine points; goal differential -5
- Oilers in November 2018: 4-6-0, eight points; goal differential -6
Not one of these November teams has a positive goal differential after 11 games (10 for the 2018 club) and none of them is/was on a point-per-game pace. November’s story remains a downer but it’s not over yet.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN NOVEMBER
- At home to: Chicago (Expected 1-0-0) Actual (1-0-0)
- On the road to: Detroit, Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida (Expected 2-2-0) (Actual 1-3-0)
- At home to: Colorado, Montreal (Expected 1-1-0) (Actual 1-1-0)
- On the road to: Calgary (Expected 0-1-0) (Actual 0-1-0)
- At home to: Vegas (Expected 1-0-0) (Actual 0-1-0)
- On the road to: San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles (Expected 2-1-0) (Actual 1-0-0)
- At home to: Dallas, Los Angeles (Expected 1-0-1) (Actual 0-0-0)
- Overall expected result: 8-5-1, 17 points in 14 games
- Current results: 4-6-0, 8 points in 10 games
I have today as a win, followed by a win over the Kings. If Hitchcock’s troops win the day in those two California games, that’s 12 points in 12 November games and that’s a positive result based on what’s happened since the game against Detroit so very long ago. Have to win those games!
The final Todd McLellan lineup looked like this:
- Lucic—Marody—Patrick Russell
- Talbot (Koskinen)
The first Hitchcock lineup made some subtle changes:
- Caggiula—McDavid—Draisaitl—Hitchcock kept the top line intact and the Oilers were rewarded handsomely. He mentioned trying to keep 97-29 together, he ran Tyler Seguin with Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov (Stars best players) heavily a year ago. The trio posted 103 goals for the year.
- Spooner—Nuge—Chiasson—One of the major problems on this roster is a second scoring line. Hitchcock had the same issue in Dallas, as his No. 2 line (Janmark-Shore-Spezza) managed only 38 goals. Nuge (5) and Chiasson (8) have posted solid numbers so far, should be able to post something close to 50 if Spooner (or other) chimes in. Pressure is on Hitchcock to find a solution, it’ll be interesting to see what happens here.
- Lucic—Brodziak—Kassian—Hitchcock moved Lucic onto the ‘grumpy old men’ line and their debut has them likely to make a second appearance. There aren’t enough goals here, and that’s going to mean a shuffle (either a scorer added, or this line will become the No. 4 line). In Dallas, his third line (Roussel-Faksa-Pitlick) scored 36 goals. It was a good line.
- Khaira—Marody—Rattie—I think Hitchcock is casting about for offense, and may have struck on something with these two wingers and double shifting McDavid. Poor Marody didn’t get much playing time in the first game, perhaps he’ll get more today. Hitchcock’s fourth line was Elie-Gemel Smith-Brett Ritchie, scored 19 goals.
- Hitchcock’s forwards scored 201 goals last season. His top line scored 103.
- Edmonton’s forwards are on pace to score to score 215 goals. The top line is on pace for 129.
- Klefbom—Larsson—Both men played 23 minutes in Hitch’s debut, that’s an increase of a minute+ for Larsson and a decrease of 2.5 minutes for Oscar. There were no power plays, so that’s going to account for the loss. Most interesting thing is the increase for Larsson, I expect the coach will love him.
- Nurse—Russell—Nurse played three more minutes than normal, Russell one. There were five penalties, so lots of PK time, but I do think the coach is going to run his top two pairs heavily.
- Gravel—Benning—Both men played the types of minutes McLellan assigned no real change in playing time. Pairing got 36 seconds PK time, rest at evens. I hope they keep Gravel in the lineup, wonder about Benning’s spot in the lineup with the acquisition of Wideman.
- Koskinen—Although he won the No. 1 job with McLellan as coach, Hitchcock will run the hot hand and the big Finn is it.
WIDEMAN AND SPOONER
Ryan Spooner (he is the cover photo) is due, having played three games (11:41 a night) without getting much done (two giveaways, three shots, nothing dangerous). Chris Wideman might be (as I mentioned in The Athletic article) a harbinger of things to come for Matt Benning, although the lefty-righty setup can be completed if everyone remains.
Spooner and Wideman are auditioning for jobs this and next season, and they (along with Drake Caggiula) may get early opportunities under Ken Hitchcock. Sometimes it works like a charm, other times it doesn’t at all.
I’m not here to bury Todd McLellan, but the auditions (old and young) during his time in Edmonton were brief and often doomed by linemates. I’d list Pontus Aberg there, Anton Slepyshev, Jesse Puljujarvi. The retort is often “well they didn’t show a lot either” and that’s true. However, a real chance means 20 games in a specific spot, to allow the player to find his way.
Take Spooner. He’s played three games in Edmonton. That’s nothing. Moving him off that line now is like the boss coming to you at quarter after 10 this morning and saying ‘pack your bags, you’re over’ on your first day on the job. It takes time. It takes 20 games.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, TSN1260, I’ll be live for Day 2 from the Shaw Conference Centre for Grey Cup 2018. It was a blast yesterday, enjoyed meeting you if you came out (Hi, Jerry!) and sorry I missed you if I was on the air when you dropped by (Hi Colin!). Scheduled to appear:
- Steve Lansky, BigMouthSports. We’ll chat Grey Cup, Hitchcock hiring, McLellan firing.
- Marshall Ferguson, TSN Hamilton. Grey Cup preview, Ti-Cats heartbreak.
- Matt Iwanyk, TSN1260. Young Iwanyk is taking in his first Grey Cup, but his sense of responsibility is so great he’s the one Grey Cup guest I know will be on time and ready.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Talk soon!