On Saturday, Edmonton Oilers color commentator, insider and radio host of Oilers Now, Bob Stauffer tweeted some completely new line combinations as the team tries to figure out a way out of a recent slide. Not playing nearly up to the level they did to start the season, head coach Dave Tippett is looking for anything, some kind of spark to get this organization headed back in the right direction and the roster has a different look from top to bottom.
While there are changes throughout the lineup, specifically, it appears Tippett is sending a message to one Oilers forward in particular.
The New Oilers Lines
The first line consists of two familiar faces but also includes the additional of a veteran with a propensity to score. James Neal has been added to thel line with Connor McDavid and Zach Kassian in what will be an opportunity for Neal to get back to the torrid scoring pace he was on when the season began.
In somewhat of a surprising move, the second line now consists of Jujhar Khaira with Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Neither Khaira nor Gagner have done much of note and Nugent-Hopkins did not have a great game against the Flames, coughing up the puck in the first ten seconds of the game to give Calgary an early 1-0 lead.
The third line is the line of note. Whether it’s a punishment, demotion or wake-up call, Leon Draisaitl will now play the role of center on the third line. He’ll be flanked by Joakim Nygard and Alex Chiasson.
Draisaitl’s Struggles Are Evident
Being placed on the third line is clear message to Draisaitl who has clearly fought the game at five-on-five over the past few weeks. Not only has his offensive production declined (it’s still decent) but he’s dragged down the best player in the game while on the ice together and that’s the kind of thing that the coach won’t tolerate.
The numbers are pretty clear and McDavid plays much better at five-on-five when not on the same line as Draisaitl. It’s one thing to struggle, it’s another to make players around you struggle as well. And, with Draisaitl known to be a player whose body language changes when he’s not on McDavid’s line, the coach is challenging him to get out of his own way, kickstart himself and others by playing a simple game and earn his way back up to where he’d like to be.
** Note: It is expected Draisaitl will still get prime power play minutes so the sky isn’t completely falling.
Draisaitl is over-thinking every component of the game. From ill-advised passes to shifts that are far too long, to defensive gaffs, that he’s still producing is a testament to how good a player he is, but there’s something clearly wrong. With a rising frustration level, perhaps a little less responsibility and onus on keeping things simple will help.
If it doesn’t, one can only hope the All-Star break snaps him out of this.