GD5: Oilers @ Maple Leafs: The Stubbornness of Dave Tippett
Dave Tippett is a stubborn man; every coach in the NHL is. Every coach has certain players they favor over others, guys who get more leash than others, there isn't a coach who doesn't behave this way.
I have no issue with Tippett sitting Bear and Jones for a game. Neither player has performed particularly well over the first few games, both are young and an early wakeup call isn't a bad idea. Tonight Bear will be back in the lineup with Darnell Nurse.
On the other hand you have players like Alex Chiasson who remains on the top unit powerplay and Zack Kassian who will once again start tonight's game on the top line. Both of these guys have been invisible and yet still are being placed in marquee positions.
To say things have been glum in Oil Country would be an understatement. A 1-3 record isn't great but it is the style of hockey that Edmonton has played that has fans ready to hit the panic button. Through 4 games, Edmonton has been outscored 14-10.
Let's look at the lines and then discuss a couple things:
OILERS LINE COMBINATIONS
MAPLE LEAFS LINE COMBINATIONS
The defensive pairings have been shuffled a bit again with Nurse and Bear together, Russell and Barrie, and Koekkoek and Larsson. I actually quite like the idea of a Koekkoek and Larsson shutdown pairing.
The forward group however, that has not been able to produce anything at 5 on 5 remains unchanged.
From January through March last season it was the RNH-Draisaitl-Yamamoto line which dominated games and helped lead Edmonton to second in the division. Tippett broke that line up going into the playoffs and ever since he did this team has not looked the same.
I am not necessarily suggesting that reuniting that line will fix everything that ails the Oilers but when nothing is going right, it baffles me that Tippett isn't returning to the one tried and tested combo.
Horrible depth for years has shown us that McDavid can carry almost anyone along on his line and still out-chance the opposition when they are on the ice. This year the Oilers have more depth than any year since McDavid has entered the league. A combination of Ennis, Puljujarvi, Kahun, Kassian or even Neal when healthy can score on a line with McDavid.
I really do wonder if part of this is being driven by McDavid telling his coach and GM he wants high end players to play with. This is purely speculation on my part but I just don't see many other logical reasons why Tippett will not return to that line.
4 THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1.) Bounceback Bear - For the first time in his young NHL career, Ethan Bear was made a healthy scratch. The message sent from his coach was clear; he needs to play better. The Nurse and Bear pair has been Edmonton's best duo at 5 on 5 and they need to return to that for this team to have any success.
2.) Making Life Easier On Mikko - Koskinen has not been great through the first four games but the Oilers as a whole have not made life easier on him. Last game against Montreal Edmonton did a better job at limiting chances but still got outworked on too many plays. Every line Tippett deploys needs to be active, keep the forwards to the outside and give Koskinen a chance to get into the game.
3.) Things Ain't Getting Easier - Tonight Edmonton plays against a Toronto team that sits 6th in the league in EV goals and third in total goals. The Oilers are also playing their first away game meaning that they will not get the matchups they necessarily want. Montreal absolutely dominated play and Toronto is arguably a more potent force. Edmonton needs to play not only a good game, but their best game yet.
4.) Don't Start In The Hole - Edmonton is 0-3 when they don't score first and 1-0 when they do... so maybe not allowing the first goal is a good start.
EDMONTON WINS IF...
They can score the first goal and use follow through on that momentum.
TORONTO WINS IF...
They attack the Oilers quickly and keep this team floundering as they have.
Thanks for reading