In an effort to shake things up, Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish came up with a number of different line combinations in practice on Monday as the team prepares for the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.
One of the bigger changes was that it looks like Zack Stortini will play a larger role on the team next game. He had one of his better outings of the season on Saturday night against Calgary and will be rewarded with a right wing spot on the team’s main checking line, alongside Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll.
“We want to do a couple things. We want to get a little bit more pop in the lineup,” said MacTavish of his line changes. “I like what (Stortini) did against Calgary and will try to get a checking line going.”
The change breaks up what had been the team’s top line of Torres, Stoll and Hemsky.
“Stolly, Raffi and Hemmer weren’t given as much the last couple of games and we’ve definitely got to get something out of Hemmer,” MacTavish noted. “We’ll get (Hemsky) back with Horc (Horcoff) and Robert (Nilsson) and see if we can get some offence there.”
Perhaps the most drastic change for MacTavish was putting Nilsson and Hemsky together. Nilsson has played predominantly right wing during his time in Edmonton but he’ll be on the left side on this new line combination.
“In a lot of ways it’s not an exact science, that’s for sure. You just try and mesh guys together relative to where they are in terms of their confidence cycle and productivity cycle,” MacTavish remarked when asked what goes into changing the lines.
“Sometimes you need to simplify roles for guys who are struggling. You sit back there and try and put the right combinations together in an effort to try and get a lineup that has a little bit more pop physically, quite a bit more pop offensively and has guys playing in a defensive role.”
Being the team’s main checking line, Stortini could see time with Stoll and Torres against the Sedins.
“We’ll see how it all works out. Definitely, they’re capable of that. I didn’t mind Zack in that position with Penner and Horc against the Iginla line with Conroy and Tanguay so it could be a possible match-up that we’ll see.”
In the past, Stortini has played mostly fourth-line minutes but on a team in need of a boost physically, he might be the answer in terms of energizing the entire lineup from top to bottom.
“You find yourself giving that icetime to other people who aren’t very productive offensively and aren’t very physical. You know with Zack if you give him the minutes he’s going to be physical so why not give him an opportunity to get in there and play a little bit. I think he’s ready for that positionally and he’s not going to take a bunch of stupid penalties,” MacTavish continued.
Jarret Stoll is relishing the opportunity to shut down the Sedins.
“I think he’s going to try our line against the Sedins to start. I take a lot of pride in shutting them down, especially in this building because they’ve had some good games here in the past. If we can shut them down, it’s a pretty good chance we’ll win the hockey game,” said Stoll.
The centre has played everywhere from the team’s first to fourth line this season and he says it’s just a matter of adapting.
“You know everybody’s game; you know what they bring to the table. You use that to mould your game around that.”
With the changes, Oilers leading scorer Shawn Horcoff
has found himself back on the top line. He’s played with both his current linemates before this season – Nilsson and Hemsky.
“We haven’t really had that much chemistry out there the last couple of games,” Horcoff said of the team’s scoring lines. “Mac’s trying to find some chemistry and create some goals.”
Horcoff went on to say that he doesn’t mind changing lines up every now and then.
“When you’re not scoring goals, you’ve got to find a way as a coach to find some players who will mesh together. When you play with certain guys sometimes you just have it and sometimes you have to sit down with the other players and work on it.”Sam Gagner
, who has been playing with Andrew Cogliano the past few games, welcomes Dustin Penner as a new linemate.
“Once he gets going he’s got a lot of speed and he’s able to win a lot of puck battles down low. He’s a smart player so that should help us out a lot,” said Gagner. “It’s going to be a good opportunity to play with these two guys.”
Penner and Gagner did play briefly in the pre-season with Gagner at centre and Hemsky on right wing.
“He does a great job of cycling the puck and I think he can get it to me where I have some time behind the net and he does a great job getting open.
“I don’t think so at all,” said Gagner when asked if the line juggling was frustrating. “We haven’t had a winning streak going in awhile, once we get a winning streak I’m sure the lines will stay the same.”
Penner hasn’t put up many points in the past three games, but then not many Oilers have with only three goals combined in those games. Prior to that, he was on a three-game scoring streak and he hopes to recapture that.
“Hopefully there’s some chemistry between me, Gags and Cogs and the other (scoring) line – Nilsson, Hemmer and Horcoff looks pretty good, too,” he said.
Penner added that he also has no problems with rotating linemates should the situation call for it.
“You have to be comfortable playing with anybody and know how to customize your game to who you’re playing with.”