Twelve days ago in a matinee roadie against the New York Rangers, Jay Woodcroft started Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the same line for the first time this year. It’s a move that Woodcroft has shied away from in favour of a more balanced line up. However this is also the first time that the Oilers’ coach had Evander Kane unavailable due to injury. So after going 2–4–0 without Kane and losing the first two games of the three game road trip, Woodcroft went with the nuclear option and loaded up the top line.
The Oilers’ record starts to look up with the MVPs as linemates
The Oilers won the aforementioned game but it took a ridiculous third period, coming back from three goals down to win 4–3 in regulation. Evan Bouchard had two early goals, Dylan Holloway ties it up halfway, and a Draisaitl power play winner with two minutes left. While entertaining, that’s not how Woodcroft drew that one up!
The next game against the Florida Panthers was another improbable comeback. This time it took last second heroics from Bouchard tying the game with four seconds left after blowing a 2–1 third period lead. Draisaitl scoring the winner in overtime working a give and go with McDavid. An absolute barn burner but definitely not how a coach wants to win that game.
The Oilers would have a strong start the following game against the Chicago Blackhawks building up a 4–1 lead only to see them hang on for a 5–4 win – entertaining to watch but frustrating for coaches. We can all agree to throw away the second leg of the back-to-back game, being a 5–3 road loss to a well-rested Minnesota Wild. Back-to-backs are no excuse in the NHL, but you could see the Oilers fatigue as the game wore on and the Wild took over. It would have been awesome if a well-rested Campbell could have stolen that game.
Throw in a solid effort on a Saturday Hockey Night win against the Montreal Canadiens and the Oilers were suddenly 4–1 since starting McDavid and Draisaitl together. Kane has started skating again which is encouraging, however he is not expected to return anytime soon. This leaves us to ponder the interesting situation coach Woodcroft is in.
Comparing McDavid and Draisaitl’s 5v5 stats
Here we take a look at the duos numbers during the first 20 games and the last five prior to the game with the Washington Capitals. It is a small sample size of only five games however both have improved or increased numbers when comparing TOI at 5v5, PPG at 5v5 and CF%.
|McDavid w/o Draisaitl||15.91||0.55||6||5||11||49.63|
|Draisaitl w/o McDavid||15.31||0.45||4||5||9||42.39|
|McDavid w/ Draisaitl||15.91||0.80||3||1||4||53.66|
|Draisaitl w/ McDavid||15.91||1.20||2||4||6||53.66|
It appears that Draisaitl is the biggest benefactor of being paired with McDavid 5v5 by increasing his CF% by 11.27% and almost tripling his 5v5 PPG. McDavid has also seen an 4.03% increase in CF% and 0.25 more PPG. Both are playing approximately 1.5 minutes more 5v5 per game.
The Oilers have a winning record while starting McDavid and Draisaitl together, yet it’s taken two miraculous comebacks and a hang-on win to get there. The Oilers should have lost those two games and would be three points out of the wild card if they had. Instead they are currently in the first wild card spot and mere points away from catching the Los Angeles Kings for third in the division.
What’s to come for when the Oilers have a healthy lineup
In his press conference prior the Capitals game, coach Woodcroft was quoted as saying “We haven’t been perfect but we are finding ways to try and get results.”
It appears based on the media availability that Woodcroft has adapted a short-term/long-term mentality noting injuries, tough schedule and tough travel as setbacks early in the season. The long term goal is to get healthy and while not perfect, Woodcroft does like the peskiness and find-a-way attitude his team has shown during this part of the season.
Woodcroft appears be looking for any positives at the moment. He noted bottom-six plays in key moments by Jesse Puljujarvi, Derek Ryan, and Devin Shore that while they don’t show up on the stat sheet, they help the team win. Those plays also make the team harder to play against and can set themselves up nicely for when players return from injury. He was also quick to mention that the team is 4–1 since the Philip Broberg callup.
Woodcroft understands the void left by the Kane injury and how it’s affected the top-six. While unconventional, the early results from the short term solution are four wins, and now two losses with the latest setback against the Capitals. That is much better than the 2–4–0 in the previous six. The Oilers have found a way to win games they probably should have lost and for now that’s good enough.
There may be an interesting discussion to have about keeping McDavid and Draisaitl together when Kane returns. As long as the Oilers make the playoffs it won’t matter which line up they used. At the end of the season they don’t ask how you won but how many.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire