It’s a bit early in the season for the nuclear option, maybe.
Whenever Jay Woodcroft pairs the two reigning league-leading scorers on the same line, you know things haven’t been going quite as planned for the Edmonton Oilers.
But you can’t blame the third-year head coach for looking to ignite his offence in an attempt to blow up the scoreboard by putting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl together, which we’ve already seen — albeit sparingly — on their way to an 0-2 start on the season.
And with 8-1 and 4-3 losses in a home-and-home series against the Vancouver Canucks, it’s safe to say things haven’t gone according to plan.
“You look at all areas of your game, the fact of the matter is we’ve scored one even-strength goal in two games,” said Woodcroft. “Obviously, there’s a lot of chances created, there wasn’t a lot of finish. I think the shooting percentage at even strength is about two per cent, which is not our standard.
“But you worry when you’re not getting chances — I think we’re creating chances.”
It involves, the coach says, pushing for second and even third efforts down below the opposing hashmarks.
“I think the best example of that was how we started the last game with Draisaitl, (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins and (Zach) Hyman. It looked to me, I saw three very hungry players that were willing to do what it took, get their nose dirty, burrow over the blue paint and they were rewarded.”
Their prize was the lone five-on-five goal the Oilers have to show so far.
And it had Woodcroft reaching for the red button.
“I thought we were a little flat in the second period. I put them together and I liked our response,” said Woodcroft. “We wanted to go back in Game 2 with the lines that we started with and give everybody a second chance. And then we ended up moving some pieces around the chessboard as that game wore on.”
While it has yet to pan out with an even-strength goal, the strategy is obviously sound. The Oilers’ two biggest guns have connected on the power play twice already, with Draisaitl getting his first of the season in the opener and McDavid’s first on Saturday.
But scoring isn’t the only measuring stick, Woodcroft pointed out.
“I think when they play together, it’s a dangerous combination,” he said. “The results speak for themselves. Not only did they create numerous chances when they’re together, they drew a lot of penalties as well.
“So, you know what you’re getting when those two guys are together.”
An off-season addition that reunited McDavid with former Erie Otters linemate Connor Brown from back in their Ontario Hockey League days has seen the pair placed with the gritty Evander Kane on the Oilers top line out of the gates.
On Monday, Woodcroft moved Draisaitl up from his usual spot at second-line centre to skate alongside McDavid and Kane.
“I’ve played with them together the last couple of seasons,” Kane said. “We seem to work well together and know how each other plays.
“I hope we can generate some more opportunities off the rush, we haven’t had too many odd-man rushes-for in these last couple of games, so hopefully it creates some stuff off the rush. And obviously, when it gets into the other team’s end, just be hard around the net and get open for those guys.”
It wasn’t the only change of scenery on the top six Monday, as Warren Foegele was rewarded for his efforts, so far, as much as Woodcroft was in the lab concocting further options for himself.
Predators defenceman Tyson Barrie back to face old friends on Oilers after last year’s trade
0-2 Edmonton Oilers start is nothing to worry about. Not yet, anyway
“A little bit of both,” the coach said. “I think Warren’s shown up in a lot of chances-for. He’s going to the right areas. It hasn’t gone in for him, but he’s going to the good spots.
“And just mixing things up, I think it’s a good thing. We’re trying to find the right chemistry in order to find some of that offensive success, while at the same time tidying up a few areas defensively as well.”
Outscored by a combined 12-4 against the Canucks, the Oilers certainly weren’t without their chances, having outshot their opponents 67-32 whether McDavid and Draisaitl were together or not.
“I’d say we liked parts of our game,” Kane said of his team’s second outing. “I thought — I don’t know if these are the words for it, but — we did a lot better than the night before against those guys.
“But we’ve got to expect not to score five or six goals every game to win, we have to limit goals-against and compete a little bit harder in certain areas.”