After a three-game slump, the Edmonton Oilers broke out on Tuesday, pumping five goals past a hapless Antti Niemi and then adding two more on Kari Lehtonen just for good measure, in a 7-1 win over Dallas. In this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday, we ask whether Todd McLellan has found the optimal lineup for the postseason.
Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Leon Draisaitl. There really shouldn’t be any concern as to McDavid’s role, but his linemates deserve scrutiny. Draisaitl picked up two assists on Tuesday and now has seven points in his last 11 games, though only one of those is a goal and he’s been held to a single shot or less in eight of those contests. Maroon’s goal and assist bump him up to four points over that 11-game span.
Milan Lucic – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle. This line has been rolling pretty well. Lucic is playing the most inspired hockey we’ve seen in an Oilers’ uniform. Eberle’s eight-game pointless streak is well in the rearview mirror now. Nugent-Hopkins had been held off the score sheet for four games, but ended that with a goal against the Stars.
Benoit Pouliot – David Desharnais – Zack Kassian. Desharnais has three points in five games since landing in Edmonton. Pouliot’s been back for three of those, and scored against the Stars, ending a brutal 28-game drought. More impressively, after firing three-or-more shots in just four of his first 50 games, he’s done it in all three games post-injury. Kassian has four points in his last four games.
Matt Hendricks – Mark Letestu – Anton Slepyshev. Slepyshev saw some time on the third line and both showed off some shooting acumen and picked up an assist. Hendricks had another difficult game, while Letestu was vanilla.
Scratched: Drake Caggiula, Jujhar Khaira, Iiro Pakarinen. Caggiula is undersized but competitive, and has some value at both ends of the rink, though his scoring has been minimal this year. Khaira plays a heavy, cycle game and can handle duty on the wing or at centre. Pakarinen is an all-purpose forward and clearly a favourite of the coach. Both bring size and some offensive ability to the mix.
In the minors: Justin Fontaine, Anton Lander, Jesse Puljujarvi. Lander is probably the best player in the AHL this season, an elite two-way centre at that level. Fontaine is 29 and has more than 200 games of NHL experience, including 19 in the postseason. Puljujarvi has been scoring at an impressive clip since his demotion.
Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson. This all-purpose pairing features two players who complement each other nicely. Larsson is somewhat one-dimensional, but that dimension is vital: the shutdown defender. He’s big, smart and mean, which makes up for modest puck-moving ability and average speed. Klefbom brings those two qualities in abundance, as well as size, but lacks Larsson’s defensive zone acumen. Since January 1, this is a 50 percent Corsi pair which has been on the ice for 26 goals for and only 12 against.
Andrej Sekera – Kris Russell. This pair stormed to prominence with a glorious October, but has cooled considerably since. Since January 1, the duo has been on the ice for just 46% of goals and Corsi events, which even given their defensive assignments isn’t good enough. Oddly, both Sekera and Russell have better shot metrics apart, with each being over 50 percent with other partners.
Darnell Nurse – Matt Benning. Nurse and Benning haven’t played together long enough to get a firm read on them as a duo. Obviously experience isn’t a strength, but both are versatile players. Nurse both is big and plays big, but complements that with speed and confidence with the puck. Benning is smaller, but plays a surprisingly robust physical game for a college defender with puck-moving ability.
Scratched: Eric Gryba. Gryba lacks ability with the puck, but he’s big, physical and is now in his fifth season in the majors at the age of 28. He also has 10 games of NHL playoff experience and has worked reasonably well with Nurse.
In the minors: Mark Fayne, Jordan Oesterle, Griffin Reinhart. I doubt Fayne’s done in the NHL; he’s just 29, and is laying waste to the minors. From a playoff experience perspective, he was also a top-four option for the Devils in their run in 2012. He isn’t fast or particularly good with the puck, but he’s big and smart. Prospects Oesterle and Reinhart bring different skills; wheels and offence in the former case, size and strength in the latter.
That takes us to this week’s question. Is the lineup assembled to beat Dallas the optimal playoff setup for the Oilers? If not, how would you calibrate the lines and defence pairings?