Adam Larsson’s 2019-20 season got off to a terrible start.
The plan out of training camp was for Larsson to play alongside Darnell Nurse, giving head coach Dave Tippett a duo that could be focused on defensive play and shutting down the other team’s top line. Larsson’s usual partner, Oscar Klefbom, would then play alongside rookie Ethan Bear on a more offensively-oriented pairing.
The Larsson and Nurse experiment lasted for one game.
Larsson blocked a shot in the first period of the Oilers’ season-opener against the Canucks. He played through pain for the remainder of the game and, afterwards, it turned out that he had a fractured fibula. Larsson was placed on the Long-Term Injured Reserve and the Oilers had to navigate without him for nearly two months.
During his absence, Bear was placed alongside Nurse and the two of them created a very effective pair. Klefbom, on the other hand, had a revolving door of partners to varying degrees of success. Rookie Joel Persson was fine as a stand-in, Kris Russell on his off-side was a disaster, and Matt Benning was also in over his head in an increased role.
When Larsson returned to the lineup in late-November, it unsurprisingly took him a while to get back up to speed. He started off on the third pairing, getting eased back into action. Eventually, Tippett reunited Larsson with Klebom, seeing as how there was no point in re-visiting the Larsson and Nurse pairing given how well the latter was playing with Bear.
Klefbom and Larsson struggled mightily in the early going. Between late-November and the end of December, the duo logged 198 minutes together at even strength and got outscored 11-3. Slowly but surely, though, the duo found their stride.
When we talk about the key factors that went into the Oilers turning their season around when the calendar flipped to 2020, we mostly mention the recall of Kailer Yamamoto and the resurgence of Mike Smith in net.
While both of those things are true, another factor that doesn’t get as much attention is the strong play of the Klefbom and Larsson pairing. After the turn of the new year, we saw some of the best play from the Klefbom and Larsson pairing that we’ve seen since 2016-17.
Since Jan. 1, Klefbom and Larsson 307 minutes together at even strength. Over those minutes, the Oilers outscored their opponents 15-12. For the sake of comparison, that Goals For percentage from Klefbom and Larsson in 2020 (55.6 percent) is virtually identical to the number the duo posted across 1063 even-strength minutes together in 2016-17 (55.9 percent).
Heading into the playoffs, Tippett certainly won’t mess with success. He’s got a strong top-four, with Klefbom and Larsson playing at their 2016-17 level and Bear and Nurse also forming a very strong pairing together.
If the Oilers are going to go on a deep run into the playoffs, they need their top-four to continue clicking the way they had been after the turn of the new year. Larsson’s had an ugly showing in 2019, but that can be chalked up to the fact he was returning from a difficult injury. Once he found his footing, he and Klefbom hit their stride.
Now, after having a few months off, Larsson should be healed up from any bumps, bruises, and wear-and-tear he might have had and he’ll be poised to help anchor Edmonton’s blueline against the Blackhawks. The veteran duo of Klefbom and Larsson will surely be seeing a lot of Patrick Kane during the play-in round and they’ll need to be at their best to contain him.
Larsson might not be a “sexy” player, but, as we saw this season, when he’s healthy and at his best, he plays a big role on a successful Oilers’ team.