The Edmonton Oilers are in a difficult position.
The team is down 3-2 in their first-round series with the Los Angeles Kings and they’ll be without Darnell Nurse in Game 6 as he was issued a one-game suspension for headbutting Phillip Danault.
Jay Woodcroft and Co. have a lot to think about between now and Thursday evening. How are they going to replace their top defender on the blueline? And can they get more out of the team’s forwards by making some changes to the lines? Let’s go through the options…
The defensive pairings…
Nurse leads all Oilers in time on ice through five games against the Kings. He’s logged 108:45 all told and he’s played 81:19 at even-strength with an 8-to-4 on-ice goal differential. I think we all know just how big of a loss this is for the Oilers and how difficult it’ll be for the team to navigate.
Edmonton’s second defender on the left side has been Duncan Keith, and expecting him to jump up and log the top-pairing minutes that Nurse handles probably wouldn’t be ideal. Keith had a tough time in Game 5 and appeared to be a step behind, especially on L.A.’s game-winning goal in overtime. He can be a very effective defender so long as his workload isn’t too much.
The best option to play alongside Cody Ceci on Edmonton’s top pairing would likely be Brett Kulak, who’s been playing on the third pairing thus far. Kulak and Ceci have played well together this season in a limited sample, as the duo posted a 70-to-52 on-ice shot attempt differential over 53:49 together at even-strength.
Kris Russell and Tyson Barrie is a bit of a shaky third pairing, so another thing to consider is calling up Philip Broberg and going with 11 forwards and seven defencemen. Broberg hasn’t ever played in an NHL playoff game and this would certainly be tossing him into the deep end, but his presence would give Woodcroft and Dave Manson more options to piece together their blueline.
Broberg played for the Bakersfield Condors on Tuesday and the team in scheduled to play again on Wednesday. If the Oilers are going to call him up for Game 6 in Los Angeles on Thursday, he surely wouldn’t be in the Condors lineup on Wednesday, as three games in three nights would be too much.
The forward lines…
After scoring 14 goals across Games 2 and 3, the Oilers have come out flat in back-to-back games and they only managed to score four goals in Games 4 and 5.
The Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto, and Zach Hyman line struggled in the 4-0 loss in Game 4, as the Kings dominated them 15-to-6 in shot attempts over 8:11 of play at even-strength. Game 5 saw more of a blender, as Draisaitl played with Hyman, Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod, Warren Foegele, and Connor McDavid.
Though he scored a pair of goals, one on the power-play and one short-handed, Draisaitl didn’t have his best showing in Game 5, as the Oilers were in the red on shot attempts 29-to-21 and they were outscored 3-to-0 when he was on the ice at even-strength. Draisatil’s best numbers came alongside McDavid and Yamamoto, as the trio generated three high-danger chances over four minutes together.
Given Draisaitl’s tough play in back-to-back games, it might be time for Woodcroft to consider playing him on McDavid’s wing.
What say you, Nation? How do the Oilers navigate Nurse’s suspension? Should they make some changes to the forward lines to spark the team? Let us know!