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GDB +20.0: Knoblauch Makes One, Possibly Two, Lineup Changes for Oilers

Edmonton Oilers Florida Panthers
Photo credit:Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 month ago
Vincent Desharnais will play tonight, while Cody Ceci comes out of the lineup. Sam Carrick will be a game time decision, and if he draws in look for Corey Perry to come out.
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Head coach Kris Knoblauch, along with assistant coaches Paul Coffey, Glen Gulutzan, Mark Stuart, and goalie coach Dustin Schwartz, have shown they aren’t afraid to make roster moves throughout the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs. With Ceci coming out, only 11 skaters will have played in all 20 games for the Oilers thus far.
Forwards Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evander Kane, Dylan Holloway and Mattias Janmark and defencemen Evan Bouchard, Mattias Ekholm, Darnell Nurse and Brett Kulak are the only ones to dress every game.
The Oilers have used 21 skaters and both goalies thus far. Since being named head coach in November, Knoblauch hasn’t been afraid to juggle his lines or his roster. He has changed the roster after wins or losses. He doesn’t only take a player out after a bad game, instead looking at many factors, and he has said numerous times he doesn’t like players sitting out too long. Desharnais hadn’t played awful when he was taken out of the lineup to start Game 4 v. Dallas, but Knoblauch felt the team could use Philip Broberg’s speed and ability to get to pucks quicker.
Broberg has played very well in his four games, and there was no chance he was coming out to get Desharnais back in, so Ceci will sit out his first game of the playoffs. Ceci wasn’t awful two nights ago, but he wasn’t great either. Sam Bennett beat him to a puck on a dump-in that allowed Bennett to slide the puck front of the net to a wide-open Evan Rodriques. I’d argue Nurse made a more egregious play as he vacated the front of the net as he had his skates pointing to the corner (a faux pas for D-men), and his stick off the ice which allowed the pass to go to Rodrigues. Nurse didn’t shoulder check, and he was in no-man’s-land (beside the net).
Ceci was only on the ice for two goals against in the third-round v. Dallas (the fewest GA of the eight Oilers who logged over 100+ minutes at 5×5), but he was on for both Florida goals in Game 1, so Knoblauch opted to make the change. I think the move has as much to do with getting Desharnais back in as Ceci’s play in the playoffs. Knoblauch’s biggest strength is making every player feel part of the group, and he doesn’t like guys to sit out too long.
Desharnais has sat out the last four games. Sam Carrick sat out six consecutive games, starting with Game 5 vs. LA and the first five games of the Vancouver series, while Connor Brown sat out the first five vs. LA and the opening game v. Vancouver. Corey Perry sat out the final two games vs. Vancouver and the first three vs. Dallas before returning. Warren Foegele sat out the final three games vs. Dallas before playing two nights ago.
The Oilers have good depth. Knoblauch is able to switch players in and out without much, if any, drop in their play. They have players with different strengths, and if someone isn’t playing as well as the coaches would like, the coaches have shown they aren’t afraid to make the change. Ceci is the latest to get a seat in the press box, but he will likely return to the lineup later in the series.
But now it is up to Desharnais to make the most of his opportunity and play in his first Stanley Cup Final game. He will start the game with Nurse and likely slot in with Mattias Ekholm on the penalty kill. Desharnais just needs to play within himself. Be smart, play physical, block shots and try his best to get back to pucks quickly.
Nurse needs to play much better tonight than he did in Game 1. I said it before the series: The Oilers’ chances of winning depend a lot on how he plays. I expect their top pairing of Evan Bouchard and Ekholm to play well, but the Oilers will need solid minutes from Nurse if they want to win. He has to be better than he was in Game 1. Coffey has not been shy to play the defenders he thinks are playing the best, and that was shown in their 5×5 TOI in Game 1.
Bouchard led all players at 19:22, but Broberg was third most at 16:15 with McDavid in between them. The other D-mens’ 5×5 minutes had Ekholm (15:46), Kulak (15:07), Ceci (15:01) and Nurse (14:18). With the Oilers trailing in the third, Coffey opted to play Broberg and Kulak more at 5×5. What I respect most about this coaching staff is they play guys based on who is playing best that night.
Tonight, everyone has a clean slate, and if players are going, they will play. But if someone lower in the lineup has more jump, Knoblauch and Coffey aren’t afraid to increase their minutes. It’s an overlooked factor in their coaching styles, but that’s how it should be.
Corey Perry only had one six-second shift after taking his interference penalty in the third period. Granted, there was only 11:13 remaining in the game when he got out of the penalty box, and he hadn’t done much to that point, but his linemates Foegele and Ryan McLeod each had a few shifts in that time. Perry has looked his age at times in these playoffs, and I could see Carrick drawing in tonight, because the Oilers need to win a few more faceoffs.
Florida won 34 draws to the Oilers’ 23 two nights ago. Edmonton struggled in the defensive zone winning going 4-10. Draisaitl went 0-for-5 and lost two to Sam Reinhart and one to Aleksander Barkov, Anton Lundell and Sam Bennett. Adam Henrique went 1-for-4. He beat Bennett, but lost one to Lundell, Barkov and Kevin Stenlund. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had the best success going 3-for-4, beating Barkov, Steven Lorentz and Evan Rodriques and losing to Lundell. Rodriques and Lorentz are wingers.
Edmonton could use a right-shot faceoff man, and Carrick would give them that.

GAME PREVIEW PRESENTED BY BETWAY

LINEUPS…

RNH — McDavid — Hyman
Henrique — Draisaitl — Holloway
Kane — McLeod —Foegele
Janmark — Carrick — Brown
Ekholm — Bouchard
Nurse — Desharnais
Kulak — Broberg
Skinner
Kane didn’t skate, but he will play. Perry skated with McLeod and Foegele at the morning skate, so slotting Kane in there makes sense, which would move Henrique up to Draisaitl’s wing. Knoblauch could run that, or he could keep Kane with Draisaitl and run Henrique with McLeod and Foegele. He has options, and as we’ve seen all season, he isn’t afraid to juggle his lines in-game.
The Oilers limited Florida to 18 shots, however, as McDavid said post-game, they still gave up more quality looks than they’d like. Florida finished with 1o high-danger chances, while the Oilers had 14. Edmonton did play well, but the players feel they can do a better job limiting good looks for the Panthers.
Panthers…
Verhaeghe — Barkov — Reinhart
Tkachuk — Bennett — Rodrigues
Luostarinen — Lundell — Tarasenko
Lorentz — Stenlund — Okposo
Forsling — Ekblad
Mikkola — Montour
Ekman-Larsson — Kulikov
Bobrovsky
The Panthers’ skaters feel they can play much better. They needed a stellar performance from goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to win. Bobrovsky has allowed more than two goals just once in his last 12 playoff games. He allowed 18 goals in his first six games but has only surrendered 20 in his last 12 games. He’s posted two shutouts, allowed one goal three times, two goals six times and the Rangers managed to score five goals on him in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final. He is 9-3 in his last 12 games with .930Sv% and 1.63 GAA.
The Oilers will need to generate a lot of chances, and they have to get more shots upstairs. This photo of their shot location courtesy of Clear Sight Analytics, which shows how they didn’t test Bobrovsky in his most vulnerable spots. He has allowed 23 goals up high this postseason, but none in his five hole and fewer than 10 on the ice. The Oilers had their highest percentage of shots on the ice in Game 1. Look for them to fire high more tonight — but that is easier said than done, and Bobrovsky has been stellar since May 8th.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers are 5-1 after a loss in the 2024 playoffs, while the Panthers are 6-3 after a win (in the same series). Edmonton’s odds of winning the series drop significantly if they lose tonight, and since I picked them to win the series…Oilers even up the Final with a 4-2 win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have been goalless in the first period once in each series: Game 4 v. LA, Game 7 v. VAN, Game 1 v. DAL and Game 1 v. FLA. They score a first period goal tonight.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Holloway scores his first goal in nine games.

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