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GDB +9.0: McDavid and Draisaitl on separate lines makes the Oilers better (7:30pm MT, CBC)

Connor McDavid Leon Draisaitl
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 month ago
The Edmonton Oilers don’t need to play Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the same line to win.
The Oilers defeated the LA Kings in five games in round one, and McDavid and Draisaitl played a total of eight minutes together at 5×5. They spent 89% of their time apart. And it worked. The Oilers scored 12 goals 5×5 against a stingy LA Kings defence.
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Kris Knoblauch was hired November 12th, and under his watch, along with Paul Coffey, the Oilers compiled the best record in the NHL at 46-18-5. They outscored teams 171-122 at 5×5. They were +49, which was tied with Winnipeg for the best GF-GA differential. In those 69 games McDavid skated 1,057 minutes while Draisaitl played 1,048 at 5×5.
They played 359 minutes together and outscored the opposition 33-17 with a 66.0GF%.
McDavid played 698 minutes without Draisaitl and outscored opponents 52-32 for a 61.90GF%.
Draisaitl logged 688 minutes without McDavid and outscored opponents 33-22 for a 60.0GF%.
In 1638 minutes without either of them on the ice the Oilers outscored opponents 53-51. When one, or both, of McDavid and Draisaitl were on the ice they outscored 132-71.
After losing Game 1 in Vancouver, Kris Knoblauch reverted back to what has become catnip for Edmonton Oilers head coaches. Todd McLellan, Dave Tippett and Jay Woodcroft couldn’t help themselves. They got intoxicated on the idea of Draisaitl with McDavid, and Knoblauch, who avoided it for much of the season, is the latest victim to fall under the allure of McDrai. In games two and three he loaded up his top line and played them huge minutes while the rest of the forwards got stale sitting on the bench. This recipe doesn’t work in the playoffs, especially if you want to win the Stanley Cup. To beat good teams, you need to empower your entire team and trust them, which is what Knoblauch did in the regular season.
If he played McDavid and Draisaitl together in Game 2 because Draisaitl was banged up, I get it. But Draisaitl looked great in Game 3. He doesn’t need McDavid to produce, and this year’s team actually performs better when they are on separate lines.
At least Knoblauch is aware of his vice. “You’ve got an offensive zone faceoff, with Draisaitl, McDavid. and Hyman sitting on the bench. It’s pretty tough not to say, ‘You guys go out for that faceoff,” he said yesterday. The first rule of beating your problem is acknowledging you have one, and to his credit Knoblauch announced today that McDavid and Draisaitl will centre their own lines tonight.
His best decision when he took over was to remove Draisaitl and McDavid from the penalty kill. It gave others more ice time, but then he wisely played them together, along with Hyman, on the ensuing shift after an Oilers penalty kill. It kept everyone involved, got the big guns excited to play together and it often regained momentum for the Oilers. The Oilers didn’t score a goal 5×5 in Game 3, despite the McDavid, Draisaitl, Hyman trio logging 17 minutes of 5×5 time.
Splitting up McDavid and Draisaitl is the right decision, and they shouldn’t start another game together in the playoffs. I realize it is difficult to fend off the temptation to play them together, but history shows it won’t work long term in the playoffs.
The 2024 Edmonton Oilers are a better team when their two superstars centre their own lines. Knoblauch knows it. The team has shown it.

GAME PREVIEW PRESENTED BY BETWAY

LINEUPS…

Oilers

RNH – McDavid– Hyman
Holloway – Draisaitl – Kane
Foegele – McLeod – Perry
Janmark – Ryan
Ekholm – Bouchard
Nurse – Ceci
Kulak – Desharnais
Broberg
Pickard
Calvin Pickard turned 32 on April 15th and tonight he gets a fantastic belated birthday present — his first NHL playoff start. “I believe I can play at this level and I feel I showed that this year. I’m excited about tonight,” said Pickard. His wife Courtney and his parents Cathy and Don will be in attendance tonight.
Dylan Holloway will start in the top six, while it seems likely Philip Broberg will dress as the seventh defenceman. He didn’t stay out late after the morning skate, while others like Sam Carrick and Sam Gagner, who won’t dress, did. The Oilers have only dressed seven D-men twice since Knoblauch and Coffey arrived. Those games occurred on November 20th and 22nd in Florida and Carolina. Broberg played 10:22 in Florida and 5:19 in Carolina.
Broberg has much more confidence now than he did then, after spending the past four months in the AHL playing 20+ minutes a night. He looked much more assertive when he made two late-season appearances in Arizona and Colorado. It will be interesting to see how Coffey deploys him tonight. I think there is a good chance he will play more than 10 minutes tonight.

Canucks

Suter – Miller – Boeser
Joshua – Lindholm – Garland
Karlsson – Pettersson – Mikheyev
Aman – Blueger – Lafferty
Hughes – Hronek
Zadorov – Myers
Juulse – Cole
Silovs
Carson Soucy will sit out his one-game suspension for crosschecking McDavid in the face. Noah Juulsen draws in, and that means the Canucks will switch a few pairings. Rick Tocchet mentioned they will have different pairings throughout the game, but sounds like there is a good chance you will see Tyler Myers play with Nikita Zadorov, and that pairing, along with the Quinn Hughes/ Filip Hronek pair, will try to match up against McDavid and Draisaitl’s lines. With the Oilers going 11-7, it could free up McDavid and/or Draisaitl to get a few shifts with other lines and face Ian Cole and Juulsen. The matchup game could be something to watch closely tonight.

TONIGHT….

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers win 5-3 and even the series at two games apiece.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Draisaitl picks up two more points. He continues to increase his career playoff point-per game pace. He’s currently at 1.68 PPG, which is second only to Wayne Gretzky, among players with at least 50 games played.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Dylan Holloway scores his third career playoff goal.

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