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Life without Connor McDavid (if it happens) presents opportunities not excuses

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Photo credit:Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
6 months ago
At this moment, what we know for sure is Connor McDavid didn’t finish last night’s game. He left the ice holding his left hip/back late in the third period and didn’t take another shift. We don’t know what the injury is, or how long he might be out. Ideally, he misses no games for the Oilers, but missing some time is a possibility.
The Oilers’ 1-3-1 start this season, combined with McDavid potentially missing some games, has many fans concerned, but even if McDavid misses a few weeks, the Oilers should view it as an opportunity, not an excuse.
McDavid hasn’t missed a stretch of games since February 2020. Some have suggested the Oilers will crater without McDavid, so let’s take a quick trip down memory lane to see what happened the last time they played without their captain.
He missed six games between February 9th to 22nd.
The Oilers went 3-2-1 in those games.
This was their roster for those games and the lines, based on 5×5 ice time, are ranked 1st to 4th.
GAME ONE v. Chicago. Oilers win 5-3.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
Josh Archibald – Riley Sheahan – Zack Kassian
Jujhar Khaira – Colby Cave – Patrick Russell
Sam Gagner – Gaetan Haas – Alex Chiasson
Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Caleb Jones – Matt Benning
Mike Smith
Sheahan, Yamamoto (2), RHN and Draisaitl (EN) were the goal scorers. Oilers were outshot 41-31 and Smith made 38 saves.
GAME TWO @ Tampa. Oilers lose 3-1. 
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Archibald – Sheahan – Kassian
Khaira – Cave – Russell
Gagner – Haas – Chiasson
Nurse – Bear
Klefbom – Larsson
Jones – Benning
Smith
Jones scored the only goal. Stamkos scored an empty netter in the final minute. Smith stopped 34 of 36 in the loss. Bolts outshot the Oilers 37-30. It was a competitive game.
GAME THREE @ Florida. Oilers win 4-1.
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Tyler Benson – Sheahan – Archibald
Khaira – Cave – Russell
Gagner – Haas – Chiasson
Nurse – Bear
Klefbom – Larsson
Jones – Benning
Mikko Koskinen
Kassian was suspended for kicking v. Tampa and replaced by Benson. Kassian missed the final four games McDavid didn’t play.
Larsson, Draisaitl, Nurse and Yamamoto (EN) scored for Edmonton. Panthers outshot Edmonton 34-29. Koskinen stopped 33 of 34.
GAME FOUR @ Carolina. Oilers win 4-3 in OT (second half of a BTB). 
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Benson – Sheahan – Archibald
Khaira – Cave – Russell
Marcus Granlund – Haas – Chiasson
Nurse – Bear
Klefbom – Larsson
Jones – Benning
Smith
Draisaitl, Yamamoto, Archibald scored in regulation and Archibald scored the OT winner.
Hurricanes outshot the Oilers 31-24.
Granlund played in place of Gagner.
GAME FIVE v. Boston. Oilers lose 2-1 in OT.
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Benson – Sheahan – Archibald
Khaira – Cave – Russell
Gagner – Haas – Chiasson
Nurse – Bear
Jones – Larsson
William Lagesson – Benning
Smith
Klefbom was injured in Carolina and didn’t play the final two games without McDavid. Jones moved up to play with Larsson, while William Lagesson slotted in the third pair.
Smith stopped 32 of 34 shots. Bruins outshot Edmonton 34-29.
Gagner drew back in and scored the Oilers lone goal.
GAME SIX v. Minnesota. Oilers lose 5-3. 
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Benson – Sheahan – Archibald
Khaira – Cave – Russell
Gagner – Haas – Chiasson
Nurse – Bear
Jones – Larsson
Lagesson – Benning
Koskinen
RNH scored twice and Draisaitl had the other goal.
Jared Spurgeon scored the final three goals to give Minnesota the come-from-behind victory.
Minnesota outshot the Oilers 39-26.
Koskinen stopped 34 of 38 shots.

OVERALL NUMBERS…

Sep 27, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) makes a pass in front of Vancouver Canucks defensemen Guillaume Brisebois (55) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
In the six games without McDavid the Oilers went 3-2-1. They outscored teams 18-17. Their penalty kill and goaltending were excellent while their top line of RNH-Draisaitl-Yamamoto carried them offensively.
Smith (2-1-1) stopped 132 of 142 shots for a .930Sv% and 2.47 GAA.
Koskinen (1-1) stopped 67 of 72 shots for a .931Sv% and 2.52 GAA.
The penalty kill was 100%. They killed off all 18 power plays.
The power play was 23.5% scoring four goals on 17 chances. They did allow two shorthanded goals. Their special teams combined to be +2 in the six games.
They were outscored 12-10 at 5×5.
Draisaitl scored 4-8-12 in six games.
RNH had 3-6-9.
Yamamoto 4-4-8.
The rest of the forwards combined for four goals, with Archibald scoring twice in one game.
Compare the Oilers’ 2nd to 4th lines in those six games to the lineup they have now. I can safely say the 2023 Oilers have much more depth. They could ice this lineup on Tuesday.
Kane – Draisaitl – Hyman
Janmark – RNH – Foegele
Holloway – McLeod – Brown
Erne – Ryan
Compared to these four lines from 2020.
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Benson – Sheahan – Archibald
Khaira – Cave – Russell
Gagner – Haas – Chiasson
In 2020 when McDavid was out the Oilers were also without James Neal, who had 19 goals in 55 games and was the Oilers’ 4th leading scorer. Kassian had 15 goals and was their 5th leading scorer, and he played the first two games. They were without three of their top-six forwards during McDavid’s absence and still managed to go 3-2-1.
The Oilers’ 2nd to 4th lines from those six games have a combined total of 475 goals, 665 assists and 1141 points. Gagner accounts for 45% of their total points.
The Oilers 2nd to 4th lines, if they went with the above alignment have 601 goals, 894 assists and 1495 points.
The Oilers have enough offensive skill to manage a few weeks, or more, without McDavid.
They need their penalty kill, goaltending and 5×5 play to be better than they’ve shown recently, and they are capable of it, even without McDavid.
When your best player is injured others need to step up. Draisaitl and RNH did in 2020 and they need to again. They can play the 1st and 2nd line centre roles comfortably. They aren’t being asked to do more than they’ve done for long stretches of their career. Hyman, Kane, Foegele, Brown, Holloway and Janmark should be able to handle top-nine winger spots. Erne and Ryan have been 4th line players.
The Oilers’ blueline today is the same group who played very well down the stretch last season. They need to step up and find that consistency again.
Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner need to be ready to win a few games. Campbell has already been credited with one “solid start” this season by Sport Logiq. He was excellent in Nashville and will need to be when his name is called. Skinner played quite well on Saturday when he was between the pipes. His hesitation to play the puck cost the Oilers the second goal, but the rest of the game he was solid. He needs to bring that level of play when he’s given the start.
Life without McDavid (however long it might be) won’t be easy, but losing McDavid isn’t an excuse for this team to fail. They have enough talent remaining to be competitive and win some games.
Every player needs to look at this as a challenge to prove their doubters wrong. Show the league the depth on the Oilers isn’t as bad as some suggest.

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