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A Balancing Act

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
6 months ago
If Edmonton Oilers’ coach Kris Knoblauch had it his way, he probably wouldn’t break up the trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman, who’ve been easily his best line when he’s had them together.
The thing is, with the Oilers wrapping up their pre-Christmas schedule with three games on the road – against the New York Islanders tonight, New Jersey Devils Thursday and the New York Rangers Friday – after two losses to Tampa Bay and Florida to close out a six-game homestand, he doesn’t have that luxury.
Without the benefit of having last change on the road, Knoblauch has to find a way to coax more production out of his second line or it’s highly likely his top threesome of RNH, McDavid, and Hyman will face a steady diet of shutdown forwards and defencemen.
That means trying to come up with a more balanced attack, so we’ll see Evander Kane moved up on the left side with McDavid and Hyman and RNH dropped to left wing on the second line with Leon Draisaitl and Warren Foegele when the puck hits the freeze against the Islanders.

WHAT THEY SAY

Photo: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
“A little more balance, especially when we’re going on the road with other teams being able to match lines with us and we don’t have that last change, so they can get their five guys against our top unit as much as possible,” Knoblauch said. 
McDavid is on a 12-game points streak with 7-21-28 in that span while the red-hot Hyman has goals in three straight games, 14 in his last 15 and is 18-12-30 overall. Kane has a dozen goals but gets moved up after being relatively quiet with 1-1-2 in his last five games.
Knoblauch is looking for RNH, who has 2-8-10 totals over the course of his last five games, to give the second line a bump. Draisaitl is 3-2-5 over his last eight games, underwhelming for him, and Foegele has just one goal in his last 10 games.
“We just want a little more balanced scoring. It’s tough breaking up that line,” he said of RNH-McDavid and Hyman. “They’ve been so good those three, but I think it’s best for our team for the long run.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

We’ll see how the tweaking of the top six works out against the Islanders, who have owned Edmonton at home (12-1-2) in their last 15 meetings. That said, it won’t matter unless the Oilers regain the defensive form they showed in the first four games of the homestand, when they allowed just six goals. They gave up 12 combined in the losses to the Bolts and Panthers.

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