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Oilers need bigger contributions from key forwards in Game 4 against the Canucks

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Sean Panganiban
1 month ago
One of the biggest concerns for the Edmonton Oilers in their second-round series against the Vancouver Canucks is their goaltending. Three or four more big stops from Stuart Skinner over the last three games could’ve meant a different outcome in the series so far.
But the same could be said for a few more goals being scored on Canucks’ rookie netminder Arturs Silovs, from players other than their top four-point scorers, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman and Evan Bouchard, which could also have made a difference in the series so far as well. The Oilers have scored 33 goals in the playoffs, and 21 of them have been scored by those four players alone.
Another concerning aspect is that McDavid and Draisaitl’s ice time over the last three games continues to increase, with both averaging over 29 minutes in Game 3. That said, it’s almost like their increased playing time is the chicken and egg conundrum—are they being played so frequently because they’re producing so well, or because some players on the team aren’t producing at all?
If the Oilers go further in the playoffs, relying heavily on McDavid and Draisaitl, as we’ve seen before, is likely not a winning recipe in the long run, as they could run out of gas. At some point, some of their key forwards need to step up with secondary scoring, or by raising their battle level, and that could make the difference against the Canucks in Game 4.

A Few Key Forwards Need to Step Up for Oilers

Fourth-line players like Mattias Janmark, Derek Ryan, Connor Brown (two games played), and Sam Carrick (three games played) have failed to score so far in the postseason. That said, they’re granted some leniency considering their overall defensive reliability and because their primary role isn’t to score goals (although it would be nice if they did chip in)—credit to Ryan for coming close, hitting the post in Game 3.
Yet, a player like Ryan McLeod, who’s played the sixth most minutes among forwards, has failed to record a point, let alone score a goal, in eight playoff games so far. He’s had great defensive moments, but at some point, he needs to show some life offensively, and he can create more chances by driving the puck harder to the net. Moreover, the Oiler he’s played the most with at 5v5 in the playoffs (71:52 minutes) is Corey Perry, who has failed to make an impact on the scoresheet as well, although he came close in Game 3, but Silovs closed the door with a big glove save.
That said, Perry showed a willingness to do whatever it takes to will his team to a win down the playoff stretch, with clever plays, calculated chirps and baiting the other team into fights, and Edmonton desperately needs that player in Game 4 and beyond. I provide a lineup projection for him later in this article which reduces his minutes. Still, if he continues not to produce offensively, at minimum, the Oilers need as much feistiness from him in limited minutes to help raise the team’s battle level and help sway momentum, which is one of the reasons why Edmonton brought him into the fold.
Additionally, before the start of the playoffs, Warren Foegele, coming off his first 20-goal campaign and finishing the regular season ranked 12th in the NHL with a 3.53 expected goals for per hour at 5v5, was my darkhorse pick to be the Oilers’ unsung hero this playoffs. Yet, he’s only scored a single goal, and he’s coming off a tough outing in Game 3 when he gave the puck away in his zone, resulting in a goal against. He desperately needs a bounce-back performance in Game 4, and my lineup projection for him later in the article may help him achieve that.
Also, Edmonton needs Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to step up more at 5v5. Out of his ten points, he’s tallied four assists at even strength with only one primary helper. In addition, his linemate over the past two games, Evander Kane, has been physical all series, leading the Oilers with 13 hits, yet he’s recorded only a single assist in the second round. I’d expect Kane to ramp up the intensity in Game 4, especially with the physicality both he and his captain endured in Game 3.

Potential Line Combinations for a More Balanced Oilers’ Attack

So, what adjustments can the Oilers make to potentially generate more offence, create a more balanced forward group, while decreasing the minutes of McDavid and Draisaitl, who are currently logging close to 30 minutes a game? At the time of writing, it’s yet to be determined what the forward lineup will be for Game 4; however, if the Oilers are seeking a more balanced attack and if Adam Henrique, who missed Game 3 due to injury, is ready, I’d like to see Kris Knoblauch split up the dynamic duo and try this forward combination:
Henrique/Brown – McDavid – Hyman
McLeod – Draisaitl – Foegele
Holloway – Nugent- Hopkins – Kane
Janmark – Ryan – Perry 
McDavid and Hyman can create offence as a duo, and the ideal scenario is that Henrique is ready and can play third wheel on line one. However, if he’s not ready to go, perhaps Brown, who’s previously shown an ability to hit his captain with nice breakout passes, could fill that spot. This adjustment would allow for very balanced lines two and three.
If the Oilers are looking for a line that can establish instant chemistry, look no further than the trio of Draisaitl, McLeod and Foegele, as they were dominant in stretches together throughout the season. They were initially put together on Dec. 21 against the New Jersey Devils, and combined for two goals that night.
On top of that, being paired with Draisaitl especially got McLeod and Foegele’s offensive games going, which the Oilers are in urgent need of right now. They both combined for eight points each in the five games that followed after being put together on Dec. 21. The line was eventually broken up, but when they were reunited on March 9th, their chemistry was instant again, scoring only 29 seconds in against the Buffalo Sabres. Additionally, if Draisaitl is unable to play center due to his lingering injury, then McLeod can play up the middle and both he and Foegele’s speed will be an asset on the forecheck.
 
For line three, I’d give the Holloway, Nugent-Hopkins and Kane line a longer look as this trio was assembled in the third period in Game 3. Holloway deserves more ice time — he’s second in hits (11) on the team versus the Canucks, despite receiving the fourth-least minutes. This suggests he’s doing what he can in limited time on ice and it’s worth experimenting with giving him more. Additionally, he’s one of the few depth forwards who has scored two goals at 5v5 in the playoffs.
Also, when Knoblauch bumped up Holloway to Nugent-Hopkins’ line over Foegele in Game 3, the line looked more rejuvenated and a legitimate threat to score and Natural Stat Trick shows they posted a 70% Corsi in just over five minutes of ice time. Line four features a slightly slower trio of Janmark, Ryan and Perry. What they lack in speed, they make up for in smarts and veteran savvy and they would likely see the fewest minutes out of the forward group, with more spread between the top nine.
Nonetheless, the Oilers aren’t exactly facing a must-win situation yet, but the stakes will be high in Game 4, and to secure a win they’ll need big stops, and offensive contributions throughout the line up. With that in mind, what are your thoughts on the forward-line combinations above? Are there any changes you would consider making?

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