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Splitting Up 29 and 97

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Photo credit:© Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
7 months ago
I believe there are a handful of reasons why this Oilers team is better prepared to win a playoff round than any of the previous two teams. They’re playing very good hockey heading into the postseason, They’re getting great goaltending, they’ve cleared the 100-point mark and maybe most importantly: they’re deep.
In the past few seasons, they lived and died by what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were able to do together. This season, they’re finding success greater offensive success despite the fact that their two best forwards are spending less time together on the ice. 
The Oilers GF/GP is higher than it’s been in either of the last two seasons and when you look at how they’ve deployed McDavid and Draisaitl, it’s easy to see how that’s impacted it.
Here is the ice time breakdown for 29 and 97 at 5v5:
2021-22GP5v5 TOIGF%
McDavid & Draisaitl together7929254.84
McDavid without Draisaitl80103560.87
Draisaitl without McDavid8099253.76
Oilers without either81161041.79
For comparison, here are the previous two seasons:
Player 1GPTOIGF%
McDavid & Draisaitl together5634366.00
McDavid without Draisaitl5659550.00
Draisaitl without McDavid5656757.89
Oilers without either56123235.80
So despite playing 23 fewer games, the Oilers superstars played more together last season. The numbers were worse for Draisaitl when he was alone but there were also significant jumps with both of them off the ice and for McDavid when he was on his own line.
2019-20GPTOIGF%
McDavid & Draisaitl together6455348.57
McDavid without Draisaitl6450256.00
Draisaitl without McDavid7161057.38
Oilers without either71179937.61
Back in 19/20, the Oilers duo once again played way more together in more games compared to this past season. The results weren’t as good there but once again, you’ll notice that McDavid’s numbers away from Draisaitl were not quite as good as they were this season and the Oilers’ numbers with either of them on the ice were nowhere near as good.
This tells me two things: First, the Oilers’ top-six wingers are much more skilled since McDavid has been able to put up much better numbers when Leon Draisaitl is not on the ice with him. Second, the team’s bottom-six is way better than it’s been in either of the last two seasons. Even during stretches where they aren’t scoring, they aren’t getting caved at 5v5 and that will be very important during this playoff run. 
When you look at the Kings’ d-core without Drew Doughty, I think they might have a tough time shutting down both McDavid and Draisaitl, especially when the Oilers are at home. Their top two centres, Anze Kopitar and Philip Danault are very good shutdown centremen and both have playoff experience. They could play a role in shutting down the Oilers’ top two lines but on home ice, I would imagine Jay Woodcroft will do everything in his power to keep the top two lines away from those two. 
At home, the Oilers will likely need their third line to go up against one of LA’s best trios and shut them down. On the road, they’ll likely need that third line to supply some offence in a softer matchup. That’s at least the way I see it.
On the road, I think that’s where only dressing 11 forwards could pay off for the team. Having the ability to just throw out McDavid or Draisaitl for a shift with McLeod and Kassian could throw off the Kings’ matchup plans or at worst, it gives the two star forwards a chance to go out against the weaker competition.
I also think Jay Woodcroft should really consider playing @Jesse Puljujarvi on the third line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Warren Foegele.
Puljujarvi can drive play and is responsible defensively. As you can see from the numbers Sid tweeted out, Nugent-Hopkins’ offensive numbers get a solid bump up when he’s paired with Puljujarvi and that could be really beneficial to the Oilers. They could flip Hyman to the right side and move McLeod up the Draisaitl line then play McDavid with Kane and Yamamoto. That would make Derek Ryan and Zack Kassian the extra forwards on the fourth line.
That would give the Oilers three lines that can all score and go head-to-head with any of the Kings’ top nine. 
It will be fascinating to see how the two coaches, who have a long history together, end up playing the matchups because that will obviously have a big impact on who wins this first-round series.

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