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The Day After 47.0: The Pesky Line pushes Edmonton Oilers to victory over Ducks

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Zach Laing
23 days ago
The idea behind the Oilers mixing up their defensive pairings had some merit to it.
Head coach Kris Knoblauch said they wanted to get some scoring when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were off the ice, and the hope was that by mixing up the pairings and bumping Corey Perry up alongside Draisaitl and Evander Kane, it would happen.
Just one of those things was true, as the initially deployed lines lasted all of half of Friday night’s 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks. That reversion of the lines saw Vincent Desharnais remain with Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard get put back with Mattias Ekholm, and Cody Ceci and Brett Kulak become a pairing.
The emergence of The Pesky Line, however, is the biggest story of the night, as the new-look second line played a key role. It saw Evander Kane score twice in the back half of the second period, not long after the defensive pairings we re-jigged, and an empty netter for his 10th career hat trick. It also saw Leon Draisaitl score, albeit on the power play, in the would-be game-winning marker.
And, as important of the rest, the play of Perry, who sneakily chopped the stick out of the hands of Ducks netminder John Gibson seconds before Kane scored his first of the night, all the while getting an assist on the play. How pesky.
“He’s able to find ways of not going over the line and not going to the penalty box,” said Knoblauch after the game. “There’s one thing about playing aggressively and getting under the skin of the other team and taking unnecessary penalties, but he doesn’t do that.
“He does it smartly and is able to play his game and often get the other team off their game a little bit.”

THE DAY AFTER IS PRESENTED BY BETWAY


As advertised.
That’s the best way to describe what Perry’s been for the Oilers through his first three games, but it seemed that a return to Orange County sparked something a little different. Not only was he moving around the ice well, and toeing the penalty lines, but he was mixing it up in other ways, too.
“I’m in there with (Ducks defenceman Ilya) Lyubushkin giving him some shots, and next thing you know, there’s another guy in there, and Lyubushkin’s disappeared all of a sudden,” said Evander Kane after the game, alluding to Perry pulling him away. “It’s nice to have a little backup in the scrums, that’s for sure.”
While one could realistically have some concerns about the trio playing together, given each hasn’t been known for overtly strong defensive play throughout their career or the fact that non-straightaway speed may not be a strong point, it worked. And given the fact all three got in the mix offensively, there’s no reason to break this lineup.
That’s also what Knoblauch and company realized with, at least some, of their defensive pairings. On paper, things should’ve worked fine. Desharnais’ strong defensive play could help offset Nurse’s penchant for offence, while Kulak could work as an Ekholm-lite for Bouchard. Ceci, meanwhile, would allow Ekholm-actual to hone his offensive side of the game.
Instead, what the Oilers were left with was a group of confused players, looking lost and uncomfortable. Not the worst thing in the world, as comfort can lead to complacency, but there’s a reason that the change was made halfway through the game.
“The one was Eky and Bouch playing together, and keeping the others the same,” said Knoblauch. “We needed a goal, and those two have been our most offensive group. It made perfect sense to put those together.”
It worked, ironically enough, that Kulak and Ceci were on the ice for both of Kane’s second-period goals, but it worked. Bouchard and Ekholm were on when Zach Hyman tipped home a Connor McDavid pass, having been stonewalled by Lukas Dostal only minutes prior.
“I thought we didn’t have the first we didn’t want, so they switched it around a little and we got going and played back to what we can,” said Ekholm. “It’s nice to try out something different, and we know that come playoff time, there might be injuries or whatnot, so it’s nice to try some different guys.
“Where we’ve become now, I think with all three pairs, is where you don’t really have to look or think. You know what the other guy is going to do at certain moments. It’s a great feeling to have, because you don’t need to think. You can dictate instead of reacting, so I think that’s where you want to be with your partner.
“At the same time, what I’m trying to get to here is not everyone is healthy at the same time, so to be able to have a game where we can try it, then see and get a feel for it. Who knows down the road, we might go back to it.”
So looking at an early February game against the Anaheim Ducks, feeding at the bottom of the league, it made sense that this was a night where the coaching staff could get frisky with things. In the end, it worked out fine, but tonight, against an LA Kings team nipping on the heels of the Oilers, getting frisky could be costly.
For as much runway as they gained during their 16-game stretch, and 27-7 run under Knoblauch, points against divisional opponents in the playoff picture can’t be coughed up.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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