The Day After 54.0: Oilers need more offence from throughout lineup, head coach says

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 month ago
Issues ailing the Edmonton Oilers always seem to be everchanging.
Some nights, they don’t start games on time. Others, they fall asleep in the second period. Sometimes, they can’t get saves.
However, one issue that has plagued the Oilers all season long is the lack of offence from their bottom-six.
And after dropping Friday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild 4-2 — one they should’ve closed out — head coach Kris Knoblauch was candid about getting more from the club’s third and fourth lines.
“You would like a little more offence from throughout your lineup,” he said after the game. “Five-on-five, you would like little more contributions from everybody.”
“As long as they’re pushing the pace and putting more time in the offensive zone, usually things work out.”


Both the teams looked sluggish to start the night, with a deflating first period that ended with Matt Boldy, an Oiler killer, scoring with 23 seconds left. He added another goal partway through the third period that helped bury the Oilers, lifting his goal total against the them to five, going along with 10 points in seven games played. He hasn’t scored more points against any other team in the NHL, but that’s a story for another paragraph.
Even with the deficit after one, Edmonton rallied back with a Leon Draisaitl power play goal, one of two the top unit would score on the night.
“Your top two lines, as good as they are, can’t produce every single night,” Knoblauch added, highlighting how that’s exactly what happened last night.
For Knoblauch, the Oilers’ inability to get juice out of their bottom six has become a growing issue that can’t be ignored anymore. So much so, that for what might be the first time in his tenure, he began double-shifting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It came with both getting shifts throughout the night centering Dylan Holloway and Corey Perry, leaving Derek Ryan by the wayside with just three minutes of five-on-five time.
According to Natural Stat Trick, both lines had a single scoring chance, with Draisatl’s lines being of a high-danger chance. It didn’t help that offensive blackhole Connor Brown was saddled to Mattias Janmark and Ryan McLeod on the third line, either, with the trio controlling 30.4 percent of the expected goal share.
The Oilers’ top-six lines, however, were all over the ice. McDavid, Zach Hyman and Warren Foegele combined for nearly a full expected goal, while Draisaitl, Evander Kane and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins combined for .58.
These are the “pushing the pace and putting more time in the offensive zone” things that Knoblauch talked about being important. But when it’s coming from your top-six and not your bottom-six, it begins to become a problem.
It’s one that isn’t unique to Edmonton but is more drastic than others.
Five-on-five data from Natural Stat Trick highlights this when looking at all 32 teams this year. The Oilers, whose 2.81 goals per hour rank eighth in the league, plummet to 1.75 goals per hour when their top two centers, McDavid and Draisaitl, are off the ice — placing them 27th in the league.
No team in the NHL, however, sees such a drastic drop-off when their top two centers are off the ice as the Oilers do.
The top two centers are looked at through the largest sample size of the season, and they highlight just how valid Knoblauch’s comments are. And while it’s not an exact science, looking at a team’s offence when their top two centers are on the ice is a good enough proxy for depth scoring.
One could say the Oilers are in “good” company, given that other teams around them in the standings — the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars — are both in very similar spots in terms of how significant the difference in offence from their top-six to their bottom-six.
That, however, is no excuse for them not to extract as much as they can from a trade market teeming with players who could contribute in a third-line role, chipping in offence. Vladimir Tarasenko’s one name that keeps popping up, and he is someone who, with the Ottawa Senators, has shown an ability to drive offence and produce on their third line.
Because when looking at other teams in the standings who the Oilers are jockeying for playoff position with — the Vegas Golden Knights and LA Kings —they’re getting notable contributions from their bottom-six.
Contributions from the bottom six are imperative to winning the Stanley Cup. Looking at each of the last 10 teams who lifted Lord Stanley’s Mug, the average difference of scoring vs. scoring without their top two centers on the ice is -.21, half of what this year’s rate is for top-six vs. bottom-six scoring.
All in all, this data paints a picture of an Oilers team that needs to seriously consider adding scoring to their third and fourth lines ahead of the NHL’s trade deadline. After all, they got a taste of what a team who can score like the dickens with and without their stars on the ice last year in the Golden Knights.

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.

Check out these posts...