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The Day After 75.0: Will this be the lineup the Oilers deploy in the playoffs?

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
28 days ago
I don’t know about you, but I woke up Saturday morning feeling good.
The Oilers clinched the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year the night before in thanks to a dominant performance over the Colorado Avalanche. They took advantage of a tough travel schedule that didn’t see the Avs lay their head on Edmonton pillows until 2 am the morning before the game.
And while Colorado made it interesting early on in the game, the Oilers were able to pull away enroute to a 6-2 win, clinching a playoff spot for the fifth consecutive year.
Corey Perry scored early in the game, and linemate Evander Kane scored two to help the Oilers pull away. Connor McDavid got himself on the board with two goals too, and Mattias Ekholm got in the mix as well.
All in all, the performance got me thinking: how close is this lineup to what we see in the playoffs?
The Oilers went to the “break glass in case of emergency” line right off the hop, loading up McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman in a big-on-big game. The second line, meanwhile, saw Ryan Nugent-Hopkins centre Adam Henrique and Warren Foegele. Ryan McLeod centred Perry and Kane, while Derek Ryan was in the middle of Mattias Janmark and Connor Brown.
What we saw last night was domination from three of these four lines. At 5v5, the third line did the most damage, but beyond the second line’s struggles, there was some good stuff.
The first line did their thing, scoring two goals and allowing one against. All their metrics were great squaring up a lot against the Avalanche’s top line, and top pairing of Cale Makar and Devon Toews.
The second line, undoubtedly, was a sore spot. They didn’t score or get scored on, so you’re happy that’s a wash, but their underlying numbers weren’t promising against the second line centered by Casey Mittelstadt.
The third line went bonkers. Squaring up against the third line centred by Ross Colton, they outscored them 3-0, controlled 81.81 percent of the shot attempt share and a stunning 97.1 percent of the expected goal share. This was the line that caught my eye the most Friday night, as they absolutely had their way all night long.
The fourth line did just fine. No goals for, none against, and a 5-1, 83.3 percent shot attempt share is fine by me.
One thing we know is this: Kris Knoblauch is loving the line blender these days. Seemingly, every game, we’re getting a new look at lines as the coaching staff tries out a plethora of combinations. This tactic is likely being deployed with good reason, unlike in the early stages of the season where it was done just to try and find something to hold onto.
This time around, it feels like Knoblauch and co. are trying to get a feel for which lines they like the most heading into the playoffs. Henrique hasn’t quite gelled with this lineup yet, and despite chipping in four goals and five points in 15 games, it feels like something isn’t quite right, though most of Henrique’s success so far has come playing with Draisaitl.
What the beauty of this lineup is, as currently constructed, is that the Oilers have the option to start Draisaitl on the second line up the middle, and put Nugent-Hopkins back on McDavid and Hyman’s flank. That reserves the “break glass in case of emergency” scenario for when it’s really needed, and could help provide better scoring depth throughout the lineup. And if this third line can find a way to score consistently, oh boy, these Oilers could be very dangerous.
If I were Knoblauch and co., I would keep these lines together for a few games and see what can happen.

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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