The Day After 80.0: Edmonton Oilers face tough lineup decisions ahead of playoffs

Edmonton Oilers Warren Foegele
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
18 days ago
Four of the best players to ever grace an NHL sheet of ice.
On Monday night, Connor McDavid notched another feather in the cap for what has already been a Hall of Fame career, joining those three as the only players in NHL history to score 100 assists in a season. He did so as the Edmonton Oilers unloaded on the San Jose Sharks in a 9-2 win, assisting on the ninth goal of the game, one scored by Zach Hyman.
McDavid’s place in the lineup is secure, no doubt, as he didn’t look like he missed a step against the Sharks despite missing the previous three games with a lower-body ailment. While Evander Kane took a maintenance day, not playing in the game, the Oilers juggled up the lines putting Adam Henrique with McDavid and Hyman.
All those three did was rack up points, with McDavid having a goal and his historic assist, Hyman scoring two points in the same way, and Henrique notching three points with a goal and two assists. They looked sublime.
Then there was the second line of Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Warren Foegele. Nugent-Hopkins had an assist, Draisaitl two assists, and Warren Foegle falling one goal shore of a hat trick, while he fired a game-high nine shots on net. They, too, looked excellent.
And the third line? Boy, the third line. Ryan McLeod centred Corey Perry and Dylan Holloway, a trio we’ve seen get some runway since the latter was recalled from the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors days ago. While McLeod wouldn’t find his way onto the score sheet, Perry did with a goal and an assist, as Holloway put up his first-ever three-point night in the NHL, scoring a goal and two assists. Another line that looked outstanding.
This top nine looked ready to roll for game one of the playoffs, but despite their ability to score points, Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch said he wasn’t ready to plan the parade route.
“You’ve got a team that’s struggling this year, and at the end, they don’t have a lot of push,” said Knoblauch of the Sharks. I thought we played a good game, but it’s not a game against a first-round matchup, whether it’s Vegas, LA, or whoever that might be. Yes, I thought we played really well, but we’re playing against a team that is not making the playoffs, and we don’t want any false hope.”
Caution to the wind, I get it. It’s easy to overreact to a game like that, but the truth of the matter is that, at the very least, there was a display of chemistry. The Oilers could’ve come out flat, not cared and lost to the worst team in the NHL like they did earlier in the season.
But they didn’t do that. They instead made a statement that they’re not going to let off the gas pedal, and that no matter how improbable after a loss to the Vancouver Canucks on the weekend, they’re still hoping to claim the Pacific Division title.
What begin to muck it up is adding in the fact that Kane was out of the lineup. All the players who played were more than deserving of another look together, and even despite an excellent game, the only person I would consider removing from that top nine could be Adam Henrique.
It’s not to say that it can, or should happen, but Kane does need to find his way back into that group ahead of the playoffs. Holloway, who has played excellent hockey in the four games since he was recalled, looks like he’s taken a huge step forward in his game and brings an element of speed that top nine needs more of.
Could Henrique fall out of the top nine? Sure he could, but Knoblauch’s words and actions have not indicated that he has considered that. All of Henrique’s time since joining the Oilers has been spent in a top-nine role.
But with a back-to-back road trip to close out the regular season schedule against the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday and the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, there will be more time for tinkering and more time for trying things out. It will be curious to see how the coaching staff navigates this lineup for game one.

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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