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Three Key Things: Evander Kane’s hat trick, Knoblauch’s new line combos, and some love for Calvin Pickard

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baggedmilk
11 days ago
After the Oilers’ 16-game heater was snapped in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to Vegas, they were looking to avoid a streak in the other direction by picking up a third straight win over the Ducks. And while we ended up with the result we wanted, the Oilers’ 5-3 win in Anaheim was anything but a work of art.

EVANDER KANE’S HAT TRICK

There’s no doubt that Evander Kane hadn’t looked like himself in the weeks leading up to the all-star break, but I also think he’s been playing much better in the last handful of games even though he hadn’t been getting rewarded. Unfortunately, with his team chasing home ice for the playoffs, they’re going to need more than hits and truculence. They need Kane to chip in with more offence than the one goal he had in his last 12 games.
So to have him come up with a hat trick in a game that looked like it could have easily gone sideways was a huge moment for both the player and the team. Not only did he score three, which will hopefully build some confidence, but the trio of them were huge goals at the moment they happened. From the pair of game-tying goals to the empty netter that nailed the coffin shut, I’m hoping that Kane’s 10th career hat trick can act as the catalyst for a more productive run down the stretch.
Kane has been a streaky scorer since the day he signed in Edmonton as a free agent, and I could think of nothing I’d like to see from him more than a hot stretch where he’s filling the net. We’ve seen him catch fire before at this time of year, and here in February of 2024 is about as good of a time as any for a round of reruns from Kane’s greatest hits.

THE NEW SECOND LINE

The thing everyone was talking about at Nation HQ yesterday was Kris Knoblauch’s new line combos. Through the first three months of the Knobby era, he hasn’t really shuffled the lineup around all that much and especially not as heavily as he did on Thursday at practice. Outside of McDavid’s line, everyone else got a chance to make new friendships.
Perry got bumped up to the second line, all three d-pairings hit the blender, and big chunks of what was working in the last few weeks got a refresh. With my tinfoil hat firmly in place, I almost wondered if this shuffle had anything to do with the upcoming trade deadline. I can’t help but think the team is looking at different people in different spots for a reason beyond thinking the roster needs a reset.
Yet, as has been the case most of the time since we all met, Knoblauch’s decision paid off almost immediately with his newly formed line of Evander Kane, Leon Draisaitl, and Corey Perry. Those three were more than a handful for the Ducks all night long, and it wasn’t at all surprising to look at the box score and see that all of them got their names on the scoresheet.
Not necessarily the flashiest line you’ll ever see, the Pesky Line generated opportunities nearly every time they were on the ice. I know the Ducks aren’t exactly world beaters or anything, but you have to like the way those three guys gelled despite it being the first game they’ve ever played together.

PICKARD WASN’T PERFECT, BUT HE GOT THE JOB DONE

Calvin Pickard got the nod between the pipes for the first time since his shutout win over the Chicago Blackhawks back on January 25th, and despite the time off, he was arguably one of the Oilers’ best players even though the stats won’t necessarily give him credit for it. Way more often than we wanted to see, Pickard was called upon to bail his teammates out with a big save after a giveaway or missed assignment or any other variation of mistake you could possibly think of in a trap game like this one.
Again, I know that pumping a guy’s tires when he finished with 24 saves and a .889 save% seems like a little bit much, but he had to come up with at least five or six game changing saves to keep his team in the mix. I’m talking breakways and odd-man rushes and everything that comes with an apparent disregard for systems and structure, and Calvin Pickard covered up a bunch of those mistakes.
Who knows what the Oilers’ plans will be for finding Stuart Skinner a backup, but I wonder how much that plan is changing with the way Calvin Pickard is playing when he gets the chance. At $762K on the salary cap, you’d have to think that the team loves having a number like that on the books heading into the trade deadline.

OTHER THINGS WORTH MENTIONING

  • I think I can speak for all of us when I say that the Oilers’ start on Friday night was about as disappointing as it gets. I know the Ducks have been playing some decent hockey lately, but let’s be honest that the Oilers should probably beat them more often than not. So, to have the slow start they did and look as disengaged as they were was a tough scene for a team that has been playing so much better than that. As unfortunate as it might be to say, the Oilers were lucky to find themselves down by only one goal after 20 minutes.
  • How about a quiet little three-point night for Connor McDavid? It’s amazing how McDavid getting three assists in a game barely registers anymore. We’re so damned blessed to have him.
  • Congrats to Corey Perry for picking up his first assist as an Oiler. Further congrats go to him for the way he slashed Gibson’s stick out of his hand without getting pinched for it.
  • The NHL site had the Oilers listed with 11 giveaways but I swear that number could have been from the first period alone. The boys were coughing up the puck like the cinnamon challenge, and there was a stretch when it almost seemed as likely that they’d pass to the opponent as it was to a teammate.
  • Looking at the special teams, the Oilers’ PK served up with a rare miss after allowing goals on both shorthanded situations they faced. At the other end of the rink, the power play cashed in one of two chances with the man advantage, and Oilers fans everywhere are hopeful this will be the beginning of the end of Edmonton’s road-PP woes.
  • You’re damned right I’m going to spend a second telling you that the Oilers won 52.9% of the faceoffs they took. Better than a coin flip, friends.
  • Were you surprised to see Ryan Strome score against his former team? You weren’t, were you? I still hate Peter Chiarelli for that one.

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