The Edmonton Oilers are up 2-1 in their series against the LA Kings.
And while the Oilers have outscored the Kings 17-6 so far in the series, that doesn’t matter as NHL games aren’t won on aggregate. No matter how you cut it, the Oilers can still be better.
We’re at a point in the season where there doesn’t need to be changes brought forth with a dull axe, that’s for sure. Edmonton is, for the most part, firing on all cylinders. Their top-end talent is producing and so is the Oilers’ depth scoring. Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Cody Ceci all had big days producing offensively on Friday night.
There are lots to like about the Oilers’ game, no doubt. At 5×5 when adjusting for the score and venue, the Oilers are controlling 55.77 percent of the shot attempts, 66.81 percent of the goals scored and 59.06 percent of the expected goal share. On top of that, they’re dominating in the high-danger areas.
After a shaky game one, the team has bounced back nicely in games two and three, but Jay Woodcroft and the players know there’s lots of work to be done.
“Each game is worth the game. In a playoff series, your job is to try to get to four,” said Woodcroft after game three. “The score of the game doesn’t matter if it’s a 2-1 triple overtime game, or if it’s a little bit more lopsided, that doesn’t matter.
“We have to make sure that we’re doing the necessary things to see how we played clearly. What can improve, what we want to continue to emphasize, and if we do that and rest up properly, I think it’ll serve us well heading into game four.”
If you’re not looking to improve your game at all times, you’re absolutely doing a disservice to your players, your organization, and your fan base. So where are the areas of concern for the Oilers? Let’s break down the Oilers’ lines as they have been deployed at 5×5 in games two and three, while adjusting for score and venue.
Kane – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Hyman – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Archibald – RNH – Ryan
Foegele – McLeod – Kassian
The Oilers’ top two lines aren’t of concern. They’re controlling the pace of play, outscoring their opponents handily, and have the expected goal share to back it up.
Edmonton’s bottom six, however, is of concern.
The third is getting dominated in terms of shot attempt share, as well as the scoring chance share. They’ve outscored their opponents 1-0, a good sign, and have a slightly below average expected goal share.
The fourth line is keeping their heads above water in terms of the shot attempt share, but are getting caved in when it comes to scoring chances and expected goal share. They’ve also outscored their foe’s 1-0.
Again, what this all comes back to is if you’re not trying to make your team better at all times, you’re not doing the right things. For the Oilers and Jay Woodcroft, I would be looking to mix up the lines in the bottom-six and potentially bring in a fresh face.
I get the old saying of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but truth be told this bottom-six as it’s operating is, in fact, broken. Edmonton can’t take the Kings lightly at all. After all, there’s a reason they finished third in the Pacific Division standings. They’ve been a strong team all year, but are on their heels and come game four, they’re going to be desperate. I worry that the Oilers’ bottom-six could get exposed.
So what kind of changes could be made? First off, I would look to move Ryan McLeod to the Oilers’ third line alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Derek Ryan, and bump Josh Archibald to the press box. Why? I think McLeod has quietly been having a strong playoff so far. He’s using his speed and smarts to get to the right areas, and has shown some offensive jump. He almost scored early in game one, and got rewarded with a nice tip-in in game two.
His speed and ability to transport the puck on the third line would be a huge asset alongside Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan. Archibald has been doing what he does: using his speed on forechecks and not shying away from using his body. The Oilers have utilized him sparingly on the penalty kill, and he can be replaced there.
When it comes to the fourth line, I would bring in either Derick Brassard, or Devin Shore to center the fourth line alongside Foegele and Kassian. Surprisingly, Foegele and Kassian have been solid together at 5×5 this season, I lean towards adding Brassard to that pair.
At the end of the day, Brassard is no stranger to playoff hockey. Over his 15-year career, he’s appeared in 117 playoff games scoring 25 goals and 68 points. The production has been there over the course of his career, and he plays a quiet, calm game that I think could help settle the Oilers’ fourth line down quite nicely.
We’re talking about moving pawns here, but the truth of the matter is sometimes the right adjustments can be a big difference maker. Like I said earlier, I expect the Kings to come out with some big jump in their game in game four, and the Oilers’ bottom-six as is is showing some major warts.
Let’s see if any adjustments will be made.
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 [email protected]