Dave Tippett staying the course with Edmonton Oilers lines despite diminishing offensive returns

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Game Day 26: Carolina at Edmonton

It’s out of the frying and pan and into the fire for the Edmonton Oilers, who face the challenge of ending their four-game losing slide against one of the best teams in the National Hockey League. The Carolina Hurricanes come to town with an 18-6-1 record and a .740 points percentage, fourth best in the NHL. The Oilers, who led the league in that category just a week ago, have slipped all the way to 10th at 16-9-0, .640.

They’ll be in tough against Carolina, who have the NHL’s best goal share in all situations (81 GF, 55 GA = 59.6 GF%) and at 5v5 (58 GF, 35 GA = 62.4%).

For their part, the Oilers are 87 for, 77 against over all for a 53% goal share, 13th best in the league. But you can thank impressive special teams for that; at 5v5 the Oil are just 49 for, 57 against for 46.2%, a lowly 22nd in the NHL.

As the season started the Oilers were an offensive machine, scoring 44 goals in their first 10 games to rank as the league’s top scoring club and producing a 9-1-0 record in the process. But since then, a steady decline, especially on the Goals For side of the equation. Here’s the first 25 games split into 5-game blocks:

As the highlighted column shows, the offensive production has steadily dried up from one group of games to the next, with the last set at barely half the level of the opening stretch. The defensive results are also gradually worsening though a but more erratically; thanks largely to some outstanding goaltending the Oilers were able to right the ship in that department in Games 16-20 and bag a few wins in the process.

They added another in Game 21, a 5-2 win over Pittsburgh. That was the 12th time this season Edmonton scored at least 5 goals in a game, and they’ve won all 12. It was also the 10th time they held an opponent to 2 or fewer, and they’ve won all 10. But since then, they’ve achieved neither objective in any game, and lost all 4.

It’s gotten so bad in recent times that half way through their season-long 6-game home stand the Oil haven’t scored as many as 5 goals in total. In 180 minutes before the home faithful, the Oilers have mustered a mere 4 goals, just 1 of them at even strength. That’s… not good.

Lots of fingers are being pointed at the bottom six, and rightly so. That group, defined as any set of forwards that doesn’t include any of Connor McDavid , Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins , has produced more dismal results than ever this season, scoring just 9 goals while allowing 27 for a miserable 25% goal share at 5v5. The last time the Oilers scored with the big three on the bench was in Vegas back on Nov 27, when Jesse Puljujarvi scored on a breakaway. J.P. had been temporarily assigned to the third line and made the most of it, but got promoted back into the top six next game.

The actual bottom six? It’s not pretty, folks.

  • Zack Kassian, 4 goals on the season (21 GP), and just 1 in his last 17 games — that coming when he was briefly put on McDavid’s wing
  • Ryan McLeod, 3 goals on the season (17 GP), no points in his last 7 games
  • Warren Foegele, 2 goals on the season (25 GP) and none in his last 18 GP
  • Derek Ryan, 1 goal on the season (22 GP) and not a single point in his last 20 games
  • Devin Shore, 1 goal all season (10 GP)
  • Kyle Turris, 1 goal all season (15 GP)
  • Colton Sceviour, Tyler Benson and Brendan Perlini, 0 goals and just 1 point in a combined 40 games

Add to that the persistent scoring woes on the flanks of the DYNamite Line, where Nugent-Hopkins has just 2 goals all season and Kailer Yamamoto just 1 lonely assist, this despite both taking a regular turn alongside the NHL’s leading scorer in Draisaitl. Some of this just makes no sense at all.

Meanwhile McDavid and Draisaitl keep doing what they do, sometimes playing together at 5v5, sometimes apart, always teaming up on the powerplay, and currently tied for the NHL lead in scoring with 45 points apiece. But the state of support scoring behind them is problematic to say the least, with only McDavid’s frequent wingers Puljujarvi and Zach Hyman being consistently productive.

So what will Dave Tippett do tonight to shake things up? Judging by the line combinations, pretty much nothing at all.

Tonight’s line-up

The Oilers will use the same twelve forwards as they did their last two games, sorted into the same four lines that started both games. No sign of any sort of shuffle such as, say, Nuge to 3C, Hyman to his natural right wing, or Foegele (who was excellent against Boston) into the top six. Just more of the same. Presumably if the Oilers fall behind, the first option will be to reunite McDavid with Draisaitl and drop Hyman to the RNH-Yamamoto line. Same as it ever was.

Mikko Koskinen returns to the net after being spelled by Stuart Skinner last game. He’ll match up against Frederik Andersen in the Carolina crease.

One change for the Oilers on the back end, where William Lagesson draws in for the injured Kris Russell . The Oilers are once again down three of their four left defencemen, though this time at least workhorse Darnell Nurse is back in business.

Don’t expect much sympathy from the Hurricanes, who managed to win in Calgary on Thursday night without any of their starting three right defencemen. Neither Brett Pesce or Tony DeAngelo made the trip west, while Ethan Bear, recently recovered from a bout with COVID, missed that game with an unrelated illness.

Bear returns tonight to play against the club that traded him last summer. Expect him to receive a warm welcome from the Edmonton crowd. If the home team wants the same treatment they’d do well to come out of the chute playing hard from the drop of the puck, and maybe even score a goal some time in the first 30 minutes or so, just to change things up.

Source: EdmontonJournal