Adam Henrique is close to returning. Will Oilers change a winning line-up in Game 2?

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Playoff Game Day 3.2:
Edmonton at Dallas

Nine wins down, seven to go. Last time Edmonton Oilers reached this many wins in a single post season was in 2006, when they beat the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 3-1 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. They then repeated that scoreline in Game 2, split a pair of high-scoring games at home before returning to Anaheim to close out the Ducks 2-1.

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Not that any of that historical data means Thing One, any more than the fact that Dallas Stars beat the Oilers in five consecutive playoff series around the turn of the century. Ancient history, most often mentioned by ancient historians like yours truly.

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The modern Oilers are intent on making their own history. They get back to work tonight, hoping to build on the 1-0 series lead provided by Connor McDavid’s game winner in double overtime on Thursday. The one outstanding matter concerns the health of forward Adam Henrique, who is getting closer by the day. Saturday morning’s news was inconclusive, though with a key clue:

Henrique tweet

…suggesting that Knoblauch’s Oilers will ice the same line-up as in Games 6 and 7 vs. Vancouver and Game 1 of the current series. All of them, Edmonton victories.

Game 3.2 projected lineup

Knoblauch made a couple  of key changes before that must-win Game 6 in Edmonton a week ago, when he went back to goaltender Stu Skinner between the pipes after backup Calvin Pickard had gotten the start in both Games 4 and 5. All Skinner has done since is post a .923 save percentage and 1.50 goals against average in backstopping 3 wins.

The coach also made a significant move up front, replacing winger Corey Perry with centre Sam Carrick and shuffling 4C Derek Ryan into Perry’s prior spot at 3RW.  The realigned bottom 6 continued to produce nothing offensively, but provided solid defensive play and standout penalty killing, in which all but Carrick were regulars in the rotation along with all-purpose Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

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The presence of 2 right-shot faceoff men has proven useful on the dot. Over those 3 games Ryan posted a 60% win rate, Carrick 58%. During the same period, top-line pivots Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl both struggled at just 38%.

Both righties stood out in this department in Game 1 at Dallas. Ryan won 6/8=75% of his draws, all on the penalty kill, while Carrick posted 7/11=64%, all at even strength.

Fair to say that Ryan and the penalty kill unit have been vital to Edmonton’s success. They killed a critical 3v5 in Game 6 vs. the Canucks, then a double minor in Game 7. Against the Stars, the highlight was another 4-minute kill, this time in overtime. Overall the unit has kept a clean sheet for 5 straight games, killing off 34:44 over that span including 3 different double minors and that 3v5.

Conclusions: good work by the PK unit needs to be kept up; careless sticks need to be keep down.

Special teams at both ends of the sheet have been critical to Edmonton’s success so far in the playoffs. A goal differential of +9 vs. the Kings keyed a 5-game romp in the opening round, while a +3 was crucial vs. the Canucks, including a powerplay game winner in Game 7. The WCF opener vs. the Stars featured no special teams goals at all, but considering Dallas had 10 minutes of powerplay time to just 2 for Edmonton, those units played a major role. In the playoffs as a whole, the Oil are +12 in special teams scenarios, just +2 at even strength.

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And lest you think special teams are an afterthought to overall team play, check out which teams are leading the playoffs in net goal differential in odd-man situations:

Special teams goals

Meanwhile, on the Dallas side of the ice, centre Roope Hintz is in a similar boat as Henrique. He too is listed as a game-time decision, having missed 3 games since being injured in Game 4 vs. Colorado. The three-time 30-goal scorer brings size, speed and an excellent two-way game. He will provide an important boost to the Stars once he is cleared to play.

Tonight’s broadcast starts at 6pm MDT.

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