Adam Henrique returns, Ryan McLeod "resets", Oilers recalibrate for Game 3

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Playoff Game Day 3.3
Dallas at Edmonton

In the early days of Edmonton Oilers’ third round series with Dallas Stars, two persistent questions have bubbled to the surface time and again.

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  • When does Adam Henrique return to the line-up?
  • Who comes out to make room for him?

Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch answered both queries at once on Monday morning, announcing that Henrique will replace Ryan McLeod in the line-up as the series lands in Rogers Place for Game 3 this evening.

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It’s a move that’s been called for by many in the fan base. Numerous Oilers followers have called out McLeod’s perceived poor play in various corners of social media and radio text lines, not to mention the comments section right here at the Cult of Hockey.

There’s no doubt that McLeod has struggled mightily on the offensive side of the puck. 14 games into the playoffs he has yet to record a single point, this after ending the regular season on a 15-game goalless run. Until recently he has maintained his trademark high-level defensive play, but some cracks have developed there as well. Our own analysis of Grade A Shots has identified the speedy forward as a culprit on 3 different goals against in the last 4 games, most notably a dreadful third-period turnover in Vancouver that kickstarted a scary Canucks comeback and reportedly left the 24-year-old pivot in a funk despite the team’s ultimate triumph in that game and series.

In Game 2 at Dallas, McLeod was a split-second late to the shooting lane on Ryan Suter’s outside shot that was deflected home by Mason Marchment for the game winner that ultimately evened the series at 1-1. Not the biggest mistake of the game or even on the sequence itself, but another mark on the debit side of a ledger that sports precious few credits at the other end of the sheet.

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McLeod has played a role in Edmonton’s outstanding penalty kill in the post-season, playing 22 minutes without a single goal against. At 5v5, the Oilers have produced 57% of the shots and 55% of the expected goals during his 163 minutes of action. When it comes to actual goals, however, it’s been just 1 for, 6 against, for a dismal 14%. And let’s face it, folks, boxcars of 0-0-0, -5 are deeply underwhelming.

Thus he is about to endure the first healthy scratch of his career, at a critical time. Coach Knoblauch referred to it as a “reset”, a similar approach that he successfully used with netminder Stu Skinner in the Vancouver series. The expectation is that he will be back in the rotation sooner than later. But not tonight.

One consequence is that team speed is going to take a hit. McLeod is clearly one of the squad’s two fastest skaters, with only Connor McDavid in the same conversation.

Henrique is a different animal, especially on the speed front. Nearly 10 years older, he’s nowhere near as fast as McLeod, though much more of a threat offensively. In 2023-24 he produced his seventh 20-goal season, and tied his career high of 51 points. He also hit exactly 50 two other times, and has reached 40+ on ten different occasions over his 13 seasons.

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That said he checks many of the same boxes as McLeod on the versatility front. Both men can play either centre or wing and can chip in on the penalty kill.

Injured in Game 5 of the Los Angeles series, Henrique tested his battered ankle in Game 2 vs. Vancouver but was ineffective. He hasn’t played since, missing Edmonton’s last 7 games. In 6 playoff games, he’s posted boxcars of 1-1-2, -1 averaging 15:10 a night mostly at 1LW.

First report is that Henrique will be airlifted directly into McLeod’s spot at 3C with no other changes to the line-up.

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The survivors

Some of the other candidates for (more) time in the press box remain in the line-up. Let’s consider here the other members of the bottom six:

  • 3RW Derek Ryan has played both centre and wing and is a key member of the penalty kill unit. He’s been relied on in key defensive situations late in games. He was, however, among the culprits on the game winner on Saturday. 11 GP, 1-1-2, -3.
  • 3LW Warren Foegele broke out of an 11-game pointless drought with a secondary assist on Brown’s goal, even as he’d already changed up before the puck entered the net. He has a mind-boggling 15% goal share at 5v5, on the ice for just 2 goals for and 11 against. By eye he’s been stronger in recent games, and good on the PK throughout (primarily paired with McLeod). 14 GP, 12:10 ATOI, 1-2-3, -9.
  • 4RW Connor Brown, who scored Edmonton’s only goal in Game 2 and had an effective two-way game. He too has been strong on the PK. 8 GP, 10:43 ATOI, 1-1-2, +2.
  • 4C Sam Carrick has been solid in a limited role since replacing Corey Perry (10 GP, 10:55 ATOI, 0-0-0, -3) in Game 6 vs. Vancouver. He can PK but hasn’t been tasked with that role since his return to the line-up. 7 GP, 10:00 ATOI, 0-1-1, even.
  • 4LW Mattias Janmark has been rock solid in a checking role, hard on the puck, strong on the penalty kill and reliable when protecting late leads. From this distance he is finally winning the hearts and minds of Oil fans. 14 GP, 11:08 ATOI, 1-2-3, +2.

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All of those guys remain on the bubble, especially McLeod’s former wingers Foegele and Ryan. That third line has been Edmonton’s weak link in the playoffs to this point, and will get a new look tonight.

That said, the Oilers offensive fortunes continue to ride with the top six and top D pairing. They were collectively held off the scoresheet in a Game 2 whose only goal was a weird hybrid of Brown (fourth line) from Cody Ceci (third pairing) and Foegele (third line). Helpful, but not helpful enough on a night Edmonton’s top stars were firing blanks.

On the visitors’ side of the puck, two-way centre Roope Hintz remains listed as a game-time decision. He has missed the last 4 games with an upper-body issue after being crosschecked by Nathan MacKinnon in Game 4 of the Dallas-Colorado series. A healthy Hintz (80 GP, 30-35-65, +26) has the potential of being a game-changer for the Stars.

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It’s an early start for a home game, with the broadcast set to start at 6:30pm MDT.

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