Edmonton Oilers moving around new pieces following puzzling loss

The Edmonton Oilers are going back to a more familiar-looking top six against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday

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After experiencing a case of fixing what wasn’t broken, the Edmonton Oilers are going back to a more familiar-looking top six against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.

But they won’t be bringing along a win streak. That ended at five games following a 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, when the Oilers decided to debut a couple of new trade-deadline acquisitions in former Anaheim Ducks centres Adam Henrique and Sam Carrick.

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Henrique slotted in as second-line left wing next to Leon Draisaitl, while Carrick was centring the fourth line.

And while no one could blame the newcomers for the loss, there was always going to be a question of how the chemistry that was built in the Oilers room by the roster — one that got itself out of an early season funk and turned into a playoff contender — was going to respond to the adding of ingredients.

On Friday, the Oilers top six was back to a more familiar, though not entirely typical, lineup, with Ryan McLeod drawing onto Draisaitl’s left wing opposite of Warren Foegele, while Henrique and Evander Kane moved down to the third line, where Henrique will centre a reunion with former Ducks teammate Corey Perry.

“It’s great,” McLeod said of his promotion. “I kind of prepare the same way and try and play my game, but it’s a lot of fun playing with a player like Leon.

“Earlier in the year, we had some good success, so we’re looking to build on that.”

McLeod’s first time up to the Oilers second line saw him earn five goals in a span of five games to close out the 2023 calendar, accounting for half of his goal total on the season as he sits with 22 points in 60 games — one off from a career high in both goals and points from last year.

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“Obviously, with new guys coming in you want to kind of find what works the best and I’m happy playing wherever, whatever position,” McLeod said. “So, I’m just kind of going with it and trying to do the best I can wherever I’m put in the lineup.”

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It’s not the way it was supposed to work, having the Oilers proactively improve their roster on paper, only to take a skate stride backward on the ice the very next day, despite having just knocked off a strong Boston Bruins squad for their fifth-straight win right beforehand.

“Sometimes in the trade deadline when you pick up some new players, you tend to kind of take your foot off the gas a bit thinking the new guys were going to come in and put the team over the top,” McLeod said. “But I think we kind of got to get back to doing what we did when we were a hardworking team. Doing the little basics, little details and I think it’ll be good.”

At the same time, placing the new additions was never intended to be set in stone for head coach Kris Knoblauch.

“We’ve got two, three, maybe four things that are going on in our head when we’re thinking what’s best, and you could think about what’s best for one player or maybe two lines,” he said. “But you’re trying to do it for all four of them.

“And it doesn’t matter probably what our lines were the other night, it probably wasn’t going to work out just because we weren’t in a good mindset to be ready to play Columbus. So, I don’t look too much on what the lines were, we put those lines together, it failed us. It doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t help us (Saturday) against Buffalo (10:30 a.m., Sportsnet).”

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Another big difference in the Columbus game was the Oilers split up Connor McDavid and Draisaitl on the top line, which had been their main weapon throughout the five-game streak, deciding to put Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back up to the top line.

“The first period was terrible (for) pretty much everybody, collectively,” Knoblauch said. “We went back with McDavid and Leon together and tried to get a spark early in the second period, but it just wasn’t enough.

“And I think for the long run, I think it’s best for us to do it the way the lines are set up right now, but again, that might change as it did last game.”

Fine time: Kane was fined $2,500 by the NHL’s department of player safety for unsportsmanlike conduct involving Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cole Sillinger during Thursday’s 4-2 loss.

According to reports, 46 seconds into the second period Kane skated past the Blue Jackets bench and stuck his stick over the boards in an effort to spear Sillinger.

The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

E-mail: [email protected]

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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