Gold-fingered Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch has major lineup decision for Game 2: 9 Things

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It is hard not to be mad at the result in Game 1.

The Oilers were, on-balance, the better team. They easily out-shot and out-chanced Florida. The penalty kill was excellent again.

A couple mistakes ended up in the back of the Edmonton net. Otherwise, the Oilers quite simply got “Bob’d.”

So, the Oilers will somehow need to duplicate much of what they brought on Saturday night but at the same time solve the puzzle that is Sergei Bobrovsky.

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That and more on in this edition of…

9 Things

9. In any 7-game series where a team does not have home ice advantage you hope for a sweep in the other guy’s rink. But the reasonable expectation is a split. That is good news and bad. Good because you win Game 2 and it is a brand, new series. Bad, because if you lose…

8. The National Hockey League’s salary cap will move to $88m for 2024-25. Up 5.4%, it if the first big jump since prior to the pandemic. That is a shade higher than anticipated. And every little bit will help the Edmonton Oilers as they try to keep this roster more or less intact.

7. Edmonton first played for the Stanley Cup in 1908. It was not the “Oilers” yet but rather the “Thistles,” who lost to the Montreal Wanderers. That Edmonton club included Lester Patrick, recruited out of Nelson, B.C. for the challenge. Patrick is whom the Lester Patrick Trophy is named for, given in recognition of outstanding contributions to hockey in the United States.

6. Our family had seasons tickets to the Edmonton Oilers for quite a few years. My little guy, now a university graduate, grew up on the hot dogs and orange pop at Rexall Place. He watched Sam Gagner, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid play their first NHL games. So, for us, Saturday night was not just another game. It was a culmination of a lifetime filled with memories. No doubt thousands of families share a similar story.

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5. And Oilers fans travel well. They are all over the world. Two of many are Braden Lee and his Australian-born fiancée Bianca. Braden’s family is from Lac Pelletier, in Southern Saskatchewan. Braden moved to, lived, and worked in Edmonton. Now, the happy couple reside “down under.” Oilers fans gather at a pub in Brisbane to watch the games, no doubt Braden and Bianca were doing just that for Game 1 despite the 16-hour time difference. Thank you for reading us at The Cult of Hockey.

4. Daryl Katz should have been thrilled, if not vindicated, as the club punched their ticket to the Final at home in Game 6. Katz has re-built the brand. He fought for that new arena when this club was in the basement. Now the Oilers are in the Cup Final and in the best facility. He also has an 11-year extension of the regional TV deal with SportsNet. Blue-chip play-by-play man Jack Michaels, Gene Principe, Louie DeBrusk, and frequent panellist Bob Stauffer carry the franchise’s colors well. Between TV and Radio, who represents the Oilers brand more than Stauffer? Both the Oilers new CEO and Head Coach were on his radio show Oilers Now multiple times, years before being hired.

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3. It is difficult to say that Edmonton should make any changes to the forward ranks heading into Game 2. The dozen who dressed played pretty well. They just did not finish. You do have three veterans in Derek Ryan, Sam Gagner and Sam Carrick in the press box with a combined 1,853 NHL games. The Oilers were just 40% on draws in Game 1. Does a right-handed pivot Ryan or Carrick help turn that around? And I agreed with playing Corey Perry in the opener. But with scoring chances just 2-5 with Perry on the ice, would Gagner give them a bigger jolt? However, both of those items are on the margins. It is more about their best players.

2. Evan Bouchard had 16 shot attempts in Game 1. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl had 10 shots between them. The Oilers outshot the Panthers 32-18 overall. And only two Edmonton forwards did not register at least 1 puck on the Florida goal. A lot of what they did on the attack was really good. So, what the Oilers should not do is panic. If you play it again, you probably win that game 4 out of 5 times. I do think back to the disallowed “goal” by Connor Brown, though. He had the right idea. You probably need to score a greasy one on Bobrovsky to get yourself going. Bob otherwise looks capable of stopping whatever you throw at him.

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1.Most everything that Kris Knoblauch has touched in this post-season has turned to gold. But the Game 1 Stanley Cup Final bet on Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci did not play off. The pair was on the ice for both of the 5v5 goals against on Saturday. On the first goal, to be fair, neither man was primarily at fault. It was Connor McDavid got caught on the wrong side of the puck deep in the Florida zone and he then could not get back in time to pick up his check. However, if either Nurse or Ceci do get even a stick on one puck, the play probably dies. On the second goal, though, Ceci lost a puck battle on a hard forecheck down low and Nurse got puck watching and missed both the puck and his man. Meanwhile, the other two pairs were fine. It is a conundrum, to be sure. Nurse has been on the ice for 26 of the 50 goals scored against Edmonton this postseason.

Heading into Game 2 becomes…what does Kris Knoblauch do with his second pairing? The coach has not been afraid of pulling a veteran out of the lineup in this postseason and with good results. One option is Vincent Desharnais for Ceci. The big man’s physicality may be effective against Florida’s forecheck. But is Vin’s speed and puck moving an issue? Does Broberg (who was particularly good in Game 1) or the playoff-tested Kulak get elevated to the second pairing, bumping Nurse or (more likely, due to handedness) Ceci to the third pairing?

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The other choice is to show trust in your two veteran D-men who have given you a lot of good hockey over the years and run them right back out there together. That is not without merit, albeit a might unpopular right about now.

The problem with that approach is if it does not work again…you run the risk of ending up in a very deep hole indeed.

For the gold-fingered Kris Knoblauch…It is decision time.

Now on Threads @kleavins. Also, find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins, Instagram at LeavinsOnHockey, and Mastodon at [email protected]. This article is not AI generated.

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