High stakes gamble for Edmonton Oilers: Knoblauch with major shake up of parings and lines for Stanley Cup Finals

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This in from the Edmonton Oilers practice in Florida, a major shift in Edmonton’s defensive pairings, as the Oilers are reuniting Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci and also playing Philip Broberg and Brett Kulak together.

It’s a bold move and a risky move. Not sure I like it one bit, but more on that in a moment.

Edmonton Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch will also evidently sit both Derek Ryan and Sam Carrick for Game 1 and go with Warren Foegele on a line with Ryan McLeod and Corey Perry.

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My take

1. Things just got interesting in Oil Country. Interesting times ten.

First off, I’m a big fan of this new set-up at forward, mainly because Mattias Janmark and Connor Brown have earned promotions due to their two-way excellence. Knoblauch has found a way to get them more ice time, teaming them with the solid Adam Henrique.

2. To beat Florida, the Oilers need four lines going, and they especially need a third line that can match up with the dangerous third line of Florida, Anton Lundell, Vladimir Tarasenko and Eetu Luostarinen. Lundell and the aggressive Luostarinen are both solid two-way players, while Tarasenko has yet to lose his size, power and big shot.

3. Corey Perry has had a few good games in the Stanley Cup playoffs. My own preference would have been to see sharp and aggressive Derek Ryan in for Perry, as Perry has too often been a step behind the play. The line of McLeod, Foegele and Perry has often seemed out of sync, two speedsters with one plow horse.

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But Perry is a big body, good in the corners, and can indeed come up with some big plays if he’s had plenty of rest between games, which is what he’s had this past week. Knoblauch’s hunch here could well pay off. I also don’t expect to see this new fourth line get much ice time.

The shot metrics for the line of Foegele and McLeod with Ryan for the past two playoff seasons are 55 shots for and 25 shots against in 90 minutes, for a 69% shots for percentage, but the trio has been outscored six goals against to three goals for.

The line of Foegele and McLeod and Perry in 26 minutes also has solid shot metrics, 13 for, seven against, a 65% shots for percentage, and they are zero goals for, zero goals against. This indicates Knoblauch’s decision makes sense.

4. Darnell Nurse has struggled mightily these playoffs, but I thought he played his best hockey recently when teamed up with Brett Kulak. They had a 49 shots for percentage, which includes Game 6 against Dallas, when the entire team went into a defensive shell after getting up two goals and got shelled on the shot shares.

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I’m not sure why the coaches are going away from the Game 6 pairings and back to Nurse and Ceci. Those two have struggled together for months now. In the playoffs, they have been on the ice for 69 shots for, 102 against at even strength, a 40.4 shots for percentage, and just five goals for and 12 against, a 29.4 goals for percentage.

5. That said, if the Kulak and Broberg pairing works out, they could get more ice-time in Game 1 than Nurse and Ceci. Kulak and Broberg are both exceptional skaters and puck retrievers, as well as being strong positional d-man. Perhaps Kulak-Broberg is Edmonton’s real second pairing for Game 1. Perhaps Knoblauch hopes to get them out there against a strong forechecking line, to nip that kind of strategy in the bud, with Kulak and Broberg moving out the puck before the Florida checkers can get on them.

It’s also the case that for Edmonton to win, Nurse and Ceci will have to play their “A” games. That goes for whichever pairing they are on. They have to keep it simple and smart, playing solid positional hockey and moving the puck rapidly and surely. If they can’t get this done, the Oilers won’t beat Florida. The coaching staff has issued them a major challenge here.

6. Bottom line: the risk here approaches that of bringing in Calvin Pickard for Stuart Skinner, then replacing Pickard with Skinner, against Vancouver. Knoblauch has got it right repeatedly in the playoffs. There’s a method to his moves even if we can’t always discern them. So far, he’s nailed every one and it’s hard to argue with such a track record, even when I do have questions.

How do you see it?

18 g

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