Man with the golden touch making all the right moves for Oilers

Standing pat and playing it safe are quite often the default positions for a rookie coach on a veteran team in a high-stakes scenario, but Knoblauch has been fearless in his decision-making this spring

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Can’t think of what to wear to work tomorrow or where to go for lunch?

Ask Kris Knoblauch.

What club should you hit on that Par 3 over water? 

Ask Kris Knoblauch.

What movie should you see tonight? What car should you buy? How can the city speed up LRT construction?

Knoblauch, Knoblauch, Knoblauch.

If you’re looking for some sound advice right now, there might be no better place to get it than from the man with the golden touch.

Standing pat and playing it safe are quite often the default positions for a rookie coach on a veteran team in a high-stakes scenario, but Knoblauch has been fearless in his decision-making this spring.

As everyone knows, and would be quick to point out, fearless turns into foolish in a big hurry when you’re wrong. But the Edmonton Oilers coach is batting pretty close to 1.000 on some hard decisions that have are paving the way for his team’s playoff run.

“It’s not easy, his first time in the playoffs,” said Oilers forward Connor Brown. “He’s making gutsy calls.”

He took the net away from Stuart Skinner after three wobbly games in the Vancouver series, a move that Jay Woodcroft wouldn’t make last season, and it worked. Calvin Pickard stepped in and posted a .911 save percentage in his two starts. 

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Then, after two very solid games from Pickard and with the Oilers trailing 3-2 in the series, Knoblauch decided to ride or die with Skinner. And it worked.

He makes THREE lineup changes for a do or die Game 4 Wednesday against Dallas, putting in a 22-year-old defenceman who hasn’t played a game that mattered in forever and two guys who don’t have a point between them in the playoffs. And it worked.

He takes the two guys who don’t have a single point between them in the playoffs and puts them on the SECOND LINE. And it worked. Corey Perry and Ryan McLeod combined on the goal that stopped the bleeding and set the stage for a 5-2 comeback win to save the series.

Instead of yanking Skinner after two goals on three shots in Game 4, he left him in and it worked. Skinner makes some huge timely saves to keep Dallas from pulling away or catching up.

He sits Vincent Desharnais, an important penalty killer, puts Philip Broberg in and the kid doesn’t look at all out of place while the PK extends its run to 23-straight kills and scores a short-handed game winner.

These are enormous decisions in key situations that leave him wide open for second guessing and Knoblauch is entirely unafraid of them. If he’d have been frozen with doubt over the last couple of weeks, the Oilers might not be in the Western Conference Final.

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“There isn’t a decision I make without consulting probably five to 12 people,” he said, adding he was on the phone with assistant coach Paul Coffey into the evening Tuesday trying to figure out what to do on defence for Game 4 Wednesday.

“We still hadn’t made the decision that night, we made it in the morning. Sometimes it’s easier than others and sometimes there is a lot of talk and it goes on for quite a while.

“I talk with each and every one of my coaches together and individually. I talk to Ken Holland about what we need to do. Hopefully after taking to everybody and weighing the pros and cons of every decision, hopefully we make the right one. But they’re tough, especially when the stakes are as high as they are right now.”

Of course, none of these moves work out unless the guys coming in answer the bell. If Perry isn’t the consummate pro, if McLeod decides to sulk, if Broberg folds and if Skinner wilts, Knoblauch is getting roasted right now.

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But the players he’s showing trust in are rewarding him by rising to the occasion.

“If you take someone out, you have someone waiting outside your lineup that’s ready to go and wants to make an impact, and is good enough to make an impact,” said Leon Draisaitl. “That’s what good teams have, that’s what winning teams have, and Knobber pushes the right buttons.

“I thought all the guys who came in, which is not easy to do at this time of year, did a great job.”

Nobody likes having to sit out at this time of the year, especially a veteran of 207 playoff games like Perry, who was brought here specifically for his experience in these situations, but he responded exactly how Knoblauch and the Oilers needed him to.

“When you do get pulled out of the lineup it’s a tough pill to swallow but you put that aside and when your name is called again you come in and work hard,” said the 39-year-old veteran.

“It’s tough, I’ve played a lot of games in this league, but like I said when I got here, you check your ego at the door and plug away, work hard off the ice and be ready when your name is called.”

E-mail: [email protected]

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