MATHESON: Should the Oilers bench Ryan McLeod?

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Is it time for Ryan McLeod to sit?

It probably is.

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It’s time for a reset, if Edmonton Oilers forward Adam Henrique does return for Game 3 of the Western Conference final and head coach Kris Knoblauch has to take out a warm body. Henrique has missed nine straight games because of a suspected ankle issue which cropped up in Game 5 of the team’s first-round series against Los Angeles.

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Knoblauch was still singing from the “he’s day-to-day” song book Sunday, like all playoff coaches reluctant to tip their hand, saying he hoped that the versatile trade-deadline addition would be fully able for the third or fourth game here against Dallas. Knoblauch didn’t want to mess with a winning lineup Saturday, like most coaches, after the double OT victory in Game 1, so Henrique sat, even though the coach said he was “98 percent” ready before puck-drop.

But if Henrique is back Monday, should McLeod draw the short straw?

After some of Knoblauch’s earlier scratches, why not?

If Knoblauch can do some soul-searching and make the ultra-tough call to scratch the ultimate gamer Corey Perry during the Vancouver series, dictated by current performance, taking into account Perry’s 206 playoff games (two back of Wayne Gretzky and Jaromir Jagr), his Hart trophy and Stanley Cup ring for the last four games, maybe Knoblauch will decide to sit the 24-year-old McLeod.

He doesn’t have a playoff point, just like the 39-year-old Perry.

If Knoblauch can make the gutsy switch from his No. 1 goalie Stu Skinner to Calvin Pickard for games 4 and 5 of the Canucks series, feeling Skinner needed a step back, does McLeod, even with his great foot-speed, need the same treatment?

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Whether Knoblauch actually goes that route, we’ll find out Monday at the morning skate before Game 3 when the Oilers trot out their forward lines for practice.

Maybe Henrique plays centre on the third line and McLeod moves over to left wing or vice-versa.

But, here are McLeod’s playoff numbers, bearing in mind what Glen Sather always used to say.

“The facts are the facts if you want to back up an argument.”

*No points in 14 playoff games. Just 15 shots, averaging close to 14 minutes a game.

*No goals in his last 26 playoff games over five series (Los Angeles twice, Vegas, Vancouver and now Dallas). He had five assists last spring, but no goals. His last playoff goal was June 4, 2022 against Colorado in Game 5 of the Western final.

Whether Knoblauch actually goes that route and sits McLeod is tricky. We all know how fast he is. He is lots fast. He is one of the NHL’s fleetest of foot. He is also a good penalty-killer, part of an Oiler unit that has killed off 21 in a row in the playoffs. He has done a very nice job as one of the three pairs of forwards that Knoblauch uses, with third-line partner Warren Foegele. But, Henrique can also kill penalties, and again McLeod has no points.

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And while the playoffs is a game of mistakes and everybody makes them, it was McLeod’s giveaway in the third period of Game 7 that started the Canucks rally.

Here are the sobering facts:

While the Oilers require McLeod’s game speed, he has played 46 Oiler playoff games, in total. He has three goals and nine points.

We also know aggression is not a significant part of McLeod’s toolkit, although there have been more hits in the last while than before. He is trying to be more engaged, which is absolutely necessary in the post-season, but, again, he’s not physical, by nature.

If we take a step back, Knoblauch could also decide to sit Foegele or 36-year-old Derek Ryan, instead, for Henrique, who was acquired at the deadline because of his versatility and hockey smarts. But, should he?

True, Ryan was the Oilers forward who got squeezed out of the play along the boards on Mason Marchment’s deflection winner Saturday off a Ryan Suter shot.

The hard-working, smart veteran is playing RW on the third line when he has been more of a fourth-line staple. But, Ryan and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are also the first forwards Knoblauch sends out on the penalty-kill and as former coach/GM/centre Craig MacTavish pointed out in the Vancouver series, Ryan more than held his own physically, beating J.T. Miller on some PK faceoffs.

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Foegele had a career season with 20 goals and 41 points and is hustle personified, charging into corners, but he has one goal and three points through his 14 playoff games and he is minus 9. He’s been a perfect complement for McLeod on the NHL’s best post-season PK and was excellent in Game 1 in 2:30 of work there, but the head knock Knoblauch played Foegele just 14 1/2 minutes of the 81-minute thriller and he had fewer even-strength minutes than Sam Carrick on the fourth line. In Game 2, he played 10:46 on Saturday (minus 2), just 13 seconds more than Connor Brown, who scored the Oilers’ first goal, tucking one through the legs of Jake Oettinger, in his best game of the playoffs.

So, Brown isn’t coming out.

And we wait to see if Henrique’s coming in for Game 3, after a loss.

“When he (Henrique) does come in, he will provide us some secondary scoring, be key on faceoffs and provide good defensive play,” said Knoblauch.

“He’s a good 200-foot player and that’s what we want from him. That’s why we traded for him. When he is ready, it will be an addition to our team.”

Will McLeod be the player subtracted for that Henrique addition? He should be, based on his lack of production.

But will he be?

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