McLeod out as Henrique returns to Edmonton Oilers lineup from injury

The Oilers brought in Henrique at the trade deadline for the express purpose of adding some veteran offence to the lineup for a long playoff push

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No playoff goals.

No playoff points.

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No more spot in the lineup for Ryan McLeod in Game 3 of the Western Conference final between the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars at Rogers Place on Monday.

The third-line centre drew the short straw with the return to active duty of Adam Henrique from a high-ankle sprain sustained at the end of the first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings on May 1.

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While McLeod’s offensive lull made him a tempting target for Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch, who has so far shown no fear in pulling underperforming players — just ask Corey Perry or Stuart Skinner — it wasn’t the easiest decision, either.

While McLeod has yet to earn a point in 14 games here in the playoffs while centering the third line, it is his work on a penalty kill that hurts. He has a total of 15 shots to show while averaging nearly 14 minutes a game in the post-season, but has contributed to a streak that has seen 21 consecutive penalties killed over the past six games-plus.

“Absolutely, it’s a reset,” Knoblauch said. “Clouder’s going to be a part of this team, whether he comes into this game or the following. We’re going to see him sooner than later.

“There’s a lot to like about his game, a lot of it is from the penalty kill. He’s been contributing a lot there with his quickness, his reads. Five-on-five, he hasn’t been playing quite like he had been, especially in the middle part of the season. January-February was probably his top performance. But I think it’s important that he has just a little reset.

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“We’ve got a lot of players that are playing well and it’s been difficult to take anybody out of the lineup, whether that’s been Corey Perry, Connor Brown, Sam Carrick. We have depth, we’ve got a lot of good players that are healthy that can help us win. And right now, (McLeod) won’t play.”

DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 23: Ryan McLeod #71 of the Edmonton Oilers skates past Jamie Benn #14 of the Dallas Stars during the first period in Game One of the Western Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 23, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. Photo by Cooper Neill /Getty Images

Henrique, meanwhile, came into Monday’s game with a goal and an assist in six previous playoff games.

“I think this time of year, it’s the big-picture thing everybody looks at, and I think everybody understands that,” Henrique said. “Everybody goes through ups and downs and I think you just have to have that big-picture mentality.

“Everybody’s going to be called upon at some time or the other, and everybody expects the other guy to step up and whoever’s in or out of the lineup, I think we have all the confidence in every single guy here.”

The Oilers brought in Henrique at the trade deadline for the express purpose of adding some veteran offence to the lineup for a long playoff push.

Well, the long push is here, but Henrique’s presence has been the only part lacking.

“He touches a lot of aspects of the game,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. “The penalty kill, even strength, face-offs, he helps a lot. Definitely somebody that we’ve missed.”

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Henrique missed the second-round opener against the Vancouver Canucks, before returning to play just 11:38 in Game 2, and then returning to the sidelines for the next seven straight.

“When Adam was available and felt that he was 100 per cent, then we want him in the lineup. He’s a very important player for us, he can kill penalties, he can be on the power play and he’s a really good 5-on-5 player,” said Knoblauch, adding he considered getting Henrique back in earlier against the Stars. “And there are schemes that we could have put him in.

“I would say he was close, maybe not 100 per cent, but I’m sure if it was the Stanley Cup Final, Game 7, we would have had him in earlier. But I think with his experience, his smarts, that he will help us.”

Adam Henrique (19) of the Edmonton Oilers, celebrates his second period goal against of the Montréal Canadiens at Rogers Place in Edmonton on March 19, 2024. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia

Henrique had 51 points (24 goals, 27 assists) in 82 regular-season games, including nine points (six goals, three assists) in 22 games after being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline.

“I’m certainly looking forward to getting back in the lineup and just want to be able to try and be a difference maker for the team,” he said. “I think those first few shifts, you want to just kind of get back into the rhythm, the flow of the game. Come out, play a simple, hard game and just get involved right away.

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“And then from there, I think you just settle in, you know? It’s like riding a bike, just get back on there and go. So, I’ve been looking forward to getting back in the lineup for a little bit.”

Watching the playoffs unfold from afar hasn’t been the easiest thing to endure for a player whose post-season hopes were saved by getting traded to a contender just ahead of the deadline.

“I guess it was just a day-to-day kind of thing mentally, too. I think mentally probably harder than physically with certain things and just not being able to be out there to help. It’s more nerve-wracking watching than playing and I certainly learned a lot about that,” Henrique said. “But watching the guys, seeing everybody kind of come together and push through and battle, it was certainly great to watch and see the team continue to get better.

“And you’re just itching to be a part of that, so it’s nice to be back.”

E-mail: [email protected]

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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