One line-up change for Edmonton Oilers in pivotal Game 5

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Playoff Game Day 3.5
Edmonton at Dallas

For the second playoff series in a row, Edmonton Oilers return to enemy territory for a critically-important Game 5 with the series tied 2-2. Last time it was Vancouver, where the Oilers beat the odds by losing Game 5 but coming back to win the series. They surely want to follow a different trajectory tonight in Dallas, and have those 79% odds in their favour.

Except for the first 8 minutes or so, the Oilers put together their most complete game of the series in Game 4, storming back from an 0-2 hole to win 5-2. A number of changes by coach Kris Knoblauch paid dividends, notably the one that returned 0-point scorers Ryan McLeod and Corey Perry not just to the line-up but to the top 6, where they flanked Leon Draisaitl on the second line. The duo returned not just to the ice but to the scoresheet, where McLeod kicked off Edmonton’s comeback with a primary assist by Perry.

The other big change was the insertion of Philip Broberg in place of Vincent Desharnais in a defence corps that had been unchanged through 15 games. Broberg responded to that challenge with 14 solid minutes on a pairing with Cody Ceci.

So with the success in that game, surely it’s time to stick with a winning line-up, correct? Not so fast.

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Looks as though Sam Carrick will return to action in place of Derek Ryan, who comes out after playing the prior 12 straight games. Ryan, 37, has been averaging 9:00 per game, 1:20 of that on Edmonton’s superb penalty kill. Most often, the first unit.

The right-shooting Ryan has taken 32 of Edmonton’s 80 faceoffs on the kill, double the total of any other Oiler (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 16), winning an impressive 59% of them. Oddly, he’s at just 40% at even strength and 48% overall. Ryan had a limited impact in Game 4, playing just 14 seconds on that unit after taking the first of Edmonton’s 2 penalties himself. On the night he was the only Oiler in single digits (7:15), ending the night -1 after losing a d-zone draw that led to the second Stars’ goal. In his 13 games to this point, Ryan has posted boxcars of 0-1-1, -5.

Into his spot steps Carrick, a fellow right-shot centre with decent faceoff ability and more limited penalty-killing acumen. Primarily playing 4C, he has averaged 9:50 ice time during the 8 games in which he has appeared, posting a solid 55% win rate. That’s second best on the squad behind only fellow trade deadline acquisition Adam Henrique (56%) though just 4/12=33% on the PK. In the first 3 games vs. the Stars, Carrick was an impressive 17/25=68% on the dot.

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Like Ryan, he’s not here for his offence (0-1-1, -1). Carrick does bring a more rugged style, credited with 28 hits during his limited playoff minutes.

As Tony Brar points out, Warren Foegele skated on the third line Friday morning but was almost certainly a placeholder for Evander Kane who skated with those linemates in Game 3. Kane has missed practices and morning skates throughout the postseason as he plays through a sports hernia, but has yet to miss a game and is unlikely to miss this one.

On the Dallas side of the puck, defenceman Chris Tanev is officially a game time decision. He blocked a Kane wrist shot midway in Game 4 that knocked him out of the game, and was observed at the departure gate of Edmonton International wearing a walking boot. As Oil fans have learned from his years with the Canucks and Flames, Tanev is a tough hombre who will suck it up and play if at all possible. He may, however, be limited in his movement.

Shot distance a key

Through 4 games, each team has scored 12 goals. One pattern that has emerged is that Edmonton has achieved its scoring success from close to the net.

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EDM-DAL shot distance thru 4 GP

Each of the last 3 games has featured an empty net goal (highlighted), all of them scored from beyond centre ice. Leaving those aside, the 11 goals the Oilers have scored against Jake Oettinger have all come from within 17 feet of the net, 8 of them within 11 feet with an average distance of 10.6′.

The Stars on the other hand have scored from an average distance of 21.8′. 4 of their 10 goals on Stu Skinner originated from beyond 25 feet and 3 from 35+. The one long-range goal, a 52 footer by Esa Lindell, did take a fortuitous bounce off of Darnell Nurse and was officially scored a “defensive deflection”. Still, Dallas snipers Jamie Benn, Jason Robertson and Wyatt Johnston have all managed to score from above the hash marks, in each case their club’s first goal of the game.

Suggesting that the Oilers have done well at working the puck in close to the net and cashing on rebounds and scrambles, while being unsuccessful at solving Oettinger from distance.

Not saying the Oilers should pass up open looks; more that they haven’t been getting very many of those. Ask Evan Bouchard, who through 3 games had no fewer than 19 of his 31 shot attempts blocked by the thicket of Dallas defenders who rotuinely clutter up the slot. Bouch finally found the mark in Game 4 by jumping into the rush and slamming home a Connor McDavid rebound from close range.

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There’s more than one way to score in this league, and the Oilers have proven to be pretty adept at finding a way.

Puck drop in Dallas will occur at 6:40pm MDT.

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