Darryl Sutter’s Comments About Oilers’ Forward Usage Are True

Darryl Sutter, the head coach of the Calgary Flames, said a lot with little words as he normally does. This time it was after Game 3 of the second-round series against the Edmonton Oilers. He spoke on the use of the forwards for the Oilers and how there aren’t line matchups.

The Flames have used their entire forward group much more than the Oilers and Sutter didn’t seem pleased with the question, noting that he can’t really line match with the use of Edmonton’s better players.

The Use of the Oilers’ Forwards in Series vs. Flames

The Oilers have and will continue to be a team that relies heavily on their top players for offence and playing time. That’s what you can expect when the best player in the world and another top player in the NHL are on the same team, even the same line. This season has brought about a little bit of change in that the Oilers finally have some legitimate wingers and depth upfront.

The addition of Evander Kane mid-season, signing of Zach Hyman this past offseason, the emergence of Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi in middle-six roles, and acquiring Warren Foegele in a trade really helped them. When the Oilers played with 12 forwards this season and moved Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the third line, the ice time evened out. Combined with Ryan McLeod centering the fourth line and deserving ice time, the lines were more even and more in line with that of any NHL team.

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Playoffs are a different story and must-win games. Connor McDavid is on another level and has elevated his game even more than at any point in his career which didn’t seem possible. The Oilers went through a tight series in Round 1 against the Kings in which they went down 3-2 in the series. Game 6 and Game 7 were games they then had to have in order to advance out of the first round for the first time since 2017. Lines change when something isn’t working, it’s the first thing coaches normally do. So that’s what happened with the Oilers late in Game 5 of Round 1 putting McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Kane together. It worked then and continued to do so.

Since Jay Woodcroft loaded up the top line, they have of course played a ton, which makes perfect sense. All three members have the cardio and ability to play more than 20 minutes a night and double shift throughout a game. They are always out there for the power play and even penalty kill sometimes.

The Oilers have been able to beat the Flames in three games with mainly contributions from the top lines. Why would Woodcroft change up the lines? The answer, he wouldn’t and will continue to run with these lines as long as they are producing for the Oilers and they are winning hockey games. Looking at Mark Spector’s tweet above and the ice time of the bottom four forwards for the Oilers in this series, they aren’t utilized the same as how other teams would use their bottom-six forwards. A benefit the Oilers have is many of their better players can kill penalties, so they are a threat while down a man and they get more ice time.

Oilers Can Make a Legitimate Run By Sticking With Their Lines

Defence and goaltending aside since that is a much longer conversation, the Oilers have the depth and right players to take them on a run, even past their likely Round 3 opponents in the Colorado Avalanche. The Oilers have had 14 players score goals in the playoffs thus far, nine of which are forwards. The only forwards without goals are Foegele, Josh Archibald, and Derek Ryan, three of the players who have lacked playing time in the Oilers’ Round 2 series.

Sure, these players have been given less opportunity to contribute offensively, but other teams get offensive production from their bottom-six regularly. If the Oilers’ top players are providing the team with three-plus goals a game, they are going to get the shifts over the other players. The Oilers are known for their offence and have had to rely on it many times this season to outscore opponents. They tried to do so in Game 1 against the Flames and have scored four or more goals in a game in eight of the 11 postseason contests thus far against two good goaltenders.

Connor McDavid Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and Evander Kane of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

McDavid is on a torrid pace and has 25 points in 11 games, 10 of them multi-point games. He has seven consecutive multi-point games which tie him for second all-time behind Wayne Gretzky (eight games played). Not to be forgotten is Draisaitl who has 22 points and is the first player in NHL history to record four assists in a period as well as record three-plus points in four consecutive playoff games in the same season.

Kane is on an absolute tear with goals and has 12 in 11 games played. He has three hat tricks since joining the Oilers, two of which have come in the playoffs. He has five multi-goal games in these playoffs and has scored five goals in the past two games against the Flames. Another Flame killer is Hyman who has a goal in each of the four games in Round 2 for a total of five goals. Nugent-Hopkins also had a great game in Game 4 and stepped up to win a very important game for the Oilers.

Related: Oilers Adding Kane was NHL’s Best Mid-Season Acquisition in 2021-22

To be successful, the Oilers have to continue to use their top players as much as they can. No team seems to be able to slow them down and they have shown no sign that they will anytime soon.

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