On Friday evening, the Edmonton Oilers dominated the San Jose Sharks. It was a nice change of pace from the disastrous outing the “Orange Crush” put forward in Game 1 of their first-round matchup. The series is now tied 1-1 and headed to San Jose.
Every area of Game 2 was positive for Edmonton with the exception of one. Top-pair defenseman Oscar Klefbom took a puck off the inside of his foot when blocking a shot. He’s day-to-day and the severity of his injury is not fully known at this time. It was an immediate concern that overshadowed much of the positive that came from the Oilers’ victory.
When asked about the blueliner’s status, coach Todd McLellan did say that Klefbom was “o.k.”. McLellan further clarified that he’s expecting his Swedish defenseman in the lineup on Sunday for Game 3.
That update meant Oilers’ fans could breathe a collective sigh of relief but is this the truth? Or, is this a coach not tipping his hand and providing the opposition any sort of advantage?
O.K. But Not O.K.
McLellan’s response is not surprising regardless of what the truthful answer might be. Klefbom may be o.k. and he may not be, but come NHL playoff time, you won’t see or hear much in the way of detail when it comes to player injuries. What we do know, is that Klefbom did not skate with the team at practice on Saturday. We also know the Oilers are taking precautionary measures by making some minor-league call-ups.
Oscar Klefbom did not participate in today’s #Oilers skate after leaving in the 3rd. Coach McLellan said he expects him to play tomorrow.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) April 15, 2017
If He’s O.K.
If Klefbom is o.k., the Oilers dodged a major bullet. He’s been arguably their best defenseman all year and on an individual level, he’s had a breakout season. Klefbom has become Edmonton’s top, go-to power play point-man, he’s scoring, playing strong defense and he’s the best option for playing partner Adam Larsson. There’s no doubt he’s much more than a major on-ice minute-muncher.
Even if Klefbom isn’t in as poor shape as it looked like he might be, the Oilers took precautionary measures and recalled defenseman Griffin Reinhart from Bakersfield. Bakersfield was recently eliminated from AHL playoff contention, — thus Reinhart may have gotten the call anyway — but Reinhart has been Edmonton’s best prospect on defense and any opportunity awarded him is one he’s deserving of.
If He’s Not O.K.
If Klefbom isn’t o.k., there are a few options available to Edmonton — none of them terribly appealing.
First, is shuffling the pairings to replace Klefbom’s minutes by committee. The Oilers don’t have a defenseman that can come in and take Klefbom’s place. The closest means moving Andrej Sekera up, but that option affects the other pairings which have worked so well for the Oilers over the past 20 games. The idea of splitting Sekera and Kris Russell is not a favorable one. It’s a decision to avoid if at all possible.
Second, would be promoting a player like Darnell Nurse. Nurse is clearly trusted by the coaching staff and a regular on the blue line for the Oilers, but it’s a lot to ask to have Nurse take on those kinds of minutes and that kind of pressure. He may be better suited in a third-pairing role where he can be much more impactful in shorter bursts.
Finally, would be reshaping all of the pairings. Eric Gryba would likely slot in, Matt Benning would move, Russell might switch sides and so forth. It’s the worst of the options, but Edmonton may not have much choice.
Edmonton has depth on defense. In fact, they have depth in a lot of areas. However, depth can only do so much when you lose your best defenseman. The Oilers are hoping that Klefbom is, in fact, ready to return Sunday and that sitting him during Saturday’s practice was the rest he needed.
If he’s in the lineup and his injury is a nagging one, McLellan will have a difficult decision to make. Is a 75% healthy Klefbom better than a 100% healthy Reinhart or Gryba? Should Klefbom need more time, calling up Reinhart shows the Oilers are preparing themselves for the worst-case scenario. The team, the fans and his teammates have their fingers crossed it doesn’t come to that.