Oilers’ Kassian Still Not Getting Message After Being Healthy Scratched

The Edmonton Oilers are riding a six-game winning streak ever since the 9-5 shellacking they took from the Calgary Flames on March 26. Since then, they’ve outscored their opponents 27-13 in that span. Goaltender Mike Smith, who has taken a lot of heat with his poor play throughout the season, has four wins in four outings with a .934 save percentage (SV%) while also picking up a ridiculous assist on Connor McDavid’s overtime winner against the San Jose Sharks.

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The team as a whole is rolling, and they sit in second place in the Pacific Division. At this point, it’s hard to find any flaws on the team, but a glaring one is the inconsistent play of forward Zack Kassian. The Hockey Writers’ Colton Pankiw recently wrote an article about how head coach Jay Woodcroft is setting a healthy example when he scratched Kassian for two games. It seems the rugged forward didn’t get the message because his play has turned ice cold while the team is heating up.

Kassian Performed Poorly on the Three-Game Road Trip

Kassian had a poor outing in the Battle of Alberta against the Flames on March 26. That said, it wasn’t just him that played poorly, the entire team had a bad performance on Hockey Night in Canada. Yet, the Battle of Alberta is a game in which Kassian should thrive, as he did in the past when he had a feud with Matthew Tkachuk that was considered must-see television. In over 13 minutes of ice time against the Flames, however, his presence was minimal to move the needle forward for the Oilers.

Zack Kassian Edmonton Oilers
Zack Kassian, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Woodcroft sat Kassian for the two games that followed, and he had a big game in his return against the St. Louis Blues on April 1. In almost 12 minutes of ice time, he had seven hits and a 52.38 Corsi percentage (CF%), which is a metric to evaluate a player’s team’s puck possession on the ice. It seemed like he understood the message that was being delivered by Woodcroft during his time in the press box. But as Oil Country has seen many times before, that energetic level of play trailed off in the next sequence of games.

On the California road trip that saw stops against the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Los Angeles Kings, his ice time decreased from 14:15, 9:02, and 7:39. He didn’t record any points, and according to Natural Stat Trick, his CF% saw a decline as well, 43.3 percent against the Ducks, 40 percent against the Sharks, and 22.2 percent against the Kings. Also, the scoring chances on the road trip when he was on the ice were 17-9 in favour of the opposition.

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The Ducks and Sharks aren’t going to make the playoffs, but the game against the Kings, who are playoff-bound, was important, and it was a chance for him to set the tone against a potential playoff matchup. Unfortunately, he missed a golden opportunity to redeem himself on a poor effort on the three-game road trip.

Kassian Demoted to the Fourth Line Against the Kings

Against the Kings, his offence was lacking, and he was unable to sustain pressure and keep plays alive. He started the night on the third line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Derick Brassard, but by the end of the second period, he was on the fourth line. However, when the switch occurred, Nugent-Hopkins, and his new linemates, Derek Ryan and Warren Foegele, scored a go-ahead goal.

If he couldn’t generate offence, he could’ve at least mixed it up and been a disruptor, especially against the Kings, who the Oilers are in a neck-and-neck playoff race with. Send a message and let them know this isn’t going to be an easy ride. The Kings got in the grill of Evander Kane — who recently was fined $5000 for kneeing Sean Durzi in the game — and the Oilers’ forward responded with his willingness to drop the gloves on a couple of occasions. Kings forward Adrian Kempe, who’s been a thorn in the side of the Oilers, got in a shoving match with Jesse Puljujarvi. That incident alone should’ve been an open invitation for Kassian to respond, even from chirps from the bench, but he was a non-factor the rest of the game as the Oilers gutted out a win.  

Kassian’s lack of effort inconsistency down the playoff stretch is concerning. The Oilers chose to protect the sometimes pesky winger in the expansion draft last summer because of the physicality and energy he can bring in the playoffs. If there was ever a time for the 6-foot-3 and 211-pound player to get going, it’s in these next 10 games and to get ready for the postseason.

Related: Oilers Should Do Whatever it Takes to Move Kassian’s Contract

Colton Pankiw also wrote an article indicating it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Kassian will be on another team next season. His $3.2 million AVV for the next two seasons is too rich for a cap-strapped team like the Oilers. If he performs poorly down the stretch and into the playoffs, other team’s general managers will take notice that he was M.I.A when it mattered most, and moving his contract will be near impossible unless the Oilers offer a sweetener.

If you were in coach Woodcroft’s position, what would you do with Kassian down the stretch? Continue to play him, or does he need to spend more time in the press box? Write in the comments below.

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