Oilers Change Lines Ahead of Game 6 to Avoid Another Slow Start

For some reason, the Edmonton Oilers have come out flat to start most of their games in the first round of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Outside of an 8-2 drubbing they laid on the Los Angeles Kings in Game 3, the Kings have owned the Oilers in the first 20 minutes of each game, outshooting Edmonton by an extremely wide margin.

Yes, some of the Kings’ shots wouldn’t be considered high-danger chances, but the inability of the Oilers to keep pace in those opening frames has taken a toll on the team and the series has shifted in favor of the Kings, something most fans and insiders wouldn’t have expected when this matchup was laid out on paper.

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If the Oilers hope to get back in this series, starting with a Game 6 victory on Thursday, they need to get off to a better start. In an attempt to do so and with their season on the line, the Oilers are reuniting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Oilers Look Disinterested to Start Each Game

They’ll be playing with Kailer Yamamoto to start Thursday’s Game 6 and the hope seems to be to reverse the fortune of repeatedly bad opening frames. For whatever reason and despite what’s riding on each game, the Oilers have a tendency to look like they don’t want to take control of the game from the outset. I tweeted during Game 5 that the “Oilers play like they have no idea they’re in a fistfight until the other guy punches them square in the face a couple of times. Need to find a way to have better starts or this series is over.” The team clearly needs to avoid a repeat performance to start Game 6 or this could be the end of the road for Edmonton.

Leon Draisaitl Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

In Game 5, McDavid and Draisailt looked nearly unstoppable in every period except the first. For some reason, they got few shots on net and it wasn’t until they were paired together in the third that the Oilers began to take over the game. That’s a dangerous game to play.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be bumped up to the second line and the Oilers are hoping a strong top-six will set the pace early.

Not Enough to Be a Late-Game Team

The second period for the Oilers have consistently been a different story than the first. They come out flying, hitting, and engaged, often outshooting and definitely outscoring the Kings. Some might argue the Kings are gassed after giving their all in the first 20 minutes. It’s more likely the Oilers just turn up the gas, realizing if they don’t they could have a huge hole to climb out of.

Related: Oilers Need Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to Step Up

The issue might be the mentality that no hole is too deep. That the Oilers are confident they can make a comeback is good. That they’re willing to every game is not. There’s absolutely no reason the Oilers should be playing catch-up, especially if you look at their regular-season record when they score first. When they do, they’re nearly unbeatable.

If not thing else, it should be the mandate of the coaching staff and every player in that locker room to get the first goal.

Oilers Mentality Should Be To Come Out Flying

This elimination game is in Los Angeles. It’s the same place the Oilers had their most decisive win of the series. It’s also a place where the Oilers aren’t the favorites, don’t have last change, and will have to work their way out of the jam they are now in. They’ll make their lives a lot easier if they come out early, set the pace for the game, and play the aggressor. The way head coach Jay Woodcroft has shuffled the lines, it looks like he’s going full steam ahead and prioritizing an offensive attack.

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)

Skilled players can set a tone early and physical players like Zack Kassian, Josh Archibald, Evander Kane, and others can make their presence felt almost immediately. Get that first goal and push hard for more. Get the puck out of their own zone almost immediately and don’t allow the Kings any sustained pressure early. If the Oilers have to empty the tank in the first, do it. It gives them the best chance to win and with a possible deployment of 11 forwards and seven defensemen, they can try to hold the lead once they get it.

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