The Edmonton Oilers find themselves in a deep 2-0 series hole despite being favorites in their first-round matchup against the Winnipeg Jets. The Oilers have lacked the offensive spark that carried them during the regular season, and they’ve been outworked by a desperate Jets team. The team will undoubtedly need to make some changes to their game and roster ahead of the third game on May 23 in order to prevent the Jets from taking a 3-0 series stranglehold and risk being swept in the first round to another underdog team.
Reunite McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins
The Oilers have only scored one goal through the first two games of the series, and both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have been held pointless. Considering the lack of scoring depth the Oilers have, it is instrumental that both McDavid and Draisaitl are firing on all cylinders.
The Oilers began the series with McDavid centering his own line alongside Dominik Kahun and Jesse Puljujarvi while Draisaitl centered the second line alongside Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In Game 2, head coach Dave Tippett switched up his forward lines, loading up his top line with Draisaitl, McDavid, and Puljujarvi, which also proved to be ineffective with the team failing to score one goal in the game.
Seeing as both of Tippett’s attempts to spark the offense have not gone according to plan, further tweaks need to be made. Heading into Game 3, reuniting the duo of McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins should be a no-brainer for the Oilers considering the success the two have had through most of their playing time together. The playmaking ability of Nugent-Hopkins should provide a boost to McDavid offensively while the familiarity and chemistry between the two should also help make them effective.
With Nugent-Hopkins also being very cold for the last several weeks, putting him back with McDavid could provide him the spark he needs to get back to his old form. This move will also give Draisaitl time away from top defensive pairs and mix in some shifts with him on the top line in order to throw different looks at Paul Maurice and the Jets, especially now that the Jets have the last change over the next two games.
Scratch Ryan McLeod
While it is not McLeod’s fault that the team is two games down this early into the series, a shake-up needs to happen and he is the easiest player to substitute in the current lineup. McLeod has played less than ten minutes of ice time in each of the first two games of the series and which is very low for a player occupying the third line center position. When it comes to the postseason depth plays a prominent role and the importance of having all your lines contributing is even greater than in the regular season.
For a rookie who has a total of 12 games of NHL experience, jumping into the fast-paced, hard-hitting style of playoff hockey is a tough task. The Oilers have several options to replace McLeod in the lineup and among them are players like Gaetan Haas, Devin Shore, and Kyle Turris.
Out of these three players Devin Shore has seen the most games in the lineup for the Oilers this season with 38 games played while Haas is a close second with 34. Turris has seen the fewest of the three with only 27 regular-season games but has a plethora of experience in the playoffs with a total of 69 career postseason games compared to a combine three playoff games played between both Shore and Haas.
If nothing else, Turris’ playoff experience should provide the Oilers with some stability and reliability although he may not have shown much of that this season. It is hard to see Tippett not injecting one of these players into the lineup for the inexperienced McLeod it’s just a matter of which player it will be.
Back to the Basics
One of the X-Factors heading into this series was Connor Hellebuyck and he has come as advertised. The former Vezina Trophy winner has stymied the Oilers offense who only have one goal scored in the series thus far. The Oilers who have the league’s top two scorers in the regular season have not been able to generate much of any offense at even strength or the man advantage.
The Oilers will need to change their offensive style and get to the dirty areas in front of the net in order to get onto the scoreboard. Taking away Hellebuyck’s ability to see the puck needs to be a priority for Edmonton moving forward – they need to get bodies in front of the net to make life tough for the Jets goaltender.
It is tough to imagine the Jets keeping McDavid and Draisaitl tamed for much longer, but the Oilers will need to work collectively to find ways to put the puck in the net any way they can. Keeping things simple with shots on net, traffic in front, and crashing the net for rebounds are good starts to getting the offense back on track.
Must-Win Game 3
Down 2-0 in the series, Game 3 is a pivotal game for Edmonton especially since Winnipeg took both games that were played in Edmonton. With the series shifting back to Manitoba, the Oilers will need to hope that they can find their offense and get themselves back in the series. The Oilers have gone 4-1-0 in their five games against the Jets at the Bell MTS Place and will need to hope that with some changes to their lineup and approach to the game they can continue their success and climb back into the series with a win next game.
I am a graduate of Seneca Colleges Civil Engineering Technology Program and have turned my obsession for sports into a lifestyle. I cover the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings here on The Hockey Writers but have been a diehard Maple Leafs fan since birth. I love fantasy sports, collecting sports memorabilia and when I’m not watching the Toronto Raptors, Blue Jays, or Pittsburgh Steelers; you can find me playing for my ball hockey team, playing video games, or listening to classic rock with a cold one or a coffee in my hand.