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The Weakest Link

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

What’s becoming increasingly obvious early on in the 2017 post-season is the importance of generating offence from across all four lines. While star players are fully expected to lead their teams in scoring, making a deep run in the playoffs often requires a group of supporting players that can contribute on a consistent basis. We’ve seen already the importance of depth players in the Leafs-Capitals series, and we’ll likely see more of that across other series as the playoffs go on.

After two games, the Oilers have received scoring from an array of players, at different game-states, which will need to continue if the club expects to have success in the playoffs. While the first two lines have plenty of talent and experience, and the third line featuring Letestu, Caggiula and Kassian had shown well in game two on Friday night, it’s the fourth line that might be the team’s weakest area. And it’s the play of David Desharnais in particular that the team may need to address, and fast.

In game one when the Oilers could only generate 31 shot attempts, and allowed 54, Desharnais was on the ice for one shot attempt for, and seven against in just over five minutes of ice time at even-strength. This didn’t seem so bad considering the whole team, except for Talbot, was dreadful in that overtime loss. But in game two when the Oilers outshot the Sharks 47-21, and really dominated the game, the team was again outshot when Desharnais was on the ice, this time going 2-5 in six and a half minutes of ice time.

It’s clear the coaching staff doesn’t really trust the 30-year old centerman, as Desharnais’ ice time in the first two games of the playoffs is well below the 10.73 minutes he averaged in his 18 regular season games with Edmonton since being acquired at the deadline. He’s not a powerplay or penalty kill option either, making him a fairly one dimensional player that the coaching staff typically deploys against the other team’s third and fourth lines.

Desharnais’s poor showing after the first two games isn’t all that surprising. In the 18 regular season games he played with Edmonton, he scored four points (2 goals, 2 assists), all coming within his first six games. Over the remaining 12 games, he mustered nine shots and not much else, which is disappointing considering his nice start and the fact that he often played the weakest competition.

His on-ice numbers at even-strength were fairly poor as well over the 18 games, as the Oilers were outscored (10-9) and regularly out-shot when he was on the ice.

The team as a whole, even with McDavid, saw it’s overall Corsi For% gradually decline as the season winded down, and finished at 49.98%. When Desharnais was on the ice, the overall share dropped to 46.75%, with the team’s rate of shot attempts taking a significant hit. The team’s ability to generate scoring chances and higher quality shots (as measured by expected goals) was negatively impacted with Desharnais on the ice, which again is concerning considering the competition he played.

What’s also concerning is that Desharnais’ regular season numbers weren’t that much better than the original depth centerman the Oilers employed earlier in the season before demoting him to Bakersfield.

Below are Anton Lander’s on-ice numbers over the 22 games he played this season for the Oilers. Again, we expect the off-ice numbers to be higher considering McDavid’s influence on the team. But what we see below are decent on-ice numbers from a player that also put up a better rate of point production this season than Desharnais (1.84 points/60 versus 1.24 points/60).

At this point, it’d serve the Oilers well to call up Lander from Bakersfield and potentially replace Desharnais with him for a game or two against the Sharks. The other benefit of having Lander on the NHL roster today is that he could also play regular minutes on the penalty kill. Considering how much Nugent-Hopkins has had to play shorthanded in the first two games, it would be ideal to manage his minutes better and limit the disruption to the even-strength line combinations, especially for the top six forwards.

The Oilers clearly have a weakness on their roster that the Sharks can exploit over the next two games in San Jose. It’ll be up to the Oilers coaching staff now to manage their roster accordingly, and begin to maximize every shift to generate offence.

Data: Corsica Hockey