The Edmonton Oilers had an opportunity to take a stranglehold of their series with the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday night but unfortunately the home side had other plans. With that said, we have reached the point where Jay Woodcroft has no choice but to make an adjustment to his third line. The decision should be an easy one and give us a steady diet of a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi tandem.
Despite their 4-0 loss in Game Four, all the Oilers scoring has essentially come from their top seven forwards. This is how this group’s offence works and that is perfectly fine. However, the issue continues to be a third line that isn’t very good and in order to have any hope of going deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, having three legit lines is a necessity.
With Derek Ryan picking up an injury late in Game Three, Woodcroft needed to change things up with his lineup and the direction he went didn’t work. Derick Brassard wasn’t any good in his playoff debut and while Josh Archibald can skate and hit guys, he was downright awful and should never be elevated to anything other than a fourth line player within any lineup.
On the other side of the equation, if not for a couple of shifts late in garbage time, Puljujarvi was on pace to get less than ten minutes of ice-time for the second time in four games. Add to that, right or wrong, the head coach’s continual want to skip over him as the team’s top line right winger and a shift in philosophy needs to be happen sooner than later…and it’s actually quite simple to do.
In order to get Puljujarvi going, the kid needs to find his confidence and yo-yoing him on and off the first line isn’t going to help with that. In my mind, giving the talented Finn a role and leaving him there is the way to go. At the moment, it’s clear the coaching staff isn’t sold on him being that guy at evens with Connor McDavid and Evander Kane, so make the move and allow him to find his way lower in the lineup.
At this stage in his career, Nugent-Hopkins is not good enough to drive a third line with players that have a limited skill-set. Like it or not, it’s the reality of the situation. By giving him Puljujarvi, he would not only be getting an upgrade in skill but a guy who is defensively responsible and as many have pointed out on numerous occasions, makes every line he plays on better.
Not sure about all of you but for me, putting those two on line with Warren Foegele could create a rather effective trio. Though neither one would be confused as elite finishers, both Puljujarvi and Foegele can chip in offensively, both help drive play and both make life difficult on opposing players on the forecheck and cycle. In other words, everything you would want from a third line.
As an added bonus, it can easily be incorporated into the current mix of players Woodcroft is using. With the 12 and 6 set-up, a fourth line of Brassard (or a healthy Ryan), Archibald and Zack Kassian can see limited minutes, bang some bodies and hopefully create some energy. By doing that, Ryan McLeod gets elevated onto Leon’s Draisaitl’s wing and Kailer Yamamoto becomes the top line right-winger.
The other option would be leaving the top-six intact and moving McLeod onto the Nugent-Hopkins line but there is two issues with that. He is not the driver Puljujarvi is at even strength and the aforementioned use of the 24-year old on the McDavid line has to stop. Again, either he is the first line right-winger or put him somewhere else and allow him to work things out.
Despite what much of the Oilers fan base believed, the Kings were never going to lay down and play dead after getting routed in back-to-back games. Edmonton still has some work to do in order to get past Los Angeles and that can’t be ignored. Nor can the fact that a third line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a couple of pluggers isn’t good enough to get this group to the spot they are hoping to get to.