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Sunday night was a golden opportunity for some of the Edmonton Oilers depth players to step up. In a road game against the Winnipeg Jets, the Oilers had two points right in front of them for the taking. They didn’t beat Connor Hellebuyck once. The veteran netminder shut the Oilers out through 65 minutes and then stopped both shootout attempts in a 1-0 victory.
The good news for the Oilers? They outshot the Jets, got a great performance from Mike Smith and banked yet another point. The Oilers sit at 7-1-1, good for 15 points. It is a terrific start that has pushed this team into the playoff conversation.
If the Oilers hope to remain in that conversation, and eventually punch a ticket to the playoffs, they’ll need their depth players to step up. Last night was, as mentioned, a golden opportunity. If one of the depth players could have managed a goal, the Oilers would have walked away with that important extra point.
To this point in the season, only one forward in Edmonton’s bottom six has registered a goal. That would be Joakim Nygard, who is currently on the IR with a rib injury. The third and fourth lines last night have combined for zero goals through nine games this season. That isn’t going to fly.
Dave Tippett has an opportunity to change up the bottom of his lineup. He should on Tuesday night when the Oilers pay a visit to the struggling Minnesota Wild. There is no excuse for Sam Gagner, recalled on Saturday, to be scratched again.
Gagner isn’t perfect. He struggles defensively and can’t handle minutes against top-end opponents. He’s a depth scorer, someone who can help on the second powerplay unit and thrive at five-on-five against lesser competition. The good news? That’s exactly the role the Oilers need filled right now. Gagner could provide the spark needed in the bottom six.
Would Gagner be the most skilled forward in the bottom six on Tuesday if he dressed? I believe he would be.
Ideally, Tippett switches the bottom six up on Tuesday. Things set up where Tippett could deploy a shutdown line and an offensive unit.
Jujhar Khaira – Riley Sheahan – Josh Archibald
Tomas Jurco – Markus Granlund – Sam Gagner
Patrick Russell is the odd man out in this spot. I don’t think he has played poorly, but he doesn’t provide much offensively. Archibald, in my opinion, is a better player and a better fit with Sheahan and Khaira. Gagner has another skilled winger to work with in Jurco, which could be a nice fit.
If the Oilers are going to continue winning games, they’ll need their depth players to perform. A new configuration could be what is needed to spark this group.