The Edmonton Oilers are going with a big trio in their bottom-six. Head coach Dave Tippett placed James Neal and Alex Chiasson on the wings with Jujhar Khaira early in Phase 3 training camp last month. The trio has stayed together, and been the most consistent line for Edmonton in Games 1 and 2.
Neal has two goals, including the back-breaker on Monday night in Game 2, while Chiasson tacked on his third-career playoff goal in that 6-3 victory. Overall, the unit has done a good job of forechecking in the offensive zone, hammering the Blackhawks physically and firing pucks on Corey Crawford.
It’s exactly what Tippett had in mind when he put the trio together. He was quite pleased with their efforts when talking about them on Tuesday.
“That’s certainly what we are looking for from that line,” Tippett began when asked about the line’s size, physical play and early postseason performance. “They are a big, strong line. They protect the puck well. When they get around the net, they can be real hard there. JJ (Khaira) has really evolved for us as a solid center man, he’s positionally very sound.”
Khaira played the entirety of the 2018-19 season on left wing. He remained there for a majority of the 2019-20 season before rotating to center for the final few games of the regular season. It was there, where he admittedly feels more comfortable, that Khaira played his best hockey since the 2017-18 season.
With Khaira finding his groove, this line has thrived early. They aren’t flashy, but they play the kind of game that is effective in the postseason. They have become a big part of this Oilers team.
“That’s the kind of game we’re looking for from there,” Tippett continued. “It’s good to see them get rewarded with some of the work they are putting in down low. That was a big part of the game, those two goals in the third period from them, they were huge for us.”