The Edmonton Oilers were able to secure a point on Saturday night in Toronto, but it should have been two. The Oilers led the Toronto Maple Leafs late into third period by a score of 3-1. The Maple Leafs would score two late to tie it, then get a bounce in overtime to complete the comeback.
It was the Oilers fourth straight loss to the Maple Leafs.
While Edmonton did score three goals in the 4-3 defeat, two more than they scored in the entire three-game miniseries between the teams in late February, there were real concerns with the offense. All three goals were scored by Edmonton’s top line. The trio of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Jesse Puljujarvi, with help from Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie, did all of the damage.
McDavid set up Draisaitl with an all-world pass to make it a 2-1 hockey game late in the second, then Draisaitl put a sensational pass on the tape of Barrie to make it 3-1 moments later. After that? All Maple Leafs.
Edmonton’s top line is virtually unstoppable. Most nights, the best-case scenario for opponents is limiting them to one or two goals and hoping no one down the lineup can beat you.
The Oilers didn’t get as much as a whimper from their other three lines on Saturday night offensively. It’s why, unfortunately, the Oilers have to split their top line up tomorrow night if they want to finally beat the Maple Leafs.
The top line did it’s job, manufacturing three goals on the night and holding an 8-5 advantage in shots. The McDavid line, with Draisaitl and Puljujarvi on the wings, also had a 16-12 Corsi advantage. They were dangerous, they were effective.
The second best line on the night? Gaetan Haas’ line. The Swiss center had Zack Kassian and Josh Archibald on his wings, playing 9:25 at five-on-five. The trio didn’t create much offensively, getting outshot 3-2 and out chanced 4-3, but they didn’t bleed out. They sawed off the competition and provided a physical punch. That’s a good bottom-six trio.
The second line on the night was a disaster. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins centered Kailer Yamamoto and Dominik Kahun, and the results were not good. The line was 0-1 in goals when Kahun committed a brutal mistake on the second goal allowed. The trio also lost the Corsi battle 14-5, the shot battle 8-3 and the scoring chance battle 9-1. They were, to be polite, dominated on this night.
This is the issue with loading up the top line, Edmonton doesn’t have a third driver. We know both McDavid and Draisaitl can drive a line, but Nugent-Hopkins has proven time and again that he can’t. Does that make him a bad player? No, it doesn’t. Nugent-Hopkins is a solid complimentary player who provides a two-way game at five-on-five and a strong presence on the powerplay. That has value.
That said, asking him to anchor a second line with Yamamoto and Kahun is just a losing battle. Yamamoto is a solid top-six winger, but he too is a complimentary player. Kahun, meanwhile, has not proven to be a top-six option since his arrival. On a good team, Kahun is a solid third line winger with the ability to move the depth chart if needed.
The Oilers would be better off reuniting Draisaitl with Yamamoto on the ‘second line’ and running with McDavid and Draisaitl back-to-back instead of side-by-side. It gives them a better chance of controlling the game at five-on-five, and a better chance at winning on a nightly basis.
Down by a goal late? Then you have the dynamic duo as a bullet in the chamber. Starting the game and rolling through an entire game with them together ironically makes the Oilers an easier team to plan for and defend. They essentially become a one line team. One line teams don’t beat competent, good teams most nights.
Unfortunately for Tippett, running McDavid and Draisaitl together should not be an option until the club adds a top-six winger. Ideally, that happens in the next few days leading up to April 12th. The club has shown interest in both Taylor Hall and Rickard Rakell, and both would help in a big way.
Of course, it’s going to be tough to shoehorn either player in considering the lack of cap space the club is working with. The addition, which is sorely needed, may have to wait until the off-season.