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This in from the Edmonton Oilers’ practice, news that Zack Kassian and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are both on the ice and practicing with their regular lines. Jack Michaels of the Oilers reported this:
3:13 AM – Dec 8, 2019
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These are indeed glad tidings for the Oilers. This year Edmonton has four classes of forwards, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in a class of their own as arguably the NHL’s two best players, then Zack Kassian and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being solid top line attackers, then James Neal being a brilliant power play guy but so-so even strength player, then everybody else, all of them looking OK on defence at even strength and especially on the penalty kill, but generally not providing much on the attack. So to have Kassian and RNH back is huge for this particular team.
At even strength, the team struggles to score, but that is especially the case when the top line of McDavid, Draisaitl and Kassian aren’t united. McDavid and Draisaitl have developed such immense on-ice chemistry that even someone like me — who has long advocated that they play on their own lines — has to admit that having them together is the right strategy for right now.
For his part, Kassian has been the perfect complementary player this year for McDavid and Draisaitl. He’s both a nasty police officer, who can go bad cop in a second if things turn ugly on the ice, and a skilled player, who has the strength and skill to cycle the puck well with Draisaitl.
RNH came into the year craving some chemistry of his own with a linemate or two. He’s yet to find that, though things have gone OK with James Neal and him. Neal is now out of this line-up, so perhaps he’s a bit banged up. If we hear more, we’ll update.
Sam Gagner and Jujhar Khaira were solid against the Kings with Draisaitl, mainly because Draisaitl and Khaira were so effective on a heavy, heavy forecheck. Gagner and RNH are both smart and skilled players. Perhaps they can make a few plays, while Khaira keeps up and adds an element of physical force and protection.
Oscar Klefbom was also not on the ice for practice, with Reid Wilkins of CHED speculating that both he and Neal were getting maintenance days.
Shocking stat of the day
P.S. After 31 games last year, the Oilers had 17 wins and 14 losses for 36 points, 87 goals for, 91 goals against. This year, Edmonton has 18 wins and 13 losses, 39 points, 93 goals for, 89 goals against. What went so wrong last year? Kris Russell and Oscar Klefbom got knocked out with major injuries and the Oilers lacked defensive depth.
At the Cult
STAPLES: Player grades: Koskinen leads way in victory over Kings
McCURDY: Time for Oilers to take charge on home ice
McCURDY: Game 21-30 review — Oilers treading water at best
LEAVINS: Player grades from head-scratching loss to Senators
STAPLES: Oilers likely to be outbid on Taylor Hall, Friedman says