How quickly will Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett resort to the 81% Solution? No doubt we’ll see it the first game of these playoffs.
The 81% Solution is the best line on the Edmonton Oilers, the trio of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto.
The line played together for 146 even strength minutes this year, scoring 13 goals and allowing just three against, good for an 81 Goals For percentage, by far the best on the team, and even better than the 77 Goals For percentage we saw last year from the DYNamite Line of Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto (30 goals for, nine against).
Tippett often goes to 81% Solution after Edmonton has killed a penalty, or when the team needs a goal and sometimes coming out of TV commercial breaks. I suspect we’ll see that in Game One.
It’s just one of many solid options Tippett has when it comes to line juggling and roster changes with his Oilers this year in the playoffs.
Edmonton was a much better team this year as compared to last year, with a much improved per game goal differential, +0.1 goals per game last year compared to +0.5 goals per game this year, and Grade A scoring chances per game differential, -0.2 per game last year compared to +1.8 per game this year.
The improvement is even more dramatic is you focus on the nine games Edmonton played against Winnipeg this year, where the Oilers had a +1.4 goals differential and a +2.9 Grade A chances differential in winning seven of nine games.
But I suspect this series will be tight, as the two teams were close in the NHL standings almost the entire year. Winnipeg also has a strong power play and its penalty kill was almost as strong as Edmonton’s PK. It’s got the mighty Connor Hellebuyck in net, and even as he didn’t play well against the Oilers this year, he killed it against other teams in The Canadian.
Tippett will almost certainly have to make numerous adjustments as the series goes along, but he’s got options. Here are some other moves he could make that might well make a ton of sense:
1. McLeod at 2C. As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m bullish about Tippett’s new lines of McD, Kahun and Puljujarvi on the top line with the DYNamite Line reunited on the second until. But if Tippett were to utilize the 81% Solution, how about a second line of Nugent-Hopkins on one wing, Ryan McLeod at centre and Jesse Puljujarvi on right wing? RNH has struggled as a second line centre, but McLeod is bigger and faster. So far he’s got the job done in the defensive slot. If he were moved to that role, the Oil can play Jujhar Khair and Gaetan Haas as third and fourth line centres.
2. Kris Russell or Slater Koekkoek in for Caleb Jones. When it came to Grade A scoring chances plus-minus, most returning Oilers players did about the same (Khaira, Haas, RNH, Bear) or were better (McDavid, Archibald, K.Russell, Chiasson, Neal, Larsson) this year as compared to last year. Two players, Draisaitl and Yamamoto dropped, mainly because their numbers weren’t jacked up by the success of playing on the DYNamite line as they were last season. But two others, Zack Kassian and Caleb Jones, dropped in dramatic fashion due to significant drops in performance. Jones made more than twice the rate of major mistakes on Grade A chances this year as compared to last year. I don’t know why. I had expected him to improve. But his defensive game was unsteady this year. With injuries to Kris Russell and Slater Koekkoek, and with his puck-moving better than ever, Jones is in the line-up for now.
3. Kassian in on the wing. Kassian is rounding into game shape. If Edmonton needs a big, tough and fast winger, who can play effective two-way hockey when he’s bringing his “A” game, Kassian hasn’t played consistently well in more than a year. Can he crank it up for these playoffs? If things get nasty in this series, he’s as good a bet as anyone to lead Edmonton’s response, if not its own onslaught of aggression.
P.S. Here were the lines and pairings at Monday’s practice
Kahun – McDavid – Puljujärvi
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Neal – McLeod – Chiasson
Shore – Khaira – Archibald
Ennis – Turris – Kassian
Nurse – Barrie
Kulikov – Larsson
Koekkoek – Bear
Jones/Russell – Bouchard