Edmonton Oilers checking line with Khaira and Archibald has got to pick up its play

The Edmonton Oilers' Jujhar Khaira (16) during second period NHL action against the Florida Panthers at Rogers Place, in Edmonton Thursday Jan. 10, 2019. Photo by David Bloom David_Bloom David Bloom / David Bloom/Postmedia

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Game Day 10: Oilers vs Wild

The season is far enough along that we’ve got some strong early indicators about which Edmonton Oilers are getting the job done, as well as which ones need to step up their game play.

A number of areas of grave concern from last year (goalie play, special teams and, to a lesser extent of success, defensive puck-moving) have been addressed, while one gaping hole still exists, the lack of contribution from bottom line forwards on the attack.

So far this year only one Bottom 6 forward, now injured Joakim Nygard, has scored a goal. At the same time, both Riley Sheahan and Jujhar Khaira are -4 in goals plus-minus. The similarities to the Bottom 6 of last season, with their lack of production and getting out-scored, are stark (though this year’s group does seem to have superior penalty killers).

Which players in the Bottom 6 are struggling most?

If we go by their major contributions to Grade A chances for and their major mistakes on Grade A chances against at even strength, it’s evident some are getting the job done, including: Patrick Russell, +0.9 Grade A scoring chances per game at even strength, Riley Sheahan, +0.4 per game, Nygard, +0.8, Tomas Jurco, +0.8, and, to a lesser extent, Markus Granlund, +0.6.

They aren’t hurting the team, even if they’re not scoring much. They’re at least keeping their heads above water in terms of even strength play.

Russell, for example, has made a major contribution to five Grade A scoring chances and made a major mistake on just one against. He’s earning his keep and then some with his hustle, defensive awareness nd offensive grit. He’s certainly done more to earn a spot in the line-up right now than Jujhar Khaira, -0.3, and Josh Archibald, -1.7. Those two have got to pick it up if they’re going to help the Oilers win.

It’s worth noting that Sheahan and Khaira have had more difficult assignments, facing tougher competition, than Granlund and Jurco. This should not be overlooked, but the same can’t really be said about Archibald in comparison to Russell, as Russell has also played on the Grind Line with Sheahan and Khaira. Archibald has yet to consistently bring his “A” game to the Oilers, but the season is still young.

As for tonight’s game, I expect the Jurco, Granlund and Russell line to have some success, with the Sheahan line struggling, at least if Khaira and Archibald don’t improve their two-way play.

Here is the line-up, as reported by Jack Michaels of the Oilers:

Draisaitl-McDavid-Kassian

Chiasson-RNH-Neal

Khaira-Sheahan-Archibald

Jurco-Granlund-P. Russell

Nurse-Bear

Klefbom-K. Russell

Manning-Benning

Smith

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