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Wanted (desperately): Secondary scoring by Oilers forwards

Can a National Hockey League coach play his top forwards half the game?

Of course. It happened in the most recent Edmonton Oilers game when bench boss Kris Knoblauch ran stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl 29:42 and 29:04, respectively, over the 60 minutes played in Sunday’s regulation 4-3 playoff loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Should he, though?

Of course, a smiling McDavid perhaps jokingly said to media on Monday when asked if that much ice time is sustainable over several games.

“Ultimately, I go out there when the coach asks me to and that’s what I’ll keep doing,” he said.

Knoblauch told media on Monday it’s “tough” to resist the temptation to pair McDavid and Draisaitl, Nos. 1 and 2 in the National Hockey League playoffs scoring race this year with 18 and 17 points, and keep them on the ice as much as possible.

“Hopefully, the temptation is alleviated with a two- or three-goal lead, but you know, the other night, you’ve got an offensive zone faceoff with Draisaitl, McDavid and Hyman sitting on the bench.

“It’s pretty tough not to say, ‘You guys go out for that face-off again.'”

Hyman is Zach Hyman, McDavid’s and Draisaitl’s linemate who clocked in at 26:12 for Game 3.

Besides Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who played 22:32, none of the remaining eight forwards in the Oilers lineup played more than the 14:12 registered by Evander Kane. Five notched times under 10 minutes.

Knoblauch said the Oilers’ lineup contains other forwards who’ve proven they can score, singling out regular-season 20-goal scorers Kane and Warren Foegele, but that hasn’t been happening against the Canucks, who lead the second-round series two games to one heading into Tuesday’s Game 4 at Rogers Place.

Just Draisaitl (2), Hyman (2) and McDavid (1) have scored on Canucks goalie Arturs Silovs, and defenceman Mattias Ekholm is the unlikely leader in the goals department for Edmonton with three against Vancouver. Blueliners Evan Bouchard (2) and Cody Ceci (1) round out Edmonton’s Round 2 scoring list thus far.

Against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, five other forwards besides the McDavid-Draisaitl-Hyman trio chimed in with goals.

“If we’re going to have success throughout the playoffs, we need some more contributions,” Knoblauch said.

Kane said while coaches decide how much ice time players get, he and his teammates want to play their best “and do what we can to help the team win.”

“I think everybody in this room wants to to make their mark and contribute to the team,” he told media on Monday. 

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