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Coach defends play of scoreless star Draisaitl

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Published in Hockey
Saturday, 15 June 2024 12:39

EDMONTON, Alberta -- Edmonton Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch defended the play of center Leon Draisaitl, the playoffs' second-leading scorer who has yet to register a point in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Saturday night's Game 4.

Draisaitl had 28 points in 18 games entering the Final. That included 10 goals, second on the team behind winger Zach Hyman (14). Draisaitl had not gone three straight games without a point this season.

"I've seen Leon obviously play better, but to say that he's playing poorly is vastly unfair. I think he's helping a lot," said Knoblauch, whose team trails the Florida Panthers 3-0 and faces elimination in Game 4.

Draisaitl is third on the team in shots on goal (9) and fourth in shot attempts (16) in all situations during the Stanley Cup Final. Although he has gotten chances on an Oilers power play that is now 0-for-10 in the series, he has generated just two shots on goal and four shot attempts at 5-on-5, where the Panthers are masterful defensively. He leads the team with 21 giveaways in all situations.

Florida hasn't allowed a 5-on-5 goal by the Oilers' top five scorers -- Draisaitl, Hyman, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Evan Bouchard -- in the series. The Panthers also held stars such as New York Rangers winger Artemi Panarin, Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak and Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov without a 5-on-5 goal in the playoffs leading up to the Final.

Draisaitl, who was robbed by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on a sliding save in Game 3, was critical of his own performance after the Oilers' latest loss.

"It's very frustrating, of course. I pride myself on being good in the playoffs and playing well, and I just can't seem to get anything going. Obviously have to look in the mirror and try to be better," he said.

Knoblauch said that even if Draisaitl isn't scoring, he is helping the team. The coach noted that the center was the catalyst for Ryan McLeod's third-period goal in Game 3 even though he didn't notch an assist on the play.

"It's not too often Leon's held off the score sheet like he has been, but I think he has been contributing," Knoblauch said. "He doesn't hide anything. He doesn't make excuses. So often players make excuses like, 'Well, things haven't gone well because of this and I've been unfortunate,' all that, but Leon takes a lot of responsibility. He's been pretty good from pretty much every game that I've seen him."

The Oilers are convinced they have been better than pretty good in the Stanley Cup Final despite their deficit. The chatter leading up to Game 4 has been about how they have outplayed the Panthers.

"We feel like we've held the play for the majority of the series. I think this makes the situation we're in less daunting," forward Connor Brown said. "The unique thing about our club over the year, we've shown, when we are backed into a corner, that's when we feel more comfortable and that's when we seem to play our best."

To get into that rally mindset, former defenseman Duncan Keith spoke to the Oilers after their Game 3 loss, attempting to inspire them by sharing his own comeback story -- when his Chicago Blackhawks rallied from a 3-0 deficit against the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Western Conference quarterfinals to force a Game 7.

"He was talking to the players. Nothing formal, just going around," Knoblauch said. "When you have a good team, a lot of good players who believe, things can happen."

The Blackhawks would lose to the Canucks in overtime in Game 7 and were eliminated from the playoffs.

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