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Adam Larsson remains unheralded for Oilers

Defenseman key piece to Edmonton's return to playoffs, 2-1 lead in first round against Sharks

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

SAN JOSE -- Buy-in, and having the right players in position to do it, go a long way toward explaining how the Edmonton Oilers have gone ahead 2-1 in the Western Conference First Round against the San Jose Sharks.

No member of the Oilers fits this storyline better than defenseman Adam Larsson, still largely unheralded in the grand scope of how Edmonton has transformed from also-rans into a Stanley Cup Playoff team in a very short space of time.

Acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Devils for left wing Taylor Hall on June 29, Larsson has brought a reliable, sound defensive game with a painful-for-opponents dose of physical play.

The additional signing last offseason of veteran defenseman Kris Russell through free agency gives the Oilers a top four of Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, Russell and veteran Andrej Sekera, and makes up a functioning, capable core on defense.

The trade for Larsson was not initially popular in Edmonton.

"The outside noise occurred, one, because Taylor Hall is a tremendous hockey player," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said Monday.

Edmonton has had consecutive shutout victories in Games 2 and 3, 2-0 and 1-0, and Game 4 is at SAP Center on Tuesday (10 p.m., NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN, NBCS CA).

Video: MIN@EDM: Larsson buries long shot from the point

"Two, not many people knew a lot about [Larsson]. He played in a big market, that New York area, but probably got the least amount of coverage for whatever reason," McLellan said.

"He wasn't a well-known [entity] out west. We had done our homework. We believed he could come in and help us and I would say he's certainly met expectations. Not only has he made our team better but he's made people around him better.

"Oscar Klefbom is a prime example of it."

Klefbom could be fairly described as the president of the Larsson fan club.

"The chemistry has been better and better during the whole season," Klefbom said. "Last year was tough for me mentally. Coming into the season and having Adam as a [defense] partner all the time this season has made a difference. It feels like we have something really good going on right now.

"He's been so good for his whole year, playing the physical game. These kinds of games, he loves to be on the ice. For me as a player, I can just focus on my game and you know he's going to take care of his business and that feels really good."

Klefbom and Larsson, each born in Sweden, have been a fit for the Oilers. Convenient, too, is that their native language comes in handy at times during games.

"We try to keep it in English as much as possible but if we're sitting next to each other on the bench or something, we usually talk Swedish," Larsson said. "It's just easier for us to explain stuff. It's been working good."

There's sometimes strategy in it, Klefbom said.

"Sometimes Swedish, sometimes English on the ice," he said. "It depends how they line up. They have had a Swede out there, we go English. It's just about that little advantage, if we can."

Defense, not language, has been the reason McLellan has selected Larsson and Klefbom to be on the ice nearly every time Sharks center Joe Pavelski takes a shift in this series.

Video: DAL@EDM: Klefbom scorches home one-timer for PPG

Klefbom said the Pavelski assignment has more than meets the eye.

"I think he's probably the player who's toughest to play against," Klefbom said. "He's so good with those deflections and tip-ins. He puts himself in the spots that are really hard to defend.

"You can move his body around a little bit but as soon as the shot comes, he's there with the stick. He's so good with the eye-hand coordination. You have to play really tight and focus on his stick because [Sharks defenseman Brent Burns] and him have a very good chemistry out there."

Sekera, who joined the Oilers as a free agent on July 1, 2015, experienced Edmonton's 10th consecutive year out of the playoffs last season, but has first-hand knowledge about the difference this season's defensive upgrades have made.

"I think it's stability and the game they bring to the team," Sekera said. "Adam is a really reliable two-way guy. He takes pride in the 'D' zone and defending hard. He just plays hard all 60 minutes of that game. He blocks shots, he hits and he can pass as good as anybody on the team and his shot is pretty good, too.

"He's really good overall, but I think his best asset is taking pride in the defense and punishing guys and playing hard in the 'D' zone.

"Kris is a bit on the smaller side but he plays big. He blocks a lot of shots and he moves his feet. He's always in good position and he makes my life easier."

Sekera, unlike many in Edmonton, knew what the Oilers were getting when they acquired Larsson. Playing for the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes, he had played against Larsson in the Eastern Conference.

"He played really good there, a good defensive guy who's not afraid to throw the body around," Sekera said. "As sad as it is to see somebody [like Hall] gone, it's part of the business. There's not much you can do about it. On the other hand, it was good player for good player so it was, I think, the trade we were looking for and in the end… so far it's working out."

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