Edmonton at Calgary
Flames lead series 1-0
Well, game 1 played out like a fever dream, “not according to either coach’s design” was an apt description from the Oilers Woodcroft. Between a slow start, poor defending, and McDavid’s usual heroics there was a lot going on, but the Oilers never seemed in control of the game, and did not ever seem like the better team. Luckily, as the team focused on after the game, it only counts as 1 loss in the series, and the Oilers will have a chance to earn a split in Calgary with a better performance tonight.
Sure some of the goals against were stoppable, from a goaltending perspective, but I think it’s a bit much to expect that it won’t be better all around going forward, for all 3 of Markstrom, Smith, and Koskinen. A lot of the moaning and groaning might come from fans going off of reputation, but as recently as last round we saw both Smith and Markstrom deliver much steadier performances.
In truth, it was the defensive effort, particularly of the Oilers, that was the main cause of the high score. From the drop of the puck the Oilers were conceding high grade chances, a trend that continued throughout the game. Some of the evaluations are also tinted with our expectations, perhaps no greater example than Craig Simpson (I’m a fan fwiw) suggesting that “that’s one Koskinen’s got to stop” after Tkachuk scored five hole on a breakaway. At least in my book it is pretty unfair to blame a breakaway goal against on a goalie, but the game had so many great chances, especially from the Flames, that a breakaway did not even stand out as a particularly important scoring chance, I suppose.
Regardless, the idea that this eruption of scoring was unexpected or “came out of nowhere” is simply not true, quite literally the last time these teams met the final score was 9-5 for the Flames, all 9 of their goals coming at even strength. That’s 2 games in a row that the Oilers have posted horrid defensive efforts, undermining their 5 and 6 goal outputs entirely. Until that end of the ice gets cleaned up, it doesn’t much matter what else the Oilers are able to do, who plays in net, or how many goals McDavid scores.
Perhaps, with the game starting an hour later than normal, the Oilers will be more prepared from puck drop, or so we hope.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Defence. The Oilers have to be better in this area. Hard and decisive in moving pucks, especially at the bluelines. Forwards with engaged and effective backchecks. Stronger in-zone positioning. Essentially every aspect of the Oilers defensive game can and needs to be better than it was in game 1.
- Stop McDavid. 97 is playing the best and most complete hockey of his career, even the supreme talents of Danault and Kopitar could third him under 2 points per game. The Flames need to find a way to put up a stronger defence.
Draisaitl — McDavid — Yamamoto
Kane — Nugent-Hopkins — Hyman
Archibald — McLeod — Ryan
Kassian — xxxxx — Puljujarvi
Nurse — Ceci
Keith — Bouchard
Kulak — Barrie
Russell — xxxxx
Gaudreau — Lindholm — Tkachuk
Mangiapane — Backlund — Coleman
Dube — Jarnkrok — Toffoli
Lucic — Lewis — Ritchie
Hanifin — Andersson
Kylington — Stone
Zadorov — Gudbranson
PLAYERS TO WATCH
At this point the Oilers forward deployment is less about lines and more about navigating their circumstances. In large part this means managing Draisaitl’s injury (likely Nurse’s on the backend as well), and playing McDavid as much as he can handle.
It would be too much to expect Kane to match his 7 goal outburst in round 1, but perhaps we’ll see Hyman continue his success from game 1 throughout the series.
The blueline had a tough game 1, so we’ll be hoping to see centres Nugent-Hopkins and McLeod to be more effective helping out especially. Ryan and Puljujarvi have defensive abilities that need to be forefront in this area as well.
After another porous defensive effort against the Flames you’d be hard pressed to name a defenceman who had a strong game 1 outing for the Oilers. The nature of this group is a bit mercurial given their significant population of specialists.
Nurse hasn’t been his best, likely hampered by the injury that saw him miss the last stretch of the regular season, but is likely entrusted with all the top assignments just the same.
Bouchard will always be prone to some moments of peril, especially with physicality, but is continuing to grow in this area. We should see a better effort going forward.
With Nurse’s injury it’s likely Kulak picks up more slack than usual, and to an extent Russell as well. Despite the 7 defenceman rotation we should see all the Oilers defenders take regular shifts. A lot will be demanded of this group in this series and they need to work together and be deployed symbiotically for them to have a chance at meeting those expectations.
Barrie is reportedly sick, so we’ll have to wait to see if he plays or not, as we will with Draisaitl and Nurse as well, to varying extents. Shore and Foegele are most likely to step into the lineup in his place.
He seems to have more down games than an elite netminder should, but Smith continues to give the Oilers a punching chance. Critics have doubted this in each of his 3 Oilers seasons, and fans have not felt the most confident about the situation in net as possible, but Smith continues to deliver viable play. Yes, he should bounce back, but the Oilers need to be much better in front of him, or whoever else starts in net for the team.
The Lindholm line was fantastic, as usual, given it’s a Selke nominee centring two wingers who combined for more than 200 points this season. By far the line that requires the most defensive attention, Tkachuk was the initiator of a lot of post whistle shenanigans, but navigated the situation effectively. Naturally, a hat trick in a winning effort might make anyone feel good, but the Oilers will have to focus on flipping the script tonight.
The Backlund line had a great night, as Backlund and Coleman both have a game devoted to responsibility and intensity that carries well into the playoffs. The Oilers have to match that at all times, but especially when this group is on the ice.
The Jarnkrok line has potential with Toffoli’s ability to create chances and finish out of nowhere. Dube is at his best when he is shot out of a cannon, playing with reckless abandon and speed. Their best performance would be bad news for the Oilers, and would make the Flames very difficult to overcome.
The Lewis line had a strong night, Lucic in particular having an effective game in his limited role.
People are being a bit hard on Andersson for the Yamamoto goal, but honestly McDavid can victimize even the best defenders in the game. We shouldn’t be surprised that he and Hanifin are a strong top pair, as they have been all season. Both defenders contribute all over the ice and on both special teams, at points, are experienced, and are in their mid 20s.
Stone, like Stetcher in a sense, has had trouble finding a regular spot in the regular season, but seems to deliver a high level of play when called upon, even in high stakes moments. He’s been incredible filling in for Tanev with breakout partner Kylington.
The Zadorov-Gudbranson pair is a bit of a thesis statement on Sutter and Treliving’s team. Both are hulking defensive players, former top draft picks cast aside, yet are flourishing here. Both will jump into the rush or pinch in the offensive zone, like the rest of the Flames blueline, well supported by their responsible forwards.
Markstrom has had some human looking performances, especially down the stretch of the regular season. He is a high level goalie and can certainly lead his team deep into the playoffs, but despite a great regular season there’s some merit to questioning his heavy workload. Vladar is a capable backup who likely would have done well with a handful or two’s worth of additional regular season starts. Regardless, Markstrom has it in him to bounce back and is right to feel blessed to have won a game in which he performed as poorly as he did in game 1.