So far the first round of the playoffs have been even better than I expected. There has been everything from high to low scoring games, great to bad goaltending and some of the most physical hockey seen in many years.
The physical hockey has been a surprise considering some of the non-traditional rivalries that it has sprung from. Pittsburgh and Philly was a no brainer; we all knew it would get rough. The same can’t be said for the Ottawa Senators/New York Rangers matchup, or St. Louis vs. San Jose.
Other than the Florida/New Jersey series, all of the first-round matchups have been very physical. Every check is being finished with extra love. Big players are playing big and the smaller players must have an attitude.
If this year’s Edmonton Oilers were magically thrown into a series versus Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, St. Louis, etc, would they be able to match and stand up to the intensity?
I don’t think so.
It is clear the talent being assembled in the Oiler top six will rival most teams in the future. Another first overall pick, assuming they keep it, will only add firepower to that group. Unfortunately great talent doesn’t guarantee playoff success.
Teams need somebody to do the heavy lifting. Bangers and crashers with skill are required in the playoffs. I would take a David Backes from St. Louis or Dustin Brown from L.A before either Joe Thornton from San Jose or Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin. The first two are having a huge impact on their teams’ success whereas the others have been largely invisible so far in the playoffs.
With a few tweaks and some luck, next year’s Oilers should challenge for and possibly clinch a playoff spot. Getting into the playoffs and having playoff success are two different things however. Without some heavy lifters in the top six or at least in the top nine forward group, playoff success could prove difficult if this year’s physical trend continues into next year.
Finding players like Dustin Brown will not be easy. That is the challenge for the Oiler management going forward.
Previously by Jason Strudwick