When I picked the Edmonton Oilers to upset the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the 2006 playoffs, a lot of people questioned whether I’d taken leave of my senses. With good reason, too, as the Red Wings were clearly the superior team during the 2005-06 regular season. Even so, when I looked at the match-up, it came up Oilers for me.
Let’s face it, we’re all guessing one way or another when it comes to these things. Nobody has a crystal ball. Fans of any given team vote with their hearts rather than their heads. Those supposedly at arm’s length, the “objective observers,” factor in different degrees of statistics and observation and make their picks. Me, I go straight to the gut first, based on what I’ve seen, what I know and what I think I know. It’s served me reasonably well over the years.
When I look at the first-round series between the Oilers, making their first playoff appearance since 2006 when the Alberta beef was flying, and the San Jose Sharks, it comes up Oilers every way I look at it. The old gut tells me it’s going to be Oilers in five games – I’m not alone, as Terry Jones of Post Media also picked the Oilers in five games Monday. I’m more confident of this pick than I was back in 2006, but I’m obviously not as confident as Tim Campbell out of Winnipeg, who writes for NHL.com. He has the Oilers winning the Stanley Cup. Yes, the Stanley Cup.
Writes Campbell: the Edmonton Oilers began this season by opening their new home, Rogers Place. They will end it with Connor McDavid hoisting the Stanley Cup. McDavid, the Oilers 20-year-old captain and contender for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, is the biggest reason why the Stanley Cup will return to Edmonton for the first time since 1990.” The entire item is here.
FROM WHERE I SIT
From out of the playoffs for a decade to sipping champagne from the Stanley Cup this post-season? I don’t see the Oilers making that quantum leap the way Campbell does, but I like the Oilers all day long against the Sharks. San Jose will either start the series without Joe Thornton and Logan Couture or with them coming off injuries and less than 100 per cent. That definitely plays into it.
It’s a match-up I like in Edmonton’s favor for several reasons. This edition of the Oilers is bigger, more talented and deeper than any Oiler team we’ve seen in many years. In the regular season, the Oilers defeated the Sharks three out of five times, including the last three meetings between the teams. Let’s take a look at some of the numbers.
Connor McDavid 30-70-100
Leon Draisaitl 29-48-77
Jordan Eberle 20-31-51
Milan Lucic 23-27-50
R. Nugent-Hopkins 18-25-43
Brent Burns 29-47-76
Joe Pavelski 29-39-68
Logan Couture 25-27-52
Joe Thornton 7-43-50
Patrick Marleau 27-19-46
Cam Talbot 73 GP 42-22-8 .919 2.39
Martin Jones 65 GP 35-23-6 .912 2.40
Dec. 23: Sharks 3 Oilers 2 (OT)
Jan. 10: Sharks 5 Oilers 3
Jan. 26: Oilers 4 Sharks 1
Mar. 30: Oilers 3 Sharks 2
April 6: Oilers 4 Sharks 2
THE NUMBERS GF SOG PP
OILERS 16 129 3/18
SHARKS 13 147 1/16
THE MCDAVID FACTOR
McDavid, newly minted as the runaway Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL’s leading scorer with 100 points, enters the post-season on the hottest roll of his brief career with a 14-game point streak. McDavid, who tallied 7-18-25 during the streak, scored 4-4-8 in the season series against San Jose. The Sharks don’t have anybody on their roster who stirs the drink the way McDavid does, and they don’t have a supporting cast to match Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle and Pat Maroon.
JOE AND LOGAN
We still don’t know if Thornton (knee) and Couture (jaw) will be ready for the start of the series and the Sharks aren’t saying. “They’re day to day, they’re on the ice, they’re skating,” coach Peter DeBoer said Monday. “We’ll see tomorrow and we’ll keep taking those steps. There’s no plan here. There’s nothing I can tell you guys that you don’t see that’s right in front of you.”
If Thornton and Couture aren’t at full speed, the Sharks are overmatched in terms of firepower. As good as he is, blueliner Brent Burns, who led San Jose in scoring with 76 points and scored 2-4-6 in the season series, won’t be enough to make up the difference. He’ll have his hands full in his own end.
NO STOP SIGNS, SPEED LIMIT
Momentum can be, and often is, overstated. That said, the Oilers go into the series with 12 wins in their last 14 games. They have all the confidence, understated as it might be, in the world. The Sharks, meanwhile, went from looking like they were home and cooled atop the Pacific Division to losing nine of their final 13 games, including two of those to the Oilers. If there’s any carry-over from the regular season, it favors the Oilers.
THE BLUE PAINT
The Oilers enter the series with an edge in goal. It’s not a huge edge, but it’s a clear edge nonetheless by virtue of any number you care to look at. If Talbot, who got a night off in the season finale against the Vancouver Canucks, wins the crease battle over Jones, as he did straight up during the regular season, it’s one more wrinkle – a significant one — that favors the Oilers.
THE BLUE LINE
The Sharks have the best blueliner in the series in Burns, and by a fair margin, but I’ll take Edmonton’s group over San Jose’s group from top to bottom. How many times in the last decade could you say that? Oscar Klefbom is just now entering prime time and is the offensive threat the Oilers haven’t had in years. Adam Larsson is the shutdown guy and banger teams need in the playoffs.
PREDICTION: OILERS IN FIVE
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.