Cam Talbot has back-to-back shutouts, and he only had to stop 39 shots in the process.
The biggest improvement all season for the Oilers has been their team defence. It started with re-vamping their entire right-side, adding Adam Larsson, Kris Russell and Matt Benning, and having a healthy Oscar Klefbom all season was a major boost as well.
The forwards have also become more aware defensively, and the past two games have proved the Edmonton Oilers are more than Connor McDavid.
I’ve argued this all season, but many still believed McDavid was the only reason the Oilers were a playoff team. It was an insult to Talbot, the defence and even the rest of the forwards. The Oilers are better now because they have many competent players, and most importantly, they have them spread throughout the lineup, not just up front.
Hockey is the ultimate team game. The best forward on a team plays between 20-22 minutes a night. McDavid has played 20:41/game in the playoffs, which is lower than his regular season of 21:07. He is a dominant player and he is their best player, but to win in the NHL you need a good TEAM, not just one elite player.
The Oilers defensive play in the past two games has been excellent, even better than I expected they could play. They’ve shut down the Sharks. Talbot hasn’t had to stand on his head, like he did in game one.
Talbot faced more shots in game one, 44, than he is over the past 120 minutes. The entire team has bought in, and while last night’s game wasn’t nearly as exciting as hockey should be, in the playoffs winning is all that matters, and the Oilers deserved full marks for their victories in games two and three.
The Oilers are proving they are just as comfortable in a defensive, patient game as they are in a run-and-gun, exchange-chances-all-night style of game.
FUN WITH NUMBERS
- In 2006, #34 Fernando Pisani was the unexpected hero. He had an unreal playoffs, scoring 14 goals and 18 points in 24 games. The next ten years were a disaster for the Oilers and Oilersnation. But now, after a Decade of Darknessr drought, #44 Zack Kassian has emerged as the unexpected hero (34+10=44). Kassian’s performance in game two was the most dominant game I’ve seen any Oilers player have all season. No one was looking for Pisani to dominate in 2006. No Oilers fan could have dreamed the next 10 years would be so painful, and early in these playoffs no one would have expected chants of Kass-I-An to rain down or for him to have both game winners. The unexpected is what makes the playoffs so fun.
- Curtis Joseph leads the Oilers with five playoff shutouts. He had two in the opening round in 1997 versus Dallas (game two and five), then he had back-to-back shutouts in games six and seven versus Colorado in 1998 and added another one in game two of the second round versus Dallas. Bill Ranford has three (round two in 1990, and rounds one and two in 1991), Talbot and Grant Fuhr (game one 1984 Cup Finals and game three in opening round 1989) have two while Dwayne Roloson (game six versus SJ in round two) and Jussi Markannen (game six Cup Finals) each had one in 2006.
- Joseph has the record for longest playoff shutout streak at 166:54. He had 43:40 in game five versus Avs, then shutouts in game six and seven, and then 3:14 of game one in second round versus Dallas. Talbot is currently at 120 minutes.
- The Oilers have had 14 shutouts in their playoff history, and they’ve only been shutout five times. Game one in 1983 Cup Final versus NYI, game two Smythe division semi-final versus Vancouver in 1992, game three versus Dallas in 1998 second round, game two of 2000 opening round versus Dallas and game two of the 2006 Cup Finals versus Carolina.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leads the Oilers with eleven shots on goal. Mark Letestu and Kassian have nine, Oscar Klefbom has seven while Patrick Maroon and McDavid have six. The Oilers only have two 5×5 goals in the series thus far. As good as they’ve been defensively the past two games, you’d like to see them generate more EV scoring chances and goals.
- Leon Draisaitl looked much more engaged after he was moved to centre. He has the puck more and he has to skate more, which is good for his game. I thought he had a tough game one, but was much better in game two and last night he looked very comfortable down the middle. It is a great option to have if they want to move him to the middle, but I also understand the allure of playing him with McDavid, because they were so dominant all season. I think both options are fine for next game, and Slepyshev is a good enough skater and has enough skill to be a complementary winger for McDavid for a few games if Todd McLellan decides to keep him up there.
- I would start game four with same lines which finished game three. The Oilers could have a major mismatch with Draisaitl and red-hot Kassian vs. the Sharks 3rd D pair or 3rd and 4th lines.
- The biggest concern for San Jose has to be that McDavid, who led the NHL with 71 even strength points, has yet to score an EV point this series. Eventually he will produce at EV and with the Oilers already halfway to four wins without him scoring 5×5 that doesn’t bode well for the Sharks.
- I don’t see any reason to put Jesse Puljujarvi in the series right now. I like Slepyshev better (today, not long term), and the playoffs are about winning, not developing. The Oilers would have to suffer a few injuries for me to consider putting in an 18-year-old rookie.
- The shift chart for Jordan Eberle in the final five minutes of a playoff game, with the Oilers protecting a one-goal lead, illustrates how far he has come defensively. McLellan really trusts him. He had three shifts in the final 4:57.
- How did Klefbom miss the empty net by that much? It didn’t come back to haunt the Oilers, but you can’t miss a wide open net by two feet in the final 90 seconds of a playoff game! He has to bare down and bury that shot. You don’t need to pick the top corner. Just rip it home right into the middle of the yawning cage.
- I’m all for hits in the playoffs, but the person counting Sharks hit seemed a bit lenient. I re-watched the first frame and I did not see close to 30 hits. I would love to see more consistency in stat charting across rinks in the NHL. They need consistency on what is considered a hit, blocked shot, shot etc.
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