Now there are eight. The second-round matchups of the NHL playoffs have been announced, and the Oilers and Ducks begin on Wednesday in Anaheim at 8:30 MT.
The good news for younger Oilers fans is that game three will start at 5 p.m. MT on Sunday, and game six, if necessary, could also be an early start.
I expect this series to be much nastier than the Oilers/Sharks. The Ducks are a more aggressive team than San Jose, and the Oilers have the size and physicality to match their nastiness.
It should be a fantastic series.
The Ducks will provide different challenges than the Sharks did in round one.
Anaheim has more scoring threats.
When Peter Deboer loaded up his top line with Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, he had no other scoring threats with Logan Couture playing with a mangled jaw. Todd McLellan was happy to match the Milan Lucic/Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-/Jordan Eberle trio against them, and RNH’s line shut them down. Even though the Oilers second line didn’t score an EV goal in the series, they created a lot of chances and did a good job of keeping the Sharks top line out of the offensive zone.
Anaheim is a different story. Ryan Getzlaf is more dominant than any Sharks forwards, and his wingers, Rickard Rakell and Patric Eaves, each had 30 goals this season. The second line of Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg is solid two-way line that can finish, while Corey Perry is on the third line. Nate Thompson was Anaheim’s version of Zack Kassian in the first round, when he scored twice and added two assists.
The Ducks have a very good defence, and it will get better with the return of Cam Fowler. Fowler was injured on April 4th. He was scheduled to be out 2-6 weeks. He didn’t play in the first round against the Flames, but he practiced yesterday and has declared himself ready for Wednesday.
As good as the Ducks defence is, they don’t have a pair as sound defensively as Marc-Edourd Vlasic and Justin Braun. Connor McDavid won’t have to face them every game, and while Vlasic and Braun were very good, they were on the ice for three goals against in the final two games. They were on for Patrick Maroon’s opening goal in game five, assisted by McDavid, and for David Desharnais’ OT winner, assisted by Draisaitl, after McDavid changed in the offensive zone, and for Draisaitl’s opening goal in game six.
I’ve read a lot of misguided concern, in my opinion, over Todd McLellan’s decision to not try harder to get McDavid away from Vlasic/Braun. The reality is late in the series, the Oilers won that matchup, along with the one he really wanted, RNH’s line versus Pavelski’s line. McLellan felt confident his top line would produce and they did in the two most crucial games of the series.
Once Draisaitl was over the flu/cold he had three EV points in the final two games, and he and McDavid found ways to produce even against a solid D pair. I would expect the same in this series.
Hampus Lindholm will face McDavid’s line the most. Lindholm skated on his own yesterday according to Ducks beat reporter Eric Stephens. Lindholm told Stephens he plans to skate today, but was unsure if he’d practice with the team or skate on his own. I’m sure he will play, but he might be a bit banged up.
In five regular season games, Lindholm was on the ice against McDavid for 40 EV minutes, which was much lower than Vlasic (59:47) and Braun (54:35). Lindholm is very good, but he’s not yet at Vlasic’s level defensively. Lindholm played 1124:12 EV TOI in the regular season and Josh Manson (716:36) was his most consistent partner. They are a good pair, but they don’t have the experience or cohesiveness of Vlasic/Braun.
The matchup Randy Carlyle will really want is Kesler’s line against McDavid. During the regular season Kesler played the most minutes, 50:01, of any NHL forward against McDavid, while Cogliano was second at 45:08. That is the matchup the Ducks want. It is very different having a forward line try to contain McDavid and Draisaitl compared to a defence pairing.
“When you go up against a top line, your main focus is to keep them out of the offensive zone,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “You want to force them to play defence, and limit their speed through the neutral zone. Puck possession is crucial,” he continued.
Kesler is very good at both ends. He likes to agitate and I’m sure he’ll be hacking, whacking and face-washing McDavid and Draisaitl as much as he can. But Cogliano and Silfverberg are also very important. Both are excellent skaters and in order for this trio to slow down the Oilers top line, they will need to force them to play defence as much as possible.
The reality is McDavid’s line will get their points. They won’t be shut out, and with Draisaitl healthy again it will be even harder to slow them down. Faceoffs will be huge, and if Draisaitl can win close to 50%, then that line won’t have to waste precious seconds of every shift trying to get the puck back. Changing on the fly should benefit McDavid’s line, because no forward in the league can keep up with him and if he comes when the Oilers have possession, it puts Kesler and his line on their heels right away.
Matchups are important, but I also believe we can overvalue them. Often it comes down to one or two decisions and battles that will lead to a goal, and while some coaches try harder to get a specific matchup, whoever is on the ice against the Ducks and Oilers top lines, needs to make smart decisions or they’ll pay the price.
- The Oilers had four lines, each with four players rolling through them. Patrick Maroon and Drake Caggiula were with McDavid/Draisaitl. Mclellan didn’t want to commit to any line combos at this point, but it would seem we could see those two swap spots on the first and third line at various points of this series. Caggiula and Maroon offer very different styles. Maroon brings size and skill in close, while Caggiula has speed and is more of an outside shooting threat. Even though the Oilers won games five and six with Caggiula on that line, I suspect Maroon starts there because the Ducks are a more physical team and McLellan will want size on each line.
- “I hope it goes better against Gibson,” smiled RNH when I asked him the difference between Martin Jones and John Gibson. “I had a lot of chances last series, which is good, but I have to bury some. I’ve had more success versus Anaheim in my career, so hopefully that continues.” said RNH. His line did an admirable job preventing the Sharks top line from scoring, but they need to produce. RNH played the second most minutes of any Oilers forward in the San Jose series, but he didn’t pick up a point. He played well defensively and in the neutral zone, and he created numerous chances, but he needs to find a way to score. He led the Oilers with 17 shots, which is great, and the odds suggest he is due to breakout. He has to, and the Oilers need him to, because I’m not sure they can expect their third and fourth lines to score all four game-winning goals in round two.
- RNH scored twice versus the Ducks this season and he has six goals and 14 points in 20 career games. He likes playing the Ducks, and it is amazing how certain players have more success against one good team compared to another. Jones had RNH’s number in round one, and he is hopeful a new opponent allows him to notch his first career playoff goal.
- The Sharks confirmed today Joe Thornton was playing with a torn ACL and MCL. That is incredible considering how he played. To endure that kind of discomfort is remarkable.
- The Oilers need to play disciplined like they did in games three, five and six. The Sharks only had six powerplays in those three games, but they had 20 combined in games one, two and four. “I know how they play. They love to get you off your game with little slashes in the legs after whistles and other things. We have to play smart and poised like we did in game five and six,” said Patrick Maroon this morning.
- The Oilers’ PP needs to be sharp as well. Calgary scored six goals on 16 chances (37.5%) in round one. The Ducks were shorthanded the most in the regular season, 281 kills, but their PK was 4th best at 84.7%. They will take penalties, and the Oilers need to exploit them like Calgary did. The Flames problem was they couldn’t score 5×5. They only had two 5×5 goals in four games. Special teams are important, of course, but usually you need consistent 5×5 play to win. I suspect we will see more goals in this series than we did in the Oilers first round matchup.
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