When the Edmonton Oilers take on the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center Wednesday, they’ll be facing a completely different type of team, and tougher challenge, than they did against the San Jose Sharks — who they dispatched in six games despite taking that 7-0 butt-kicking in Game 4 in what turned out to be a one-off – in the second leg of their first post-season push in a decade.
They won’t face Joe Thornton, hobbling around with a torn MCL and ACL held together by a knee brace. They won’t face Patrick Marleau playing with a busted thumb or Logan Couture, playing with a busted face. Instead, they get Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell and Ryan Kesler, who will make it his personal mission to be a pain-in-the-ass every time Connor McDavid is on the ice. In the Ducks, they’ll be facing a team that didn’t lose a single game in regulation in their final 18 outings, going 15-0-3.
That said, no matter which way I look at it, I see this series between the Oilers and the Ducks as a coin flip, which is just another way of saying I don’t see much to choose between the teams overall – each have edges in one aspect or another but nothing I consider a huge advantage — based on what they did during the regular season and what they did against each other head-to-head.
The Oilers went 47-26-9 for 103 points, good for second in the Pacific Division. The Ducks went 46-23-13 for 105 points to win the division. The Oilers won the season series 3-2, outscoring the Ducks 14-12. In this series, I’ve got the Oilers beating the Ducks in seven games. Others, like veteran scribe Pierre LeBrun of ESPN, are leaning the other way.
LeBrun has picked the Ducks to win in seven games. In his summation, he wrote: “Prediction: McDavid was limited to one even-strength point (his empty-net goal capped the series) and yet the Oilers found a way to beat the Sharks — which tells you how far they have come as a team, and it’s not just about what their Hart Trophy candidate does night in and night out. It’s a team with depth and commitment. The Ducks have tremendous depth themselves, both on the blue line and up front, and they’ve been riding high for well over a month. This is toss-up of a series; it’s going all the way. By the slimmest of margins, experience and home ice will be the difference. Ducks in 7.” You can read his entire preview of the series here.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES
Nov. 15: Oilers lost 4-1 in Anaheim
Dec. 3: Oilers won 3-2 in overtime in Edmonton
Jan. 25: Oilers won 4-0 in Anaheim
March 22: Oilers lost 4-3 in Anaheim
April 1: Oilers won 3-2 in overtime in Edmonton
Connor McDavid 2-2-4
Oscar Klefbom 2-1-3
Leon Draisaitl 1-2-3
Mark Letestu 1-2-3
Ryan Getzlaf 3-2-5
Rickard Rakell 2-3-5
Shea Theodore 2-3-5
Nate Thompson 2-2-4
Kevin Bieksa 0-4-4
Cam Talbot GP-6 W/L 4-2 .927 2.03 GAA 2 SO
Laurent Brossoit GP-1 0-0 .750 4.44 GAA
John Gibson GP-4 W/L 3-0 .926 2.60 GAA
Jonathan Bernier GP-1 W/L 0-0 1.000 .0.00 GAA
OILERS VS. SAN JOSE here.
DUCKS VS. CALGARY here.
MCDAVID AND KESLER
McDavid got better as the series against San Jose went on but he still didn’t put together what I’d call a dominant game, finishing with 2-2-4 against the Sharks. It won’t get any easier against the Ducks, but the challenge this time will be Kesler and linemates Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg rather than the D-pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun San Jose used.
Kesler played McDavid straight-up more than any other forward in the NHL (50:01) and he’s a mix of nastiness, size and speed who is capable of staying with McDavid. Even so, after being held off the scoresheet in the first two games between the teams, McDavid tallied 2-5-7 in the final three games. We know Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle wants this match-up. I wonder if Todd McLellan will let it play out or try to get McDavid away from Kesler. Either way, McDavid-Kesler is the key man-on-man match-up, even if Edmonton got scoring from elsewhere against San Jose.
There was a time not so long ago that Anaheim would simply push the Oilers out of games because the players who got the most ice time, like Getzlaf and Perry, were simply too much for Edmonton’s smaller skill to handle. That’s not the case now as the Oilers have Milan Lucic, Leon Draisaitl, former Duck Patrick Maroon and Zack Kassian in the fold. The way I see it, the physical game is a virtual saw-off now. This stands to be a nasty, glass-rattling series.
The challenge for the Oilers will be containing Getzlaf and his wingers, Rakell and Patrick Eaves. Rakell had 33 goals this season and Eaves totalled 32 with Dallas and Anaheim. Carlyle also has the option of moving Perry up – he’s been playing on the third line. The Ducks have an edge down the middle in terms of face-offs with the trio of Getzlaf, Kesler and Antoine Vermette. Will that be significant? It can be.
BANG THAT BLUELINE
If injuries weren’t a factor, I’d give Anaheim a considerable edge on the blueline, but injuries could come into play. Cam Fowler (knee), Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen are banged up to various degrees. Fowler has been out since April 4 but is expected to be ready. Lindholm and Vatanen sustained injuries in the series against the Flames. How healthy are they?
If Fowler, Lindholm and Vatanen are in the line-up and I’m McLellan, I’m having my forwards finish every check from the first drop of the puck to see exactly how healthy they are. I suspect Lucic, Maroon and Kassian won’t need a written invitation to do that. Even if the knicked up trio holds up, they’ve got a lot more size to contend with on the cycle than in years past. Draisaitl, who led the Oilers with 6-2-8 in the season series and had two game-winners, will be a handful. If they aren’t up to speed, McDavid, assuming he isn’t carrying Kesler on his back, might roast them.
IN THE PAINT
Despite struggling in that 7-0 laugher against San Jose before getting the mercy hook from McLellan, Talbot has easily been Edmonton’s MVP with two shutouts so far in the post-season. Gibson, aside from a sketchy outing in Game 3 against Calgary, has been very good as well. Neither stopper has an abundance of playoff experience.
Simply put, there’s not much to choose between the two based on form in the post-season. Gibson has 10 career playoff games on his resume – he’s 5-4 with a .918 and 2.74 GAA. In his eight career playoff games, Talbot is 4-3 with a .921 and a 2.10 GAA. So, an ever-so-slight edge to Talbot in limited games. Ever-so-slight, however, might be the difference if this one plays out as closely as I expect it will. Nail-biter.
PREDICTION: OILERS IN SEVEN
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.