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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Teams Win In Playoffs Not Individuals

The 2017 Edmonton Oilers are yet another example of how good teams win in the playoffs, not individuals.

Many great and even elite NHL players didn’t have much playoff team success. That doesn’t make them bad players, it means they were on bad teams.

Jarome Iginla played 15 full seasons with the Calgary Flames. They made the playoffs five times, and won playoff series during only one of those years: their 2004 run to the Cup.

They missed the playoffs when he had seasons with 31 goals and 71 points, 52 goals and 96 points, 35 goals and 70 points, 43 goals and 86 points and many other good seasons.

It is early in the 2017 playoffs, but the Oilers are 5-2 because their depth is coming up with massively important plays.

Last night Mark Letestu scored twice. He now has three goals and five points this postseason. He had two goals and four points in 17 playoff games prior to 2017.

Adam Larsson also scored twice last night and added an assist. He played great, and considering in 353 regular season games he’s scored 13 goals and 88 points (0.24 points-per-game), him having four points in seven playoff games (0.57 PPG) is a welcome surprise. On his first goal last night he looked like a 40-goal sniper, walking in from the point and ripping it inside the post. I think he’s been better than most expected, and when he chips in offensively it is a massive, and welcomed, surprise.

Zack Kassian scored two games winners in the first round. In game two versus the Sharks, he controlled the game and was a force.

David Deshnarnais scored the OT winner in game five versus San Jose and added an assist.

Matt Benning had two assists in the pivotal game five win versus the Sharks.

Anton Slepyshev scored a beautiful breakaway goal to give the Oilers a two-goal lead in game six versus the Sharks. It was the game winner.

Leon Draisaitl, who is one of the Oilers go-to guys, has been phenomenal for three games. He had four points last night and seven in the past three games.

The Oilers are 5-2 in the playoffs and Connor McDavid hasn’t had to lead the way by himself. It is not like he’s done nothing — he is tied for second on the team with five points — but the Oilers are reaffirming the truth that great players need a good supporting cast to win.

It is difficult to dominate in the playoffs. Because McDavid didn’t terrorize the Ducks on every shift, the “Is he injured” question was brought up.

He might be nicked up — many players are, hell Joe Thornton played on a knee with two torn ligaments — but it could also be the tight-checking of the Ducks deserves some credit for not allowing him to skate through them with ease. I find when an elite player struggles to produce at the same level of the regular season a few narratives emerge.

“He isn’t competitive enough.” Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg heard this early in their playoff careers.

“He isn’t committed. He’s not a winner.” Alex Ovechkin has had this ridiculous label placed on him for many years. So did Steve Yzerman through the first decade of his career.

“He’s banged up.” This is much more of a compliment than the previous two, but because of the top-secret mantra of NHL organizations in the playoffs we often never know how accurate it is.

McDavid hasn’t played poorly by any stretch, but I read many articles and blogs, listened to podcasts and sports talk shows and watched TV shows during the regular season suggesting the Oilers weren’t as good as their record, because McDavid carried them.

And some will stubbornly hold on to that. So instead of giving credit to the players who have stepped up, much of the focus is now “What’s wrong with McDavid?”

He might be banged up, maybe he is battling the flu/cold like Draisaitl was early in the first round (which seems likely), maybe he is struggling, but it is also very likely he is just finding his way as the most keyed-upon player in the ultra-tight playoffs. He looked fine in game six versus San Jose, and outside of taking one crosscheck on the hip in game six, I didn’t see a play in that game or last night where an injury might have occurred.

Regardless, the facts remain the Oilers have been getting great contributions throughout their lineup, and it has been a different surprise player almost every night.

Kassian, Desharnais, Slepyshev, Larsson and Letestu have produced massively important goals at key times in games, while Draisaitl continues to prove to the doubters he isn’t just riding shotgun with McDavid.

And it isn’t just the timely goals. The Oilers have played long stretches of sound defence in these playoffs, which shouldn’t be a major surprise considering they allowed the eighth fewest goals in the regular season. Cam Talbot has been incredibly consistent all season, and the Oilers have learned as a group how to defend and how to avoid giving up the Grade A chance repeatedly.

Of course if McDavid is actually hurt, that is a big story, but for me right now the bigger story has been the ability of the Oilers’ depth players to produce big goals at key moments of the game.

The Oilers are much more than one great player. They are proving they are a very competent and competitive team.

PARTING SHOTS…

  • The chippiness and animosity in game one of the Oilers/Ducks was great. How often did you find yourself yelling at a Ducks player in the first period last night? I’ll bet way more often than you did the entire series versus the Sharks. Enjoy it. That is how playoffs should be. Intense, entertaining and just enough hatred of the opposition to keep you on edge.
  • Ryan Getzlaf was a force for the Ducks last night. He scored a goal, added an assist, had seven shot attempts, three hits and delivered about 25 slashes and crosschecks. He plays mean. He’s strong as an ox — just ask Andrej Sekera, who was on the receiving end of one his punches — and highly skilled. Todd McLellan accurately said “He is the head of the snake,” when describing how important he is to the Ducks. In my eyes he is one of the top-four centres in the game with McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and his size and nasty side adds a different element to his game. It is going to be great watching him battle the Oilers all series. I love how he plays.
  • It was interesting to note how Randy Carlyle went away from the Kesler/McDavid matchup once the Ducks were down 3-1, and instead put Getzlaf out against the Oilers top lines. Coaching is as much about Xs and Os as it is about a feel and a hunch. The move worked as Getzlaf’s line scored against McDavid and then Kesler’s line got one against Nugent-Hopkins’ line. It got them back in the game, until the Oilers caught a break when Larsson’s pass in front of net ricocheted off Josh Manson’s skate and in.
  • I know Slepyshev took two penalties, but I thought he played very well last night. On the second penalty he made a strong play to the net and couldn’t avoid making contact with Gibson. I like how he drove the net. He was strong along the boards and he was feisty all night. He’s another big body who skates well. Hmm, I’m pretty sure I argued for five years the Oilers needed bigger skill, and many said it didn’t matter. I wonder if they still feel the same.
  • Dave does great work, but this “videoshopping” has to be one of his best.

I had tears in my eyes after RNH came in. It fits perfectly with his Oilernsation moniker. Of course the walking motion of toddler is golden as well.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • nqmt

    The pundits that have been saying that the Oilers are a one man team are usually from out East. They rarely watch our games just based on their commentary and writings. It took until the playoffs for them to realize how good Leon, Larsson and Talbot is. Their response usually goes “I didn’t know how good (insert name) was until I started covering the series”. Hopefully the depth keeps showing up for us!

  • Alberta Ice

    Exactly right Jason. Congratulations to the Captain and the Coach and Chiarelli for bringing this TEAM together this year. You are only as strong as your weakest link. And all the links on this Oilers TEAM are giving it a strong TEAM effort.

  • madjam

    So the Oilers are perceived underdogs , yet should they be in reality , considering the records of both clubs in own division especially ? Oilers had the advantage in wins at 47 to 46 in regular season and 3 wins to two against Anaheim in head to head play .

    Home record for Anaheim throughout season was 29-8-4 OT , but 17-15-9 OT on road . Oilers were 25-12-4 at home , but much better on the road than Ducks at 22-14-4 OT .

    Oilers in 29 games in own division were 20-6-3OT with 92 GF and 62GA . Anaheim paled in comparison with 18-6-5 OT with only 79 GF and 63GA . Power play in own division Ducks had 17 and P.K. against at 15 GA . Oilers were 21P.P and 11 P.K Ga . Most divisional play Oilers appear to be superior club . I guess maybe we should not be surprised at winning first game of this playoff round . Speaks volumes for entire club obviously . Other than experience , Oilers appear to be the superior club by seasons records .

  • OilFarmer

    Just by my eye McDavid looks a bit off. Might have a bit of what Drai had. My reason for thinking this is the powerplay breakout; normally you see the defenceman drop the puck back to McDavid and he winds it up and blows into the offensive zone. Last night the drop back was to Drai.

    • Gordie Wayne

      I tend to agree with this assessment…I think McDavid might just be under the weather right now. He looked awfully pale in the post-game interviews and even sounded a bit sick.

    • Connor Mcdavid 1

      food for thought – what if this is part of the oilers plan, sounds crazy but if its true it worked. Make Mcdavid play a slower game, somewhat behind the play or play to the outsides in the offensive zone. think about this, pulling Kesler completely out of the play and likely one of their defence and allowing even more ice for Dri and who ever else to operate. I seen an interview with Gretz one time that basically said the same thing, thats how he worked in a tight series and it opened the ice up for the rest of the team to finish up.. Mcdavid might not get points on the sheet but anyone and everyone who knows hockey gives him an assist to every goal hes on the ice for. Cheers and GO OIL GO GO OIL GO OIL GO OIL

    • OilCan2

      Consider the ligament to be like a rope. Several strands may be torn but it still remains connected on both ends. Jumbo Joe may be at the end of his NHL rope as a UFA this year.

    • abbeef

      As Oilcan said about the rope, a tear does not necessarily mean torn in half. Every sprain is a ‘torn’ ligament, sometimes microtears, or partial tears or rip in half tears. All three of these are “torn” ligaments usually just the last two are referred to as torn though.

  • freelancer

    Nice to see the rest of the league finally catching on to what most of us have known all year; the Oilers are a really good hockey team and not only because of McDavid. Can’t stress enough how huge that first win is. Pressure is all on Anaheim right now to tie it. Worst case we head back home tied at 1. Best case we are up 2-0. Going to be a fun week!

  • OilCan2

    Jason; well written. I beg to differ on one point about Getzlaf: 25 slashes and crosschecks and you still hold him in high esteem? He is a dirty player and a poor role model.

  • Rob...

    I have less of a problem with Slepyshev’s penalties than I do with Lucic’s wraparound attempt that eventually ended up in the Oilers net to tie it for the Ducks. He had no situational awareness, because he was not looking anywhere relevant to the play he was initiating. I’m glad it didn’t cost us the game and hope he has some monster games in store for us in this series.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    I still remember Darryl Sutter just before Christmas answering questions after the Oil thrashed the Kings. Some dumb-ass reporter asked ‘What went wrong tonight? How did the Kings lose to the Oilers?’. And Sutter just roasted the guy. ‘We lost to a good team. You watch these games, right? If you watched you’d now that’s a good team out there.’

    Hearing that just confirmed that gut feeling I’d had since the start of the season. Those that know hockey understand Edmonton is more than one players stick. Unfortunately most of those in the mainstream media don’t know crap about the sport they report on.

    • CMG30

      Right on! The Oilers problems for years have been located in the GM offices. They’ve always had good players throughout the DOD but they never iced a complete TEAM. Goaltending was non-existant for 5 years. Crazy injuries throughout the lineup and a swiss-cheese defense that management REFUSED to fix. This led to the areas of strength (forwards) trying to compensate for everything else that was wrong with the team but then failing at their jobs. Year after year, it was almost like you couldn’t look at the roster construction without playing ‘sabotage’ in the background. If I didn’t know better I would be certain someone was pulling strings to make sure they didn’t win till they got to the new building…

      This brings us to the media. They’re mostly brain-dead: ‘Oilers aren’t winning so that means the players must be bad’ If they spent any time at all examining what was happening they would have realized that the issue was key holes in the lineup being ignored year over year. Now they’re stuck trying to explain how all these players they’ve trashed for years are suddenly destroying their favorite teams.

    • Frank Rizza

      I remember that game as a couple of days after Christmas but after that game was when I knew that this was a playoff team. It was that playoff type game that The Kings play and once they won, I really believed.

  • Big Jacks Meat

    Nobody like us. Good. Keep it going. Every win is something special or leading to it. Friday Night people. Lets Charter a plane and Camp outside the Honda centre !! Can you imagine. Cook up some DUCK for the fans coming to the game. lol , ok imagination running wild. Or not.

  • DXB

    good read. If the oil can stay composed the refs are going to make the calls. The Oil have proven they are deadly on the PP. this all works in our favor. Anaheim is losing their cool and tying up resources defending Mc D while we get offense through 4 lines. If the Oil get a couple more bounces in game 2 this series is all but over and we will be looking into the eye of the Nashville beast, which kind of scares me

  • West

    I, Spyder disagree with the entire premise of this article. As long as Eberle is on this team, the Oilers can’t win. Even if they win 16 games this post season, it doesn’t matter because Eberle is on the team.

  • Oiler Al

    Yes teams win championships/series, but there cannot be room for passengers ….. Eberle,Pouliot did not show up last nite!Also expected more from KIassian ,Lucic and even Maroon.Not sure speed alng wil do it. Need solid shifts from everyone. Oilers are a smalish team ..Desharnais,Eberle,Caggu9ila,Letestu ,and Russell all under six ft/200lbs. Ducks only have one player Cogliano in this stature.This is going to get rougher,before it gets milder.

    • wiseguy

      The difference with this edition of the Oilers is that all the small players you listed except for Russell play 10-15 minutes per game vs. the old Oilers where their bigger players played the fewest minutes. The forwards with the leading ice time in Game 1 were McDavid, Drai, RNH, Letestu, Maroon and Lucic. Letestu gets a bump up due to PP time where size isn’t as big of an issue. If you look at the depth chart, you will see that the top LW, RW, LD, RD and C are all big boys with McDavid being the smallest of them but I doubt anyone would choose a different center just because he’s bigger/heavier.

    • Connor Mcdavid 1

      i was agreeing with you until you hit the oilers are smallish crap. for one Cagguila/Russell play like 6’6″ 250 pound grown men, Letestu is so positionally smart his smaller stature doesnt matter, Eberle well yes he’s small and soft but he will score one eventually that will wipe all that away. I am curious if you have been watching hockey this season and right up till last nights game.. do we look like we are getting pushed around to the point we cant handle a win?? i think the 2nd place (2 points behind first) in the pacific and the 1 game lead in round two of the division final kinda answer this question.. so at first i was like what the heck does this guy have 4 trash “dislikes” for, but now i understand

  • Ronr68

    I’m super happy with our team. A different hero every victory. I wasn’t happy with the 7-0 loss to San Jose, but they even did that as a team. As far as Connor goes, he did look ill during his post-game interview. Pale and pasty, and he was still sweating. But McDavid at 50% is still better than 90% of the NHL. I’ve got a good feeling about this series. If they win game 2 we’ve got them by the cajones.

  • Abagofpucks

    in my opinion the oilers have to find a way to get getzlaf off his game possibly get him to take penalties without him they are weaker he truly is the head of the snake but at the same time we have a couple more snakeheads than they do so bring it shmucks = ducks we got you in the crosshairs BOOK IT SUCKERS WOOOOOO GO OIL

  • Connor Mcdavid 1

    Better call the enviromentalists in, them ducks are covered in oil.. on a serious note, man if the ducks could use their sticks on the puck like they do on the opposing bodies they would have a hell of a team.. focus guys focus, remember what the point of hockey is.. pass puck, shoot puck, puck in net

  • Rob...

    Listening to Gregor’s show right now. So disgusted that the league reffing has devolved as badly as it has. Kerry Fraser was one of the few worth respecting, and he’s showing it in his interview comments.

  • Randaman

    “I didn’t see a play in that game or last night where an injury might have occurred.” Are you serious?? At least three or four cross checks directly to the back from Kesler, a couple butt ends from same, tripped into the boards backwards at high speed by scumbag Kesler again. Were we watching the same game? You need to stay up later and quit watching highlights to form your opinion. JK

  • Big Jacks Meat

    Gregor / Robin

    Here is a question for you. What team do you truly believe can elevate their game even more ? I saw the Oilers in Game 2 against the sharks roll them.

    I say its Oilers , I don’t believe the ducks have a 3rd gear or the ability to adapt to different styles of play , the Oilers do, The Flames did not , they play the same way 98% of the time.

    • Connor Mcdavid 1

      not exactly about finding that 3rd gear, more like adjusting to the style of game that you are up against, but yes i agree that the oilers have finally found success in matching what ever game style they are up against, mostly due to the wide depth and size across the roster.. feels good to compete night in night out.. Us True blue oil fans deserve this more than anyone.. GO OIL!!!!!

    • ed from edmonton

      I think there is plenty of room for improvement for the Oil. The D pair of Russell and Sekera had their worst performance of the playoffs and we saw the “bad” Ebs. A sharp Talbot doesn’t let in goals 2or 3.

  • Dustin Terpstra

    Dave did a great job…..i remember the original video though and I think the only thing that would make it better is Dadbot as the nanny coming in and pulling them out of the room…….

  • btrain

    What do people think about Sleppy replacing Cagguila on the 2nd unit PP? I think they need more size out there for net crashing and Sleppy also adds a heavy shot.

  • Danoilerfanincalgary

    Connor should give Kesler a big sloppy kiss to start off the next game and see if the big Kes can handle the flu bug. Kesler always crosschecks players on the hip, it is very subtle and he gets away with it all the time. He is a nasty player.

  • dsanchez1973

    I would like to see you show anyone, ever, who argued the Oilers didn’t seen “bigger skill”. Every human being on earth who watches hockey knows that a skilled player who is big is a highly prized asset. The problem for years was that the Oilers focused on getting big players who were not skilled, but brought grit/sandpaper/nasty. If you have a choice between a skilled player and a size player, you should take the skilled player every time.

    As for depth, show your work. Let’s look at last year – SJ top four scorers were their first line, plus Burns. Next highest finished 22nd in playoff scoring. Pitt was a better justification, because they had the incredible HBK line.

    The previous year – Chicago had Kane/Towes/Hossa/Sharp/Keith as leading scorers. TBL had Johnson/Kucherov/Killorn/Stamkos.

    Depth is nice, and you need them to provide occasional moments. But your real success and key to winning is driven by your top players. Period. The importance of depth players should not be overstated, and the fact that the Oilers have had to get so much reliance on those depth players so far is in part good (because their top players should start breaking out, meaning we have gotten some relatively unexpected wins) but in part worrisome (because to go deep, your top players have to be dominant).

    • Connor Mcdavid 1

      and Chicago and tampa bay both still have them line ups and where are they now? Chicago swept by a team that out worked out hit out goaltended and simply out played them. Nashville plays a mean but affected type of hockey that Chicago couldn’t handle,, skill sure didn’t get them far this year. Oilers had enough skill over the years but zero size and pushed off the puck all game long.