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.
- 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.
— VisuallyBetter (@Isuckatpicking) April 26, 2017
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.
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