Sobering Thoughts: Are the Edmonton Oilers in tough against the Chicago Blackhawks?

Sobering Thoughts is a weekly column bringing you a hot take about the Edmonton Oilers brought to you by NATION COFFEE.

Good morning and welcome to the first-ever rendition of Sobering Thoughts. This weekly column will serve as a spot for a hot take that you maybe don’t want to hear and is brought to you by our friends at NATION COFFEE, but more on that later.

Today we’re going to be talking about the matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the NHL’s 24-team play-in format. While I’m hesitant on these playoffs even happening given the current climate of COVID-19 in the world, I think the Oilers may be in tougher than people expect.

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The Oilers check many, many boxes against Chicago. They’re younger, they’re faster, they’re more skilled and they have two of the best players in the league in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. In theory, that should give them the edge against an older, slower less skilled team in Chicago that doesn’t have two of the best players in the league.

TSN’s Travis Yost had a great breakdown of the series where he did a deep dive into the analytics behind the two teams. Edmonton takes the edge in nearly every category against a Chicago club that bled scoring chances and goals. Edmonton, however, had their own struggles this season when it comes to allowing goals but with that being said, Edmonton’s ability to outscore opponents on a consistent basis might be what separates these two clubs.

The long and short of his prediction was that the Edmonton Oilers should sweep the Blackhawks in four games, so long as the Oilers “make the right decision in starting Koskinen over Smith.”

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The truth of the matter is that Yost is right — Edmonton should be starting Koskinen over Smith as he gives the Oilers the best chance to win. I know I may take some flak for saying that given the love people seem to have for Smith for being a competitor in net and all, but the numbers don’t lie and Mikko was clearly the better goalie over the course of the season.

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Edmonton has the edge in terms of special teams play by a long shot. The Oilers operated at historic levels on the man advantage this season scoring on 29.5 per cent of their powerplay chances. It was the best number in the league since the NHL-WHA merger and the fourth-best number in NHL history and for that you can that Draisaitl and McDavid.

Edmonton’s penalty kill wasn’t as historic, but their ability to kill off 84.4 per cent of penalties taken was second in the league. Comparatively, Chicago had the 28th ranked powerplay and ninth-best penalty kill, large edge Edmonton.

So where do I get worried about the Oilers squaring off against the Blackhawks? Well, it’s the fact is that Chicago has is a veteran-laden team with players that have multiple Stanley Cups to their names. We all know how important those types of players are come the crunch time in the season.

While the Oilers tick so many boxes, I get concerned about such a young team against such a veteran team. While Chicago did trade some higher-end talent off their roster at the deadline, and rightly so given their dismal spot in the standings at the time, they’ve been gifted a chance to continue their season and will be hungry to do so. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford all have those cup rings. The likes of younger guys in Dominik Kubalik, Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome give them a good burst of youth.

Ken Holland breaks down the week ahead for the Edmonton Oilers

The truth is that we don’t really know what to expect of this play-in format and anything can happen. It’s anyone’s game at this point.

On Twitter: @zjlaing

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