We are a week away from the Oilers beginning their series against the Chicago Blackhawks and I woke up this morning in a very optimistic mood. So I decided to share that optimism with you, Oilersnation.
There’s no denying that the Oilers are clear favourites for their series against the Hawks, but why? Well, here are the five reasons I think Edmonton will advance past Chicago:
1 – GOALTENDING
We still don’t know if Corey Crawford will be available, and I’ll talk about that more in just a second, but even if he does end up playing in the qualifying round, I would still give the edge to the Oilers when it comes to goaltending.
In a quick five-game series, getting good goaltending will be massive. If either Smith or Koskinen can even steal one game, it’s going to put the Oilers in a great spot to win this series.
During the regular season, both Oilers’ goaltenders showed that they’re capable of going on some impressive hot streaks. Yes, they also both had some rough stretches but if one of them falters in the playoffs, the team should be confident that the other option can step in and give them some solid outings. I don’t think you can say the same when it comes to the Blackhawks.
While Corey Crawford had a pretty good season with a 2.77 GAA and a 0.917 sv%, they don’t really have a good backup option. Malcolm Subban only appeared in one game with the Hawks since being acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline and in his final three starts with Vegas, he allowed 13 goals on just 79 shots.
If Crawford isn’t sharp or isn’t available, the Blackhawks don’t have a good backup plan. While both Oiler’s goaltenders had some rough patches, when they’re at their best, they’re just as good as Crawford is.
When it comes to playoff hockey, you could say that nothing is as important as goaltending and it’s hard to say the Oilers don’t have the advantage in the crease.
2 – SPECIAL TEAMS
Next to goaltending, this is the second most important part of the Oilers game. Their powerplay bailed them out a handful of times during the regular season, keeping them in games when their even-strength play wasn’t as strong as it needed to be.
Just how productive was their powerplay? Well, they scored on 29.5% of their powerplays this past season which was not only 4.3% better than the second-best team in the league this year, but it was the most efficient powerplay the league has seen in the last 40 years.
The Oilers’ powerplay was deadly. The Blackhawks’ was not. They finished 28th in the NHL, scoring on just 15.2% of their powerplays.
On the flip side, the Oilers also had a very strong penalty kill, finishing second in the league at 84.4%. The Blackhawks were also pretty good, finishing ninth in the league at 82.1%.
Will they be able to stop McDavid, Draisaitl, and one of the best powerplays in NHL history? Maybe, but I’m still giving the Oilers a massive advantage when it comes to special teams.
3 – HEALTH/AVAILABILITY
The big one here is obviously Corey Crawford. If he isn’t there for the Blackhawks, that will really hurt their chances of upsetting the Oilers.
Stan Bowman said they are still hopeful that Corey Crawford will be able to join the team in time to leave for Edmonton. “We hope to get a better idea as we get closer to the weekend.” #Blackhawks
— Carter Baum (@CarterBaum) July 21, 2020
Colliton on getting Crawford up to speed: "Whenever we get him back, if we get him back, it’ll be our job to get him ready.” #Blackhawks
— Carter Baum (@CarterBaum) July 21, 2020
It seems like the Hawks really don’t know if they’re getting back their number one goalie.
They’ve also been without two pretty important defensemen early in camp as Calvin DeHaan and Connor Murphy both haven’t skated with the main group yet. They should be ready by the time the series starts, but they’re running out of days to get up to speed.
They won’t have veteran forwards Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith, who were left off the 35-man roster for training camp and while Brent Seabrook has been skating with the club, it’s still unclear if he’ll be healthy enough to play against the Oilers.
On top of that, over the past few days, Jonathan Toews has been deemed unfit the participate. While Head Coach Jeremy Colliton says it’s just about keeping the Captain fresh, it still makes you wonder if Toews is 100%.
For the Oilers, the only player who opted out of returning was Mike Green, who only played two games with the team after the trade deadline. They really haven’t had any serious health concerns so far through summer camp and it looks like they’ll have a full roster when their series against the Hawks gets going. Another clear advantage for the Oilers.
4 – DEFENSIVE DEPTH
There haven’t been too many times over the last decade when you could put the Oilers defence up against another team’s and say that the Oilers had the better group. I think you can do that in this series.
Yes, the Hawks still have Duncan Keith anchoring their blueline but after that, there isn’t anything that stands out too much. Adam Boqvist is only 19 years old and has just 41 games of NHL experience. Their second pairing could be Calvin De Haan and Connor Murphy, which is fine but not anything special. That duo might have a hard time keeping either of Draisaitl or McDavid in check. On the third pair, they will likely run Olli Maata and Slater Koekoek and if Dave Tippett can get one of their top lines out against that pair, the results should be good for the Oilers.
During the regular season, the Blackhawks allowed the most shots against in the league and the most even-strength scoring chances against. They were not a strong defensive team. The Oilers weren’t great in those areas, allowing the 12th most shots against per game and the ninth most even-strength scoring chances in the league, but they were better.
On top of the numbers, there are a handful of other reasons to really like the Oilers’ blueline.
Adam Larsson was playing some of his best hockey of the year when the season was paused, Oscar Klefbom should be 100% healthy, and the pairing of Bear and Nurse should be fully rested after logging some heavy minutes during the regular season. They should be able to handle the Blackhawks.
5 – CONNOR & LEON
Yes, the Blackhawks have Patrick Kane, who finished eighth in NHL scoring, but their second-leading scoring was Jonathan Toews, who finished tied for 40th in the scoring race. The Oilers have a clear advantage when it comes to elite talent.
I talked about this a few weeks ago on Oilersnation Radio, but the game-breaking abilities of both Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid cannot be ignored when looking at this series. If the Oilers are down two or three goals in a game, you honestly can’t say that they’re out of it because McDavid and Draisaitl don’t need very much time to create offence.
Now that they’re on separate lines, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for the Hawks to contain the two of them. While I threw a lot of numbers at you in this article, this next one is my favourite: 207. That’s the number of points that McDavid and Draisaitl managed to produce this season.
Even if two or three of the things I listed earlier don’t go the Oilers way, Leon and Connor are good enough to drag this Oilers team to victory. The scary part for the rest of the league is that I don’t think they’ll have to do it all on their own.