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Game Notes: Hawks @ Oilers Game One

My excitement for hockey is likely why the past three weeks seemed to last much longer than the previous four months while we waited for the NHL season to resume.

The players have been in training camps for three weeks and this afternoon they finally get to play a meaningful game. The players are stoked. Fans are pumped. I can’t wait.

Let’s get after it.

1. If you were born after 1980 you likely don’t remember five-game series. The last time we saw it in the NHL was 1986, and that year all eight game one winners, won their series. The Oilers swept Vancouver outscoring them 17-5 in three games.

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Seven times the Oilers have played in a five-game series, winning five of them, all in sweeps. The were swept in 1980 by Philadelphia, so six of their seven series ended in three games. The other was the Miracle on Manchester series against the LA Kings. The Kings won game one 10-8, which set an NHL record for most goals in a playoff game, then the Oilers lost game three 6-5 in OT, after leading 5-0 heading at the start of the third. The Oilers lost game five at home by a score of 7-4. The Oilers had 111 points that season while the Kings had 63. Major upset.

2. Chicago is 4-3 all-time in five games series in the modern era. They swept two and were swept twice and like the Oilers went to five games once.

3. I’m a big believer in how a team is playing the few months prior to the playoffs is much more important than how they played in October and November. So here is a quick recap of how the Oilers and Hawks played in 2020 up until the stoppage on March 12th.

Chicago has 22nd in points with 30, compiling a record of 14-13-2. They were 11th in GF/game at 3.17 and were 17th in GA/game at 2.97.  Their PP was 25th at 14.9% and they were 14th on the PK at 81.9%. They were +9 in GF/GA at 5×5 outscoring teams 69-60. Overall the Blackhawks outscored teams 92-86.

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Edmonton was 6th in points with 37 and a record of 16-8-5. They were 2nd in GF/game at 3.45 and 10th in GA/game with 2.83. Their PP was 2nd at 28.2% and their PK was 3rd at 86.1%.
They were +7 in GF/GA at 5×5 outscoring teams 67-60. Overall Edmonton outscored teams 100-82 since January first.

4. Leon Draisaitl led the Oilers with seven points (1-6-7) in three games v. the Hawks this season. Kailer Yamamoto has three goals in two games. McDavid had no points in the two games he played. Just another piece of motivation for McDavid. Patrick Kane led the Hawks with four points in three games.

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5. How does experience factor in? The Blackhawks have Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews and Duncan Keith, won all won three Stanley Cups. Corey Crawford and Brandon Saad have won two. But they haven’t won a playoff series since hoisting the Cup in 2015. How long does experience last? Honestly, I’m not sure we know. If you haven’t won in five years, do you still have an experience advantage? It is a fascinating debate.

6. Since 2015/2016 these players on the Oilers rosters have combined to win 23 playoff series.

McDavid, Draisaitl, Oscar Klefbom, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell, Matt Benning and Zack Kassian won a series with the Oilers in 2017.

James Neal has won seven split between Nashville and Vegas.
Alex Chiasson won four with Washington.
Josh Archibald won two with the Penguins in 2017. He played in two of their four series wins on their way to winning the Cup.
Riley Sheahan won one with the Penguins in 2018.

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7. Meanwhile, the Hawks roster has won 13 series since 2015/2016.

Olli Maatta won eight with the Penguins in 2015 and 2016.
Zack Smith won two with Ottawa.
Calving De Haan won two; one with the New York Islanders and one in Carolina.
Drake Caggiula won a series with the Oilers in 2017.

Does it matter? Depends how much you value experience.

8. Since January Corey Crawford was 10-9-1 with a .928Sv% and 2.35 GAA.
Mikko Koskinen was 4-5-1 with a .929Sv% and a 2.51 GAA.
Mike Smith was 12-3-4 with a .911Sv% and a 2.78 GAA.

Dave Tippett hasn’t announced the starter, but a source told me Mike Smith was trying out a new set of pads in practice yesterday, and when I asked some goalie people they thought that was odd if he was starting today. Combine that with Koskinen starting this past Tuesday against the Flames and looking very good stopping all 17 shots he faced, I’m leaning to Koskinen starting today. Which is the opposite of what I thought when camp opened. I felt because Smith had started 19 of the previous 29 games Tippett would go with him. He still might. Important to note that of goalie with 10 career playoff starts Mike Smith’s playoff career sv% is .938. Best in the NHL history.

9. In 2020 the Oilers depth scoring has been much better than it was early in the season. Their top-two lines of Nugent-Hopkins-McDavid-Kassian and Ennis-Draisaitl-Yamamoto have combined for 60 goals. Their bottom-six forwards have scored 24 goals. (I did not include the five goals Athanasiou scored with Detroit prior to arriving in Edmonton, or Ennis’ four with Ottawa.)

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The Blackhawks top-two lines — Debrincat-Toews-Saad and Nylander-Strome-Kane — combined for 46 goals while their bottom-six scored 32 goals. Rookie Dominik Kubalik scored 19 of those goals. He got better as the season went on and is a player the Oilers need to be aware of in this series.

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10. The Blackhawks had the 3rd most shots on goal/game in 2020 averaging 33.2/game, while the Oilers were 27th at 30.2/game. Edmonton isn’t a high volume shooting team, because their top two liners rarely take wasted long-range shots. Both teams allowed virtually the same amount of shots/game with Chicago allowing 33.4/game and Edmonton 33.1.

11. The Oilers were 6-1-1 in afternoon games this season, while the Blackhawks were 0-4. Nice tidbit courtesy of Jack Micheals.

12. Brad Meier and Francois St.Laurent are the referees for today’s game.

13. This is the 5th playoff meeting between the Oilers and Blackhawks. The previous four meetings were all in the Conference Finals.
Edmonton won 4-0 in 1983 and 4-2 in 1985 and 1990.
The Blackhawks won 4-0 in 1992.

14. Since 1943 the NHL has only had best of five series for seven years (1980-1986). Teams winning game one went on to win the series 87.5% of the time (49 of 56 series). And 27 of those series (48.2%) were sweeps. Game one in a short series is massive.

15. This is Dave Tippett’s ninth time coaching in the playoffs. This will be his 14th series, but his first time in the playoffs since the Coyotes went to the third round in 2012. Hawks head coach Jeremy Colliton is making is playoff debut behind the bench in his second NHL season. I’m curious to watch how both coaches look for matchups.

With McDavid being able to train for four months, I expect Tippett to use him and Draisaitl a lot this afternoon. He wants to win game one, and unless this is a blowout I could see both players skating 23+ minutes.

How hard will Colliton work to get Toews matched up against McDavid?

And will Tippett look to get McDavid or Draisaitl out against rookie Kirby Dach and his rookie linemate Kubalik?

Also worth noting that only about 38% of the time are line changes made at what we would consider a controlled matchup by the thome team. Most lines changes happen on the fly, and because McDavid can play so much, I wonder if Colliton will have no choice but to have lines other than Toews out against McDavid more than he’d like.

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