Welcome, dearest Internet friends, to what can only be described as a very exciting morning here at the Nation as it’s finally time to get ourselves set for Game 1 of the play-in series between our beloved Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks.
I’m not going to lie, the fact that I’m able to sit here and write out a playoff GDB after a four+ month delay as a result of a global pandemic is a pretty surreal feeling. Not only am I incredibly grateful that the league and players worked so hard over these past months to get the show back on the ice, but I’m also thankful for the break from reality that sports often provides for so many of us. To say that 2020 has been stressful would be the understatement of a lifetime and to have meaningful hockey games to watch and take our minds off things for a few hours feels like a small win that we all really needed. I mean, I had a hard enough time coming up with the words to express how much fun I had with Tuesday night’s exhibition game against the Flames that doing this for a real life playoff matchup seems nearly impossible. Yet, despite my inability to properly emote my joy, here were are and I could not be more thrilled to be talking playoffs with you on this beautiful August morning.
As for the task at hand, I’m expecting today’s game to be a little bit sloppy as both sides didn’t have a whole lot of time work out the kinks and shake off the rust. Sure, having an exhibition game is great and all but it’s still not close to the amount of time teams usually get to prepare themselves. On Wednesday night, the Oilers started off very well against the Flames but seemed to take their foot off the gas in the second period, which is a speed bump that they’ll have to eliminate in this short series. They have to be relentless and do whatever it takes to keep Chicago pinned in their own zone. As Gregor wrote on Thursday morning, this first matchup could play a pivotal role in how the series shakes out so it’s of the utmost importance that the Oilers hit the ground running and do what they can to limit any needless mistakes. While the Blackhawks are no longer at the same level as the team that won Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013, and 2015, there’s little doubt in my mind that their playoff experience will be a huge factor in a five-game series, something the Oilers will have to eliminate as best they can by sticking to their game plan and not giving the Hawks any unearned chances.
In the three games played against the Blackhawks during the regular season, the Oilers went 1-2-0 and were outscored by a margin of 10-9 over that stretch, which is obviously something that they’ll have to be aware of as we enter today’s action. The good news, though, is that the Oilers went 6-1-1 in matinees this past season while the Blackhawks were a miserable 0-4. Good omen? I choose to believe so.
|LAST 10 GAMES||5-3-2||6-4-0|
|EXPECTED GOALS FOR%||48.51||46.93|
Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick (fancies at 5×5)
***Today’s numbers reflect where both teams were at when the season was paused on March 12th***
RNH – McDavid – Kassian
Ennis – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Athanasiou – Haas – Archibald
Neal – Khaira – Chiasson
Nurse – Bear
Klefbom – Larsson
Russell – Benning
To me, the biggest thing the Oilers need to do today is limit their mistakes with the puck and try to not force plays through when they aren’t there. After 143 days, both teams are going to be a little bit sloppy and maybe getting started with a simpler game here in the opener might be appropriate as they try to get their legs back under them. As for the lineups, we still have no confirmation yet on what they will look like, who’s starting in net, if Riley Sheahan will be back, etc so I’ve posted the lineup from Wednesday’s exhibition game as a placeholder until word comes out.
***UPDATE*** Mike Smith gets the call in net for Game 1
DeBrincat – Toews – Saad
Nylander – Strome – Kane
Caggiula – Dach – Kubalik
Highmore – Carpenter – Kampf
Keith – Boqvist
de Haan – Murphy
Maatta – Koekkoek
Looking at the Blackhawks lineup, it’s clear that Chicago’s blueline is not what it once was and it will be very interesting to see how they set the matchups against Connor and Leon. You’d think that Keith and Boqvist would line up against McDavid as often as possible, but that’ll leave a wide open opportunity for the Draisaitl line to get something done against the bottom four.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: After a sloppy start, the Oilers settle things down and take over the final 40 minutes, closing out Game 1 with a 3-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Connor McDavid blows past the Blackhawks defence, scoring a highlight-reel goal that sends the Nation into a frenzy.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Despite the fact that there are no fans in the building, Bob Nicholson wanders the halls of Rogers Place, encouraging the other bubble teams to try the Bobby Nicks burger. While there is some interest in the burger, the players become annoyed when they find out that fries still cost extra.
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