So, that probably wasn’t the way the Edmonton Oilers wanted to start their postseason.
But three periods and a 6-4 loss later, the Oilers are now down 1-0 in their play-in series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
It wasn’t pretty either. Chicago outshot Edmonton and just dominated the momentum at even-strength. A late push in the third period with a goal from Nugent-Hopkins (his first-ever playoff goal) to make the score 6-4 with three minutes left in the game wasn’t enough for Edmonton to steal the win away at the last second.
Here are five things I noticed watching the game (hint, there wasn’t a lot of positives.)
1. Chicago’s not going to roll over
On paper, and throughout the whole regular season, Edmonton was a better team than Chicago. But forget any preconceived notions you had about who should win. This first game showed that anyone is capable of beating anyone, and if Edmonton isn’t careful, they could be in trouble here.
Edmonton came out of the gate strong to start game one of this series. A McDavid powerplay goal on the team’s first shot of the game? What more could you ask for?
After that, Chicago put the pressure on. They pinned Edmonton in their own end and forced them to defend, an area the Oilers haven’t been great at this season. At 5-on-5, the Hawks just outplayed Edmonton.
Jonathan Toews was in peak 2013 form, Kirby Dach was impressive and Dominik Kubalik showed up. Like, really showed up. Two powerplay goals and three assists for the Rookie of the Year candidate. Causing every single person that didn’t choose him in their playoff pools to cry. Chicago came out in Game 1 and showed that they have no plans to be willing participants in the Lafrenière sweepstakes.
2. It’s not (entirely) Mike Smith’s fault
To be honest, I was kind of surprised to see Mike Smith get the start today, even though it was the “expected” move. That first period was about as tough as they come for goalies. It didn’t help that Chicago began rolling off a fumbled pass attempt from Smith that ended up on the stick of Dylan Strome who banked it off the goalie for a goal.
That was the only goal in that first period that I could definitively say was Smith’s fault. A deflection right in front of the net, can’t blame Smith. Two blown defensive coverages that left Jonathan Toews alone in front of the net, can’t blame Smith either. That last Kubalik-powerplay goal…maybe a little bit of blame.
If the Oilers want to take this series and prove that they’re a real contender, they’re going to need to give their goalies more help. Dave Tippett maybe should’ve have pulled Smith earlier, but Koskinen had to come in to try to salvage a very difficult situation.
3. Shaking the rust off
There was a lot to be desired after Game 1 from the Oilers. There were so many missed defensive coverages I actually had to stop counting. The rust on the Oilers bus is a lot heavier than anyone expected. These are the types of games that can motivate or wreck a team. Edmonton just looked slower than Chicago, and almost taken off guard by the intensity the Hawks came out of the gate with. In a five-game series, there’s not a lot of runway to work out the kinks.
One of the few Oilers who I thought had a decent game was Tyler Ennis. Lots of good intensity and speed.
4. The powerplay is still killer
That first powerplay was *chef’s kiss*. The second powerplay that ended with a Leon Draisaitl goal was also very nice. James Neal just hammered another one home with the man-advantage, his first goal since Jan. 1.
Now only if they could score one at even-strength.
5. The Connor McDavid Show
To be honest, the “Show” started out pretty great. McDavid ripped Edmonton’s first goal in typical McDavid fashion and gave the Oilers the early lead. But the first period was not great for the Oilers captain. A tough penalty that led to a Chicago goal, then a blown chip around the boards that led to another.
McDavid still put up 4 points and did drive a significant amount of play. He managed to break away from the tight coverage he faced all game in the third period a little bit, but for the most part, Chicago did a good job limiting his chances.
This was likely just a matter of Point Number Three. McDavid is still the best player in the world, and expect him to whip his team into shape for Game 2.
Notes from around the hubs
- Every single hockey fan should be watching the Carolina Hurricanes vs New York Rangers series. I’ve been saying for a while now that this matchup could easily be the most entertaining series int he play-in round.
- I forgot about so many of these trade deadline deals. Vincent Trochek, Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen on the Canes? Whoops, that one slipped my mind. Patrick Marleau on Pittsburgh? Well, that just sounds plain wrong.
- This has been talked about a lot, but props where props are due, the arena setups in Toronto and Edmonton are just incredibly done.
- Kassian’s mutton chops continue to be fire.
- The high hit on Tyler Ennis should be looked at by the league. Edmonton is just thankful that Ennis cleared the concussion protocol and was able to return.