Watching the Oilers get stomped in their series-opening game against the Chicago Blackhawks was not a lot of fun. I said before the series started that if the Oilers brought their ‘A’ game, then the Hawks wouldn’t stand a chance. Well, the Oilers did not bring their ‘A’ game. In fact, I don’t think they brought their ‘B’ or ‘C’ game.
In a weird way, that almost makes me feel optimistic about game two. The fact that the Oilers played nowhere close to as good as we know they can and only lost by two goals can be taken as encouraging. That’s not to say that I don’t have any concerns. There are plenty of those. I just believe the areas where they struggled can be turned around very quickly. For example, Connor McDavid was not very good at even-strength.
McDavid's line only played 2:13 against Toews line at 5×5 in game one. Allowed two goals.
But McDavid played the most against Hawks 4th line, 6:13, including 8:00 minutes against Kampf. Got out shot and out chanced. Top line has to be much better at 5×5 in game two. #Oilers
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) August 2, 2020
McDavid having trouble generating chances at 5v5 is very rare. While McDavid was on the ice at 5v5, the Oilers only generated five shots on goal. During the regular season, that only happened seven times and never happened two games in a row.
It feels weird typing out the words ‘I was disappointed in Connor McDavid’ after he posted four points, but there is no denying that the Oilers Captain needs to do a better job of driving the play at even-strength. I have the utmost confidence that we will see a very motivated and quite frankly, pissed off version of McDavid in game two.
The other hot topic was goaltending. I wasn’t a fan of Tippett’s decision to start Mike Smith in game one but after watching how well he handled the goaltenders during the regular season, it was hard to argue with the decision. Tippett seemingly always made the right choice throughout the year. It turns out he probably didn’t make the right decision but I’m not about to sit here and place this loss solely at the feet of Smith.
He was not the sole reason they lost, but he was a big reason why they found themselves in such a deep hole early on. If he doesn’t turn over that puck behind the net in the first period and the Oilers are able to play with the lead for a few more minutes, the outcome of the game changes.
Smith made a big mistake and then didn’t make any huge, momentum turning saves after that. If you cost your team a goal, you should probably save them one or two as well. He didn’t do that and because of that, he probably shouldn’t start game two, but we will see.
The play in front of Smith was far from inspiring. While there is plenty of blame to go around, you have to look at the Oiler’s top pairing of Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson as a duo that deserves some heat.
The two Swedes played 12 minutes at 5v5 and got crushed. Not only were they outscored 2-0, but they were also outshot 11-1 and the scoring chances were 9-1 in favour of the Hawks in that time. The Oilers need their top pairing to be better then they were on Saturday afternoon if they want to get back into this series.
We’ve seen Connor McDavid dominate at even-strength, we’ve seen the Oilers goaltending win them games, and we know that the pairing of Klefbom and Larsson is more than capable of not only shutting down the Hawks but also driving the play into the offensive zone. We didn’t see it on Saturday but I have a feeling that we’ll see it on Monday.
One last thought about the game one loss: damn, it felt good to watch that hockey game. Even though the Oilers lost, I forgot just how much fun playoff hockey is. I forgot how exciting a powerplay can be, I forgot how a big save can make you leap from your couch. I missed it all and it felt great to have those feelings back.
The outcome was far from ideal, but sitting on pins and needles waiting for game two and feeling the pressure of knowing that it’s close to a must-win game is kind of what the playoffs is all about, no?
FIVE OTHER TAKES
- I’m writing this after watching the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in game one of their series and let me say, that Blue Jackets team is incredibly fun to watch. They compete like hell every shift, play a seemingly perfect system, and have a handful of players that are incredibly underrated. Seth Jones, Nick Foligno, and Cam Atkinson do not get enough love for how good they are.
- While I don’t think Matt Tkachuk meant to hurt Mark Scheifele, I still think the play was irresponsible. There’s no need to have your skate in the air while you’re going to make a hit on a player against the boards. I won’t call it dirty, but I will call it reckless.
- We knew that a goaltender would be more than capable of winning a team a series and we all kind of thought that Carey Price would be more than capable of it. Well, he did his part in game one. I’ll be interested to see how the Penguins come out in game two. Will they be frustrated and start changing their attack? Or will they stick to their guns and hope they can win games 3-1 or 3-2?
- The inconsistency of officiating surprised me. How do we go from 14 powerplays in the Hurricanes and Rangers game to just three in game one between the Leafs and Blue Jackets. If anything, I thought being in a bubble with no fans would create more consistent officiating, I appear to have been wrong on that front.
- I was worried that there wouldn’t be the same sort of ‘playoff energy’ that we’re used to but I was wrong. I really enjoyed the pace and emotion that these games were being played with. It should only keep getting more intense as well!