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Photo Credit: Twitter.com/NHL

GDB +2.0: Be Ready To Play (8:30pm MT, SNW)

The Edmonton Oilers were not ready to play in game one. The Blackhawks had two odd-man rushes in the first 90 seconds, and that theme continued virtually the entire game.

“We had some key players who didn’t play near as well as we’d have liked,” said Dave Tippett yesterday.

“When you get in the playoffs you need every guy maxing out, and last night, for whatever reason, we had some guys who weren’t up to par for what we expect from that. I expect them all to be better tomorrow.”

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Tippett didn’t mince his words. He didn’t have to. His players said much of the same.

“We weren’t good enough. In every facet. Not much else to say. We have to be better next game,” said a frustrated Connor McDavid.

McDavid finished with three points, but his line got dominated 5×5. And the most concerning part was that he played almost four times as many minutes against the Hawks fourth line centre, David Kampf (8:00) than he did Jonathon Toews (2:13).

The fact Hawks head coach Jeremy Colliton was comfortable rolling his fourth line against McDavid as often he did illustrates how poorly that line played. The good news for the Oilers is I can’t fathom McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian being as ineffective as they were in game one again in the playoffs.

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They were off, as were all of the Oilers best players.

Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson struggled. Their stat line at 5×5 was rather ugly.

Larsson was outshot 11-1, had a 2-13 Fenwick For/Against and was outscored 2-0.
Klefbom was outshot 12-3, had a 4-14 Fenwick For/Against and was outscored 2-0.

I’d expect them along with McDavid’s line to be much better tonight.

In Game 1, the Oilers fourth line was their best at 5×5, and they played more against Patrick Kane and as much against Toews as McDavid and Leon Draisaitl did. That is a good sign for the fourth line, but in the playoffs it’s virtually impossible to win when the majority of your best players aren’t close to your best.

Mike Smith didn’t help his team when he mishandled the puck that led directly to the Blackhawks’ first goal. The Oilers gave up two odd-man rushes in the first 90 seconds, and it was clear they weren’t ready. Smith didn’t help his cause, or the team’s, on the first goal. Had he not mishandled it, would the Oilers suddenly have found their game? We don’t know, but I doubt it based on how they played prior and after. Smith making one big save would have helped, no question, but the narrative of this loss is mainly on the goalie is misguided in my opinion.

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Wanting to blame one player when the entire team stunk is odd to me. I get it — the fans wanted Koskinen to start, and there are valid reasons why he should have, but zero proof he’d have made enough of a difference in the end. Fans are so frustrated by Tippett’s decision to start Smith, that all their blame went there. The amount of vitriol directed at Smith and Tippett was 10 times what I read in regards to the rest of the team. I strongly disagree. The entire team was not good.

I’d argue the top skaters were equally to blame, as they never generated anything at 5×5 the entire game. If you wanted Smith to make a big save, what about asking your players to make a big play as well at 5×5? None of them did (which is rare). They never found their game.

I’d expected the Oilers to come out firing, similar to how they did in their lone exhibition game against Calgary, but it never happened.

Edmonton was second in the NHL in first period goals in the regular seasons. Horrible starts were not that common during the season, but they picked the worst time of the season to soil the sheets in the first period, and essentially for the entire game.

Thankfully for them it was only one game. Maybe being that bad will ignite them more than if had they played well and lost by a goal. We don’t know, but it would be difficult to have a worse first period.

The best part about the playoffs is how meaningful every game is, and in a short five-game series the importance of each game is magnified. The Oilers, like the other seven teams who lost game one, know they can’t afford to feel their way into game two. They need to gain some confidence, because the Blackhawks will start the game feeling good about themselves, and if Edmonton has a sluggish start the Hawks might bury them again.

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LINEUP…

Oilers

RNH-McDavid-Kassian
Ennis-Draisaitl-Yamamoto
Athanasiou-Sheahan-Archibald
Neal-Khaira-Chiasson

Klefbom-Larsson
Nurse-Bear
Russell-Benning

Koskinen

Koskinen gets his first Stanley Cup playoffs start. Maybe Tippett makes a change in his bottom six, but I don’t see him switching up his blue line. The third pair was solid. Adam Larsson played 13 minutes at 5×5 while Matt Benning played 12. Ethan Bear and Darnell Nurse played 20 and 21 respectively, while Klefbom played 15. The large discrepancy illustrates how the coaches weren’t in love with the top pair. I expect the “Swedish mafia” to be much better tonight.

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It makes To go with Koskinen, but it I don’t think it is fair to say Smith was more at fault for the loss than the first line, the top pair defence and many others. The reality is Tippett doesn’t have anyone in the press box who can play in the top-four or top-two lines; he has a competent goalie option in Mikko Koskinen. Koskinen looked very solid in his 30 minutes in the exhibition game and he had a .929Sv% in 2020.

In his only career start v. Chicago he shut them out stopping all 40 shots.

Blackhawks…

Kubalik-Toews-Saad
Nylander-Strome-Kane
Debrincat-Dach-Quenneville
Highmore-Kampf-Carpenter

Keith-Boqvist
de Haan-Murphy
Maatta-Koekkoek

Crawford

Drake Caggiula has been suspended one game for his head shot on Tyler Ennis. Edmonton produce John Quenneville will draw in. The Oilers have to be more aware of rookie Dominik Kubalik. His five points tied an NHL record with five points in game one of a best-of-five playoff series. Wayne Gretzky did it twice and Bryan Trottier once. Kubalik had an excellent game and he scored his five points in only 13:56 of icetime. Impressive.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers players can’t be worse than they were in game one. They will be better and it will show in first two minutes when they don’t hand odd-man rushes out like adults distribute candy on Halloween. Oilers tie series with a 3-2 win.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers powerplay scores.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: James Neal scores again. He has 32 playoff goals in 105 games. He has more playoff goals than the rest of the Oilers forwards combined. They have 26 in 158 games.

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