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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – NHL Playoff Predictions

Happy playoff week, everybody, and welcome to a brand new edition of the Mailbag. As always, I’ve taken the questions that have come in over the past week, relayed them to our writers, and copied and pasted their words of wisdom right here on the ol’ Internet machine for your education and enjoyment. Today, we’re looking at playoff predictions, the Oilers series against the Jets, and a whole lot more. If you’ve got one, email it to me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk and I’ll get to you as soon as we can.

Feb 17, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defensemen Josh Morrissey (44) blocks a shot by Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

1) Clay asks – Now that we know the Oilers are facing the Jets in round one, how do you think these two teams match up and do you think the regular season results matter at all?

Robin Brownlee:

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Of course it matters, at least in the sense of confidence in knowing that if you keep doing the things that provided success in past meetings you will likely have more of the same in this series. The Jets won two of the first three meetings in January and it was all Oilers after that as they won six straight.

Jason Gregor:

The results matter in the sense it showed the Jets struggled to slow down the Oilers. Maybe the Jets will play a different style in the playoffs. I expect them to try and clog up the neutral zone more. I think this is a good matchup for the Oilers, especially with Ehlers out. He generates a lot 5×5 for the Jets. Since April 1st Edmonton has the 5th best P% in the NHL, while the Jets are 21st. I don’t think a team can just turn it on in the playoffs. Edmonton has been a significantly better team for the best six weeks.

Cam Lewis:

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The Oilers certainly should have the confidence going into the series given they beat the Jets six times in a row. Playoffs are a bit of a different beast but that level of dominance during the season does show that one team is better than the other.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think they matter because of how the Oilers beat the Jets. Their defensemen clearly couldn’t keep up with the Oilers speedy forwards and they showed that they can’t slow down Connor McDavid. I don’t think 97’s production against Winnipeg was a fluke. At the same time, I don’t think the Oilers will sweep the Jets and even if they end the series quickly, most of the games will be very tight. The playoffs are a totally different beast and the Jets have a core group of forwards that have been on runs before. That means something.

Baggedmilk:

I think the regular season record matters a little bit because of the head games that come along, but I don’t think it’s going to be a massive thing either. The playoffs are a different animal where anything can happen, and I won’t even be thinking about how the regular season series went by the time game one rolls around.

Apr 26, 2021; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) in the second period at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

2) Anne asks – When it comes to the Oilers vs the Jets in the first round, where do you see Edmonton having an advantage? What about Winnipeg?

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Robin Brownlee:

Edmonton’s advantage starts in goal — which I never thought I’d say — with Mike Smith over Connor Hellebuyck. While Hellebuyck was .916 overall this year the Oilers had his number (.877). Smith (.923) has been on a roll of late, including two wins over the Jets in which he allowed just one goal on 63 shots. The Oilers have more top-end skill in Connor McDavid, who scored 7-15-22 against the Jets, and Leon Draisaitl. They also get more scoring from their blueline with Tyson Barrie and Darnell Nurse and more depth on the back end. Edmonton has slightly better special teams on PP and PK — Edmonton’s PP led the league at 27.6 per cent and was even better than that against the Jets at 29.6. I don’t see a significant edge for the Jets in any area. Jets are also without injured Nikolaj Ehlers, which is a significant loss.

Jason Gregor:

Oilers have best two scorers. They have the best D-man, the best offensive D-man and I think their overall defence is better.
Jets bottom six forwards are better.

Smith has had a great season, but so has Hellebuyck. Jets have advantage in goal.

Cam Lewis:

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Winnipeg has the better goalie in Connor Hellebuyck but that’s probably as far as I would go in terms of advantages on their side. I think the Oilers are better coached, have better star power, and a stronger blueline. The Jets might have more quality depth on offence but that’s mitigated by the fact they can’t shut down Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. All Edmonton’s bottom-six has to do is not get scored on.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

The Jets have better depth and if Hellebuyck goes on a heater, they’ll have the edge between the pipes as well. The Oilers have the better blueline and they much better high-end skill. Also, the Oilers have a firm advantage when it comes to special teams. Since April 1st, both their PK and PP are the best in the NHL. That’s very important in a playoff series.

Baggedmilk:

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are a clear advantage for the Oilers. Connor Hellebuyck at his best would be an advantage for the Jets but whether or not he gets there is another question entirely, especially since the Oilers owned him this year. To me, a big part of this series will be seeing how the bottom-six players match up and are able to chip in with some offence.

Mar 3, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Jujhar Khaira (16) during the game between the Stars and the Oilers at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

3) James in Peterborough asks – The Oilers’ bottom-six could be a difference-maker in the club’s playoff run. If healthy, who do you see on the 3rd and 4th lines when the playoffs begin?

Robin Brownlee:

“If healthy” can change things a lot. If Yamamoto is ready to go on the second line, I see Neal-McLeod-Chiasson and Shore-Khaira-Archibald. Gaetan Haas and Joakim Nygard played against Vancouver and can jump into that mix if needed.

Jason Gregor:

Neal-McLeod-Chiasson
Shore-Khaira-Archibald

When Kassian returns, I could see Shore coming out, Archibald sliding over to LW.

Cam Lewis:

I liked Neal, Khaira, and Chiasson together last summer as a big guy unit that could crash and bang. I would also like to see Tyler Ennis in the lineup, so maybe Ennis, McLeod, and Archibald would be the trio to go with. Both of those lines could chip in offensively.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I would keep the Neal-McLeod-Chiasson line together. I like the look of that trio and I think they have the ability to put together strong games in a playoff atmosphere. On the fourth line, you need to keep both Archibald and Khaira in the lineup. If Kassian is healthy, I would play him. If he’s not, then I would have Devin Shore in. Tyler Ennis only draws in if you need to take Dominik Kahun out of the lineup.

Baggedmilk:

I keep Neal – McLeod – Chiasson together and I think Tippett will probably have Shore – Khaira – Archibald as a unit as well. Personally, I’d like to see Tyler Ennis in there somewhere but I don’t know where he fits despite my trying to crowbar his name in there somewhere.

Mar 15, 2021; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson (6) skates against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

4) Dale asks – Who has been the most underrated Oiler this season? We all know Connor McDavid is the team’s MVP, but who would you say has been a major piece that doesn’t get his due?

Robin Brownlee:

I like Josh Archibald. He’s a tough little player who can chip in offensively and move up and down the line-up. He’s built for playoff hockey because he’s relentless and ready to pay the price.

Jason Gregor:

Adam Larsson. Plays a ton of hard, defensive zone start minutes.

Cam Lewis:

That’s a tough question. I think Oilers fans are good about pumping the tires of virtually everyone on the roster when things are going well. You can give a nod to Darnell Nurse for shouldering Oscar Klefbom’s minutes and being very good, Mike Smith for being an ace in net, or a bottom-six guy like Josh Archibald or Jujhar Khaira for their defensive work.

But I think the guy is Adam Larsson, who put together his best season in Edmonton since 2016-17. He’s been a rock this year on Edmonton’s blueline and many are suggesting his next contract should come in lower than what Radko Gudas and Dylan DeMelo signed for last fall.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

People are starting to come around on Adam Larsson, which is great to see. I also think there is too much negative talk surrounding Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Also, despite his slow start, Ethan Bear has seemingly returned to the form we saw at the beginning of last season. I think some people soured on Bear early on this year and never gave him a fair chance after that. He’s been very good in the second half of the season.

Baggedmilk:

I think Adam Larsson quietly put together a fine season for himself that deserves some props. The guy plays tough minutes every single night and has really done a fine job with the task as the season wore on.

5) Old School Fool asks – The playoff picture is now set: Who ya got for Final Four? Champ? Dark Horse?

Robin Brownlee:

I’ve got EDM-CAR and BOS-COL as final four. I’ve got COL as the champ. With Kucherov and Stamkos back, I can see Tampa Bay taking another run at things.

Jason Gregor:

I have Boston, Vegas, Carolina and Toronto. I do think Edmonton can beat Toronto though. In fact I could easily go 0-for-4 as I think Colorado, Tampa, Florida, Washington could all be in the final four. The playoffs will be wild. I can’t wait.

Cam Lewis:

I’ve got Vegas coming out of the West, Florida coming out of the Central, the Islanders coming out of the East, and, unfortunately, Toronto coming out of the North. Vegas beats the NYI, Florida beats Toronto. Vegas beats Florida.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

My final four is Edmonton, Colorado, Pittsburgh, and Carolina. My dark horse team is the Bruins (a lot of people picking the Caps over them). I also think the Habs might knock off the Leafs.

Baggedmilk:

My final four is Edmonton (have to!), Vegas, Pittsburgh, and Carolina. Doable? I think so.

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