Usually, the NHL playoffs begin on a Wednesday and all the series either start that night, or the Thursday, and the odd time two days later on the Friday. This is not a normal season, and due to games being postponed the North division won’t enter the playoff Thunderdome until Wednesday and Thursday. The Oilers and Jets begin battle Wednesday while the Toronto and Montreal start Thursday.
That means four and five days of watching other teams turn up the intensity, and when the puck drops Wednesday I expect Edmonton and Winnipeg to be frothing at the mouth.
“I’m a fan of the playoffs,” said Mike Smith. “The Tampa-Florida game was one of the best playoff games I’ve ever seen on TV. You can’t help but get excited. I can’t wait for Wednesday.”
Hockey players are fans like you. They watch the games, and their intensity will only build over the next few days waiting for puck drop.
The Oilers practiced at the Downtown Community rink today. This allows media to be closer to the ice than where we sit at Rogers Place, and that closer proximity might have played a part, but I could see and feel the playoff focus in practice. There weren’t many missed passes today. The drills were quick, precise and accurate.
The focus was heightened.
Based on today’s line rushes this looks like the roster for game one:
Zack Kassian skated with Kyle Turris and Tyler Ennis, and there is a chance he might he ready for game one.
Kris Russell was paired with Caleb Jones. Russell is getting closer, and when healthy he could draw in for Koekkoek. Koekkoek played his first game in three months on Saturday, and Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair will go with a more experienced, reliable defender in game one. You could argue Jones has better puck skills, but Koekkoek is a better defender at this stage of their careers. Jones was sporting a slick, greasy moustache. That alone should get him consideration to play. Tippett said don’t read too much into the lines and pairings, so maybe they’ll change, but that could easily be him trying to have the Jets second guessing the lineup. Ultimately I don’t think it will matter to Winnipeg. They aren’t going to change their game plan based on who is the third pairing left defender. I think it will be Koekkoek or Russell starting game one.
Phillip Broberg, Joakim Nygard, William Lagesson, Patrick Russell, Gaetan Haas and Alex Stalock were not on the ice with the main group. They skated on their own after. Broberg came on late in practice to watch the five-on-five battle drill that was happening late in practice.
Here is a short sample of a drill they did.
One area Edmonton didn’t excel last year in the bubble was battles in front of the net (at both ends). Started line rushes with those today. Has been an area of focus all season. pic.twitter.com/1FTUKJCrdn
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) May 17, 2021
They started each rush with three or four pucks being shot in. The goal for the forwards was to control the rebound and try and make a play or get a good shot off, while the defenders tried to stop them. Edmonton struggled at both ends with these types of battles against Chicago. The Blackhawks scored a lot of goals on deflections and from in close. Edmonton needs to limit those, while also finding ways to score more ugly goals.
Look for the top two lines to have more bodies around the net than we saw in the regular season. The Oilers learned a painful lesson last year, and they will be better for it. Many teams have had those tough lessons, and returned the next playoffs with better performances. I expect the same from this group, especially because Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse are even better players than they were last year.
EARLY PLAYOFF NOTES…
What a wild weekend. The first three playoff games went to OT, while Brayden Point scored the game winner for Tampa Bay with 1:14 remaining in the third period of the fourth game. It was awesome.
It is very early, but teams scoring first are 4-0.
Teams with more shots are 2-2.
Teams with more hits are 3-1.
Teams that won more faceoffs are 1-3.
Teams that held the lead for the most minutes in the game are 1-2. Minnesota never led until scoring in OT, so it never played with a lead.
Florida led for a total of 17:18, while Tampa had the lead a total of 9:49.
The Islanders led for 3:43 seconds, while Pittsburgh led for 19:46.
Washington led for a total of 14:42.
The first four games were very close from start to finish.
Then Penguins and Islanders each had eight players play over 20 minutes in game one. Kris Letang was the only player so far to play aver 30 minutes as he logged 32:26.
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