Finally. The 2021 NHL playoffs arrive in Canada as Edmonton and Winnipeg begin their first round series tonight. After four evenings of watching the American divisions do battle, the Oilers and Jets are even more amped up to get going. Players on both sides admitted the wait intensified their excitement and I expect both teams to come out flying tonight.
— You might see Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois tonight. Paul Maurice said they will be a game-time announcement. The biggest benefit of gambling becoming more mainstream and legal, is that the NHL’s secretive nature when it comes to lineups will no longer be tolerated by their betting partners. Edmonton’s game plan will not change whether Ehlers is playing or not. Same with Dubois. I look forward to the days when lineups are announced the morning of games.
— Hat tip to Boston head coach Bruce Cassidy’s approach. “Why I’m open a little more is just the way I’m wired, I guess,” said Cassidy. “Here’s our lineup. May the best team win.” Bang on.
— Winnipeg stumbled into the playoffs going 3-7 in their last 10 games. Its PP was a dreadful 8% and it was a main reason they lost. Its PK was 80.5%, allowing five powerplay goals and only scoring two. The Jets powerplay really missed Ehlers. If he returns tonight, I suspect it will be easier for him to make an immediate impact on the PP.
— The Jets man advantage was eighth best in the regular season and its PK was 13th at 80.5%. The PK hovered around 80% most of the season. Edmonton’s PK has been outstanding for the second half of the season. They finished the season at 82.5% (ninth) overall, but in the last 25 games their PK is 92.5%. They only allowed five goals on 64 kills. If their PK remains hot they will have a great chance to win this series.
— Meanwhile, Edmonton’s powerplay finished first for the second consecutive season. Their PP has been #1 by a large margin over the past two seasons at 28.6%. Boston, St. Louis and Carolina were tied for second at 23.8%. The Oilers PP has been almost 5% better than every other team. That is a massive advantage and I don’t see why their PP will suddenly struggle. They only went more than two games without a powerplay goal twice all season. They went 0-for-9 over five games between March 18th to 30th and 0-for-6 over four games between February 27th-March 6th. It only struggled when they didn’t get many powerplays. Edmonton was ninth with 3.11 powerplays/game. Winnipeg was very disciplined sitting seventh with only 2.66 penalty kills/game. However, in nine games head-to-head the Oilers averaged 3.00 powerplays/game.
— James Neal has 33 career playoff goals in 108 games. The other 11 Oilers forwards dressed tonight have 28 goals combined. He is in the lineup because he scores goals. He has 24 goals in his previous 82 NHL games. He had two goals in four playoff games last season in the bubble. Many continually mention his speed, but not everyone has to be a burner to succeed in the NHL. Neal has great hands, especially in close, and he has a nasty edge that matches well with playoff hockey.
— Zack Kassian returns to the lineup for the first time since he was injured on his first shift against Montreal on April 21st. He needs to play like he did in his first few games when he returned from his broken hand/finger in March. He was engaged. He was physical. He chipped in offensively and he was using his speed to create chaos. He can’t feel his way into the series. He needs to be intense and involved. If he is, he has the ability to change the momentum.
— Very few of us, me included, mention the Adam Larsson injury in the playoffs last year. He didn’t play in games three and four. He was missed. He’s been very good for the Oilers this season, and his importance to their success can’t be overlooked. Since February 1st the Oilers are fifth in GA/game at 2.47. He’s been a major factor in that.
— The Oilers blueline led the NHL with 33 goals. Darnell Nurse (16) and Tyson Barrie (8) were the main leaders, and the blueline needs to continue to be a factor offensively. Barrie and Nurse were third and fourth in Oilers scoring. Edmonton was the only team in the NHL to have two D-men in the top-four. People complaining about Barrie’s second assists need to recognize that the top-six wingers in Edmonton didn’t produce enough as a group and should be thankful Barrie led the NHL in scoring for defenceman. Adam Fox, who finished second, had three fewer second assists, but Barrie had three more goals. So the “second assist” complaint is rather hollow in my eyes.
The six defenders in the lineup tonight have a combined six playoff goals. Adam Larsson leads with three, and that trend can’t continue in this series if the Oilers expect to win.
— This will be the last time I mention the Oilers/Blackhawk series this year, since it is in the past. The Oilers actually started well in most of those games. Connor McDavid scored 2:34 into game one. He scored :19 into game two, while Josh Archibald scored :45 into game four, but Edmonton lost games one and four. Chicago scored first in game three at 9:14, but Leon Draisaitl tied the game 28 seconds later. The Oilers actually led 3-2 going into the third in that game, but lost. Edmonton was unable to hold onto leads in that series, and I expect a better killer instinct this year.
— The Oilers were 19-3-1 when leading after the first period and 26-1-2 when leading after the second this season. They also had the fourth most wins (7) when trailing after the first period and were tied for sixth with four wins when trailing after two periods. The Jets were 16-3-2 when leading after one frame and 19-1-2 when leading after four minutes. They had the third most wins (8) when trailing after the first period and were tied with the Oilers for sixth with four wins when trailing after 40 minutes. Both teams were top five in the NHL in combined wins when trailing after the first or second, so neither team should sit back when holding a lead.
— In their nine game series, the Oilers scored first six times and were 5-1. Edmonton was 2-1 when Winnipeg scored first.
— Edmonton outscored the Jets in all three periods: 10-8 in the first, 14-6 in the second and 10-8 in the third. Edmonton used the long change to their advantage. Something to watch for this series.
— Edmonton was 8-for-27 (29.6%) on the powerplay and scored a PP goal in five of the nine games. Three times they had two powerplay goals in a game. Winnipeg went 6-for-24 (25%) with the man advantage and scored one powerplay goal in six of the nine games.
— Edmonton’s penalty kill was good all season despite being 26th in PK faceoff% at 42.9%. They were 18th in allowing a shot on goal after a faceoff loss. They did a decent job of not allowing shots considering how many faceoffs they lost. The interesting stat is that the Oilers were eighth in the NHL in clean zone exits after a faceoff win. When they actually won a draw they were good at getting it out (63.9%). Winnipeg was fifth best in the NHL in powerplay faceoff wins at 62.2%. In their last 25 games, when the PK was 92.5%, they won 45.1% of PK faceoffs (16th).
—Edmonton won the last six meetings against the Jets and outscored them 26-7. Winnipeg won 6-5 on February 15th and 6-4 on January 26th, while the Oilers won the first meeting 4-3. Since February 17th the Oilers dominated the Jets and if the Oilers can get an early lead tonight you wonder if doubt starts to creep into the mind of the Jets’ players. Edmonton won the last six meetings by scores of 3-2, 2-1, 4-2, 3-0, 6-1 and 3-1. They stifled the Jets offence. Winnipeg only scored three goals at 5×5 in those six losses.
— Connor Hellebuyck was 2-5 with a .877Sv% and 3.96 GAA against the Oilers this season, while Mike Smith was technically 4-0 (he was pulled once and got a no decision) with a .936sv% and 2.06 GAA.
First goal playoffs, next up: Mission Stanley. Grab your #MISSIONSTANLEY tee here.
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