Ugly, pretty, dominant or lucky. In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter how you win, just as long as you win. The NHL playoffs are not fair. They are ruthless, heartless, invigoration and frustrating.
In game one of the North division semi-final the Edmonton Oilers outshot and out-chanced the Winnipeg Jets, but they didn’t win. It was a missed opportunity.
The Jets played without Nik Ehler and Pierre-Luc Dubois, two of their top-six forwards, but they found a way to win. Edmonton won on the stats sheet, but not on the ice where it matters most.
Edmonton outshot the Jets 32-20 at 5×5.
They had 13 shots from the slot to Winnipeg’s seven.
Edmonton had a 2.98 Expected goals to Winnipeg’s 1.38 at 5×5.
The Oilers had the only powerplay.
Edmonton didn’t play bad, but I don’t think they played great either. They allowed Winnipeg to control the style of play. Edmonton’s best asset is creating offence off the rush. They didn’t do enough of that last night. In the first 40 minutes Winnipeg had four scoring chances off the rush while the Oilers only had two. Edmonton had more shots, and more chances, but I don’t believe they dominated the game or played to their strengths.
Winnipeg found a way to win when Logan Stanley fired a point shot and Dominic Toninato deflected it home for the go-ahead goal, and eventual game winner, midway through the third period. There wasn’t an egregious breakdown on the play. Toninato made two plays and it gave the Jets the win.
Both teams had a cautious approach in the first period. Josh Archibald injected some energy when he hammered Dylan Demelo with a hard, clean hit with 14 minutes into the first frame and that seemed to wake up both teams. The pace picked up and each team had a good scoring chance late in the first period. The shots were 6-6 after 20 minutes with no goals.
In the second period Edmonton opened the scoring when Tyson Barrie fired a shot on goal, but it hit a group of players in front and then Jesse Puljujarvi knocked down the puck and fired it home for his first playoff goal. The play started when Dominik Kahun stripped the Jets defender of the puck. Not an egregious error by the Jets, but one that allowed the Oilers to score.
A few minutes later Tucker Poolman entered the Oilers zone, made a drop pass to Blake Wheeler and went to the net. Wheeler snapped a shot that hit Mike Smith in the chest, and Smith went to clear the rebound away with his stick, missed it and Poolman slid home the rebound for his first playoff goal. Again no egregious errors anywhere.
Edmonton outshot the Jets 16-8 in the second, but managed only one shot on their powerplay and the Jets hung around.
In the third Tonitato won a 50/50 puck battle behind the Oilers net, pushed it to Nate Thompson who slid it to Stanley at the point. After Tonitato won the battle he went to the front of the net and was rewarded with a deflection goal. Again, no major egregious error by the Oilers, but Tonitato beat Ethan Bear in a 50/50 puck battle to keep the play alive.
As Dave Tippett said, “that is playoff hockey.” The game was close. The Jets got a deflection goal while the Oilers were unable to capitalize on their chances.
Game over. Oilers lose.
Having more shots, more shot attempts and more scoring chances is a positive, and if you do that enough in the regular season you will win more than you lose. But in the playoffs, it is a sprint not a marathon. You need results, and last night the Oilers wasted a solid effort.
The Oilers didn’t play poorly. Not at all, but they settled for playing more of how Winnipeg wanted rather than forcing the Jets to adapt to their style.
Edmonton can’t get down. It is one game. They lost game one to San Jose in 2017 and won the series. Many teams have lost game one of a series. But the harsh truth of the NHL playoffs is the Oilers can’t waste another decent effort. In the regular season if you play well often enough, you will get rewarded. In the playoffs you have a much shorter runway to pick up speed, and while the Oilers will do their best to forget about game one the pressure to win will increase.
“The pressure will be there for both teams, but I think it is there a bit more for the favourites,” said Ray Ferraro on my radio show yesterday. “They (the favourites) think things should go their way, and if the Jets win a game early then Edmonton will feel the pressure more.”
Emotions run higher in the playoffs, but the teams who do the best job to control the emotional peaks and valleys have a better chance to win. The Oilers shouldn’t feel bad about how they played, but they can play better. They need to dictate how the game is going to be played.
Many have mentioned the need for depth scoring. The Jets got a timely goal from an unlikely source in Toninato, which was huge, and Edmonton will need one of their bottom six forwards to chip in as well. That is a fair statement. Edmonton will need a few timely goals from bottom six players this series.
At the same time to in order to win a series or go deep your best players need to produce. A surprise sniper, like Fernando Pisani, in 2006 is great, but he was also sixth on the team in goals in the regular season. He obviously got ridiculously hot in the playoffs, but he’d been a reliable and consistent scorer in the regular season. But those types of surprise hot-streaks are rare.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will need to produce for Edmonton to win. And they will need to produce more than anyone else, because they are the most skilled. And they don’t have to produce three points each, because the Oilers didn’t give up much defensively in game one. And for the past three months they are near the top in goals against.
I don’t see the need to panic. Edmonton didn’t play poorly, they just didn’t play well enough to win.
They need to create more off the rush. Their D-men need to get more pucks through from the blueline, and the forwards need to get in front of net, either at the top of the crease, or in the slot for deflections. Edmonton’s defensive game was solid. The didn’t give the Jets much. Continue that and become more assertive offensively and the Oilers will have a better chance to win game two.
They can’t waste another opportunity tomorrow night.
First goal playoffs, next up: Mission Stanley. Grab your #MISSIONSTANLEY tee here.
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