Now that game one of the series between the Oilers and Jets is in the books and our boys find themselves down by one, I have a few thoughts rolling around in my head that will need some answers as we go along here.
It goes without saying that Connor McDavid had a ridiculous 2021 season — what else can you say about 105 points in 56 games — and I’m not at all worried that the Jets will be able to keep him off the board for any length of time. In the nine games against the Jets, McDavid put up a ridiculous 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) and I’d bet a huge chunk of Paul Maurice’s week has been spent trying to figure out what he can do to stop this level of production from happening again, and while the plan worked in game one, I have serious doubts that the Jets will be able to keep this going. With the likelihood of angry McDavid rolling into game two reaching peak levels, I foresee a long night for some of the defenders that are probably feeling pretty good about themselves today. I’m betting on a multi-point outing in game two.
On Wednesday night, I don’t think the Oilers did enough to make Connor Hellebuyck’s life difficult and that’s a correction that I hope we see in game two. When a goalie like Hellebuyck is dialled in then I think a big part of the game plan has to be to get more traffic in front of him to try and make his job more difficult. While the Oilers did a good job of firing pucks on net in game one, many of them came with a clear view for the goaltender and that’s not a winning recipe when you’re up against a reigning Vezina winner. Now, I’m not saying that I have all of the answers here, but I do think that the Oilers need to do a better job of creating a little bit of chaos around the net to look for some garbage goals rather than always trying to connect on the perfect play. If you look at the first two goals the Jets scored yesterday, they both came from ripping shots through traffic and finding ways to either grab a rebound or get a stick in the lane for a deflection. Dave Tippett talked about how playoff hockey gets way tighter than what we see in the regular season and it will be up to the boys to adjust and find new ways of creating offence, especially when they’re going up against a goalie that can steal games on his own.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
If we’re going to operate under the assumption that the refs won’t be calling anything outside of decapitation, it will be even more important for the Oilers to win the special teams battle on a nightly basis. In game one, the boys only got one chance with the man advantage but they weren’t able to get anything done with it apart from killing two minutes off the clock, and it was frustrating to see the league’s best regular-season powerplay look so disjointed and out of sync. That said, I don’t think Winnipeg will be able to keep the PP off the board forever, but if the refs are going to run with prison rules then the Oilers will need to make sure they’re cashing in on the few opportunities they do get.
A problem we’ve been talking about for years around here, the Oilers will need to get more offence out of their bottom-six if they’re going to be able to make some noise in the playoffs. The Jets were able to get two huge goals from Poolman and Toniato that ended up being the difference, and we’re going to need our third and fourth lines to find ways to match. I don’t have to remind anyone here how the Oilers were 2-7 in games when neither McDavid nor Draisaitl got on the board, and since those two guys are likely to be checked hard throughout the playoffs, we’re going to need some heroes to emerge from lower in the lineup. We know that Connor and Leon are eventually going to get their points, but we need to see the surrounding cast chip in a little more often than the frequency of a lunar eclipse. Now is the time for someone to come up with their Fernando Pisani moment, but the clock is ticking if we’re going to make that happen.
I KNOW LOSING SUCKS BUT THERE’S A LONG WAY TO GO
One thing that kinda surprised me after the loss was how defeated some Oilers fans were despite there being 1000 miles left to go in this series. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as bummed out as anyone reading this that Edmonton wasn’t able to grab the first game in this series, but I’m lightyears away from folding the tent up and going home. Based on some of the comments in the Wrap Up, many of us seemed to expect that winning in the playoffs was going to be easy or something, which made it interesting to see how differently we all saw the same game. Personally, I thought the Oilers had a slow start, responded with a strong second period, but just couldn’t match Winnipeg’s intensity in the final frame. And while the loss certainly stings, I just cannot agree with some of your takes that the team was awful because I saw a team that easily could have won had they gotten a bounce. To me, it also made sense to look at the second period and tip my cap to Hellebuyck for shutting the door the way he did because the Oilers had plenty of chances to extend their lead but they just couldn’t get anything to go — that’s playoff life sometimes. The good news is that we get a chance to respond tomorrow night, and if our boys can control the play the way they did for much of the game while also getting in the goalie’s kitchen a little bit more, then I think we’re going to be alright. Besides, maybe a little adversity is exactly what McDavid and the boys needed to get the engines firing. Remember, the Oilers dropped the first game of their series against the Sharks in 2017 and everything turned out fine from there.
First goal playoffs, next up: Mission Stanley. Grab your #MISSIONSTANLEY tee here.