Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Day After: There’s seven games in the series, but the Oilers fall in the first

“That’s playoff hockey.”

It was the theme of head coach Dave Tippett’s post-game press conference last night after the Edmonton Oilers fell to the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 in game one of their opening-round series.

Make no mistake though as the score was not indicative of the game. But that’s playoff hockey.

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Despite a leisurely first frame that didn’t see much of anything from either side, the Oilers came out flying in the second period. It was clear that any of those early-game jitters had quickly faded.

“We played well in the second,” said a calm, cool and collected captain Connor McDavid after the game. “I think we had some nerves, some jitters in the first period. We kind of got through them… and I thought we took over the game in the second period.”

Take over the game they did. Edmonton fired 24 shot attempts at Connor Hellbuyck and the Jets generating 1.52 expected goals, and one actual goal — Jesse Puljujarvi’s first-ever in the playoffs.

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He did a fine job of sticking with the puck off a rebound and was able to do what nobody else was last night and capitalize. But that’s playoff hockey.

“It’s playoff hockey, it’s tight,” said Tippett after the game. “They got a break on the winning goal and the first empty-net goal hits the referee and goes in. I think there’s some things we can do better, some execution we can clean up a bit. that’s how it’s going to be, tight hockey.”

That tight hockey was rounded off by an all-world performance from Connor Hellebuyck, last year’s Vezina trophy winner as the top goalie in the league. While the Oilers have made him look like a replacement-level goalie more often than not in the last number of year, last night he stood on his head and shut the door saving 2.09 goals above expected.

And according to moneypuck.com’s “Deserve To Win O’Meter,” Edmonton wins 80.2% of the time in last night’s game.

So yeah, Hellebuyck stole the show.

The Oilers, however, could’ve done a lot of things better and these are things that can easily be fixed come game two.

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They need to be more engaged physically. Beyond a massive Josh Archibald hit on Dylan DeMelo, there wasn’t much notable in that department from the Oilers. They can learn a thing or two by just looking around at the other games.

They need to get bodies to the net. At the time the shot from the point came towards the net on Puljujarvi’s goal, there were three Oilers players hanging in the home plate section of the ice. It led to chaos and it led to Puljujarvi finding some open ice.

Edmonton did a lot of things right, too. They got lots of pucks on the net and consistently applied pressure on Winnipeg players everywhere on the ice. In turn, the Jets fired a mere 22 shots on Mike Smith.

Much like they have all year Edmonton will need to find that next gear and turn it on. The Oilers have been strong this year coming off losses, and last night was one where both McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were held off the scoresheet.

For McDavid, he scored 25 points in 11 games after a loss this season. For Draisaitl, he scored 17 points in 13 games after losses.

Look for them both to come back in a big way in game two.

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  • It’s hard to see other teams around the NHL being able to have some fans in the stands while that’s not yet the case for Canadian teams. I fully respect and support Canada’s push to continue to limit the spread of COVID-19 and think that above all else, safety and health should come first. It’s hard not to think about how much juice fans in the stands could bring to this Oilers lineup.
  • Will there be any lineup changes ahead of game two? Slater Koekkoek and Ethan Bear controlled 80.69 percent of the expected goals last night so I have a hard time seeing either of them come out. I liked the mix of forwards the Oilers ran with last night and I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to take out of the lineup.
  • The Vegas Golden Knights lost game one but won game two. The Pittsburgh Penguins lost game one but won game two. Boston lost game one but has won games two and three. Deep breath, everyone, deep breath.

What they’re saying…

Paul Maurice stayed consistent in his messaging, telling anyone who would listen that the regular season series would mean absolutely nothing when the Stanley Cup playoffs began.

The head coach of the Winnipeg Jets wasn’t discounting the meaning of dropping six consecutive games to the Edmonton Oilers or losing the season series by a decisive 7-2 margin.

He wasn’t ignoring the fact that the Jets had lost six consecutive games to the Oilers and been outscored 21-7 in the process either.

The point Maurice was trying to make was that the Jets knew exactly how they needed to play in order to have success against Connor McDavid and company — even if they didn’t reach the necessary level nearly often enough in the nine prior meetings.

The one thing he was certain of was that the style of game was about to change when the puck dropped in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Discipline gives Jets edge in shutting down Oilers offence
In the North Division opener, the theory proved to be true, with a multitude of unlikely heroes — plus a massive performance from goalie Connor Hellebuyck — playing a big role in giving the Jets a 1-0 series lead after a 4-1 victory on Wednesday night in Edmonton.

Dominic Toninanto, who was limited to two NHL games and another three in the American Hockey League with the Manitoba Moose this season, was inserted onto the fourth line and managed to score the game-winning goal on a nifty redirection after a point shot from Logan Stanley went in and out of the net quickly that it required a video review in Toronto to count.

“Uh, yeah. I thought it was initially in. I actually rose my stick right away but then the play kept going,” said Toninato, who was appearing in his fourth career Stanley Cup playoff game after suiting up in three with the Florida Panthers last August. “I was like, ‘Oh no, now I’m going to look kind of dumb.’ And then, luckily I got back to the bench and the guys said it was in so it was a good feeling.” Sportsnet – Ken Wiebe

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]


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