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The Day After: Oilers will look to regain ground on the road

The good: through two games at 5×5, the Oilers have controlled 58 percent of the shot attempts and 57.95 percent of the expected goals.

The bad: the Oilers have only scored one goal in two games.

The ugly: after a 1-0 OT loss last night, they now need to hit the road and claw back into the series.

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While the ugly is being down 2-0 in the series, Edmonton was the best team on the road this year. They tied for first in the league in terms of their road record posting a 19-7-2. They scored the seventh most goals per game with 3.21 and tied for the third-fewest goals against per game with 2.46.

In those games, the Oilers found ways to get leads and hold onto them. They played a total of 1688:22 on the road this year and led for 692:06 — more than when tied (637:18) or trailing (359:58).

For the Oilers as a whole, they spent the fifth least about of time in tie games (1074:35). It’s one facet of the game the team clearly hasn’t had as much experience as other areas, and undoubtedly an area their working on.

But for head coach Dave Tippett and his team, they’re already focused on game three.

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“You have to just keep pounding away,” said Tippett. “We had some tight opportunities. It’s a tight game, you have to find a way to will one in the net.

“They’ve got a couple breaks and we haven’t got any breaks. Both goaltenders played well.”

Right on all counts. The lone goal of the game was shot by Paul Stastny 43-feet away from the net before it appeared to bounce off Adam Larsson and in. Two nights prior both Jets non-empty net goals — scored by Tucker Poolman and an unknown Dominic Toninato — both took bounces and in.

And as Tippett said Wednesday, “that’s playoff hockey.”

The Oilers are doing lots of right things but just aren’t getting the results. Their red-hot powerplay went 0/3, and superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl both were held off the scoresheet for a second consecutive game.

Tippett tried multiple things that kicked off with the pair playing alongside Jesse Puljujarvi before mixing things up as the team looked for a spark.

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“We dug ourselves a bit of a hole,” said McDavid. “Both games could’ve gone either way. We’ve been a good road team and had success in (their) building as well and we’ve been good on back-to-backs. Something we can be positive about, I thought our battle level was great.”

And now, he knows the Oilers need to find a way to break through offensively.

“Our desperation has to get up. We have to be hungry around the net, there’s some loose pucks laying there waiting to be put in the net and we have to send them on their way.”

The confidence in themselves, however, isn’t lost.

“I think tonight we did a better job of getting bodies around the net, getting some more opportunities — that’s how we got our goal this series,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “We got to find a way to breakthrough. The confidence in the room is still there to do that.”

Backhanders…

  • Jesse Puljujarvi looked great once again. He’s absolutely built for playoff hockey and doesn’t look out of place whatsoever.
  • It’s hard to be critical of McDavid and Draisaitl, but for an Oilers team that struggles to score when they aren’t on the ice, the superstars need to find a way to breakthrough. The pressure is on.
  • Despite the Oilers not generating a lot of offence, the team has looked really strong defensively. I thought the Oilers have done a very good job of limiting the Jets’ ability to gain and hold offensive zone time with the puck. It’s one reason I’m still confident in the Oilers.
  • Look for Nik Ehlers to potentially come back into the Jets’ lineup Sunday. Reading the tea leaves, it seems like he might be able to return from shoulder injury. He would be a huge boost to their forward group.

What they’re saying…

Connor Hellebuyck has made his case to make room on the marquee.

Right now, he’s got the billboard all to himself.

In a series that features plenty of star power, it is the Winnipeg Jets goalie that’s been shining brightest.

Thanks to his latest virtuoso performance, which included a 38-save shutout in the 1-0 triumph, the Jets hold a commanding 2-0 lead in the Smythe Division reunion battle with the Edmonton Oilers.

No, this isn’t a simple one-man show.

It’s an outstanding defensive commitment by an entire team.

But Hellebuyck, who has turned aside 70 of 71 shots he’s faced in this series, is doing more than simply giving his teammates an opportunity to win.

He’s back to playing at a Vezina Trophy level and that’s exactly what the Jets need from him right now.

“He’s the reason we have a chance. He’s the reason we are a playoff team and the reason we have confidence every time we go out there,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “You just can’t say enough about having a guy who you believe is going to stop every shot. And when one does go in, you just kind of say, ‘Well, that was lucky.’ It’s such a great confidence boost for the group where you don’t feel like you have to play perfect hockey.

“I think that’s probably what he would say, that it’s his job to clean up our mistakes. It just gives guys so much confidence to go out there and play with a little bit more freedom, a little bit more confidence knowing that if I make the wrong play at the wrong time, I got a guy back there that can bail me out.” – Ken Wiebe, Sportsnet


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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