For the first time this season the Edmonton Oilers are in a legitimate must-win situation. Lose tonight and their season is over. Win, and they return to Edmonton for game seven on Saturday night. They know the situation, and if they want to avoid another disappointing first-round upset they will need a focused effort right from the opening faceoff.
The lack of desperation and emotion early in games has been perplexing. The Oilers know it has been an issue, but they’ve yet to figure out how to match the effort of the Kings in the first period. It has to be a mental hurdle. Physically they have shown they can compete with the Kings when they decide to move their feet and be aggressive, but for reasons unexplained, they have struggled to find their skating legs early in games.
After consecutive 6-0 and 8-2 victories, the Oilers looked to be in control of the series, but in the subsequent 121 minutes of hockey the Kings have been the much better team. They’ve outscored the Oilers 9-4, including 7-1 at even strength. The Oilers have one goal at 5×5, one shorthanded marker and two on the man advantage over the last 121 minutes of hockey.
The Oilers have played 15:23 on the PK and 97:15 at EV the past two games and have the same number of goals in each situation. They have two goals in 8:34 of PP time.
That is great for their special teams, but awful for the 80% of the game that was played at even strength. The most disappointing factor for the Oilers the past two games, was that they showed in games two and three they can overwhelm the Kings at even strength. They outscored them 9-1. It wasn’t realistic to expect that sort of domination to continue, but to have it go the opposite direction has been disappointing.
The Oilers’ special teams have been better all series. If the Oilers can just play the Kings even at 5×5 then their odds of winning increase significantly.
The Kings are 2-for-20 on the power play, but the Oilers have two shorthanded goals. So the Oilers’ PK is a net 100%.
Edmonton is 7-for-17 on the man advantage (41.7%). They’ve scored two PP goals in three of the five games.
Edmonton has a clear advantage on special teams, and they need to continue that tonight, but they have to find the 5×5 success they had for 38 games in the regular season with Jay Woodcroft.
In those 38 games, the Oilers outscored teams 93-73 at 5×5. They were fifth in 5×5 GF/game at 2.44 and tied for sixth in goals against/game at 1.86. Meanwhile, LA was 28th in GF/GP at 1.94 and 20th in GA/GP at 2.22.
They proved for 38 games with Woodcroft they could defend and produce. But that’s disappeared, especially in the past two games.
The Oilers and Kings each have 11 goals at 5×5 in the series, but in the three losses, the Oilers have been outscored 10-2 at 5×5. So in 60% of the games, they have struggled to produce and defend at 5×5. They need to rediscover that commitment to detail and willingness to execute they had since the middle of February. And in the playoffs, you need a consistent willingness to be uncomfortable. Edmonton has shown that recently.
The Oilers’ defencemen haven’t been physically engaged nearly enough the past two games.
In game four they had three D-men with zero hits. In game five they had four D-men with zero hits. Four D-men with zero hits. That is stunning to me.
The LA Kings, who won both games, had a total of 27 hits from their defenders. Mikey Anderson had five in each game.
How is it possible in consecutive playoff games for your entire defence corps to have a total of 13 hits? Connor McDavid has more hits, six, in the past two games than any Oilers defender!
I recognize the Oilers aren’t the most physical group, but in the playoffs successful teams win because players are willing to do whatever it takes to win. I don’t expect the Oilers blueliners to suddenly play like Bryan Marchment or Craig Muni and hammer guys all over the ice, but show some willingness to at least make life more difficult for the Kings forwards. Pressure them, get in their face and make contact.
In games four and five the Kings controlled much of the play, yet the Oilers’ defenders didn’t get in their face. You don’t have to run guys through the boards, but to have four D-men with zero hits illustrates to me the team wasn’t willing to be uncomfortable and didn’t match the intensity of the Kings’ forwards.
The entire team needs to be fully devoted to playing smart, fast, and without hesitation.
Draisaitl – McDavid – Yamamoto
Kane – RNH – Hyman
Archibald – McLeod – Puljujarvi
Foegele – Ryan – Kassian
Kulak – Ceci
Keith – Bouchard
Russell – Barrie
Those were the lines and D pairs at the morning skate, but I’m not completely sold they will start 12-6. I still think there is a good chance they will go 11-7 and dress Philip Broberg. It gives them more options on the defence and more ice time for the best forwards and a few different combinations.
Edmonton has to win the game, and the best 5×5 combo they have is Draisaitl with McDavid. I’d play them 23+ minutes. The difference is this season, compared to the previous two playoff years, is they have a legit second line with Kane and Hyman flanking RNH. No reason that line can’t match either of LA’s top lines.
I think the bottom six combinations will depend on who is playing well. It is about tonight. Not tomorrow, not next season, not development. They need to win and Woodcroft has to play who is playing the best regardless of name, age, experience or contract.
And same with the defence pairs. Keith and Bouchard need a bounce-back game and play like they did in the first three games of the series. Kulak will play a larger role with Nurse sitting out his suspension, and Kulak has the ability to excel in that role for one game.
Athanasiou – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Iafallo
Grundstrom – Lizotte – Brown
Lemieux – Kupari – Kaliyev
Anderson – Roy
Edler – Stetcher
Maatta – Durzi
The Kings are likely sticking with the same lineup, as they should. They have controlled the play at 5×5 and if they do again tonight, they will have a great chance of wrap up the series on home ice.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton does in game six what the Kings did in game four. They rebound after two sub-par performances and win 4-3.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers score a power play goal.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Josh Archibald scores his second career playoff goal.
THE GAME 6 VIEWING PARTY
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