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Game Notes G6: Oilers Need a Good Start

Slow starts have plagued the Edmonton Oilers in this series. Even in the two games they won, they didn’t overwhelm the Kings early on. The Kings dominated the first period in games four and five, took a lead and ultimately won the game. Edmonton has yet to be the better team through the first 20 minutes of a game. Tonight would be a good time to reverse that trend.

— “The answer lies in the room,” said Leon Draisaitl after their game five loss. “We’ve got to come out a little harder. We’ve got to come out with our skating legs underneath us. We haven’t had that the last couple of games. Really, not in any games in the series.”

— He is bang on about the Oilers rarely having a good start. They were up 2-0 in the first six minutes of game three, but they were outshot 19-7 in the first frame and Mike Smith helped them get out of the period with a lead.

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In the first periods of this series, the Oilers have been outscored 5-2 and outshot 85-47. In the past two games, they were outshot 36-15 in the first period and down 3-0. You can’t expect to win regularly when you aren’t ready to play to start the game. This is a team issue, not one or two individuals. The LA Kings are well aware of the Oilers’ first period struggles, and they should be amped up to start the game. Edmonton needs to match their emotion and intensity.

— Scoring first will also help. Teams who score first are 29-10 in the playoffs. Western Conference teams are 18-1 when scoring first. Scoring first won’t guarantee victory tonight, but it significantly increases the chance of winning. Mainly, the Oilers just need to be ready from the opening faceoff.

— Thanks to @ryan_nutz for sending me a note that the Oilers have lost 10 consecutive one-goal games in the playoffs. Not great. They’ve lost two to the Kings, three in OT to the Jets, two to Chicago, and three to Anaheim. Their last one-goal victory was game two in Anaheim (2-1) on April 28th, 2017. Since then the Oilers are 4-14 in the playoffs with 10 losses by one goal, two by two goals, one by three goals and one by four.

Their four victories were 7-1, 6-3, 8-0 and 6-2. The Oilers need to learn to stay composed in tight games and find a way to win close games.

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— The Oilers are 4-3 all-time in game six when trailing a series 3-2.

1981: Lost game six 5-2 v. the Islanders.
1986: Won game six 5-2 @ Calgary. (Lost game seven at home).
1990: Won game six 4-3 @ Winnipeg. (Won game seven at home).
1998: Won game six 2-0 v. Colorado. (Won game seven @ Colorado).
2001: Lost game six 3-1 v. Dallas.
2003: Lost game six 3-2 v. Dallas.
2006: Won games six 4-0 v. Carolina. (Lost game seven @ Carolina).

The Oilers are 2-0 on the road in game six when trailing 3-2. Can they remain undefeated in this situation?

— It is fair to ask why Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson started Brett Kulak and Duncan Keith as a pair in overtime. I’m assuming their rationale was they expected McDavid’s line to not get hemmed in and then they’d play Cody Ceci and Darnell Nurse the next shift with the Kane-RNH-Hyman line. It didn’t work as the Oilers spent the entire shift in their own end. When asked Woodcroft offered, “Just something we thought would help us at the start of overtime. We were trying to find the right mix, but it didn’t work.”

Evan Bouchard didn’t have a shift in the final 13 minutes of the third period, and that’s likely why he wasn’t on the ice to start OT. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I’d have started Tyson Barrie and Kulak if you were planning to have Nurse-Ceci go out against the Kempe line for the second shift. Why start a D-man on his off side in overtime?

— I saw suggestions that Mike Smith was a major reason the Oilers lost game five. Jonathan Quick was -1.03 on saves above expected, while Smith was -0.93. On the series, Smith is +2.13 while Quick is at -2.18. Goaltending isn’t the main reason the Oilers are trailing 3-2 in the series. Yes, Smith had one major puck-handling gaffe, but he doesn’t score goals. Edmonton has one goal at 5×5 in the past two games. Blaming one individual is often out of anger. I get it, but many players erred or didn’t do their job well enough, offensively or defensively, in game five.

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— Edmonton needs to rediscover their game at 5×5. In games two and three they outscored the Kings 9-1 at 5×5, but they’ve been outscored 6-1 the previous two games. They need to watch the video of what they did in games two and three and repeat it. The Kings have remained consistent with their 1-3-1 system, so the Oilers should know how to penetrate it. In the third period of game five, when they were desperate, they generated much more offensive zone time. Try starting a game with that same level of desperation.

— Darnell Nurse will not play tonight. He was suspended one game for head-butting Philip Danault. It is obvious Nurse is battling a knee injury. He’s playing two fewer minutes per game in the playoffs than what he played in the regular season under Woodcroft and Manson. Even though he’s not 100%, his absence tonight is not ideal. However, the Oilers can’t use it as an excuse. Other players need to step up, and Brett Kulak will see an increase in playing time and tougher competition.

It won’t just be Kulak who has to step up. Duncan Keith and Evan Bouchard were very good in the first three games, but struggled the past two. The team needs both of them to get back on track. Kris Russell and Tyson Barrie need to give Dave Manson solid minutes so he doesn’t have to overplay his top two pairs. Teams win in playoffs, and the Oilers need many players to elevate their intensity and desperation while being able to make good plays.

— The Oilers signed 2020 draft pick Carter Savoie to a three-year entry-level deal last night. By signing him yesterday he will still be able to burn the first year of his ELC. Why would the Oilers do this you ask? Savoie signed an amateur tryout in April so he could play in the AHL. Had he signed his ELC in April, then he wouldn’t have been eligible to play in the AHL as he wasn’t on an AHL roster prior to the NHL trade deadline. So he signed the ATO, with an agreement he’d sign his ELC before the Oilers season was over.

How does burning a year of his ELC help Edmonton? I’d counter with how does it really hurt them? This allows them to have more of a direct say in his development. He just won a National Championship in Denver, and now he will turn pro and learn the pro game. They will be able to use him on the penalty kill if they choose, as well as on the powerplay. He will learn the pro game and play more games and learn to handle playing 60+ games instead of just weekend games in college. He wanted to leave NCAA and while others who signed with an NHL team in April got into some NHL games, those teams were out of the playoffs. He wasn’t ready to help the Oilers, so they compromised by him signing an ATO to play some games in the AHL.

It is important to note there is no guarantee that Savoie becomes an NHL player. Like most prospects, you don’t really know if they can make the massive step from Major Junior, Europe or NCAA to the NHL. Savoie burning a year of his ELC won’t really hurt the Oilers, unless in 2023/2024 (I expect him to be in the AHL next season) Savoie makes the team and has a breakout season to earn a big raise. The odds of that are rather low. Very few rookies have big seasons on teams competing for the playoffs, which the Oilers should be over the next few seasons.

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If you are concerned about AAV when his ELC is finished, keep in mind he has a $925K AAV for the next two seasons, and the odds he earns a raise in that are low. In two years his next deal could have a lower AAV. Tyler Benson had that and he played three full seasons in the AHL.

 

THE GAME 6 VIEWING PARTY

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