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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes R2G4: Oilers Need to Keep Attacking

A few minutes after a dominating 4-1 win in game three, Mike Smith sat at the podium answering questions about his play, the Milan Lucic hit, the play of Evander Kane, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl. He answered them all, and when he was asked about enjoying this run, at his age, he mentioned how great it was to play in front of family and friends. But then, without prompting, he mentioned game four and how the Oilers must learn from their previous mistake.

— “I think we learned a valuable lesson last series when we got up 2-1,” said Smith. “We probably played our worst game in game four. We want to learn a lesson from that and not let that happen again and keep doing what we did in this game tonight and keep pushing this thing forward.”

He’s bang on. The Oilers have completely controlled the last five period of this series, and are deserving of their 2-1 series lead, but that can be erased quickly if they don’t show up ready to play tonight.

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— Game three was easily their best start of this series, and arguably the playoffs. They swarmed the Flames. Every line was skating and they continually passed the energy from line to line without anyone dropping the baton. Calgary only exited the first period tied at zero due to stellar play from Jacob Markstrom, but the Oilers were relentless and the flood gates opened up with a four-goal second period which included an NHL record.

— Leon Draisaitl became the first player in Stanley Cup playoff history to record four assists in one period. Eight other Oilers have recorded three assists in a period, including Connor McDavid on Sunday, but no one, including Wayne Gretzky, managed four helpers in one period. Draisaitl has seven points in the past two games, and while McDavid is getting a lot of praise (and rightfully so) for his dominant play, his Ride-or-Die linemate has been pretty spectacular as well.

— Draisaitl is playing through an ankle injury sustained in game six in Los Angeles when Mikey Anderson wrestled/tackled him to the ground. The good news for the Oilers, and bad news for the Flames, is that Draisaitl has looked healthier the past few games. He is “finer.” Earlier in the playoffs, he said he was fine, but the past games he has looked better and not favouring his ankle on specific turns. “It’s finer,” he said. “I’ll put it that way.” Draisaitl has 19 points in 10 playoff games. In 31 career playoff games he has 46 points. McDavid has 45.

— Draisaitl’s 1.48 points/game in the playoffs is fourth highest all time among players who have played at least 30 games.

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Wayne Gretzky is at 1.84 in 208 games.
Mario Lemieux tallied 1.61 in 107 games.
Barry Pederson produced 1.53 in 34 games.
Draisaitl is at 1.48 in 31 games.
McDavid is 1.45 in 31 games.

Oilers fans have been lucky enough to watch three of the top five scorers.

— While Draisaitl was setting an NHL record in game three, McDavid continued his torrid playoff pace. His three assists gave him 23 points in 10 games.

The only players in NHL history with 23 or more points through their first 10 games in a postseason:

Wayne Gretzky: 29 in 1983. Gretzky also had 25 in 1985.

Mario Lemieux: 25 in 1992.

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Rick Middleton: 23 in 1983 and McDavid in 2022.

McDavid’s playoff run is one of the best we’ve ever witnessed.

— Evander Kane became the 26th player in NHL history to score 10 goals in the first 10 games of a playoff season. Jake Guentzel (10 in 2018) and Johan Franzen (11 in 2008) are the only others do it in the 2000s. The modern day record was set by Mark Messier in 1983 when he had 14 goals in the Oilers’ first 10 games. Messier is second all-time behind Newsy Lalonde who scored 17 goals with the Montreal Canadiens in 1919.

— A big reason for the Oilers’ success in games two and three is how they’ve limited Calgary’s defence getting involved in the rush. They’ve also reduced Calgary’s quick transition game through the neutral zone. The Flames haven’t generated rushes with speed through the neutral zone very often. This has led to the Flames not being able to forecheck aggressively with speed. Edmonton has struggled against teams with aggressive forechecks and the Flames weren’t able to do much of it in their two losses. If Edmonton can continue to limit Calgary’s speed through the neutral zone, thus lowering their aggressive forecheck, their odds of winning this series only increase.

— Edmonton’s best players have dominated the Flames’ best players the past two games at even strength. The Flames have scored three EV goals off the sticks of Brett Ritchie, Michael Stone and Oliver Kylington. No Flames player has more than one EV point in those two games. Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk each have one assist. They are the only top-six forwards with points at EV.

Draisaitl has seven EV points, while McDavid has five, Kane has three, Duncan Keith has two and Zach Hyman has one. Hyman also has a short-handed goal. Edmonton outscored the Flames 9-3 at EV in games two and three.

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— Some might not like +/-, but it can help paint a picture, especially when there hasn’t been any empty net goals the previous two games. The Flames have one plus player the past two games: Stone is +1. Elias Lindholm is -5, Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Rasmus Andersson and Erik Gudbranson are -3, Calle Jarnkrok, Nikita Zadorov and Noah Hanafin are -2 and Tyler Toffoli and Mikael Backlund are -1.

In the same two games McDavid and Draisaitl are +7, Kane is +4, Darnell Nurse is +3, Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie +2, and Evan Bouchard, Brett Kulak, Hyman and Keith are +1. The top line has crushed the Flames.

— If the Oilers power play can start producing they could end the series in five games. The Oilers are averaging the most PP/chances per games of the eight teams in the second round with 15 PP chances in three games (five/game). The Flames are second at four/game. But the Oilers vaunted PP has only scored one goal, and that was from the second unit. The first unit has created some good chances, but hasn’t finished. If Calgary continues to take penalties at some point the PP has to make them pay.

— The Flames’ post-game comments made it clear McDavid was in their head.

“They’ve got one player that plays half the game and is playing some great hockey right now, and we gotta find a way to stop that,” said Tkachuk. Andersson added, “We let one guy beat us tonight.”

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McDavid only played 21 minutes and 20 minutes in games two and three respectively. The Oilers didn’t have to overplay him. And it isn’t just McDavid beating them. Draisaitl, Kane, and Hyman have all played big roles the past two games offensively. Mike Smith has been stellar in goal. I understand why McDavid would be top of mind for the Flames. He’s likely in their nightmares right now. He’s been electric, but the Oilers other top guns have produced as well.

— Tkachuk did add Calgary needs to be much better in the offensive zone.

“When we get into their zone, we have to hold pucks and nothing blind, and get shots to the goalie. That’s where they can have some trouble with some rebounds and lose coverage with that. Just have to have consistent O-zone shifts and not throw anything blind that can feed their transition.”

Edmonton did a good job of not allowing Calgary many second or third opportunities. The Flames created more in the third period, but the Oilers were sitting back protecting a 4-0 lead. In periods two and three of game two and periods one and two in game three, the Flames produced very little offensively. The Oilers outscored them 8-1 in those four periods and outshot them 60-45. Edmonton thoroughly dominated those periods, and will look for more of the same tonight.

— Smith is hopeful they learned their lesson from round one. Two good games doesn’t guarantee a third consecutive great game. Calgary won’t just roll over and give the Oilers the series. Edmonton needs to continue to play fast, smart, aggressive hockey. If they do they will take a convincing 3-1 series lead tonight.

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