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10 Thursday Thoughts: Playoff Edition

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Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
6 months ago
Nothing like a game-one stinker to re-ignite the passion of Oilersnation.
The Edmonton Oilers lost game one for the seventh series in a row. That is tied for the sixth-longest streak in NHL history. The New York Rangers lost 10 in a row starting in the Conference Finals in 1994 through until the first round in 2006. They won six of the 10 series. The Toronto Maple Leafs also lost 10 in a row starting in the first round in 1965 through to the second round in 1975 and they were 3-7 in those series. The New York Islanders (1984-1987), Maple Leafs (1952-1960) and Florida Panthers (2000-2023) lost eight in row. The Panthers ended their drought in game v. Toronto two days ago.
1. The Oilers played their worst game of this year’s playoffs last night. They weren’t sharp for the first 50 minutes. They had too many unforced errors, bad passes and didn’t match the speed and pace of Vegas. They did finally wake up after Leon Draisaitl made it 5-4, and pressured Vegas in the final 10 minutes, but finished the game shorthanded after a blatant too many men on the ice penalty. It was a fitting end to a game where they weren’t sharp. Despite not playing close, they were still in the game due to Draisaitl’s brilliance.
2. Draisaitl scored all four goals and joined Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri (2x) and Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson (1) as the only Oilers to score four goals in one playoff game. Gretzky, both times, Messier and Anderson did it in the 1983 playoffs, while Kurri did it in 1985 and 1987. There have only been 15 other players, league wide, to score four goals in a game between Kurri and Draisaitl, including Joe Pavelski who did it on Tuesday. Draisaitl was an absolute beast last night for Edmonton, as he has been all playoffs.
He leads the NHL with 11 goals and 15 points in seven games. He is the third player in league history to score 11 goals in the first seven games. Newsy Lalonde had 15 goals in seven games in 1919 and Babe Dye scored 11 in seven games in 1922. It has been 101 years since a player started the playoff as well as Draisaitl.
3. The rest of the Oilers’ offence was dreadful, especially the forwards. Connor McDavid got better as the game went on, but at 5×5 he didn’t generate much by his standards. But the other nine forwards — really eight as Mattias Janmark left the game early after smacking his head on the boards/ice — generated very little. Nick Bjugstad and Zach Hyman (2), Evander Kane and Klim Kostin (1) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele (0) combined for six shots at 5×5. Darnell Nurse had six to lead the team. When one D-man has as many shots as eight forwards, that is a problem.
Yes, the Oilers scored four goals, but it was mainly Draisaitl with some help from McDavid and Bouchard on the power play. The rest of the team generated very little. The good news is that hasn’t been the norm. The Oilers’ depth played huge roles in their round one victory v. LA, and in the final four months of the season. I wouldn’t panic after one bad game.
4. They didn’t match the speed and intensity of Vegas. “Overall, we weren’t good enough, and not close to how we play, and how successfully we play,” said Draisaitl post game. “We were all over them late, but that is usually the game we play from minute one. We will get back to that, regroup, learn from it and move on. It was nothing they did, and nothing we can’t handle. We didn’t bring our best game.”
Draisaitl’s post-game analysis was as accurate as his on-ice shooting in game one.
5. Nugent-Hopkins needs to make an appearance in the 2023 playoffs. He has one even strength point, and no goals, in seven games. In the regular season he had 16 goals and 39 points 5×5 and averaged 2.14 points/60. He has 0-1-1 in 101 minutes in the playoffs. His 0.59 points/60 is lowest among all forwards and only Cody Ceci and Philip Broberg are lower. He played a significant role in their regular season success, and he needs to start playing better and producing more.
6. The Oilers played 10 forwards for much of the game, and used numerous different line combinations, but prior to Janmark getting injured Woodcroft started the game with McDavid and Draisaitl on separate lines. It made sense, but in the days leading up to the game Woodcroft tried to disguise his plan and had Draisaitl and McDavid practicing together. I don’t understand why he does this. He always talks about how he focuses on his team, so why is he worrying about Vegas and what they might do? Vegas changed nothing when McDavid and Draisaitl were together or apart. There was no advantage gained by the diversion in practice. It is unnecessary. The Oilers are good. Line up and play. Don’t focus on trying to hide matchups.
7. With RNH struggling it makes loading up McDavid and Draisaitl more challenging. Until #93 gets going, I’d keep 97 and 29 apart, except for the odd O-zone start. If I do load them up, then I’d play Yamamoto with them, and have Kane-RNH-Hyman as the second line. They should be a very good second line, and all three should be able to contribute without playing beside McDavid or Draisaitl.
8. Vegas looked much faster than Edmonton, but only because they played faster. Edmonton didn’t have a great game. Very few players played up to their capabilities. I expect the team to be better, and when more guys are pulling on the rope it will make the entire team look better. Vincent Desharnais’ had a passing lane and hit the leg of the Vegas forward which led to goal one. He’s not a great puck mover. He struggled in game four v. LA but rebounded with solid games in game five and six. The Oilers could go to six D-men, and dress Derek Ryan and Devin Shore or Dylan Holloway, but I’d guess they stick with seven D. They will give Desharnais a chance to respond like he did in games five and six. But if game two isn’t better, then they will have to go with Broberg more.
9. Stuart Skinner started nine of 10 games between February 27th and March 18th, so he has endured a stretch like this, but he hasn’t been great thus far. I felt Boston erred by starting Ullmark six games in a row, when he hadn’t started more than two in a row since December 15th. The playoffs are a grind, and unless your starter is crushing it, I’d consider going with your back up for a game here and there.
10. The Oilers managed to get three power plays. I wrote prior to the series that if they can get three per game they should be happy as Vegas doesn’t take many penalties. Each team was whistled for three infractions (I don’t include the too many men penalty, as that isn’t similar to tripping, interference etc.). The Oilers scored on two of their three power plays. Their PP is great, while the Golden Knights’ PK has struggled all season and has been ghastly in the playoffs. Vegas was 1-for-3 when the Oilers had a goalie on the ice. Edmonton’s PK can improve, but they clearly have a power play advantage, and I don’t see that changing significantly. As long as their PP keeps working hard, they will produce. “We are at our best when we outwork the penalty kill,” said McDavid in round one. If they do that the goals will happen, and if they pick up their pace at 5×5, they might even draw more than three power plays, which would be huge.
Edmonton didn’t play close to its capabilities in game one. The Oilers have to be better on Saturday, and the coaches need to coach better and help prepare better.
No more decoys.
Line up and play.

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