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Five Reasons the Oilers Won Game 1

Edmonton Oilers Dallas Stars
Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
28 days ago
From 2020 to 2023, the Oilers lost Game 1 in all seven series they played. They ended up winning three of those series.
They are now 2-1 in Game 1’s this playoff year after defeating the Dallas Stars 3-2 in overtime. The Stars have now lost seven consecutive Game 1s. Dallas was 4-2 in the previous six, including victories over Vegas and Colorado this year. One game won’t win Edmonton this series, but they were very impressive in the opening game in Dallas.
Here are my five reasons the Oilers won last night, in no particular order.

1. Stuart Skinner

Skinner set the tone early stopping Evgenii Dadonov on a breakaway two minutes into the game, and then stopping Jamie Benn on the rebound. Skinner was locked in all game. He looked very poised and controlled. There were a few plays where he came out to the top of the crease a bit more to cut down angles. He likely never will be, and doesn’t need to be, an ultra-aggressive guy who plays at the top of his crease, but he played with a lot of poise and confidence last night. He made multiple key saves and never looked out of position.
In three games since returning from sitting out Game 4 and 5 vs. Vancouver, Skinner has a .923Sv% and a stellar 1.50 GAA, and two of those goals came on ghastly turnovers in the Oilers’ own zone. Skinner’s play since coming back in resembles how the Oilers played after their dreadful first 12 games of the season. Many individuals have shown great resiliency this season in bouncing back after a rough stretch, and Skinner has responded better than many expected.

2. Perfect Penalty Kill

The Oilers’ penalty kill was amazing again as they pressured the Stars all over the ice. Whichever four-man unit was on was in rhythm, and when one player pressured, the others pressured with him or anticipated where the Stars wanted to move the puck. Edmonton knocked down/intercepted six or seven passes, which led directly to zone clears. Dallas had 10 minutes of PP time and didn’t register one shot on two of their power plays.
On the first PP, Dallas had two shots. The first by Jamie Benn was from 59-feet and an easy stop for Skinner. The second was a backhand by Seguin from 10-feet, which Natural Stat Trick lists as a high-danger chance, I suspect due to shot distance, but it wasn’t dangerous as Seguin never had control of the puck and just whacked at it and didn’t get much on it. I caution against taking too much stock in xGF% and HDCF% because of how NST tracks high-danger chances. The Seguin chance on Dallas’ first PP is a good example. But regardless of HDCF% or xGF%, goals against matter the most, especially in the playoffs when series are short and things don’t “average out over time.”
Dallas generated the best PP scoring chance on its second-man advantage. Seguin found himself alone just inside the right circle and had time to get set, but Skinner challenged him, made the save look easy, and didn’t give up a rebound. It was Dallas’ only shot.
Dallas didn’t register a shot on its third PP, which was a soft slashing call on Evan Bouchard. The Oilers had one from Ryan McLeod, where he likely should have passed it back to a charging Darnell Nurse, who had joined the rush and was wide open in the high slot. But the Oilers’ speed and fluid motion were very noticeable on this PK. They were in sync the entire kill and dept disrupting the Stars.
The fourth PK was the first of Connor McDavid’s double minor at the start of OT. Jamie Benn fired a shot from the left circle 11 seconds into the PP, that Skinner gobbled up easily. On the ensuing face off, Ryan won the draw to the boards, but Dallas won the puck battle and a few seconds later Jason Robertson fired a shot from the top of the left side of the circle (40 feet from the net) that ricocheted off Vincent Desharnais’ skate and hit the far goal post. The initial shot was headed toward Skinner, and Robertson was hoping more for Pavelski to deflect it than the shot beating Skinner. It hit the post, and was close to going in, but the initial shot wasn’t from a high-danger area.
Benn won the ensuing face off, and Robertson took a shot from almost the exact same spot, which hit the outside of the goal post. Again, it wasn’t a high-danger chance, and the Oilers will gladly give up shots from there. Every PK knows that eventually, the power play will get some looks, and Edmonton seemed very content to allow the Stars to shoot from that spot.
The Stars had two more shots. Heiskanen took a wrister from 45 feet out with no traffic in front which Skinner handled easily, and later on Dadonov took a shot from the spot where Robertson fired his two attempts. Skinner pushed it into the corner.
The second half of the double minor was less eventful. Dallas didn’t have a shot in the first minute, and then Connor Brown had a chance to clear, but he fired it directly into the Oilers bench. The Stars called a timeout. Benn won the face off and four seconds after the draw Robertson shot again from his spot in the left circle. Desharnais blocked it. Dallas got it back and Heiskanen took a long-range shot that missed the net. Ten seconds later, this time from the right side, Wyatt Johnston took a shot from 45-feet that Mattias Ekholm got a piece of, and it went harmlessly into the left corner. After a battle in the corner, the Stars got possession and once again Robertson shot from the left side, this time a bit closer in, but Skinner made the save and moments later Edmonton cleared it out and the penalty was over.
It was a massive kill, and clearly, Dallas’ strategy was to get a shot within the first 5-10 seconds after winning, drawing, or regaining possession. They didn’t try to pass it around as much; instead, they just wanted to get pucks on net and hope for a rebound or deflection. They are very good at creating goals off of rebounds, but Skinner either swallowed up the shot or directed it into the corner. Dallas had no chance at a second opportunity from in close.
McDavid’s post-game quote summed up his feelings well.
“It was long, really long, really, really long. Miserable. I hated every second of it (sitting in the box). But the guys did an amazing job, truthfully. The penalty kill has been amazing and to step in there and for four minutes against a good power play, I can’t give those guys enough credit,” he said.

3. No Passengers

Every player made an impact. The third line of Warren Foegele, Ryan McLeod and Derek Ryan had their best game of the playoffs at 5×5. They created some chances, the best being Foegele’s breakaway. They were the most dangerous we’ve seen all playoffs. McLeod got the strong message sent by head coach Kris Knoblauch when he benched McLeod for the final eight minutes of game seven after his giveaway. Brett Kulak had a similar one last night, but he was back on the ice right away, because Kulak has been very steady and engaged all playoffs. McLeod hadn’t been. He had been decent defensively, but he hadn’t created anything offensively and he had turned away from far too many hits. Last night McLeod had five hits. He won’t crush guys like Evander Kane, but he didn’t do fly-bys. He was more engaged, and it showed. Plus, all three of them were great contributors on the penalty kill.
The fourth line had many great momentum-building shifts in the offensive zone. Again, Sam Carrick was very strong on face offs, going 7-4 (64 percent) and winning lots of board battles. He and Janmark were excellent along the boards.

4. Played With Poise

When Kulak turned the puck over and Dallas made it 2-1, the Oilers didn’t fold. Bouchard was whistled for a slash 40 seconds after Seguin scored, but the penalty killers didn’t give up a shot on that power play. The snuffed out any momentum Dallas hoped to gain. Edmonton outshot the Stars 9-5 the rest of the second. And then they controlled the third period outshooting Dallas 9-4 for the first 16 minutes. Dallas tied the game late in the third period. They were cycling the puck, but Edmonton didn’t give them much — the puck came into the slot, and Vincent Desharnais had it on his stick. In hindsight, you would have liked him to make a better pass — he just pushed it to the boards and Dallas kept it in — but Edmonton was never in danger. Foegele was perfectly placed in the shooting lane and blocked Alex Petrovic’s shot. It went to the corner, Robertson got it and while he tried to get set up, Foegele and McLeod pressured him, so he just put it towards the net. Darnell Nurse made a split-second reaction and moved his foot and the puck ricocheted off his skate across the crease right to Seguin.
Again, the Oilers didn’t sag. They came right back, and Dylan Holloway had a breakaway eight seconds after Seguin tied it. Oettinger made a solid pad stop. I know some would argue that Thomas Harley should have been called for slashing. I understand that, if you go by the standard of slashing the refs set out earlier: If they called Bouchard for his slash to the knee of Sam Steel, when he wasn’t in a dangerous scoring area, I can see why some would say Harley should have been called. I would counter that the Bouchard call was incorrect, and two wrongs don’t make a right. Harley had one hand on his stick and tapped Holloway, but it didn’t impact his shot. The Oilers finished the period with the next three shots before Dallas had shots from 90 and 58 feet as time expired. Edmonton showed no signs of panic after either Stars goal.
Then they faced adversity again to start OT with the double minor and killed it off. In Game 7 vs. Vancouver after Conor Garland made it 3-1, the Oilers were on the heels for the next four minutes and Vancouver made it 3-2. Then Kris Knoblauch, with some encouragement from a few veterans, called a timeout. The Oilers then didn’t allow one shot in the final four minutes. Last night, they was no panic, no woe-is-me, after allowing a goal. Big improvement.

5. Defended The Rush

Dallas was the fourth-best team in the regular season at generating scoring chances off the rush, averaging 7.4 per game. In the playoffs, they were third, at 6.8/game, according to Sport Logiq.
Edmonton limited them to ZERO chances off the rush last night. The Oilers were 6-0 at even strength, and they had one scoring chance off the rush on their only power play to finish the game 7-0 in scoring chances off the rush. The Oilers spoke openly before the series began about limiting Dallas’ opportunities off the rush, and they were perfect in that regard.
Maybe Dallas was a tad rusty after not playing since Friday, but the Oilers looked much quicker, and I believe they are a faster team overall. The Stars also aren’t a very aggressive team outside of Mason Marchment and Jamie Benn. Edmonton can play physical, if need be, but if this series ends up being a skating series, I think that benefits the Oilers.

RANDOM THOUGHTS…

— It was only one game, but the Oilers should feel good about how they performed last night. They showed they will not be a pushover, by any stretch, in this series.
— Last night on the broadcast, Kyle Bukaukus reported Stuart Skinner started working with a new goalie coach, Adam Francilia, in November. It is true he started working with him, but Francilia is NOT a goalie coach. He is a strength and conditioning coach. He does not teach goalie technique. Francilia worked with Mike Smith as well. Francilia did reach out to Dustin Schwartz about the off-ice goalie-specific stuff, but it would be misleading to call Francilia a goalie coach. He is a strength and conditioning coach.
— I argued before this series began that the “Dallas Depth” wasn’t nearly as much of an advantage over the Oilers as some kept repeating. I think people sometimes get caught following the herd and just repeating what they read rather than taking the time to dig in on a topic. Depth is a vague term because it can encompass many things. For instance, Edmonton’s depth forwards are all on the PK, except Sam Carrick, but he can kill if needed. I’d say they play a pretty big role in the Oilers’ goals against success, but even if we simply look at offensive depth, we find the following.
Before the series started, Edmonton had 28 goals 5×5 in 12 GP, while Dallas has 22 in 13 games.
The Oilers’ top five scorers (McDavid, Draisaitl, Hyman, RNH, and Bouchard) scored 15 goals at 5×5.
Dallas’ top five scorers had 13 goals.
The rest of the Oilers’ lineup, skaters #6-18, had 13 goals at 5×5.
The rest of the Dallas skaters had nine.
I’m sorry, but the offensive depth claim didn’t match actual data.
Edmonton has 12 players with a goal 5×5, and Dallas has 14, but Edmonton had six more goals in one less game.
— My one beef with Connor Brown is he doesn’t seem to try to make a play or even look for a pass when he is skating the puck up the ice. He just skates down the wing and flips it in. He’s been good on the PK but isn’t creating anything at 5×5. When Adam Henrique is ready, I think taking Brown out is the obvious choice. Henrique will give Edmonton more offensive upside, and he can kill penalties.
— Roope Hintz will help the Stars, but in their first 11 games with him in the lineup, he was eighth among forwards in 5×5 TOI. He was third in PP/time at 2:07, but he had only had two goals and six points. He didn’t look great before he left Game 4 with an injury. I wonder if he was battling something prior.
— Could you imagine the vitriol by some Oilers fans on social media if Darnell Nurse or Cody Ceci were the defenders on these two goals?
Hyman overpowered Chris Tanev in front of the goal to slide home his 12th goal of the playoffs.
And here is the OT winner.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins dumps it in, and wins the puck battle over Tanev, flips it to Evan Bouchard, who makes a great pass to McDavid.
Tanev is a solid defender, no question, but he and Esa Lindell were on the ice for all three goals against last night. Many suggested they would be able to contain the Oilers’ top line like they did Jack Eichel and Nathan MacKinnon’s lines in rounds one and two. I cautioned that the Oilers’ top line has more skill across all three skaters, and it showed last night.
Last night, McDavid played 16:49 vs. Lindell, 14:49 vs. Tanev, 7:19 vs. Ryan Suter, 4:21 vs. Heiskanen, 4:17 vs. Harley and 2:31 vs. Petrovic. He had a 9-4 shot advantage and 3-1 in goals vs. Tanev and was 11-8 and 3-1 vs. Lindell. Will Pete Deboer play them that much against McDavid in Game 2, or will we see Heiskanen get a few more minutes?
It is interesting to see how the matchups evolve over a series, especially when the games move to Edmonton.

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