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G21+ Game Notes: Oilers’ top players must score to get back in the series

Edmonton Oilers Leon Draisaitl
Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 month ago
Star players dream of these moments. There is no bigger stage in hockey than the Stanley Cup Final, and as the series shifts to Edmonton, the Oilers need their top players — Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Evan Bouchard — to lead them offensively to get back in this series. No goals and a combined two assists, none of which occurred in the offensive zone, from their top-five players through two games is the main reason the Oilers are down 2-0 in the series.
Tonight, the Oilers’ Fab Five need to lead the way.
— The Panthers have four players averaging at least one point per game in the series: Evan Rodrigues, Sam Bennett, Aleksander Barkov and Anton Lundell. They have 12 skaters with at least one point, and every top-nine forward, except Matthew Tkachuk, has a point.
— Offence has been the Oilers’ biggest strength for years. Despite not scoring on the power play in the first two games, their PP is still 32.8% in the playoffs. The Oilers can score. They know it, and tonight, they need to show it. It won’t be easy with Sergei Bobrovsky only allowing more than two goals once in his last 13 starts (the New York Rangers scored five goals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final).
As McDavid said after Game 2, “It is supposed to be hard. It is supposed to be difficult, but I’m excited to see what our group is made of. I’m excited to see our group come together, excited to see us fight through adversity.” Expect the captain to lead the charge tonight.
— Yesterday, McDavid sat at the podium and spoke to the Stanley Cup Final horde of reporters. He spoke with conviction, with confidence and like someone who truly believes his team can win. When asked about the Oilers power play and what they need to do, he responded with, “Just using instinct. We call it playing road hockey — we’ve got to be elite at that.” But then he added, “We usually solve penalty kills, and I would expect us to figure this one out, too.”
That last line illustrates the confidence he has in himself and his team. They have figured out every PP they’ve faced for the past five years. In these playoffs there were 45% v. LA, 30% v. Vancouver and 36.3% against Dallas. Eventually they figure it out, and McDavid realizes the gravity of the situation. But they can’t wait until Game 5, like the Dallas series, to score on the PP.
— The Oilers only had six power play opportunities in the first four games v. Dallas, but they’ve already had seven in two games v. the Panthers. Florida plays a more aggressive style, and they will take penalties. It is up to the Oilers to make them pay. The power play has been a weapon and key aspect of their team success for years. I’d argue it is impossible to win a series, for any team, without a good PP, and McDavid’s confidence in their ability to “figure out the Panthers’ PK” bodes well for Edmonton.
— Home ice advantage for Game 3 in the salary cap era has been quite strong. The 12 teams who lost the first two games on the road are 10-2 on home ice and the teams who split or won both games on the road are 4-2, so in the 18 series in the cap era the home team is 14-4 in Game 3. The 2006 Oilers were down 2-0 to Carolina and won Game 3 by a score for 2-1, with Ryan Smyth scoring the game-winner and sending the crowd into a frenzy in the third period. Smyth and Shawn Horcoff — two thirds of the Oilers’ top line — scored in Game 3. You need your stars to produce when times are tough.
— Florida hasn’t played a game outside the Eastern time zone since March 12th in Dallas. And prior to that they were in Nashville on January 22nd. Will the travel be a factor? Maybe a small factor, when you add in their four-hour flight delay yesterday due to the weather in Florida. Edmonton has to jump on them early.
— In Game 1, the Oilers played fast, won puck battles and controlled much of the play. Head coach Kris Knoblauch outlined what he wants to see tonight. “The simplicity in our game. Winning battles, playing faster, using our legs. If you take care of those little details, it allows us to showcase our skills. If we aren’t playing fast, winning battles, then nothing else matters.”
— The Oilers’ forwards are much quicker than the Panthers’.
Edmonton has had 532 bursts of 20 mph, while Florida’s forwards have had 271. It is a significant difference, and we saw that in Game 1, but not in Game 2. The Oilers have to play to their strengths.
— While the Panthers’ forwards aren’t quick, their defenders are. Their six blue liners can move, especially Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour.
The Panthers’ blueliners have 86 bursts to the Oilers’ 83. But you will notice Dallas had 84, and led through the first three rounds, but the Oilers’ forwards were still able to attack and put them on their heels. They should be able to do the same v. Florida. It won’t be easy, as Florida has been excellent defensively and very connected in their own zone, but the Oilers showed in Game 1 they can generate many quality chances.
— Evan Bouchard is closing in on Cale Makar for the fourth most points by a defenceman in one playoff year.
He does have the fewest shots on goal among those five through, with 60. Coffey had 67, MacInnis 69, Makar 71 and Leetch had 88. Bouchard has already set the NHL record for most 90 mph shots in the playoffs with 30. Granted, they only started tracking this in 2019-20, but Victor Hedman had the previous high with 22. Bouchard has a bomb, and while he already has six shots on goal this series, you’d like to see him shoot more because of how hard and accurate his shot is.
—The Oilers are 19-9 all time on home ice in Game 3 of a best-of-seven series. The Panthers are 5-5 on the road in Game 3 all-time.
— The Oilers need to improve on faceoffs. The Panthers have six players who have taken at least 10 faceoffs through two games and all of them are 50% or better.
Kevin Stenlund is 16-6 (72.7%), Bennett is 8-6 (57.1%), Rodrigues is 9-7 (56.3%), Lundell is 13-11 (54.2%), Barkov is 15-13 (53.6%) and Sam Reinhart is 8-8 (50%).
Edmonton also has six skaters with 10+ faceoffs. Sam Carrick is 8-4 (66.7%), Nugent-Hopkins is 7-6 (53.9%), Draisaitl is 22-23 (48.9%), Ryan McLeod is 4-7 (36.4%), McDavid is 7-14 (33.3%) and Adam Henrique is 5-15 (25%).
Draisaitl (45 draws), McDavid (21) and Henrique (20) are a combined 34-52 (39.5%), while Florida’s top-three in faceoffs taken are Barkov (28), Lundell (24) and Stenlund (22) and they are a combined 44-30 (59.4%). The Oilers’ top-three centres need to shrink that gap tonight.

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