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GDB +1: Oilers Need to Change Game One Struggles (8pm MT, CBC)

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Photo credit:© Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
10 months ago
The Edmonton Oilers have lost game one in each of their last five playoffs series. In the 2020 bubble they lost game one 6-4 to Chicago and lost the best-of-five series 3-1. In 2021 v. the Jets they lost 4-1, and last year they lost 4-3 to LA in round one, 9-6 to Calgary in round two and 8-6 to Colorado in round three.
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They came back to defeat the Kings and Flames, but lost to the Blackhawks, Jets, and Avalanche. The fact the Oilers won 40% of those series is a positive, because teams who lose game one in a seven game series have come back to win only 31.7% of the time. The Oilers beat the odds last year winning two series when down 1-0, but would prefer to avoid being behind again.
Offense is up in the NHL, and the number of comeback wins was the highest in decades this regular season. Combine that with the fact the teams that won game one last year in the playoffs were only 8-7, so maybe losing game one isn’t as daunting as it once was, or maybe last year was an anomaly. The Oilers don’t want to find out.
A good start, and scoring first, will go a long way to securing a victory tonight. The team that scored first in all four regular season meetings this year won. The team that scored first in all seven playoff games last season won. The last 12 head-to-head meetings between these two has resulted in victory for the team scoring first.
The Oilers franchise record when scoring first in a playoff game is 116-48. They are 51-71 when allowing the first goal. In the Connor McDavid era the Oilers are 13-10 when scoring first and 3-11 when allowing the first goal. It is apparent how important it is, especially against the Kings, who play a 1-3-1 in the neutral zone and make it very difficult to attack with speed. If the Oilers score first the Kings will eventually have to open up the game, and that plays into the Oilers’ biggest strength.
Edmonton has improved defensively and its 2-0 and 3-1 victories over the Kings in the final weeks of the regular season gave the team confidence they can win playing a patient game. They are comfortable doing it, but it is much easier when you score first.
Scoring first and winning game one haven’t occurred as often as they’d like in the playoffs recently, and starting with a win tonight will only fuel the already amped-up crowd to be even louder in game two.

MATCHUPS…

Mar 30, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Mattias Ekholm (14) and Los Angeles Kings forward Blake Lizotte (46) battle for a loose puck during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci will see a lot of Adrien Kempe and Anze Kopitar, while the Drew Doughty-Mikey Anderson pair is ready for a heavy dose of McDavid’s line. “It is exciting. I love the moment, I love the challenge,” said Doughty this morning. “Everybody knows how good he is, and how hard he is to shutdown, but I’m going to do to the best of my abilities, with my partner Mikey and whichever forward group is out there, to keep him off the scoresheet as much as we can. Shutting him down will be a key to winning the series.”
Doughty is always heavily involved in playoff series. He didn’t play last year, and he’s very excited to be playing this year. He adds a high level of competitiveness and experience to their blue line, and his partner, Anderson has been just as involved. His takedown of Leon Draisaitl in game six last year forced Draisaitl to labour the rest of the playoffs with a high ankle sprain. The Oilers didn’t get retribution until a few weeks ago when McDavid hammered Anderson into the end boards. That hit added some more fuel to this simmering rivalry.
“We didn’t feel good about it,” said Doughty about the hit. “He (Anderson) was out for a week, week and a half. We lost some games without him, so we weren’t too happy about that. It is not something we will forget, but we don’t want to be going to the box, so I don’t know we will be taking dumb penalties on them, but if we get a chance to smack ’em we are going to try and do that.”
Unlike previous years, this edition of the Oilers has the size and physical advantage over teams. They flexed that in the final two games defeating the Kings in both and outhitting them 73-41. The Oilers are a much bigger team and I expect them to pound the Kings as often as they can.
This series will have some bite to it. It should be very exciting with a high level of animosity.

PRESENTED BY BETWAY

LINEUPS…

Oilers

RNH – McDavid – Hyman
Kane – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Kostin – Bjugstad – Janmark
Foegele – McLeod – Ryan
Nurse – Ceci
Ekholm – Bouchard
Kulak – Desharnais
Skinner

Kings…

Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Iafallo – Lizotte – Kaliyev
Grundstrom – Kupari – Anderson-Dolan
Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Edler – Durzi
Korpisalo
Kevin Fiala is out with a knee injury. He hasn’t skated on his own and right now seems unlikely to play until later in the series, if at all. Gabe Vilardi skated yesterday in LA and will be joining the team in Edmonton. He wasn’t on the ice this morning, which is usually a sign he won’t play tonight, but it is the playoffs and teams are incredibly secretive. I won’t 100% rule him out for tonight, but it seems unlikely.
Outside of the aforementioned matchups, the Danault-Draisaitl one will be key. Draisaitl and Kane have a clear size advantage, and Kane had 16 hits in the final two regular season games. Kane was excellent v. the Kings last year scoring seven goals in the first round. He finished with 13 goals in 15 games and could join an exclusive club this year. Only eight players in the NHL’s modern era (since 1943-44) have required 20 or fewer playoff games to accumulate 15 goals with a franchise. Maurice Richard (14 games) was the fastest and Joe Sakic (19 games with QUE/COL) was the most recent. Kane needs two goals in the first five games to join the list.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton ends its five-game losing streak in game one and picks up a 4-1 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The building will be electric. The Oilers are a legit Cup contender and the combination of excitement and nerves will have the crowd raising the roof multiple times.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: After going goalless last year in the playoffs, Warren Foegele scores in game one.

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