What the Edmonton Oilers can learn from the Stanley Cup finalists
Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
By Woz3 months ago
This was never supposed to happen. The Florida Panthers and the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals.
For many, it was meant to be the Boston Bruins, the Colorado Avalanche, the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Edmonton Oilers. Now with two teams remaining what can the Oilers learn from both franchises? On paper, neither were viewed as Stanley Cup Contenders and yet, they’ve made it this far.
When I look at the Panthers on paper, I see one or two-star players in Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov. Offensively they look pretty strong. Then you look at the defence and I argue it’s as good as the Edmonton Oilers. On the left side you have a fifth-round pick who’s done well for himself in Gustav Forsling. Marc Staal is on the second pair and honestly don’t think he’d crack the Oilers blue line with the likes of Brett Kulak and Mattias Ekholm on the left side.
The right side could be viewed slightly better than Edmonton with Aaron Ekblad at the top, Brandon Montour on the second pairing and Radko Gudas on the third pair. What I’m noticing is the Panthers have a flawed blueline just like the Edmonton Oilers. When you compare both defenses it’s hard to say who’s better. They both have their weaknesses and strengths. You could even say they’re a little even on the backend.
To me, the Panthers prove that you don’t need a perfect blue line to reach the Cup Final. That you can create your own blueprint in order to go deep into the playoffs.
With that being said, the Panthers have had one advantage over every other team in Sergei Bobrovsky who i having one of the best playoff performances of all time. It’s crazy to believe considering he had worse stats than Stuart Skinner in the regular season with the same amount of games played.
Goaltending plays a major factor in any team going far. Even last year for the Oilers, Mike Smith had a couple of unreal performances up until they faced the Avalanche in the third round. But goalies in the NHL have an unknown factor to them. You never know who’s going to turn up or disappoint. Adin Hill is a great example as no one expected him to be playing the way he has been with Vegas since stepping in for Laurent Brossoit. No one expected Hill to be stealing games and putting up a .937 save percentage. Goalies are voodoo and can be unpredictable when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Oilers, on the other hand, got the opposite with Skinner this post-season but who’s to say he can’t be that goalie next year that captures lightning in a bottle, or even if Jack Campbell could? If you asked me at the start of the playoffs who’s the better goaltender between Hill and Skinner I’d easily say Stu. You can say the Oilers had poor goaltending come playoff time but to say it’ll be a trend that continues is hard to say considering what we’ve seen in this year’s playoffs.
Now there’s one missing ingredient I would say the Oilers are missing that both the Golden Knights and Panthers have. Team defence. This is an ingredient you can create and hone. Edmonton lacked it big time and it’s what ultimately cost them and it truly comes down to the coaching staff who needs to apply a philosophy that will allow the team to score but also be defensively sound.
That’s essentially what Paul Maurice said when he became the Panthers’ head coach
“Why would you pull back a team offensively that has that kind of talent? But it has to be smart and we will spend that, the year kind of deciding, is this right, is this the smart play, is this the best play, let’s make the best play,” he said. “Sometimes the best plays are the ones you don’t make, I know you’ve heard that before.
“But I would say that truly confident offensive players when they’re at their peak cut plays off more often than you think.”
You can apply that to the best offensive team in the NH: the Edmonton Oilers. The players who are scoring all the goals need to be better in their own zone, better at winning puck battles and staying disciplined. This is possibly where Woodcroft and his staff pull back the run-and-gun hockey, get them to take less risks but keep that strong forecheck to create turnovers. If I’m the Oilers coaching staff I’m taking notes from what the Panthers have done in these playoffs.
Offence isn’t an issue for the Oilers, we know that. Tkachuk has been rather clutch and it would’ve helped if we saw more of that from Edmonton’s juggernauts like we saw from Connor McDavid last year. Obviously, that wasn’t the case and it will be something the Oilers will need in future playoff runs.
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what the Oilers need to do to have success in the postseason but as YouTuber ‘Hockey Psychology’ said it comes down to “building the right habits to win in the playoffs.”
Sometimes finding those habits happen through devastating losses like the Oilers experienced against the Golden Knights.
Speaking of the Knights, they weren’t even in the playoffs last year, barely had any roster turnover and now a year later they’re in the Stanley Cup Finals. Albeit they had injury problems the season prior but it’s not like they completely tore down their roster and replaced six or seven guys like some are saying the Oilers should do.
Coaching has played a major factor for both the teams that have reached the final. It’s an area that possibly the Oilers didn’t enough out of and Woodcroft will need to look for ways to make the Oilers stronger defensively as a team and ways the team can eliminate mistakes that end up in the back of net.
Another factor is the influence of luck. Imagine if Brad Marchand scores against Bobrovsky on that breakaway at the end of Game 5. If Bob doesn’t make that stop then we’re not even talking about the Florida Panthers right now.
McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins all hit the crossbar and post a combined 10 times. Luck does play a factor and that’s okay to admit. Good teams create their own luck and the Oilers didn’t generate enough of it.
The Edmonton Oilers were viewed as Cup Contenders by many, even outside of Edmonton and for some it wasn’t supposed to be like this yet here we are.
They lost to a very good hockey team in the Vegas Golden Knights and without a doubt Edmonton can learn, grow and replicate what both of these teams are doing right now, next year. They don’t need to have the same formula as them but improve upon what they already have and with the talent Edmonton has, it’s definitely possible.
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