Damn, playoff hockey is fun. The vibe around Rogers Place last night was absolutely incredible. The organization gets an A+ grade from me for the way they got the crowd hyped up both outside and inside the arena pre-game. The video that played before the players skated out was very well done too. I don’t give them compliments in this area often, but they deserve some love for last night.
On the ice, it was a different story. Here are my three big takeaways from last night’s game:
1 -Don’t overreact
@Mike Smith allowed a weak goal and made a costly mistake late in the game. That can’t happen again. At the same time, he was statistically one of the best goalies in the NHL over the last two months of the season. The Oilers should absolutely give him the opportunity to bounce back in game two.
@Jesse Puljujarvi wasn’t involved at all in game one. He stayed on the perimeter, never engaged physically, and only registered one shot attempt. They need him to start using his size and contributing in the offensive zone. Still, I wouldn’t pull him out of the top nine or anything like that. They should be a little patient and let him find his game because he’s been a very good top-six winger for them this season and I think he can make meaningful contributions in the postseason.
@Darnell Nurse made some brutal reads and while he had some flashy rushes up the ice, he wasn’t nearly the defenseman that the Oilers needed him to be in game one. I wouldn’t dial back his minutes at all in game two though. He’s fully capable of playing 22-25 top pairing minutes a game and if the Oilers want to win this series, they’ll need Nurse to step up and be much better in the rest of this series. I fully expect him to be.
2 – The Refs are calling penalties!
Over the four games played last night, there were 39 powerplay opportunities. An average of pretty much five per team!
I know people were worried that McDavid and Draisaitl would just get abused by the likes of Kopitar and Danault and while I think Danault maybe got away with a little bit too much in the neutral zone last game at some points, it was encouraging to see that the officials aren’t afraid to call infractions on the Oilers two superstars.
If the Oilers are going to win four of the next six games against the LA Kings, their powerplay will need to keep being productive. They’ll also have to start outsourcing the Kings at even strength, but the powerplay production is also a big key.
3 – Fine doesn’t win you playoff games
Did the Oilers play poorly last night? No. Did they bring their ‘A’ game? Also, no. I thought the team played fine. The shots were close all game, they had some solid stretches where they really poured on the pressure, I loved the physical side of their games and @Connor McDavid was absolutely flying.
However, they came out of the gates slow and they made a handful of really sloppy plays when trying to get the puck out of their own end. They also missed on some really high-level scoring chances at 5v5 and while yes, I give them some credit for generating those looks, it’s the playoffs and you need to be able to bury some of those chances.
Again, they played fine but it’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you aren’t bringing your best, you’re not going to win.
There is no sense in sounding the alarm bell after just one game. This team showed that they’re capable of being one of the best teams in the league over the last few months of the regular season and I still think they will win this series. One game does not change that.
I talked about this all in my latest YouTube video over at The Nation Network! GIVE IT A WATCH: