There are some results you can see coming from a mile away, and last night we saw exactly that play out at Rogers Place. After a stunning opening (which featured the crowd singing the anthem in full voice), the town team played a tentative six minutes before settling in. Oscar Klefbom scored the opening goal, and Milan Lucic added a power-play marker later in the period. Almost from that point on, Edmonton was either chasing the puck or playing with one man in the penalty box.
I saw a lot of complaining in the comments section and elsewhere online about the officials, and that may be something you want to discuss. For me, a more mature team figures out a way to stay out of the box. By the time the parade of penalties was complete, all of the air had been let out of the Oilers’ tires. Much of the roster had been sitting so long the speed and feel of the game was beyond them. I will say Edmonton’s skaters left their thinking caps at home from the second period on.
The Edmonton Oilers can win this series. They have the best player, they have the best goalie and the Sharks are not healthy. However, the first thing the Oilers have to do in order to win this series, is not beat themselves. I think it’s fair to suggest learning that lesson may cost them this playoff spring, unless they can learn it in a quick hurry.
- Todd McLellan on the penalties: “It takes a lot of players out of the rhythm of the game.”
One of the things I wanted to see in this game surrounded the matchups facing Connor McDavid, and the matchups doled out to Darnell Nurse-Eric Gryba.
PATRICK MAROON-CONNOR MCDAVID-LEON DRAISAITL
- Corsi for 5×5: Patrick Maroon (11-15), Connor McDavid (14-14), Leon Draisaitl (15-14).
- Points: One assist, by McDavid, on the power play.
- Shots: Two, both by McDavid. He had five shot attempts, Leon two, Maroon one.
- TOI: McDavid played 16:14 at evens, 3:39 on the PP, 1:29 on the PK.
- HDSC: Natural Stat Trick has McDavid at two high-danger SC’s for and four against, I didn’t count but it sounds about right.
- Oddities: McDavid spent a shift with Mark Letestu, not sure why. Louie DeBrusk picked up on it and identified Maroon as the winger dropped, I don’t know what happened there. If you do, chime in!
- Sharks defensive matchups: San Jose ran (as we expected) Vlasic-Braun against McDavid for 10:37 (Braun) and Vlasic (9:37). CMD won both Corsi battles (14-6 and 10-7) but there were precious few really good looks I can recall. San Jose’s plan (rob McDavid of clean air) worked, simple as that.
- Sharks forward matchups: With Logan Couture back, SJS ran the Karlsson-Couture-Pavelski unit most often, and with good success. Although McDavid was 4-5 against Pavelski, it’s also true this was one of the few games any opponent got under 97’s skin. Credit to Pavelski, he did his job and McDavid was not the difference in the game. For any player up against McDavid, that’s a win.
- What about Game 2? I talked to Woodguy about matching last week, and he mentioned that Todd McLellan may like the matchup (power v. power) because it gives clean air to the Nuge line. I think that’s dandy, but wonder if it might be an idea to get 97 loose when Vlasic Pickles is on the bench. A McDavid versus Brent Burns shift holds real promise.
- Anything else? If Maroon is hurting (he was not his best), it might be an idea to throw Caggiula up there for Game 2, or at least a portion. Friday is a must win, so the absence of alternatives clears the brain.
- Anything else else? We know Connor McDavid can’t be contained for long, so Game 2 should be a wild time. Leon played a heavy straight-arm game early, but seemed to fade later in the game and needs to bring it for 60 minutes.
- Corsi for 5×5: Darnell Nurse (10-17); Eric Gryba (8-11).
- Points: Nurse was -1, and both men were on the ice for a PP GA(Ward) and the overtime goal. I think it is fair to note that Nurse was slow to shut the back door on the Ward goal, and that Gryba was in no man’s land on the OT winner. If you disagree, please let me know.
- Shots: No shots, but Nurse had five shot attempts. Nurse was 3-9 in 5×5 shots for-against, and Gryba was 3-5.
- TOI: Nurse played 16:23 and 1:53 on PK.
- HDSC: Natural Stat Trick Nurse at 0-4 and Gryba at 1-3.
- Oddities: None.
- Oilers defensive matchups: Todd McLellan had Nurse on the ice most often (5×5) against Justin Braun (9-3) and Brent Burns (1-7) pairings.
- Sharks forward matchups: Nurse saw Jannik Hansen (5-6) for over five minutes, Chris Tierney and Tomas Hertl too. Pretty much the same for Gryba, although his numbers are slightly different (partly due to time with Oscar Klefbom). Nurse spent some time with Adam Larsson (3-8) but it didn’t go well. The ‘shift’ for Nurse-Larsson lasted an eternity and reminded all of the dark days of Oilers defense. When Nurse finally got the puck out, he was caved. Credit where due, he knew the hit was coming and hung in there.
- What about Game 2? Matt Benning (for me) is a better match for the Sharks forwards, but that isn’t ideal either. Two players as young as Nurse-Benning are will get targeted by the Sharks, especially in their home barn.
- Anything else? Mark Fayne is in Bakersfield.
- Oscar Klefbom had a fantastic playoff debut to my eye, if I they ask me he would have been first star on the night. Scored a goal, transported and passed the puck well, he was splendid.
- Cam Talbot had a strong game, I’ve seen comments about the winning goal but that’s a terrible defensive breakdown and a bang-bang play. You hope your goaler stops it, but Talbot made some fantastic saves early. I would note the early leg kick save and the round-the-world beauty against Brent Burns.
- Milan Lucic had a strong game, grabbing 1-1-2 early and helping the break out with good speed and passing. I really like his game right now.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a fine game by my eye, although 6+ minutes on the PK meant he was not as available for even-strength matchups.
- Adam Larsson played a good game, strong down low and had good wheels. In a difficult game for the defense, I liked this pairing. I did not like the Nurse-Larsson shift, however.
- Mark Letestu made a terrible back pass in his own zone that led to the tying goal, just a terrible piece of work. Single plays can have great importance while also being single plays. It was not a good night for him despite the apple.
- Drake Caggiula is an emerging player but he can’t take two penalties. No sir. Todd McLellan may not feel he has the horses to sit him after that game, and for me I like Caggiula as an option on the 97 line, but he needs to stay out of the box.
There are several reasons for Edmonton’s loss (SJS were outstanding on the forecheck, and knew the breakout patterns—often arriving at the designated puck destination before the designated Oiler) but I would rank penalties as the top item. Let’s have a look.
Connor McDavid played 65 percent of his 5×5 time against Justin Braun, and 59 percent against Marc-Edouard Vlasic. That’s lower (in terms of percentage) than we saw in the road game against the Sharks recently (G80). Here’s what I wrote about that matchup at the time:
- Line went 12-14 against Vlasic-Braun in 13:46. That represents 79 percent of McDavid’s 5×5 icetime, that (imo) is a hard match. Despite the negative Corsi, I felt the line had several promising sorties and 97 alone had what seemed like a dozen handsome chances. Source
So, what changed? Well, it was the the first playoff game for the heart of the order, and that probably impacted things. Also, the breakouts were not quality (mostly), and a lot of that (to my eye) was about good scouting and aggressive play (leading to McDavid lacking clean air). In order, these are the issues:
- Predictable breakouts and poor execution on them (and SJS anticipation/good scouting)
- Slow reaction in defensive zone
The Sharks were there to catch the Letestu back pass and arrived early and often for the dump outs and area passes. Good scouting. Todd McLellan and his staff need to devise ways to counter it (a check down option surely was there but for the most part went unused), but I think much of last night (after the first period) was about Edmonton not playing their game. That’s my opinion. I don’t think expert line juggling was the issue, especially considering Connor McDavid had flourished previously in a similar situation (sans Couture). If Nuge hadn’t been on the PK for six minutes and if all of the forwards had been in a rotation, perhaps the game wouldn’t have gotten away from them. I think Connor McDavid could play the exact opponent he did last night and post three points on Friday. He’s done it before, he will do it again. Get him the puck with a foot of clean air. That’s the job. I think this was a failure of on-ice execution, not off-ice management. Connor McDavid can win going power v. power. We’ve seen it. And if the plan is to find him the softer minutes (versus Brent Burns), then the players have to stay out of the penalty box. The Edmonton Oilers lost their first playoff game in eleven years last night. Friday we find out what they learned. One area Todd McLellan might consider: Sitting some veterans, specifically David Desharnais and Eric Gryba. The Sharks are perhaps less than ideal in terms of a matchup for these men.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A busy morning. TSN1260 at 10, scheduled to appear:
- Bruce McCurdy, Cult of Hockey. We’ll break down the first playoff game since 2006, and Bruce will tell us what that playoff atmosphere felt like in the new building.
- Jared Book, Bluebird Nation and Habs Eyes on the Prize. Jays slow start and Habs can’t contain Tanner Glass.
- Frank Seravalli, TSN. The playoffs are underway, and the off-ice stories are in full bloom. We’ll have a lively discussion on all of it.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!