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Why Did The Oilers Fail To Advance Past Chicago?

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Defence and goaltending did not have a good play-in series.

Edmonton Oilers v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

So! That happened.

The Oilers were eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in four games of the play-in series. You will not be surprised to know that Connor McDavid (5-4-9) played very well, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had eight points (2-6-8) and Leon Draisaitl (3-3-6) made it look easy out there. The Oilers scored an average of 3.75 goals a game, which is good for fourth in the play-in round.

What the hell happened on the other side of the puck?

I wondered aloud why Tippett had removed the 93/29/56 line, but the lines he created (93-97-15) and (63-29-56) did well regardless. The Oilers probably would have enjoyed a goal or two on their five minute power play in game 4 when Alex DeBrincat drove Ethan Bear into the boards from behind (they finished 0/5 on Friday), but they finished the series at 5/17, good for nearly 30%.

Huh. That checks out.

Put it blunt: both the defence and the goaltending had a bad series and cost the Oilers a chance to move on.

In game one, it was bad early. The Blackhawks took advantage of six power plays, going 3/6 on the day. Mike Smith had a terrible first goal in game 1, and the hits didn’t stop coming. Smith had eaten five goals before Tippett got him out of there. To Smith’s defence, they weren’t all his fault. The first one was absolutely without a doubt his fault, and he couldn’t get it going afterwards.

Mike Smith never fully recovered after this goal, but he didn’t have very much help from his defence. This first goal happened six minutes into the game, Chicago scored three more goals in the next seven minutes. The period ended 4-1 Chicago. Smith ought to have been sat down, but he was back in the net for the second period. Leon Draisaitl scored to cut the lead to 4-2, but that’s when Dominik Kubalik wired a laser behind Smith on the power play. Smith finished the day allowing five goals on 27 shots, it would be the only action he saw during the series.

Mikko Koskinen was better than Mike Smith, just...not better enough. Koskinen relieved Mike Smith after he yielded his fifth goal in game one; he played games 2, 3 and 4 of the series as well. An .864 SV% while 5 on 5 is not good at all. Compare that to Smith’s .824 while 5 on 5, and you’ve got a loaded diaper between the pipes before the puck even hits the ice.

Nearly everything got through from the point. You can get on a goaltender for missing a point shot, but with a host of bodies in front of the net and deflections for miles, tracking a puck gets more and more elusive. Time after time Blackhawks got point shots, or shots from the point, or some wacky deflection to give the goaltender hell. To make matters worse, just some ridiculous puck luck sprung up for the Oilers. Deflections are hard enough to deal with, but you’re going to run into trouble when your own defencemen inadvertently put the puck in their own net.

There will no doubt be a move in net, and there will likely be a move or two on the blue. Sorting out some high priced contracts up front during an offseason without a cap increase will also be an issue to contend with. The club’s got to put it behind them and get ready for tomorrow’s draft lottery, which I’m certain will make the entire league very happy to see the Oilers win.

I mean, it’s been five years since they’ve won one. About time, don’t you think?