As far series openers go, not sure things could have gone much worse than they did for the Edmonton Oilers during last night’s 9-6 loss to the Calgary Flames. In a game filled with a ton of goals, terrible netminding and mistakes being made all over the rink, the Oilers can go nowhere but up from here.
While playing a sound defensive style is not something most think of when it comes to Connor McDavid and company, it was the commitment to adapt and move away from the norm that saved the Oilers regular season. At that point, it was either adapt or die and they went with the former.
To be fair, when the organization brought in Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson to replace Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair, the decision was essentially made for the collective. With that said, the group did what was necessary to get back into the Pacific Division playoff hunt and it worked like a charm.
After last night, this team is essentially at the same stage in their playoff season and now it’s up to them to decide what route they will go. Yes, it was only one game but it was the third time in their last four meetings in which the Flames took it to the Oilers.
As we all know, the last two have been ugly losses in which Edmonton coughed up nine goals against. The other was a 5-3 win that they had no real business winning but Mikko Koskinen was outstanding and Jakob Markstrom was almost as bad in that one, as he was last night.
The other, was a 3-1 loss in early March at the Saddledome and that is the one this group should be zeroing in on from here on out. Tyler Benson, Philip Broberg, William Lagesson, Brad Malone, Markus Niemelainen, Colton Sceviour and Devin Shore all played that night.
It was a mesh-mash of a lineup but Edmonton played a disciplined, simple and structured game in all three zones and held their own. The breakdowns were reduced to a minimal and in order to have a shot at beating this Flames side, it’s the approach the Oilers have to use.
At full strength, trading chances with this Calgary team isn’t the best of ideas and Woodcroft’s group is nowhere close to being at full strength. Ignoring the fact both Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse are severely compromised is ridiculous but it’s also the predicament this team finds itself in.
Obviously, this isn’t the series in which the Oilers can survive their goaltender allowing two awful goals against inside the first six minutes of puck drop. Mike Smith was not good last night and if that continues to be a thing, this series will be over before we know it.
Going on the assumption the goaltending isn’t a tire fire from here on out, figuring out the best way to support their netminder is a must and it can only be done as a group of five. Cheating for offence on occasion is fine but doing it on the regular against this team will not end well.
Calgary has a talented forward group that plays a fast, physical style and can be difficult to contain. It’s who they are and trying to match that would be a mistake. All the Oilers have to do is compete and go back to trusting the structured system that helped them get back on track from mid-February on.
Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t about physicality. No question, Edmonton could have engaged more in the opener but that wasn’t the primary issue. The gaps between the Oilers defence and forwards, as well as their poor decision making with and without the puck are of far greater concern.
Make those priority one and Edmonton should be fine. Does it guarantee they win this series? Not at all but it will give them their best chance at getting there and that is all anyone can ask for. Mix that in with some timely saves, keep the bad goals against to a minimum and the Oilers will have a shot at this.