Heading into these playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers top-end players had something to prove. After dropping opening round series to inferior teams in consecutive years, taking on the Los Angeles Kings set the stage for that trend to continue or be put to rest. While this series is not yet over, Connor McDavid and company have made their intentions known through the first three games.
On paper, this series appeared to be as big a mismatch as there was in the first round of this year’s NHL Playoffs. However, the Oilers aforementioned recent playoff stumbles left the door open for the potential of it being tighter than it should. Losing Game One in the fashion they did only added to that narrative but unlike their last two kicks at the can, their response has been impossible to ignore.
Consecutive six-goal victories will do that and Edmonton’s best players are the guys doing all the damage. Some teams have a top six or top nine that drive their offence upfront but in the case of the Oilers, it’s on seven guys: McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Through these first three games, the Oilers have scored 17 goals and 15 of those have come from the names listed above. Kane has led the way with five over the past two games, including a hat-trick in last night’s 8-2 drubbing. Draisaitl is next with three goals of his own, Hyman and Nugent Hopkins have two apiece and the rest have all managed to light the proverbial lamp once each.
Not to mention the five assists from Evan Bouchard, who currently leads league in scoring for defencemen. No power play has been better than the Oilers (45.5%...5 for 11) during this year’s playoffs and they’ve also scored a shorthanded marker for good measure, courtesy of Darnell Nurse. In other words, this group is oozing offensive confidence and it starts at the very top.
McDavid not only leads the way with six points (tied with Kane) he has also pushed the collective. From the drop of the puck in the series opener, the NHL’s leading scorer has been on a mission. Though he has done similar things during the regular season for years on end, the determination and want to take over games we have seen from the 25-year old in these playoffs has been on another level.
When you mix in his elevation of play with the overall depth upfront and confidence of the group, it can snowball on a team and the Kings are feeling it big time. Despite coming out and tilting the ice for much of the opening period in last night’s loss, Todd McLellan’s crew found themselves in a 2-0 hole after twenty minutes and wondering what more they could do to try and turn the tide.
After a poor decision and some shaky moments in Game One that cost his team dearly, Mike Smith has rebounded with a pair of stellar performances. The veteran netminder was the key reason why Los Angeles didn’t hit the ground running in that first period and for his efforts, was given an eight-goal outburst to work with. Everything that can go right has, including a total domination on special teams.
On top of the Oilers lethal work on the man advantage, they’ve gone 11 for 12 on the penalty kill and yes, the Kings power play isn’t very good. With that said, only the Calgary Flames and Washington Capitals have been better but both have played one fewer game. In my mind, it all goes back to being able to consistently produce offence and when that happens, it changes everything for this group.
To be clear, it’s only been a handful of games but again, these Edmonton Oilers desperately needed a response after how things played out in the series opener and they have delivered in spades. There is still plenty of hockey left to be played but Jay Woodcroft has this group pointed in the right direction. At the moment, they can do no wrong and the belief they have in one another is rather apparent.