Well, that surely wasn’t the start the Edmonton Oilers were hoping for to kick-off their Western Conference Final with the Colorado Avalanche but likely a necessary eye-opener. Heading into this series, no one questioned either side’s ability to score goals, nor the speed at which these games were going to be played at. Now it’s on Jay Woodcroft to figure out a sustainable plan of attack.
Some have already hinted at it only being one game and not that big of a deal, as the Oilers overcame a similar start during their second round series with the Calgary Flames. While that is partially accurate, this Avalanche team is a different beast. Yes, they will give up their share of chances but the frenetic pace at which the play and ability to finish around the net, changes things quite a bit.
Just like Edmonton, this group will come at opponents in waves and can be a monster to try and contain off the rush. Where the Oilers played that card against the Flames, it was one their provincial rival did not possess. Colorado not only has that very same trick in their bag, the individual skill-set of some of their defencemen take it to another level.
Make no mistake, Woodcroft’s crew did not play well in either of their last two series openers and yet managed to comeback and make a game of both. With that said, what’s most concerning about the loss to the Avalanche is Mike Smith wasn’t the issue. While you would’ve loved an extra save here or there, it’s next to impossible to put much of what happened at his feet.
By contrast, he was downright awful against the Flames and put his team behind the eight-ball. There were probably those who didn’t like Mikko Rantanen beating him short-side on the Avs’ fifth goal and that would be a reach. Now, that isn’t to suggest the 40-year old was stellar but goaltending wasn’t why this one came off the rails. The quality of chances and time Colorado had was and that has to change.
If the expectation is for Smith or Mikko Koskinen, who was excellent in relief, to try and hold them afloat in this type of game, Edmonton is unlikely to come out on the winning side four times. The Avalanche are simply too good and while the Oilers still need to play to their strengths, we have seen them deploy a more structured, disciplined and patient approach during both the regular season and these playoffs.
Against a team like Colorado and with how this roster is constructed, Edmonton has to drastically cut back on the time and space they allowed the Avs players. Dave Manson does not have the horses on the backend that can neutralize this kind of attack and even if he did, it would be a rather large ask for any blueline to attempt with the aforementioned issues not first being addressed.
Especially on the road, like it or not, the Oilers are going to need to clog things up and play more of a so-called road game in order to sneak out a win or two from Ball Arena. Again, this isn’t Calgary and something we can’t lose sight of, the Avs have been waiting for this opportunity/moment for some time. Just like Edmonton, previously failures have them hungry for what potentially lies ahead.
If what we saw from Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz is an indication of the kind of goaltending Connor McDavid and company will be up against this series, scoring goals won’t be an issue. Time is of the essence and if recent history tells us anything, chances are Jay Woodcroft will have something up his sleeve come Thursday night.