The Edmonton Oilers are off to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2006 after defeating the Calgary Flames in five games. There, they will be facing the Colorado Avalanche in the Conference Finals for the first time since 2002.
This is going to be one of the high-profile playoff matchups of the year, as we will get to see Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl take on Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar. Probably four of the best ten players in the league right now facing off in what should be an intense and exciting series.
McDavid and Draisaitl both have 26 points in 12 games so far these playoffs, 11 points more than the next batch of players on the leaderboard. The former recorded the fourth most points all-time after their first 11 playoff games. And the latter became the first player in Stanley Cup Playoffs history to have five consecutive three-point games as he put up 17 points in the series against the Flames.
In the three games between these teams in the regular season, the Oilers had a 1-0-2 record. The games were mostly close, with the exception being Edmonton’s 6-3 win late in April.
With a matchup like this in the works, it could really go any way. Even though Colorado has the better team and I fully anticipate an Avalanche victory in six games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Oilers will absolutely put up a fight. There are a few things they can do to help keep this series as close as possible. So, here are three keys to the series for the Edmonton Oilers as they take on the Colorado Avalanche.
1) Shut it Down
If we thought the Oilers-Flames series was fast-paced, high octane, and offensively packed, this series against the Avalanche is primed to take that to the extreme. MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and Nazem Kadri lead Colorado’s offense that is jammed full of talent.
We saw the Oilers struggle in the first two rounds with getting overwhelmed and overpowered by their opponents, leading to early deficits, giving up leads, lopsided shot totals, and playing from behind very often. If the Oilers are to have any success against the Avalanche, they have to focus on how defensively sound the team is. Edmonton is already fourth-worst among playoff teams in High Danger Chances Against/60. That stat will not get better against Colorado unless they smooth out their defensive game.
Additionally, Mike Smith has been serviceable. He has made the saves he needs to in order to keep the team in the game. But he is not a game-changer at this point. There are many glaring flaws in his style right now that the Flames were able to exploit in a few games. The Avalanche will be all over them as well.
The Oilers have to figure out their defense and stop giving up so many quality chances to avoid getting blown out constantly. They cannot rely on their offense to score five goals per game to keep them in it.
2) Keep McDavid and Draisaitl Together
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
These two played together for most of the series against the Flames and it worked splendidly. Draisaitl had 17 points in five games, and McDavid had 12. This is a rare time where I will say that in order to match the firepower that the Avalanche can ice at one time, the Oilers should stack their top line as well.
With the mixture of wingers, like Zach Hyman and Evander Kane, also performing well and scoring lately, the Oilers have to find a way to keep this hot streak going for the offense.
3) Use Speed and Aggression on the Forecheck
The last thing the Oilers want to do against a fast-paced Avalanche team is sit back. It won’t work, the team is not built for it. We see what happens when the Oilers aren’t playing their game, it’s the early goals against, the never controlling the puck, the lopsided shot totals, and disengaged play that we as fans are all-too-familiar with.
So, this series needs to have a huge focus on building around speed and aggression to keep engaged. In my view, a few key players that best embody these characteristics and what the Oilers will need to excel at through this series are Hyman, Kailer Yamamoto, and Jesse Puljujarvi. All three of these have some combination of speed and aggression that enable them to be great forecheckers.
Hyman is out of this world at puck retention as he fights off numerous opponents to kill time off the clock and let his team get set offensively. Despite his small stature, Yamamoto plays in the difficult areas and is agile enough to tie up opponents and create turnovers. And Puljujarvi simply creates enough pressure by not giving the opponents space to play which lead him to be an incredibly effective forechecker.
Certain parts of the team’s strategy need to be built around the style of those three forwards to help ensure momentum and energy stay in the Oilers’ favour through this series.
Do you have any more keys to the series for the Oilers as they head into the Conference Finals? Drop a comment down below!
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