It’s hard to be disappointed with the end of the 2021-22 season for the Edmonton Oilers. The team’s farthest playoff run in 16 years, one of the best overall rosters since the 2005-06 Cup run, and a new, powerful energy around the team that hasn’t been seen in a long time.
After a hot start, the team tumbled way down the standings and almost played their way out of a playoff spot. But Jay Woodcroft took over behind the bench and got the team back on track. The Oilers were one of the hottest teams in the league over the last few months of the season.
Although they struggled at times in their first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings, they never gave up, battled back, and won in seven games. They exploded against the Calgary Flames in round two, winning in five.
This sets the stage for the Conference Finals. The Oilers came in hot, averaging over five goals per game in the previous series, their top players are all playing some of the best hockey of their careers, and the momentum around the team is unmatched in recent years.
But the Colorado Avalanche had other plans as they swept the Oilers. The series, from start to finish, was dominated by the Avalanche in almost every capacity. Colorado was one of the Cup favourites heading into the season. It is no surprise that this powerhouse team steamrolled its way through the Oilers, who, despite making it to the Conference Finals, aren’t quite good enough to have made it as far as they did.
So, time to take a look back at this series to pinpoint some of the things that went wrong for the Oilers. Other than the inconsistent officiating, of course.
They Didn’t Shut it Down
This isn’t a hot take or a big-brain thought to have had if you watch any Oilers hockey, but it’s still a key factor in what went wrong in this series. They routinely found ways to win games in the past despite their bad defense by outscoring their problems. They all happened to get hot at the same time and outscored their problems in the Flames series.
But the Avalanche had other plans and knew how to exploit the Oilers’ weak defensive play. Colorado played fast, high-pressure hockey that frequently caught the Oilers flat-footed, behind the play, and out of position. They got a lot of goals off of this, and rightfully so.
By now, everyone and their dog knows that Mike Smith is not a gamechanging goalie. He is serviceable, average, and mostly playable. But he will not be winning the team games, and he will not make a lot of momentum-changing saves. He will also let in horrible goals on a nightly basis. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a goalie let so many weak shots squeak through as I’ve seen him do this season.
This particular type of play on the Avalanche’s third goal of game three is familiar for Oilers fans as Smith has these types of shots go through him far too often.
The team needed a big save, a big game, just anything to give them a bit of confidence in a difficult series and they got nothing from Smith.
At this point in the season, every team is going through injury issues to some extent. The Oilers are no exception.
Leon Draisaitl was barely able to skate or pick himself up off the ice at times in this series, but he still gutted it out and stayed in it, still getting 32 points in 16 playoff games. But his high ankle sprain sustained in round one, and any other lingering injuries he has been playing through, were clearly impacting him against the Avalanche.
Darnell Nurse, whose status was questionable heading into the postseason due to a lower-body injury sustained late in the season, was also battling numerous injuries but stayed in the lineup. With a rumoured core muscle injury and a torn hip flexor, it’s no wonder he was not his normal self in this series.
Having these significant injuries to key players was a huge factor in why the Oilers were not able to match up against the Avalanche.
They Did not Adapt to the Avalanche’s Playstyle
This one largely goes along with my “They Didn’t Shut it Down” point from earlier but with a slightly different twist. The Oilers did not seem to realize how they should be playing against the Avalanche. It was no secret how Colorado plays, there’s tons of game tape and analysis of their fast, overbearing playstyle on offense and quick, well-positioned sticks defensively. But Edmonton didn’t show much respect for that playstyle and instead just let the Avalanche do their thing.
This, in turn, led to the classic Oilers problem where the opponent can impose their own playstyle on the game and in turn shut down everything Edmonton tries to get started.
They were unable to adapt their system to something that was a better counter to the Avalanche’s playstyle, instead just letting Colorado control play for the majority of the series.
These are just a few of the things that went wrong for the Oilers in this series. But, overall, the season needs to be looked at as a success in some capacity. The team showed a level of battle and grit that they haven’t played with in years. And some of the prospects and core pieces working their way up through the system are beginning to play big roles with the team. Although there are still holes in the roster, this season was an exciting start in the right direction! And hey, at least they beat the Flames.
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