The Edmonton Oilers vs Chicago Blackhawks qualifying series had the chance to be very entertaining from the opening puck drop. No one expected the Blackhawks to come out in Game One and outplay the Oilers the way they did winning 6-4. The Blackhawks looked like they were in mid-season form from the opening puck drop while the Oilers looked rusty and out of sorts. Game Two last night found the Oilers returning the favour and dominating over the Blackhawks 6-3. However, this series has been about Connor McDavid and his ability to dominate a series. Can the Blackhawks make the proper adjustments to slow him down?
Chicago Must Slow Down Connor McDavid
Through two games, the Blackhawks have done a terrible job of slowing down Connor McDavid. Even with series, tied at 1-1, the favourite to lead the qualifying round in scoring, has been dominant. Through two games McDavid has four goals and two assists, Leon Draisaitl one goal and two assists, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins one goal and five assists. Despite the unusually low production from Draisaitl, the Oilers’ top three are definitely producing.
Several of the Blackhawks defencemen have been slow to react and out of position against the Oilers speedy wingers. Rookie Adam Boqvist looked lost and will certainly need to step up his game. There are not a lot of options if the Blackhawks decide to replace the struggling rookie. They have undersized rookies Nicolaus Beaudin and Chad Krys, or veteran Nick Seeler. Might it be time for the premiere of 6’4″ 208 pound Alec Regula? This past season with the London Knights he had 27 goals with 60 points in 56 games. His size would also be a welcome addition to the Blackhawks back end for sure.
Corey Crawford Holding Down The Fort
In our Qualifying Series Preview, we had three keys that would determine the likely outcome of the series. They were goaltending, offence, and special teams. Let’s see how both teams are doing after Game Two.
Goaltending was a major issue coming into the series between the Oilers and Blackhawks. Even with the series tied, the major x-factor outside of McDavid has been Corey Crawford. There were several question marks coming in, but Crawford has answered them.
He looked steady as ever for his team as he stopped 25 of 29 shots during game one. The concerns about Crawford’s physical stamina and any other residuals from his bout with COVID appear to be put to rest at least for now. As this series moves along, his ability to withstand the rigours of the games will be watched closely.
It is unlikely anyone else sees the net for the Blackhawks based on Crawford’s heroic efforts in both games. He had several moments last night in game two where he was playing without much support. There were too many screens and deflected pucks that found the back of the net. The Blackhawks have to do a better job in front of Crawford to stop McDavid if they hope to win this series. They cannot let the Oilers forwards have any free space and need to cover better in their zone.
Oilers Goalie Battle
Many questioned head coach Dave Tippett‘s loyalty to Mike Smith as he decided to decision Smith over Mikko Koskinen in Game One. After a terrible performance where Smith got the hook, stopping 18 of 23 shots faced, the Oilers had no choice but to go to Koskinen, especially in a short series. Koskinen showed why he was the better goalie all season stopping 18 of 19 shots in his 30:46 minutes of game action showing.
The Oilers however have a goaltending situation to deal with as Koskinen has outplayed Smith by a wide margin. For more on the Oilers’ goalie issues, we have this from Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times who writes:
“Now all the focus is on the Smith-Koskinen battle.”
“Whoever they start, we’ll be ready to go,” Colliton said. “They’re not the same goaltender, but there are some similarities. We have to make sure we have people in front. That’s how a lot of our goals are going to be scored in the playoffs.”
Koskinen’s play so far should earn him the net going forward. His team came out with a purpose and seemed more focused on swarming their opponent. Even though they still committed a lot of turnovers, the Oilers overcame that with offensive pressure on an overwhelmed Blackhawks defence.
Oilers Defence Must Be Better
While the Oilers offence has been electric, their defence in front of their goalies has led to many problems. The Blackhawks are showing why they have the capability to win this series. Chicago is being led by NHL Calder Finalist Dominik Kubalik who shocked the world by scoring two goals and three assists in his first ever “playoff” game. Behind Kubalik, captain Jonathan Toews has two goals and one assist, Patrick Kane has one goal and two assists, rookie Kirby Dach has three assists, and Alex DeBrincat has two assists. The Blackhawks scoring will have to improve if they hope to move on to the next round. While they got two goals from their defence last night, their secondary scoring has been missing in action. Brandon Saad with only 2 points so far is a prime example of what needs to improve.
The Oilers’ special teams led the league with the power play being number one and the penalty kill being number two. The Blackhawks’ goal was to not put themselves shorthanded and then convert on their own power-play chances. After two games, the Oilers are 4-9 on the power play which is lights out. The Blackhawks are 3-10 with the man advantage which is also good.
Special teams will be huge going forward in this series. The Blackhawks will have to stay out of the penalty box if they hope to prevail. Giving the Oilers the man advantage multiple times a game is a sure way to exit this qualifying round quickly. They also need a better effort from their penalty-killing unit. The improvement they showed this season has gone missing against the Oilers so far this series.
One of the big keys for the Blackhawks to win the series is to slow down Connor McDavid. Through two games, Connor McDavid has dominated the play five on five and on special teams. They were able to do that somewhat in Game One, but going forward the Blackhawks will want other players not named McDavid, Draisaitl to score goals. That is a win for the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks need to play an up-tempo game and dominate puck possession. They have also to limit the shots against which is huge in keeping the Oilers scoring machine in check.
Another aspect of the game the Blackhawks must win is the turnover battle. After two games, they have 22 giveaways compared to 36 for the Oilers. They need to start converting this bounty of Oilers’ giveaways into goals. That would cause them to open up their offence more than providing the Blackhawks with even more opportunities.
For the Blackhawks to survive this round, they need to continue mistake-free hockey in order to win against such a talented team. The series so far is the tale of two different teams in two different games. The Blackhawks and Oilers have now had a turn each dominating the other. Which Oilers team will show up for game three? Which Blackhawks team will be there to respond? Will it be the first team to score six goals wins? We will certainly find out Wednesday night in Edmonton.
For the Oilers, they need to play to better in front of whomever their goalie of choice is. How long can the Oilers outscore their defensive problems? Defence wins championships and the percentages will eventually catch up with a team especially when the Stanley Cup Playoffs actually begin.
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