Stop if you had heard this one before. The Edmonton Oilers have been eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoffs because of poor defence and goaltending.
Goaltending Lets Down Edmonton Oilers Once Again
Now before tackling the defensive miscues that happened all season and in this series, we must first focus on the Edmonton Oilers goaltending. This was not supposed to be Stuart Skinner‘s team. As a matter of fact, Jack Campbell was paid $5 million a season for the next five seasons to lead the Oilers in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Oilers, Campbell just could never get his bearing under him this season. Now it does take a season for players to adjust to a new system. Campbell had signed with the Oilers after playing in Toronto for the last couple of years. The contract he earned was based on his performance in the regular season with the Maple Leafs. Campbell was good enough for Toronto to win in the playoffs and not the reason they could not get out of the first round.
However, nobody will deny he struggled in Edmonton this year. Enter Stuart Skinner. Skinner played great this season as he was nominated for the Calder Trophy as NHL’s Rookie of the Year. Thus head coach Jay Woodcroft had no choice but to go to Stuart Skinner. Skinner was good enough in Round 1 but was pulled in Game 4 as Campbell saved the series and the season for the Oilers.
The problem for Skinner was Round 2. He got pulled in three of the last five games of the series. And many people will question Woodcroft about the decision not to start Campbell. He is getting paid that money for a reason. Just look at the Florida Panthers. Florida pulled Alex Lyon in favour of Sergei Bobrovsky and hasn’t looked back since. It was time for the Oilers to see what Campbell had in the playoffs. He was good enough in relief and needed to start with the season on the line.
Campbell not starting Game 6 was a clear indication the Oilers have no faith in Campbell and will look to pursue a number one starting goalie for this group to push them over the edge.
Oilers Rely Too Much on Power Play
Like the New York Rangers, the Edmonton Oilers relied too much on their power play. It was the best in the regular season and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Anytime the Oilers had a power play, it was automatic they would score. But towards the end of the Vegas series, the power play went dry. The Oilers did not score enough 5-on-5 to be successful. In addition, Vegas got the depth scoring and Edmonton did not.
Evander Kane was coming off an injury and only mustered two goals in the playoffs. But what was Ryan Nugent Hopkins’s excuse? He was one of three players (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) the other two who hit 100 points this season. They needed more from him along with the rest of the depth scoring.
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Oilers Defence Continues To Be A Problem Yet Again
And while depth scoring was an issue, Draisaitl said it best after Game 1 of the Los Angeles Kings series, the Oilers needed to defend. Too many times in the playoffs, they did not play well defensively and gave up leads.
Edmonton scored the opening goal in five of the six games, but in three of those games let Vegas tie the game within a minute, basically the next shift. And you could see it from the start of the playoffs, the Oilers defence was not as good as many thought it would be. And down the stretch, it looked like the Oilers solved those defensive problems.
However, Los Angeles and Vegas exposed Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci constantly in the playoffs. Mattias Ekholm was good, but he did not put the Oilers over the top. And as Woodcroft told the media post Game 6, the stretch in the second period is what cost the Oilers the game.
Two goals in a three-minute span by Jonathan Marchessault sunk the Oilers chances. It was poor defensive plays in their own zone. Again stop if you heard that before. Ryan McLeod on the first Golden Knights goal missed an assignment in the first period. Then in the second period, it was Draisaitl who did not switch with Nugent-Hopkins as Marchessault went right down Broadway untouched.
As Mike Kelly and Bill Lindsay on NHL Network point out it is never a good idea for a defenceman to go outside the dots in their own zone. Ceci got caught chasing. But it starts when the Vegas defenceman jumps into the play that throws the Oilers off.
Then on the next Vegas goal, the Oilers in the own zone get caught puck-watching. The five players on the ice watch the puck twice get whipped around the defensive zone before Marchessault taps home his second of the game. That is what cost the Oilers the game and the series.
In the first round against the Kings, Darnell Nurse got caught out of position multiple times in the first three games of the series which led to either the Kings tying the game or taking the lead. Just got back to Game 1 and the Anze Kopitar tying goal.
When the shot comes from Phillip Danault on a pass from Viktor Arvidsson, there is no reason for Nurse to go to the shooter with Kopitar in the crease. Skinner has the shooter. All Nurse should be worried about is boxing out Kopitar and making sure that lose puck does not go in. But instead, he goes to the shooter and the game is tied. The Kings went on to win Game 1 in overtime.
But again it is the same mistakes with the Oilers are the past several seasons. Draisaitl said it best when he called the season “a wasted year” after losing in Round 2. McDavid says the pain of losing stinks and he does not want to feel this type of pain again.
The Edmonton Oilers management has to address the mess that is their defence and goaltending again. That is the only way the Oilers will get back to the Promised Land of lifting the Stanley Cup. If the Oilers choose to run this team back again, they will need better goaltending that is for sure. Not to mention a more sound defensive structure.
But as it has been for a while now for the Oilers goaltending and defence costs them another series. This year was supposed to be different and was not. Now there are more questions than answers on what to do going forward.
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