Final Score: Oilers 2 – Sharks 0
Call the first game jitters, nerves, or the Oilers dipping their toe into the water and getting a taste of what playoff hockey is all about. Regardless of what you call it, that first game highlighted, rather clearly, that improvement needed to be made.
Flash forward to Friday and well… improvement was made.
Just like game one, the Oilers came out of the starting gate full of energy, (literally) driving through the Sharks for a 1st period lead in hits at 22-4. It was a dominating showcase by the home team, but despite their herculean physicality, they still exited the first 20 tied at 0.
Oh yeah – 1st period stats:
CF% = 61.9
SACF% = 60.6
FF% = 53.3
DFF% = 60.8
SF% = 60.0
(All) FOW% = 30.8
FWIW, Kassian was fourth in CF%.
— Oilers Nerd Alert (@OilersNerdAlert) April 15, 2017
If the story continued similar to how it unfolded on Wednesday, and the Oilers once again flashed a demonstration of inexperience and nerves, Friday night in Edmonton could have been set up for significant doom and gloom once again.
But just as this team proved throughout the entire year, they are capable of learning lessons, and they are capable of learning lessons fast. Reminiscent of how this team rebounded after their loss to the Buffalo Sabres in the 3rd game of the season, the Oilers kept their foot on the gas pedal for the final 40, and took it to the Sharks routinely, repeatedly, and decisively.
There was no question who was the better team tonight.
Heading the charge tonight was none other than Zack Kassian. Former villain to Edmonton, turned heroic depth winger, Kassian put on a display that earns a ton of respect in these parts. He was hitting with the force of a mack truck, he was skating with tremendous speed, he was generating offensive opportunities at a dangerous rate, and overall, he found his way to the top of a very good Oilers team, as the best on the night.
He gave the type of performance that is remembered for years. It was highlighted with his 2nd period short-handed goal. Following a smattering of breakaways and big hits, Kassian broke in on Martin Jones, made the simple shot, and propelled his team to the lead just 42 seconds into the 2nd. It would stand as the game winner.
From there, Edmonton would continue to manhandle, stifle, and dominate the Sharks on way to a 2-0 win. Connor McDavid, despite a quieter night than usual, also found the scoresheet with his first career playoff goal, a short-handed marker as well.
Connor McDavid’s first playoff goal pic.twitter.com/BQu91ZbAeO
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 15, 2017
Those two shorthanded goals would highlight a dominance on special teams, where Edmonton would turn 6 Sharks power plays into a net loss of two. It was the difference in the game, one that was put forth by the speed that this Oilers team has in their repertoire. San Jose struggled with the Penguins’ speed in the Stanley Cup Final last year, and it could still prove to be the difference in this series.
The defence core played outstanding, using great perimeter play to limit the Sharks to just 16 shots in the entire game. I would struggle significantly to think of a significant Sharks scoring opportunity. That right there is a testament to the excellent play on the blue line by those 6 gentlemen.
Cam Talbot, of course, held the fort on the easy night, for his first career playoff shutout.
Perhaps the only concern to come out of this tilt was the continued undisciplined play. I am all for strong, physical, demanding play that makes the opposition think twice before acting; however, there is a line between playing forceful, and playing careless. A stiff crosscheck in the back, well hidden, while fighting for the puck during play is forceful. Two crosschecks to the back of the opposition in the crease, after the whistle is careless. Better work in this area will make winning this series a whole lot easier.
Another interesting thing to note is the ice time of Slepyshev and Desharnais, with them having 5:55 and 6:48 of ice time respectively. It is fair to expect some adjustments there for Sunday.
Overall though, this was a fantastic rebound game that did a lot to boost the morale of this team. They ran through the Sharks, took advantage of their opportunities, locked it down defensively, and sent a message going forward that this team is more than capable of taking it to the defending Western Conference champions.
Off to San Jose for game 3 and 4.
Oilers Player of the Game
No question, it is Zack Kassian. 14 minutes of ice time, a goal, 6 hits, a few of them extremely hard, and a presence that will leave the Sharks with something to remember. Superb game.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) April 15, 2017
1. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is the health of Oscar Klefbom. He blocked a shot in the 3rd, and did not look goo dafter. He didn’t play the last few minutes and hobbled down the hallway to the dressing room. It’s obvious, but his health is crucial to the success of this team.
2. One of the best parts of playoff hockey is the stories and heroes that emerge. Just a few years ago, Zack Kassian was a VERY hated man in this city. Now? You could erect a 20 foot statue of his likeness on the Whitemud tonight, and most Edmontonians would appreciate it. Remarkable.
3. If you had to guess which Oilers forward played the second most behind McDavid, would you think Mark Letestu? Well, he did, coming in at just under 20 minutes. He had an assist, a pair of hits, a pair of blocked shots, and a total of 8 minutes on special teams. The Oilers 3rd line centre had a very good game just when Edmonton needed it.
4. For a while, I have wondered how Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins would play in the playoffs. This was really true earlier this season, when their level of effort could have been called into question on more than a few nights. That is why I am very impressed to see these guys come up clutch in the postseason with some seriously good play. Nuge has been a force, Eberle is winning puck battles routinely, and overall, that 2nd line continues to be a positive force on the ice.
Eberle wins his puck battles now on a far more consistent basis. Huge improvement in his overall game.
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) April 15, 2017
5. Overall hits on the night were 41-21. More than a few of the Oilers hits were highlight/cringe worthy. Those hits, and their collective toll, will make a big difference in the coming games.
Up Next: Easter Sunday Showdown in San Jose
With the series knotted at 1, the Oilers will head to the bay area for the third game. With Bakersfield’s season over, the Oilers may make a couple adjustments to the lineup, so it is difficult to know what to expect in 2 days time. Does Desharnais stay in the lineup? Will Klefbom be good to go? What about Thornton. Lots of questions and only 48 hours to figure it all out.
The wild ride continues on.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) April 15, 2017