With a 3-2 loss Friday night to Chicago the Edmonton Oilers have packed up and left the bubble after dropping the qualifying series 3-1 to the 12th-ranked Blackhawks. Fans now have Monday’s draft lottery to look forward to and their 12.5% chance of landing Alexis Lafreniere and causing a major hockey world meltdown in the process.
Until then, here are five reasons the Oilers lost the series.
1. Lack of intensity
Darnell Nurse gave the quote of the series after Game 4.
“The most intensity we had was in the exhibition game when we played Calgary.”
Zach Kassian was thought to be the Oilers catalyst in this department but saw his ice time dwindle after Game 1. While he did play more in the final contest, he wasn’t able to have the same impact as the 2017 run.
The Oilers did lack intensity for the most part, but the Hawks weren’t exactly breathing fire, so this is the least of the reasons for failure.
2. Penalty kill let down
The Oilers special teams during the regular season were ‘winning the 50/50’ kind of special. The power play ranked first while the penalty kill was second.
The power play lived up to its billing at almost 30% and tied for the lead in goals with five.
The penalty kill is another story falling to 15th while dropping almost 7% and the four power play goals given up are tied for second-most after play on Friday. Even worse is they averaged almost two and a half minutes more per game shorthanded and in Games 1 and 3 gave Chicago 12 power plays and over 17 minutes of man advantage time, thanks to very undisciplined play.
When the Hawks weren’t scoring, they were keeping the Oilers most skilled players cooling on the bench.
Let me start by saying I think Dave Tippett is a very good coach and the right one for the Oilers, but good coaches also make mistakes (I’m looking at you Marc Crawford) and I do think he made a couple.
First, he gambled on past history and it backfired. Tippett and Mike Smith were together with the Coyotes eight years ago when they made a run to the Conference Final and he may have let that experience tip the scales in Smith’s favour to start the series.
The decision lasted 27 minutes and five goals before Mikko Koskinen took over.
The other mistake was waiting too long to shuffle the lines. A lot was made on social media before the series about Tippett breaking up one of the best lines in the NHL this season with Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto, and Ryan Nugent Hopkins and the head coach seemed to bristle at the question post-game.
“We had the hottest line in the league the first month of the season with Connor and Draisaitl and Kassian and we were a better team with them broken up.”
Tippett refused to play 93-29-56 together until the end of game 4. They were 14-5-5 when they played together and out scored opponents 28-8 5v5 this year, and they had an injury on left wing- perfect chance to make the switch. Also a should have Elevated 18 instead of 28 IMO
— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) August 8, 2020
I don’t have a problem with Tippett trying to spread the scoring out in the first three games, and the reality is scoring goals wasn’t a problem for the Oilers. Their 15 goals is the second most through Friday.
The issue is he waited too long to make changes.
With Tyler Ennis injured he could have reunited the trio to start game 4, or at least earlier than he did in the third period. Kassian on the top line earlier could have also sparked something as when he was promoted, he was buzzing. However, my biggest critique is not loading up McDavid and Draisaitl together. They are the best duo in the game and never seem to be without chemistry. This should be ‘in case of emergency, break glass and put McDavid and Draisaitl together’ kind of stuff for Tippett.
Instead McDavid was left trying to get on the ice late as an extra attacker which ultimately led to a too many men on the ice penalty and this reaction from the captain.
This just hurts to watch pic.twitter.com/kdRSD3xM3r
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) August 8, 2020
4. Defensive deficiencies
A lot of people believe that ‘defence wins championships’ and while it’s not always correct, rarely do people say, ‘terrible play in your own end leads to titles.’
The Oilers had enough offence, scoring almost four goals per game, but seemed to make the same costly mistakes which led to fishing pucks out of their net. Of the 16 Chicago goals, three came off turnovers and seven originated from point shots where Edmonton forwards failed to either block the shot or force the shooter to change angles. Other times the defencemen were out worked or under pressure and gave up the puck to easily.
This version of the Oilers looked a lot like the horror shows fans have endured from the past.
Before you think I’m going to pile on Koskinen let me tell you why I don’t think he was at fault. Six goals against came on deflections, some of the friendly fire variety. What can a goalie do when a puck changes direction at the last minute?
Four came on the power play. Yes, he was on his knees for what proved to be the series-clinching goal, but he isn’t the reason Edmonton is watching from now on. It wasn’t his decision to start Smith in Game 1.
LET'S GO. Kubalik gives the Hawks the lead.
— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) August 8, 2020
The goaltending-related reason the Oilers lost is Corey Crawford, who recorded career playoff win number 51 on Friday. He was already the all-time playoff wins leader for Chicago and became just the 20th goalie to record at least 50 playoff victories.
Backstopping the @NHLBlackhawks 4-3 victory vs the Oilers in Gm3 of their QR series tonight, Corey Crawford is the 20th goalie in NHL history to reach the 50 career playoff win mark (passes Hawks legend Glenn Hall & ties Tuukka Rask for 19th all-time on the overall list as well) pic.twitter.com/bYmnt6YeWv
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) August 6, 2020
While his save percentage in the first three games was below average, he seemed to make the right save at the right time. In Game 4 he was stellar stopping 43 of 45 shots including all 20 in the third period where several times he flashed a pad or paddle to thwart the Oilers.