Despite finding a way to sneak past the Anaheim Ducks in their second round series opener, the Edmonton Oilers were not exactly clicking on all cylinders during their Game One 5-3 victory. While they started to show signs of life on the man advantage and defenceman Adam Larsson enjoyed what was arguably the finest all-around performance of his career, the team wearing white had exactly two players deliver what would be considered a typical showing over the course of the past seven months.
As difficult as it might be for some to accept, watching Mark Letestu come up large on the power play can no longer be viewed as a surprise by anyone who follows this team with any kind of regularity. Ditto when it comes to the seemingly always improving Leon Draisaitl, who not only put together a four-point effort but once again showed the entire hockey world he has the necessary skill-set to take over games at any given time. Outside of those two and Larsson, it was a fairly run-of-the-mill performance from the group on the whole but it was still effective enough.
Optional practice today. McDavid, Draisatl, RNH, Eberle all on the ice
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) April 27, 2017
By no means is that to suggest Edmonton played poorly, as nothing could be further from the truth. With the possible exception of Cam Talbot, who had an off night in between the pipes, there wasn’t much to not like about the Oilers game. Did the trio of Matt Benning, Darnell Nurse, and Kris Russell continue to struggle along the blue line? They did but the chances of that changing over the course of the coming weeks are next to none and it hasn’t come back to bite them to this point in the post-season,
The third and fourth lines didn’t create much of anything at even strength but held their own throughout the night. Conversely, the top six forwards found a way to produce offence and were helped along the way by Larsson’s unexpected outburst. All things considered, Todd McLellan could not have asked for a better result and the opportunity to take a stranglehold on this series has suddenly become a real possibility. Now it is just a matter of whether or not they can go out and execute.
Talbot Can Steal the Show
Obviously, the Ducks will have something to say about how this plays out but Edmonton does have an ace in the hole and he wears No. 33 on his back. If the 29-year old netminder bounces back with the kind of performance he has typically delivered following an average to below average outing, Edmonton could be a handful for Anaheim to overcome in what has to be viewed as a must-win scenario. At this stage in the series, they have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. The pressure is squarely on one team and it is not the Oilers.
No question the Ducks have been down this road before and responded in the manner one would expect from a team with their pedigree. However, many of the core pieces on this team are not as young as they once were and the ones who are, have as little experience as the kids at the opposite end of the rink. Add to that a backend which is nowhere near full strength and a goaltender who is coming off a shaky performance in John Gibson and this is far from a sure thing for Randy Carlyle’s crew.
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) April 27, 2017
Chances are we will see Anaheim press hard from the drop of the puck, in hopes of breaking Edmonton’s will early on, just as the San Jose Sharks did in Game Four of their first-round series. However, if the Oilers come out and match their opponent’s level of desperation or simply have Cam Talbot hold the fort until they weather the storm…the Ducks will start squeezing their sticks. It’s no easy task but if this collection of players can pull it off, there is no reason why they can’t head home with a 2-0 series lead.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.