Oilers’ Inability to Win Tight, Low-Scoring Games Proving Costly

Heading into the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, many were excited to see what this high-powered Edmonton Oilers offence was going to be able to do. Some were hesitant, of course, given their playoff struggles in each of the previous two years, but the majority considered them heavy favorites over the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round.

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Taking a quick glimpse at this team, you can see why so many enjoy watching them. They are often in thrilling, high-scoring games, which is very exciting for many fans of the game. The issue with it, however, is that the strategy of simply trying to win in a shootout-style game doesn’t seem to hold up in the playoffs. We’ve seen it in the past with other high-scoring teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals prior to the latter getting over the hump back in 2018. While a defense-first approach may not be as exciting to watch, it often tends to be more successful.

Oilers’ Two Wins Over Kings Came in Blowouts

In the two games the Oilers have won in this series, they have looked great. First, was a massive 6-0 blowout in Game 2, followed by an 8-2 thumping in Game 3 on the road. However, two of the three losses have come in one-goal games, with the first being a 4-3 defeat in Game 1 and the other being their most recent 5-4 overtime loss in Game 5.

Sure, the blue line on this team isn’t great, and neither is the goaltending. Those issues didn’t pop up often times during the regular season when they were scoring plenty of goals, and they haven’t been a problem in either of their wins this series. Instead, it simply seems that they lack the mental toughness to be able to get a one- or two-goal lead and shut things down. Of course, there is also the issue of simply just getting a lead, something they have failed to do in all three of their losses due to inexplicably slow starts.

Duncan Keith Edmonton Oilers
Duncan Keith, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Many will point fingers at Mike Smith, who has certainly given up some soft and untimely goals this season. With that being said, he has been far from the only problem, proven by the fact that he still boasts a solid .930 save percentage this series. There is also plenty blaming Duncan Keith, who had arguably the worst game of his Oilers’ tenure in Game 5. However, he wasn’t as bad as some like to believe during the regular season, and even then, this team still struggled to pick up wins in low-scoring, tight games.

Personal Stats Not Enough for Playoff Success

Many Oilers fans may not like this, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t some validity to it. Both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are not only the two best players on this team, but they are two of the most elite players in the entire game. They are certainly not the two to blame for this team’s struggles over the years, but perhaps them slightly altering the way they approach games, particularly in the playoffs, could lead to some better team success.

Leon Draisaitl Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

To McDavid’s credit, his defensive play has improved dramatically in recent years, particularly this past season. Still, despite how brilliant of a player he is, you have to ask yourself; if you were in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final and could put any top line centerman on your team, would you choose him over a player like Sidney Crosby or even Patrice Bergeron? Some may still say yes, and that is certainly their opinion, but those two have both had playoff success, and a big part of it is that while they are able to put up points, they are even better at locking things down defensively once their team gets a lead. Neither McDavid nor Draisaitl have shown that ability to this point in their careers, and until they do, playoff success may be hard to come by for this group.

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