Oilers Hope Maurice’s “Skill Cancels Itself Out” Comments Are Wrong

It’s not really a secret, but Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice may have ever-so slightly tipped his hand when it comes to the game plan of the Jets heading into Game 2 versus the Oilers. It came in the form of a simple comment that could signal his thought process throughout the rest of this series.

The idea seems to be to use his best players to go toe-to-toe with Edmonton’s best players and hope the depth on the Jets roster is better than the depth on the Oilers roster. Maurice recently said:

“The skill in some ways cancels itself out, and it’s the grit and grind guys who go to the net, put a puck to the net, stand in front of the net. It’s their game all year long and playoff hockey gets to become like their game and they’re good at it.”

source – ‘Oilers Notes: When big guns go silent checkers have to be louder around net’ – Jim Matheson -Edmonton Journal – 05/21/2021

It’s an interesting assessment and one that is often correct. In theory, if the stars on one side are as good as the stars on the other, it’s the depth of the team that makes the difference. Put another way, if the Jets bottom six is better than the Oilers bottom six, the Jets win.

Maurice Better Be Wrong In This Case

The Oilers aren’t a team that has ordinary star players on it. They have the two top scorers in the NHL and arguably the best player on the planet in the last five seasons. If Maurice is right and the Jets can do what he’s suggesting, Edmonton could be in trouble.

This isn’t to say Edmonton’s depth forwards don’t need to step up and contribute more to the team’s total offense. But, if the Oilers are going to win this best-of-seven series to open the North Division 2020-21 playoffs, their best players need to be their best players and better than Winnipeg’s best.

Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl
Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl take part in training camp. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

On paper, the top-end talent isn’t equal. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combined for 189 regular season points. Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor scored a combined 103 points. The reality is, the totals shouldn’t be close when this series comes to a close. After one game, it’s four points to no points for the Jets top-two.

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The Harsh Reality of McDavid and Draisaitl’s Contributions

Both McDavid and Draisaitl were left off the scoresheet in Game 1 on Wednesday. Considering McDavid figured in 57 per cent of the team’s goals during the regular season and Draisaitl 46 per cent, this is a trend that can’t continue. So, if Maurice is right and Scheifele and Connor can play just as well five-on-five, Edmonton has a massive problem on their hands.

The Oilers offense revolves around these two players. While Darnell Nurse, Tyson Barrie and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also play key roles, the success of those three players is directly attached to the team’s two biggest stars. If McDavid and Draisaitl are not scoring, the Oilers aren’t scoring — at least not enough to win over the course of a seven-game series.

Both players are too good to be left off the scoresheet consistently; they won’t stay silent long. But, if the Jets build confidence that their top guys can go toe-to-toe with the Oilers top guys, one has to wonder if Edmonton has the horses to pick up the slack.

Are the Oilers Deep Enough?

Jesse Puljujarvi already registered a goal in the series and he looked dangerous most of the first game. That’s not enough. Players like Kailer Yamamoto, Alex Chiasson, James Neal, Dominik Kahun, Josh Archibald and Jujhar Khaira need to step up. So too, if Zack Kassian is going to stay in this lineup, he needs to do more than skate around and leave guys open looking for the big hit.

Head coach Dave Tippett is confident his guys can do that. Tippett believes the depth can come through when needed and he explained, “We took steps in that direction this year. There was a big fuss about us winning a game without Connor and Leon getting on the scoresheet. We did that this year.”

Kailer Yamamoto Oilers
Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 21, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Chiasson admitted that the depth on this team expects the stars on this team to do their thing. He also acknowledge his job is to help. That goes for guys like Yamamoto who plays hard but still hasn’t scored in nearly 30 games.

Game 2 Will Tell The Story

The Oilers are saying and doing all the right things heading into Game 2 on Friday night. They seem relaxed, say they aren’t worried and that the scoring will come. If McDavid and Draisaitl break out and outscore Winnipeg’s top guys by a wide margin, Maurice will have to rethink his strategy.

That might be the best case scenario. McDavid and Draisaitl need to make it abundantly clear that they are hands-down better than Winnipeg’s top guys. In other words, make them realize keeping the top-two scorers in the NHL quiet isn’t something you do two games in a row.