Oilers’ Playoff Comebacks Need to Stop Being a Trend

The Edmonton Oilers have given themselves and fans a very emotional ride through nine games of playoff hockey in 2022. High-scoring blowouts, low-scoring tightly contested games, and comebacks have been on tap thus far.

Some say playing with a two to three-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey since the team ahead in the game may get complacent. I believe playing from behind is still much less ideal than that. The Oilers have proven they can come back in games these playoffs, but it has to stop being a trend.

Oilers Have Come Back From Multi-Goal Deficits in Both Round 2 Games

There have been a total of 23 goals scored in the two games between the Oilers and the Calgary Flames so far. All has not gone right for the Oilers as they have allowed five goals against in the first period through the two games while only scoring two. Two of those Flames’ goals came within the first minute of Game 1.

The Oilers are all too familiar with playing from behind very early in games, and it is deflating. It brings back the thoughts of having to score four or more goals to win every night since the goaltenders can’t make an important save and the defence collapses. Smith was pulled after three goals on nine shots in the first game of the series, and the Oilers still couldn’t win after scoring six goals.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In Game 1, the Oilers stormed back and scored four consecutive goals late in the second and to begin the third period after being down 6-2 in the game. They did that in short order but eventually fell short due to a Rasmus Andersson goal about two minutes after the Oilers tied the game. That was a very unlikely comeback, especially against a team that allowed just two goals a game through seven games in Round 1 and had the third-fewest goals against per game in the regular season with their Vezina Trophy finalist Jacob Markstrom.

Game 2 was a successful comeback after being down 2-0 and 3-1 in the game since Connor McDavid has been leading the Oilers’ offence and has been on another level. It also helped that the Oilers were able to get some key saves from Smith after the team trailed early again.

Round 2 wasn’t the first time these playoffs where the Oilers have had to overcome a multi-goal deficit. They did so in Game 1 after going down 2-0 to the Los Angeles Kings and Game 5 in the third period when the Oilers were down 4-2. Both games resulted in losses and the first successful multi-goal comeback came in Game 2 vs the Flames in their fourth attempt.

Oilers’ Offence is More Than Capable of Coming Back in Games

The Oilers’ offence, led by McDavid, has been a huge reason why they advanced to Round 2 and are tied 1-1 in the second round series. The team has scored 38 goals in nine games thus far while the next two closest teams come from the other Western Conference second-round series with 30 goals apiece.

The Oilers have also done so against a rejuvenated Jonathan Quick who had a comeback regular season and was the Kings’ most valuable player in Round 1 despite being pulled in back-to-back games. That’s saying a lot about his performances in the other five games. The Oilers also now have to deal with Markstrom who is up for the Vezina and had a .943 save percentage (SV%) in the first round. They have gotten to Markstrom already in this series, but at the drop of a hat the tides could change like it did for Quick.

Leon Draisaitl Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Oilers have McDavid, something no other team has the privilege of having on their team. He led the NHL this season in points with 123 and is far ahead of the competition in the playoffs with 20 points in nine games. Mario Lemieux was the last player to record that many points through nine playoff games back in the early 1990s. Leon Draisaitl is second in playoff points despite reports that he has a high ankle sprain. Evander Kane and Zach Hyman have stepped up in each series and scored big goals at key times while Evan Bouchard has elevated his play even more in just his first full NHL season with two goals and seven points (from “Oilers’ Evan Bouchard: Strikes on power play”, CBS Sports, May 21, 2022).

Related: Oilers’ Holland Must Not Overreact to Puljujarvi’s Playoff Production

The Oilers have the offensive depth that they haven’t had in many years and when the team gets on a roll, goals will come quick and they will dominate play by double shifting the stars.

Playing From Behind Isn’t the Solution

In all three losses in the first round against the Kings, the Oilers fell behind early and were in the mindset of playing from behind. I say this isn’t the solution because it changes a team’s entire approach to a game. They become desperate to get a goal and even things up, so players all over the ice may be taking chances they normally wouldn’t. Defencemen will tend to pinch more often to keep the play alive in the offensive zone and allow the Oilers to continue the offensive pressure. Forwards may be deeper in the offensive zone and are caught if the puck goes the other way. Forwards might even leave the defensive zone early in an attempt to get a fast break or odd-man rush to score.

All of those possibilities mentioned affect a team’s defence. There are less players protecting the net, and players are more focused on the offensive side of the puck that they lose coverage or are out of position. What Jay Woodcroft preached and changed for the Oilers once he took over was the hard backcheck of the forwards. This doesn’t necessarily change when playing from behind, but as I said, the forwards may be deeper in the offensive zone so there isn’t any of them to backcheck to eliminate the odd-man rush.

Woodcroft changed the fortunes of the Oilers allowing the first goal early once taking over (from “Falling behind: A look at the Edmonton Oilers giving up the first goal”, Global News, Jan. 3, 2022). Considering how dominant the team was when scoring the first goal throughout the regular season, the recipe for success is to get the first goal.

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