After a Game 7 win by both the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames, we get to experience a Battle of Alberta in the playoffs for the first time since 1991. The Flames will have home-ice advantage since they finished first in the regular season, but we are going to look at which Flames team will show up in the second round. Will it be the overall dominant team that was present for most of the season, or will it be the team that got shut down offensively in Round 1 and almost lost to the Dallas Stars?
Flames’ Struggles After Regular Season Dominance
The Flames finished the regular season sixth in the league (111 points). They also scored the sixth-most goals (291), allowed the third-fewest goals against (206), and won their division. Their team had the 10th ranked power play (22.9 percent), third-ranked penalty kill (83.2 percent), recorded the third-most shots per game (35.5) and allowed the fifth-fewest shots against per game (29).
A lot of this changed during the first-round matchup vs the Stars. The series was very close and low scoring every game meaning their goals for and goals against per game was very low. The Flames finished Round 1 with the second-fewest goals scored per game (2.14) but also the fewest goals allowed per game (2.00). The Stars’ goaltender Jake Oettinger had an incredible series, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Flames’ offence could not break through at any point. The Flames were held to one goal in the first two games of that series and only scored more than three goals in a game once in seven games, only due to an empty net.
The Flames had the most dominant five-on-five line in the NHL during the regular season that couldn’t generate many goals at even strength through seven games. This line consists of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm. The line scored four goals together and were on the ice for three against. That’s a goals for percentage (GF%) of 57.14 which isn’t bad but not nearly what the Flames’ top line was producing at carrying the offensive load during the regular season. That line produced 73 goals and allowed just 31 all season for a GF% of 70.19. That’s a huge difference. Despite the Flames also shooting a lot on the Stars throughout the entire series, the shot differential of the top line was only plus-three (51.9 percent) as opposed to the regular season that saw a shots for percentage of 57.3 for the line.
This indicates that it was not only the play of Oettinger that was dampening the production of the Flames’ top line, it was also the lack of production as a whole from them. That line also had an offensive zone start percentage of 63.27 by starting 31 plays in the offensive zone compared to just 18 in the defensive zone. The line that is considered dominant was just above average even though Gaudreau had what some may say, his most impressive playoff series.
How the Flames’ Playoff Struggles Transfers to a Series vs Oilers
The Oilers and Stars are two very different teams. The Stars’ offensive skill comes nowhere near that of the Oilers. The Oilers averaged four goals per game (16 goals) against the Flames through four regular season games this season and it will be one of the most physical series in a long time in Round 2. The Stars managed just 14 goals in seven games against the Flames. Teams and games in the playoffs do tend to tighten up, but many of the other series didn’t see this result happen. More penalties have been a theme, so the Oilers’ third-ranked power play will likely have a good amount of chances to score some goals while they are clicking at 36.8 percent.
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The Oilers also have two 100-plus point players on their team, something the Stars don’t have. Connor McDavid took over the Oilers’ first round series with the Los Angeles Kings and recorded 14 points in the seven games. Evander Kane and Leon Draisaitl also finished Round 1 with more goals and points than anyone on the Flames’ roster.
The Flames may have held the Stars to 27.9 shots per game to help with the fewest goals allowed per game in Round 1, but the Oilers fired 35.6 and have the players continue the offensive pressure longer and with more finishing ability than the Stars.
Related: McDavid is the Conn Smythe Favourite After Round 1
When comparing the Oilers and Flames on the back end and in goal, Darryl Sutter’s style of coaching gives the Flames the advantage, as does Jacob Markstrom. But looking at the team since Jay Woodcroft took over, they are much closer defensively than it may appear. Markstrom only had one shutout in the final 26 games he played from Feb. 10 on, the day Woodcroft was hired for the Oilers. Three Oilers’ goaltenders combined for four shutouts in that time including back-to-back shutouts by Mike Smith in mid-April. Markstrom’s shutout came against the Buffalo Sabres while Smith’s game against the Nashville Predators and the Vegas Golden Knights, both during the heat of the playoff race.
The Flames and Markstrom did shut down the Stars who had the 21st ranked offence in the league, but not enough credit has been given to Smith who shut down the Kings who just happened to be the 20th ranked offence while also scoring 27 goals as opposed to 15. Smith ended the series with two shutouts and a .938 save percentage (SV%) while Markstrom had one shutout and a .943 SV%. The Oilers have Markstrom figured out from the way they beat him during the regular season.
The Oilers figured out both their offensive and defensive game in Round 1 while the Flames are still searching for the offence that helped them capture the division title and dominate the regular season. The Flames attempt many more shots than the Kings per game, so it will be tough for Smith to replicate his numbers from the first series, but shot volume doesn’t always transfer to goals. The top line of the Flames will also have to greatly improve their offensive and defensive output or they won’t be able to keep up with the Oilers’ stars who are in full playoff form already.