The Chicago Blackhawks and the Edmonton Oilers are set to match up for their best-of-five qualifying round series this Saturday, Aug. 1. Both teams are similar in that they have elite offensive manpower but are lacking in defensive talent. All signs point to a high-octane, high-scoring affair. In preparation for this series, I reached out to The Hockey Writers’ Christopher Kelsall, who covers the Oilers, to get some insight from the enemy regarding this matchup.
Hello Christopher and thank you for taking the time to speak with us!
First off, it’s no secret the Oilers were playoff bound before the stoppage of play in March. Whereas the Blackhawks were a huge longshot to make the postseason. Chicago was lucky this format was chosen which included them in the qualifying round.
Q: In your opinion, how does Oilers nation feel about having to match up against the “lowly” Blackhawks?
Opinion on Playing the Blackhawks
A: I think there are mixed feelings, depending on who you ask. On one hand, it’s the playoffs; and players have had a long break with the shortest preseason in history. Anything can, and usually does, happen in the playoffs. Just being there gives the Blackhawks a chance, and that seems unfair. Some fans have voiced their opinion negatively.
However, I would suggest that if the Oilers are for real (and they appear to be for real), they have a first round opponent who gives them a better opportunity than other matchups to get to the next round. With that in mind, I like their chances.
Q: A common assessment of the Oilers is they don’t have much depth beyond superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. How would you respond to that, and are there some players that might be flying under the radar?
Responding to Lack of Depth for the Oilers
A: That’s a slight misconception. I think it isn’t so much about having the so-called depth players as it’s about every man stepping up. If you placed a role player such as James Neal (19 goals) on the first line, he would arguably score more goals because he would be surrounded by better teammates, get more ice time, etc.
The playoffs are for 200-foot players and offer opportunities for them to express their talent because it’s full-tilt hockey. If you can’t play full out with confidence, you don’t belong. The Oilers probably have more depth than the numbers indicate.
On that note, regarding players to watch. Kailer Yamamoto isn’t really flying under the radar; the expectations are quite high. It might be now that he begins to show the killer instinct the organization believed he had when they drafted him 22nd overall in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Neal, Zack Kassian, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and even Tyler Ennis can all score. Nugent-Hopkins can play on any of the four lines and fit in well. So while Draisaitl and McDavid are the super-elite, that shouldn’t take the shine off the aforementioned names.
I also think this could be an opportunity for defensive prospect Philip Broberg to really stand out.
Q: Let’s take a look at goaltending. Mikko Koskinen had better statistics in the regular season, yet Mike Smith is the veteran with playoff experience. Head coach Dave Tippett has hinted he may utilize both. What’s your take on this situation?
Goaltending: Smith or Koskinen?
A: Based on the fact that Smith has more veteran experience and is at or near the top of his game, start with him. Also, he outplayed the three other goaltenders who played during the Edmonton Oilers/Calgary Flames pre-playoff exhibition game. At least two of Smith’s save on 2-on-1’s qualified for saves of the game. You gotta go with your hot goalie.
Koskinen has earned the right to play, and the Sportsnet team of broadcasters are betting he gets the first start. The Oilers are in an enviable position with two strong goaltenders that are both healthy. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Smith gets the start.
Q: Where do you think the Blackhawks will give the Oilers the most trouble in this series?
Oilers’ Concerns About Blackhawks
A: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane on a line with Dylan Strome. Toews, Kane, and Dominik Kubalik on the power play. And they have some young talent coming up. This is what comes to mind.
Chicago’s top players are no slouches. But who is the most healthy?
Related – Can the Blackhawks Beat the Oilers?
The Oilers have the edge if all their players stay healthy. The Blackhawks have the edge if the Oilers have to rely on depth versus a fully healthy Chicago team. It could be a war of attrition.
Q: What do you see as being key for the Oilers to win this series?
Oilers’ Keys to Success
A: The Oilers must score more during 5-on-5 play. On the power play they can be deadly, but they can’t just hope for power play opportunities because sometimes they come and sometimes they don’t.
Apparently McDavid has been flying like never before. It will be very exciting, to say the least, if he’s as good to watch now as he’s ever been. He should lead the team to victory.
The great ones score when it really counts; think of Sidney Crosby at the 2010 Olympics, or the 2010 Stanley Cup game-winning goal by Patrick Kane. Or even Mark Messier in 1994 with the Cup-winning goal for the New York Rangers.
All right, time for the final call!
Q: What is your prediction for the outcome of this series?
Blackhawks/Oilers Series Prediction
A: As I mentioned before, Chicago has some talent. It’s the playoffs and anything can happen. There are upsets all the time. That being said, I’ll take the Oilers in a darned close call. But I’m not betting hard-earned cash on that outcome.
Oilers in four.
There you have it! Christopher has given us some great insight from the eyes of the enemy. The Oilers and the Blackhawks officially drop the puck for Game 1 this Saturday at 2 p.m. Central Time. Regardless of the outcome, let’s hope for a competitive and entertaining series between these two clubs.