The Edmonton Oilers are finally on the right track, and they have Connor McDavid to thank for that.
Unlike the other team (Washington) that fell last night, McDavid is everything that a team is looking for in a leader both in the room and on the ice. While he clearly wanted a different result in the series against the Ducks, the fight remained until the clock wound down. The Oilers battled, even when they knew they couldn’t win on this night.
At just 20 years old, McDavid has already managed to unite a team of seemingly disparate pieces together. Sure, they have a lot of young talent, and any team would love to have the wealth of top picks that the Oilers have had.
But until McDavid came along, those pieces didn’t seem to quite fit together.
Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu have flourished this season, and especially in the postseason. Milan Lucic no longer looked like just a goon for hire in his post-Bruins career, and Cam Talbot finally had a team that could help him step out of the shadow cast by his former teammate Henrik Lundqvist.
While this team has all the promise in the world, they were dealt a cold life lesson every Cup contender must learn before they can hoist the leagues’ most coveted prize. When you have a chance to slam the door on an opponent, you better get to slamming because it only takes a tiny sliver of light for a veteran team to flip the script and send you home to dust off your golf clubs way too soon.
Who Getz the Last Laf
Ryan Getzlaf had a subpar season last season and had an awful lot of people ready to call the centerman past his prime. Well, just one day past his 32nd birthday, he and his Ducks finally buried the Game 7 choking hazard once and for all (or at least until their next Game 7).
While Getzlaf didn’t score in Game 7, he was once again a dominant force on the dot. The Ducks absolutely dominated the Oilers on the dots driving possession more than most opponents would be comfortable with.
In fact, Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Antoine Vermette came out and put on a clinic in the faceoff circle nearly every game forcing the Oilers to chase the puck. That is much harder to do when you have Getzlaf, Kesler and Corey Perry bearing down on you ready to usher you into the ninth row seats.
Getzlaf has scored eight goals and tallied seven assists in the postseason including a four-point outing in Game 4 (2 Goals, 2 Assists). Whatever critiques have been levied in years past, Getzlaf has almost certainly squashed them in this postseason.
— NHLPA (@NHLPA) May 4, 2017
He was the cog that drove the machine and ignited sparks as he created chances, delivered hits, and familiarized the puck with the back of Talbot’s net.
He was the most dangerous player on the ice for either side, and the Oilers simply didn’t have an answer for him. He had the hot hands, and as we’ve witnessed many times before when a player is feeling it, even the toughest shots seem to find their way into the net like a heat seeking missile. Getzlaf would not be denied as he worked to erase the tiresome Game 7 storyline that has plagued the Ducks for years.
Ryan Getzlaf went scoreless in Game 7, but his 1.36 points per game are still 2nd to only Geno Malkin (1.50) in these Stanley Cup playoffs.
— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) May 11, 2017
For the Oilers and McDavid, this story is still largely unwritten. There will come a day in the not too distant future that McDavid will deliver this particular lesson to another young team. Certainly, he still has some shortcomings defensively, but he has already proven he has the skill and work ethic to improve in every facet of his game, including some areas that are already astonishingly good.
Wrap your head around that for a minute.
McDavid is already better than a lot of teams top players even with the occasional defensive mishap. So, the idea that he likely has several more gears at his disposal is incredible.
Face Off Freeze
While the Oilers have an explosive group of forwards, they found themselves somewhat neutralized over the course of the series. The faceoff dot was a big part of that.
The best example of this came in Game 6 when the Oilers dominated the game from start to finish. In that game, the Ducks had only one of their regular centermen go above fifty percent on the dots. That was Antoine Vermette who was among the Ducks best pivots at the dot the entire series. In the one game that the Oilers dominated from start to finish, they were the team grabbing most of the faceoff wins.
Oilers have edge in faceoffs, 31-23. Along with just about every other category. But faceoffs had been a weakness for them in this series
— Helene Elliott (@helenenothelen) May 8, 2017
The lesson is simple, it is much easier to control the pace and create offense when you have the puck. The constant chase will quickly deplete a team’s energy making it much harder than it needs to be, especially in periods where they have the long change.
Throughout the season, the Oilers have used their speed to create chances and slip defenders, but against this savvy Ducks squad, it made little difference. Even the slipperiest of forwards can’t evade every check and the Ducks were more than happy to lay a bone crushing hit on anything even remotely orange. Heck, they would have clobbered a traffic cone if it had the audacity to slide into their field of vision.
The Ducks did everything they could to force the Oilers to loft the puck into open ice to evade a punishing hit, and all too often there was a rabid Duck waiting to pounce like a stoned cat after a whole bag of catnip. And on the occasion they couldn’t create the turnover, they simply flattened their charge.
On the defensive side, the Oilers fell victim to their speed as well. There were too many times when the Oilers had a chance to finish a check or airmail the puck out of trouble only to watch it land squarely on the other team’s stick because one of the Oilers got caught doing a little drive-thru defense.
While defense might be a little bit of a shortcoming for the Oilers, that was not what put them on a collision course with a golf course. It was simply their inability to close out games and the series when they had the chance.
On more than one occasion the Oilers seemed to have the game well in hand when they inexplicably let their foot off the gas. The Ducks are painfully familiar with that scenario as they too have fallen into that trap in recent years. However, something tells me it won’t take the Oilers quite as long to solve that equation.
For their part, the Ducks were all too happy to put an exclamation mark on finishing a team when the chance arises as they started the game with their skates on the Oilers jugular and refused to cede even an inch. The Ducks dominated the final game leaving little hope for the young Oilers team as they charged ahead for their re-match with the Nashville Predators on Friday.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) May 11, 2017
While the outcome was not what the team wanted, the Oilers skated off the ice knowing that they exceeded many expectations, perhaps even their own. The Ducks are an intimidating bunch for a wily group of veterans, let alone the young Oilers. They went seven games with the Pacific Division’s heavyweights, and just barely came up short.
This high-octane Oilers team’s first foray back into the upper echelon of hockey was not a one off, there is very real talent in that locker room and before long, they will be turning the tables on the Ducks and ascending to the very top.
There is no doubt in my mind that Connor McDavid’s name will never populate a list of players without Stanley Cup wins before he skates off the ice for the final time.
Consider this postseason a warning. Whoever wins the Cup in a few weeks is just keeping it warm until McDynamite and his Oilers are ready.