Oilers expecting the unexpected in playoff matchup with Blackhawks

Did the Oilers catch a bad break drawing the Blackhawks to start their postseason? Our Oilers experts break down the series.

EDMONTON — It’s not going to be a normal “training camp” if National Hockey League teams hit the ice some time after July 10. But why would it be?

Is anything normal anymore?

“It’s not like a training camp in the sense that you have 60 players and you’re looking at a lot of people. You know who you have, and you know where most of the parts fit,” began Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett in a Zoom call Wednesday. “Training camp will be seeing if there are a player or two who jump up, and looks like they’re chompin’ at the bit looking to step up. And maybe somebody falls behind; hasn’t come in as good of shape as they should be after the pause.

“We’ll go into it, have a little refresher course on exactly how we want to play and go about things, and we’ll look at our opponent coming up, Chicago. We’ll be ready to play.”

The Oilers line up against the Chicago Blackhawks, a five-versus-12 matchup between a Blackhawks team that gives up scoring chances at a league-leading rate, against an Oilers club that boasts the NHL’s top two scorers in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, and also the league’s best power play.

Sounds like a clean kill, right?

Yeah, no so fast.

“You look at Chicago, the thing that jumps out at you is the championship pedigree they have in (Jonathan) Toews, and (Patrick) Kane, and (Duncan) Keith. They’re top, top players — elite players. And you have to respect where they’ve been, what they’ve done,” Tippett said. “But we’re going to concentrate on what we have to do to be successful. We’ll be prepared for what we have to do, and also look at Chicago and see if there’s anything we have to be aware of going into the series.”

This is one of those series where the old cliche fits for Edmonton: If they worry about themselves, play as well as they can play, they should be able to beat a Blackhawks team that was 11 points behind Edmonton at the pause, trailing in points percentage .585 to .514.

If you could get past the Blackhawks’ three Stanley Cups, won with many players who are long gone off the Chicago roster, this shouldn’t be a difficult one to predict. Normally, that is.

Alas, normal is as far in the past as Marian Hossa’s Stanley Cup mastery, or Joel Quenneville’s veteran presence behind the Chicago bench. Even Tippett can’t be sure when this camp starts, or when he’ll leave his summer place in Minnesota to head north.

“I’ve told people, it almost feels like the year that there was a lockout, when you feel like you’re a doctor on call. You’re just waiting for the call to come,” he said. “As things go, as timelines get pushed back, you recognize there’s not much to do. But our staff has done a lot of work on video, we continue to find ways to maybe improve our team, tweaks coming out of the pause that we can put in our lineup, or in our game plan to help us.

“Like I said, during the lockout, you always felt you were ready to go, but you didn’t get to go anywhere. That’s what it feels like now.”

This training camp will be different in that there isn’t two or three different groups of players skating around trying to catch the coach’s eye. He’ll get two “pre-season” games to get his players up to speed and try out some lines, but the coaches will be looking for different things in July than they usually do in September.

“There are going to be guys who have an extra jump in their step, and there might be some guys where the pause has taken a toll on their bodies. We’ll monitor that,” said Tippett, who has a framework for his Game 1 lineup, but not much more. “Some of it is, we’ll look at our opponent and see if there are some matchups that are better than others. There are a lot of questions.

“If your question is, ‘Do I have the lines all written down on paper right now,’ and we’re all set to go, that would be premature.”

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