EDMONTON — “We just weren’t ready.”
On a three-point night, that point was Connor McDavid‘s most salient.
It started with their head coach, Dave Tippett, who started the wrong netminder, filtered down to McDavid, who was schooled at five-on-five by the great Jonathan Toews, and went right to the vaunted penalty kill, which got stung for three Chicago Blackhawks goals.
The grand total was a 6-4 shellacking, two of the Edmonton Oilers‘ goals coming in garbage time to disguise what a lopsided Qualifying Round opener this truly was.
“Not good enough all around. Pretty easy,” said McDavid, who would not hear of the fifth seed Oilers perhaps thinking the 12th seed Blackhawks would be easy pickings. “We definitely didn’t take them lightly. They’re battle tested. They came out and did exactly what we thought they would do. We just weren’t ready.”
We can start in net, but the problem with laying this loss at the feet of a goalie is it somewhat relieves the Oilers’ skaters and coach of their share of the blame.
So let’s acknowledge that Edmonton starter Mike Smith, pulled after five goals and 26:32 of “action,” was poor. But it should also be said, three of five goals he allowed were nearly impossible to stop — and Tippett never should have started him anyhow.
Mikko Koskinen was better all training camp — in fact, he had better numbers all season — and had earned the start. Tippett’s allegiance to Smith, who he’s had in Dallas and Phoenix, clouded the coach’s vision.
“Smitty started the season 5-0, and we thought we wanted to start the post-season the same way,” said Tippett, who had his finger on the pulse of a 50/50 tandem all season. “We felt that other than the giveaway, he was left on his own out there.”
That much is true. But there were other questions to be asked after this thorough rout by Chicago.
What about McDavid, who had four points but was dominated at even strength by Toews? Or his No. 1 line, which defensively had a disastrous Qualifying Round opener for Edmonton.
Where was Zack Kassian, who can sway playoff games with his hits and physical play? Did he even play?
What about Edmonton’s penalty killing units, which brought the best percentage of all 24 teams into this post-season? They surrendered three powerplay goals, as rookie Domink Kubalik (two goals, five points) made his playoff debut a record-setter, scoring the most points in a playoff game in Chicago history, and the most by any NHL rookie in his playoff debut.
The Blackhawks’ powerplay unit entered the zone like a guy pulling his car leisurely into the garage.
“Once they got in they beat us every which way you can on the PK,” Darnell Nurse said. “There is a lot to learn from that game.”
What about the beefed up Bottom 6 that was supposed to give the Oilers an element they haven’t had in years: responsible play with a splash of offence?
No, only one team was ready for this playoff opener, and it was the Blackhawks, who won every battle from the goaltender to the centre ice dot. They schooled Edmonton big-time on Saturday. This game was not remotely close.
“To say we are disappointed with the way we started would be an understatement,” Tippett said. “Give Chicago some credit — they played well. But some of the errors and the way we went about things … we were a way better team in the regular season. You get behind early, you start to cheat, you don’t look like a good team. That’s where we were tonight.”
Across Northern Alberta, people had set up TVs on their decks, at their lakes and at the campground. This was a long-awaited playoff opener for an Oilers team universally favoured to dispatch the Blackhawks, and when McDavid wired home a powerplay wrist shot on the Oilers’ second shot on goal, it looked like success would come easily.
Alas, that’s how the orange team played the rest of the game, while Chicago methodically reclaimed their game — boosted when Smith gave Dylan Strome the puck for the 1-1 goal.
Any Oilers momentum died on the spot, and with no home crowd to help them along, strains of Chelsea Dagger would ring through the Oilers’ heads the rest of the afternoon.
Said McDavid: “It wasn’t good from the start.”