Oilers need more from McDavid, blue-line leaders to survive series

Oilers head coach Dave Tippett confirms that Mikko Koskinen will start Game 2 against the Blackhawks, and says we'll find out a lot from how our players respond in this must-win atmosphere.

EDMONTON — It’s been a long 36 hours of talking, diagnosing and answering questions about the shellacking that the Chicago Blackhawks administered in Game 1, and Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett knows the talk has to stop and the action has to begin.

“We worked on some things in practice (on Sunday), talked about some things,” Tippett said. “But unless you’re willing to do them in a game, it doesn’t really matter. It’s about doing it in the game.”

Tippett will start goaltender Mikko Koskinen in Game 2, knowing that it’s a must-win for Edmonton after a 6-4 loss in Game 1.

“We’re going to find out a lot about our team,” he predicted. “How we play tonight, how we deal with going out in a must-win game. Let’s see how we react.”

As a coach, does he ramp up the pressure on his players? Or is it the contrary, where a coach has to make sure his players don’t dwell on where they’ll be if they fall behind 2-0?

“You have to recognize the situation you’re in, whether you call it pressure, or… We’ve got to prepare to win a game — it’s as simple as that. We know we have to be better than we were in Game 1,” said Tippett, the only member of the Oilers made available to the media after Monday’s morning skate.

“There is pressure for us to play better, but also you recognize the situation you’re in. You have to find a way to win a game to get it to a best-of-three.”

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One key area that the Oilers failed to exploit in Game 1 was what should be a physical advantage. Starting with burly winger Zack Kassian, Edmonton should have a physical advantage against a Blackhawks team that is neither large nor overtly aggressive.

This Chicago team doesn’t have disturbers like Andrew Shaw or Daniel Carcillo anymore, nor does it have beef up front like Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Bickell or Ben Eager, the way their Cup-winning teams did. Now, the one forward who does like to hit people — Drake Caggiula — finds himself suspended after a head shot on Tyler Ennis in Game 1.

Here’s the play:

The Caggiula hit went under the radar because Ennis received a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass just as Caggiula caught Ennis in the face with his shoulder. Caggiula had his elbow tucked in and skated through Ennis in textbook fashion, but cleanly caught the head of the Oilers forward, earning a one-game suspension.

“On the bench we talked about it (being) very obvious,” said Tippett. “(We) thought it was a dangerous hit, but when there’s nothing you can do about it, you’ve got to move on. The league took care of it.”

Three key players who have to play much better if Edmonton has a chance in these playoffs are their top pairing of Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson, and captain Connor McDavid.

Tippett was very blunt in his assessment of how his No. 1 defensive pair played in Game 1: “We rely on them for big minutes. Both of them were poor (in Game 1).”

As for whether or not Tippett spoke with McDavid, he said, “We’ve had lots of conversations with all of our players, together. Connor is certainly a part of that.”

In less than three minutes of head-to-head five-on-five play, McDavid’s line was outscored by the Jonathan Toews line by a 2-0 count. In more than six minutes against Chicago’s fourth line, McDavid’s unit was outshot and out-chanced — a fact that had Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton quite pleased.

“They really embody the ideal of, do the work for the team and leave the next line in a better spot. Set the table for them,” he said of his no-name fourth line of David Kampf between Matthew Highmore and Ryan Carpenter. “If it turns out they have to take a tougher matchup, they’re ready for the challenge. Most teams that go deep into the playoffs, they have that element in their lineup.”

Tippett knows that McDavid can be much better. He also knows he’ll need more than just No. 97 upping his game tonight.

“Our group, we didn’t play to the level we would have liked or wanted to, and there are things we can do a lot of better in this game. We expect to do that,” he said.

“Connor is no different than anyone else in our lineup. He wants to do better.”

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