Oilers need to play responsible, patient game vs. Blackhawks

Dominik Kubalik had two goals and three assists in his playoff debut, helping the Blackhawks beat the Oilers 6-4 in Game 1 of their series.

EDMONTON — They have found the black box in a field in downtown Edmonton, and as we speak Dave Tippett is pouring over that data therein.

A city that could not wait to see its team in action — proudly hosting a tournament that so many of the NHL jurisdictions could not — was stunned Saturday, when the Chicago Blackhawks led 4-1 after 20 minutes of play.

So many TV’s rigged up on outdoor decks at lake cabins and apartment patios. Uncomfortably warm jerseys donned on a 28 C day, as Northern Albertans whose summer last for roughly 15 minutes sacrificed a luscious long weekend Saturday to support their team.

Their reward? They saw their team, all right.

But they got the one they thought was long in the rearview mirror.

So the slogan is true: Objects there are truly closer than they appear. The 2010 Oilers were close enough to get thrashed by Chicago in Game 1 of their Qualifying Round series.

Let us explain, as we bring you, “Takeaways from the Long Weekend Letdown.”

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No need to panic when trailing

Remember the old Oilers, all skill and flash, but no substance, guts or character? They had no clue how to win, but nobody was more exciting in a loss.

It was a team that would fall behind 2-1, and impatiently put their foot to the floor in search for the equalizer. Then it would be 3-1, and they’d REALLY want that next goal. Four-one…

“You get behind early, you start to cheat and do some things that don’t look like a good team,” head coach Dave Tippett said after the game. “There were too many mistakes made, and then when you try to overcompensate it by cheating to get back in the game you don’t look like a very good team. That’s what it was tonight.”

Case in point: Pittsburgh fell behind 2-0 against Montreal. Did the Penguins panic and go all-out for offence? No, they hunkered down, did their best to stop Montreal from scoring that deadly third goal, and trusted that their chances would come and they would convert on a couple of them.

Sure, the Penguins lost in OT to the Canadiens. But that’s a sight better than trailing 6-2 late in the third period, as Edmonton was.

Look, what kept the Oilers at or near the top of the Pacific all season was their ability to win games where they trailed. Or games that weren’t played like summer hockey. They did it all season, and then for whatever reason, forgot all of that in their first playoff game — against a Chicago team with enough Stanley Cups to know how the game has to be played come playoff time.

“We were a way better team in the regular season,” said Tippett. “To say we’re disappointed with the way we started would be an understatement.”

The Oilers’ No. 1 Unit

We wrote after watching Saturday’s game that Jonathan Toews schooled Connor McDavid, which proves out when you see that Toews’ line outscored McDavid’s 2-0 in the 2:13 of five-on-five time that McDavid and Toews opposed each other.

But where Tippett’s line about “cheating” really bears out is how the Oilers No. 1 unit played during the five-on-five time it saw versus the Blackhawks fourth line. McDavid played 6:13 against the ‘Hawks fourth line — 8:00 versus fourth line centre David Kampf — and got destroyed.

Chicago’s fourth line outshot Edmonton’s first line 6-3 in head-to-head play, and lost every other measure that Natural Stat Trick charts as well.

Why? Because when McDavid’s line hopped over the boards against Kampf’s line, they got stars in their eyes.

Zack Kassian didn’t hit a soul, which is his stock and trade. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did not check for his chances, which is what he does best. And McDavid wouldn’t just let his opportunities arise organically, instead floating and forcing while the Blackhawks earned their victory with solid, responsible team play.

The good news? You won’t see the same Oilers team on Monday night.

They’ve played enough proper hockey this season to realize what was missing in Game 1. We’re not saying it’s guaranteed win night on Monday, just a guarantee that Edmonton will play a responsible, patient game.

To steal a baseball analogy, the Oilers won’t be swinging for the five-run homer every shift. That’s a guarantee.

Enter Koskinen

Did Dave Tippett start the wrong goalie in Game 1? You bet. I wrote it yesterday and I’ll say it again today.

Error: Tippett.

Is there a goalie on earth that was going to win that game for Edmonton on Saturday? Not a chance.

Look at goals two through four: Toews all alone, sniping top cheese; Saad on a bouncing deflection; Toews again, left alone at the side of the net for a one-timer.

Do Oilers fans blame the goalie when McDavid or Leon Draisaitl undresses them? Well, then you can’t blame a guy for getting beat by Toews, a future Hall of Famer and one of top “big game” players of his generation.

Surely Mike Smith messed up when he gave the puck to Dylan Strome for Chicago’s first goal. But after that, to pin this game on a goalie is to let 18 players skate on an abysmal, irresponsible effort.

If it doesn’t get better as a whole, it won’t matter who is in net.

That said, we’d fall over if Mikko Koskinen does not start on Monday.


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