Oilers Notebook: Goaltending is key as series vs. Blackhawks continues

After Connor McDavid got the Oilers off to a hot start and eventual win in Game 2 against the Blackhawks, Edmonton will enter Game 3 in a completely different mindset. Gene Principe and Mark Spector preview the action.

EDMONTON — It was a cringe-worthy night on Tuesday as players blocking shots had the Rogers Place ice crew out, shovels in hand, scraping up the gruesome residue of a night’s work for guys like Winnipeg’s Tucker Poolman.

The Jets defenceman left a trail of blood all the way to his bench, but returned wearing a cage.

Heading into Game 3 between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday, Oilers head coach Dave Tippett was asked if the reward of shot blocking can be outweighed by the risk of players who get injured in the process?

“The fear of losing trumps anything. If you don’t block shots you’re not going to win,” was Tippett’s answer. “You have to have a gut instinct that drives you to do anything you can to help the team win, and basically that’s what players who are all-in about winning do.”

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In Game 2 the Oilers blocked 22 shots, and many of those came during four Chicago power plays in the second period. Ten separate Oilers players were credited with a blocked shot, with Kris Russell and Matt Benning blocking four each.

Sure, one shot deflected off of Russell and past Mikko Koskinen. But how many of the shots that were blocked might have gone in, or left a rebound that turned into a Blackhawks goal? Tippett know where he stands on guys risking their health to help the team.

“When you’re blocking shots you’re not thinking about getting hurt,” he said. “You’re thinking about helping the team win.”

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Don’t expect any Oilers lineup changes tonight, with every player available according to Tippett. Koskinen will start in goal for Edmonton against, we are guessing, Corey Crawford.

Crawford, who missed camp after contracting COVID-19, was solid in Game 1 despite barely having any training camp time, much to the Blackhawks’ relief. But through two games he has allowed 10 goals and has a saves percentage of just .844. Koskinen has a goals-against average of 2.65 through a game and a half, with a saves percentage of .911.

Crawford carried this Blackhawks team at times this season. With this coming down to a best-of-three series now, it’s highly likely that the team that gets the best goaltending moves on, while the other will move out of the Edmonton bubble.

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The Blackhawks get Drake Caggiula back tonight after he missed Game 2 on a one-game suspension for a head shot on Tyler Ennis. Caggiula watched the game from upstairs in the Blackhawks’ management suite, and quickly figured out what makes all of us media types so smart.

“You get some good perspective from up there, the game is a lot slower. Everyone thinks they’re an expert from up top,” he said. “It almost looks like a video game, everything is so much slower and you can see everything develop before it happens. As opposed to being on the ice where you have a split second to make that decision.”

On a team that doesn’t have Andrew Shaw, who is out for the season with concussion issues, Caggiula is the ‘Hawks most physical forward. And against his old team, he admits there are some words flying around out there as well.

“I’m out there talkin’ a little bit,” he laughed, “but no one is purposely going out of their way to chirp guys. If there’s a chirp here or there, that’s part of the game.

“I have a lot of good buddies on that team. But friendships are on hold right now.”

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While Connor McDavid leads these playoffs with four goals in two games, he also has notched the game-opening goal in both contests. He scored at 2:34 of Game 1 and 0:19 of Game 2, a fact that has not eluded ‘Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton.

“You want to score first, no question,” he said. “It’s tough to chase the game, to come from behind. And it gives them belief that they’re doing the right things. Obviously giving McDavid an early goal isn’t something we want to do.”

Meanwhile, Art Ross Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl (1-2-3) has half the points of both McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who have six a piece. Edmonton scored six goals in Game 2 and the Draisaitl line’s only point came on an unassisted goal by Ennis, though the big German was an even player in over 20 minutes of ice time.

“Leon gets judged on points a lot because he’s the leading scorer in the league,” Tippett said. “But he does a lot more for us than that. We’re asking him to do some things that aren’t about points, but about making sure we play a complete game. He’s been a solid player for us.”

Over on Chicago’s side, Dylan Strome and Alex Nylander each got stapled to the bench in Game 2, watching their ice time fall by 2:43 and 4:53 respectively from Game 1.

“Game 1 they had some really good shifts, and even in Game 2,” Colliton said. “But, we’re looking for more consistency. I think you could say that about a bunch of guys in Game 2.

“It’s their first experience in the playoffs. I know they’re going to be better for us.”

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