EDMONTON — To be fair, it is often hard to tell when certain hockey players are truly saying what they believe to be true. Or, in Leon Draisaitl’s case, when they are simply trying to slog through another mundane media availability by issuing enough solid clips to make us all go away.
And sometimes they’re trying to throw everyone off the scent. As in, “We’re not changing anything. We’re good.” When behind the scenes the coach is revamping the entire system and all four lines.
So we’ll let you be the judge:
Does Draisaitl really think that the Edmonton Oilers can keep doing things the same way, and that the Hockey Gods will eventually bestow upon them the “bounces” or breaks required to overcome the Winnipeg Jets?
“It’s tight. It really could go either way,” Draisaitl said on Saturday. “The bounces haven’t really been in our favour. That’s the way it goes. That’s playoff hockey. Eventually they’re going to go our way.”
And eventually the second round will start. And eventually the Oilers, unless they find a way to stop playing their series entirely on Winnipeg’s terms, will be watching Round 2 from the 19th hole.
Later on, Draisaitl did speak about “adjustments” that need to be made. But he kept coming back to bounces.
“It’s about adjusting, and eventually there is going to be a bounce that goes our way. There are also adjustments we can make.”
Two things are true here: The Jets have had the two crucial bounces in this series, game-winning goals that came on deflections with the score 1-1 and 0-0.
What also is true is that the breaks tend to even out.
But Dave Tippett knows the third truth: That ‘evening out’ may come in a day, a week, a month or a year. If you sit around waiting for Lady Luck to walk up and tap you on the shoulder, well, you might be sitting right through another distasteful summer in Oil Country.
“You earn your breaks. We’re not sittin’ here crying that we’re not getting breaks,” said Tippett, who was very direct in setting the record straight on this issue. “They’ve scored two goals off of deflections — one of them deflected off (Adam) Larsson. They’ve got those goals. We haven’t. We still have to work to get those goals.
“We’re not sitting here thinking, ‘Everything is all right. We’re just not getting breaks.’ There are things we can do to help earn those breaks.”
So, what would those things be?
For one, it’s time to get back on the forecheck. The Oilers have shown us they can play playoff-worthy defence. That’s great — until you realize you have one goal in two games.
Push. Force. Make the Jets uncomfortable. Right now they’re controlling this series with a joystick. Make it stop.
Edmonton’s depth at forward is inferior. That’s no secret. They need turnovers. They need unpredictability.
The Oilers needs to change the record in this series, because so far it’s been the Jets lining up on their blue-line, Edmonton dumping and chasing, and the Oilers have failed to accrue the zone time that produced a potent regular season offence.
“Sometimes the other team doesn’t take chances, so there’s no opportunity to take chances,” offered Tippett. “I think we can do a better job at some execution in some critical areas that would help our offensive game.”
So we’ll wait to see if Edmonton has the horses to change the direction of this series. And in the meantime, we can say that these first two games have shown us a few things:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins does not drive his own line as a centre. He’s a top-six left winger — full stop; Dominik Kahun is a perimeter player who goes away in games like these; James Neal may still have hands, but he simply can’t get there anymore.
And one more: it’s time to stop remembering how great Zack Kassian looked in the 2017 playoffs, and have something other than mediocrity and disinterest to recall from the four seasons since then.
But what of the big boys?
Surely, Draisaitl and McDavid can’t be eliminated with a simple “trap” game plan, can they? Surely they’ll grow into players who can score the pretty goals during the season, and then manufacture the ugly ones in the playoffs?
“We’ve faced a lot of adversity the whole year, and we’ve always come back and made a positive out of it,” Draisaitl said. “There’s a lot of trust in our group, a lot of confidence. Especially on the road where we’re a really good team.