Game 6 Notebook: Oilers’ Draisaitl not satisfied with production vs. Panthers

Gene Principe and Mark Spector get us set for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, and discuss whether Leon Draisaitl needs to actually raise his game a notch or two, and to wonder if another level actually exists for Connor McDavid to reach?

EDMONTON — With just two assists thus far in the Stanley Cup Final, Leon Draisaitl begs the question: How different would this series be if he were producing at his usual 1.5-points-per-game playoff pace?

Fourth all-time in points per playoff game for players who have played 35 games or more — behind only Wayne Gretzky, Connor McDavid, and Mario Lemieux — Draisaitl has been held to just two assists and zero goals through five games of this Final. He’s still averaging 22:06 in ice time, but Draisaitl entered this series ranked second in playoff scoring with 10-18–28 in 18 games.

Two assists doesn’t cut it, and Draisaitl wasn’t backing away from that on the morning of Game 6.

“Not happy with the way I’m playing. I haven’t found my game, haven’t found my legs,” he said. “Just not the standard I hold myself to obviously, but excited to come into the series tonight.”

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Is Draisaitl injured? He must be, right?

He wouldn’t admit to anything, but any player who slows the game down in the offensive zone the way he does is bound to accrue bumps and bruises over two months and 23 games of playoff hockey. Draisaitl spent much of these playoffs with rotating wingers, and of course, he will always be the focus of a team like the Panthers.

“It has nothing to do with either of those. It’s me,” copped Draisaitl. “I’ve always been able to come back from stretches where I maybe haven’t been at my best. It’s just myself, being better.

“I hold myself to extremely high standards. And if I don’t get to that, obviously, I’m not happy with it. I’m very excited to come into tonight.”

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Snoop Dogg delivers the ol’ Messier guarantee

Fitting that on Game 6 eve, we had ourselves a guarantee from a prominent figure in a hockey sweater.

“Tomorrow night, the Oilers will win in this (expletive) building. I can see the future,” the lanky rap star hollered from the Rogers Place stage Thursday night.

Snoop, a noted fan of his hometown L.A. Kings, threw on a crisp, autographed Georges Laraque throwback midway through his set as Cali to Canada Tour touched down in Edmonton. He happily led the barn in a “Let’s! Go! Oil-ers!” chant and said he had “a good feeling the Stanley Cup is coming home” as his backdrop lit up with a Canada flag.

The homie Warren G also sported a custom “Warren G” Oilers sweater, complete with the Cup Final patch and the number 21 — a nod to the 213.

Yes, the man knows how to get the people going. (And his penchant for hockey sweaters goes back 30 years.)

As the Snoop show let out, concertgoers drummed up their own spontaneous “Let’s! Go! Oil-ers!” chorus as they dispersed onto the streets.

Trap Game?

A full house. The last game of the year in Canada.

A city that wasn’t sure they’d get this game, and now fully believes their team can win a Stanley Cup.

It’s almost a trap game for the Oilers, as if the environment, the fan support and all that Canadiana is enough to beat the Panthers before the puck even gets dropped tonight.

Do the Oilers have to be careful of that trap?

“Our belief hasn’t changed. The narrative’s changed. That’s the outside perspective,” instructs Zach Hyman. “When we were down 3-0, the belief in the room is, ‘We can do this,’ and the belief outside the room is, ‘These guys are done.’

“(Then) you win a game, and the belief outside the room grows. You win another game and it’s like, ‘Well, they can’t lose at home now.’ That’s the outside belief.”

A group of professional hockey players led by Connor McDavid is highly unlikely to fall prey to an outside narrative that Game 6 is a foregone conclusion. Sure, back in 2006 the Oilers beat Carolina 4-0 in a nearly identical scenario, in a game that could have ended with an 8-0 score, they dominated the Hurricanes so thoroughly.

The 2024 Oilers are on a mission. It doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to win, but it’s a lock they won’t lose because they took their eye off the prize.

“It’s an excitement that you’ve won two games, and you have an opportunity to win a game at home — your last game of the season at home,” Hyman said.

“It’s an excitement amongst the group, and an internal belief that has remained steadfast from when we were down 3-0.”

Panthers downplay crowd impact

The giddy frenzy that is downtown Edmonton on a big game night?

The Florida Panthers want you to believe that they’ve either become desensitized to the noise, or that they will flip that noise to their advantage.

“The crowd is gonna be lit up. Just like the last game here. All of these games, it’s just been on fire. So, you almost feel it less,” frames coach Paul Maurice.

“A fireman, firewoman first day on the job, first fire they go to — it’s on. There’s a lot goin’ on. Ten years in, the blaze is three times the size — it doesn’t matter anymore. The more playoff experience you get as a group… you’re not going to get overwhelmed by it.”

A new day, a new chance to win.

That is how the Cats are treating this final trip to hostile territory, dismissing much detailed conversation of the past two games, where they were the slower and more porous team.

The series’ (unlikely) leading goal man, Evan Rodrigues, says he embraces the 112-decibel environment, that the Panthers must relish the din, the way they did in Boston and New York and Tampa. Loud barns, all.

“You gotta enjoy hearing the noise against you,” Rodrgues said. “With a certain frame of mind, you can use the opposing crowd’s energy as fuel to get you going and have fun with it.

“If you were to tell anyone they’d be up 3-2 in a Stanley Cup Final, they’d be ecstatic about it.”

Fires to extinguish

The Panthers are taking encouragement from chunks of Game 5, despite the loss.

Matthew Tkachuk finally entered the series, in a major way. That’s significant. And their 5-on-5 game was just fine.

The Cats’ issues are as obvious as they are costly, but they can be remedied in time to finish this thing off.

They’re getting slaughtered on special teams, operating a minus-1(!) power play in this series. And not the Oilers’ next-level power play has awoken. That’s concerning.

So, too, is the fact that Sergei Bobrovsky has been the second-best goalie in the series lately.

Get some saves, sharpen both special teams, and eliminate the “dumb penalties” (Anton Lundell’s phrase Friday morning), and we could see the big trophy make an appearance.

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“I have big chunks of our game I like, that we don’t want to touch, and we just want to reinforce that that’s the driver. I do believe there’s a bit of a cascading effect to your entire game that if the two or three things that are most important to your identity are there, the rest of it falls in place,” Maurice explained.

“If you walk in and you see a hundred fires, pick the three biggest ones, get those out, and all the other ones will just burn themselves out on their own.”

How they line up

No change to the Oilers’ lines, for the third straight game:

Foegele – McDavid – Hyman
Nugent Hopkins – Draisaitl – Holloway
Janmark – Henrique – Brown
McLeod – Ryan – Perry

Ekholm – Bouchard
Nurse – Broberg
Kulak – Desharnais

Skinner starts

The Panthers have made a couple tweaks to their lineup after losing consecutive games:

Verhaeghe – Barkov – Reinhart
Rodrigues – Bennett – Tkachuk
Luostarinen – Lundell – Tarasenko
Lomberg – Stenlund – Cousins

Forsling – Ekblad
Mikkola – Montour
Ekman-Larsson – Kulikov

Bobrovsky starts

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