Oilers-Stars Game 2 Notebook: Draisaitl a beast at both ends of the ice

Gene Principe is joined with Edmonton Oilers' Evan Bouchard to discuss the 2OT goal in Game 1, what he thought prior to making the play, and his individual success thus far in the post-season.

DALLAS — Somebody had to win Game 1, in this series between two teams that are notorious for losing their series openers.

If you’re the Edmonton Oilers, who took their 1-0 series lead on the strength of a perfect penalty kill and Connor McDavid’s goal early in double overtime, you’ve come to Dallas get a split. But why not win ‘em both?

“It’s really important that we don’t take a step back at all,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch. “We know Dallas will get stronger … we’ve seen it throughout the playoffs.

“As well as we played (in Game 1) it was just good enough to win that game. For us to take a step back, it won’t be good enough.”

The Dallas Stars have lived dangerously, losing Game 1 in all three rounds, and all on home ice. Overall, they’ve lost seven consecutive Game 1’s, but have won four of their past five series.

“I think the difference in Game 1 was, one team had a Game 7 mindset — coming off a Game 7 — and the other team was coming off five days off,” said Dallas head coach Pete DeBoer. “We looked like we were going to play a little bit cute. We will fix that tonight.”

Leon The Producer

How good has Leon Draisaitl been in these playoffs?

He has a point in each of Edmonton’s 13 games, a feat accomplished by only four others: Bobby Orr, Mark Messier and Nathan MacKinnon (14 games), and Bryan Trottier (18). Meanwhile, Draisaitl’s lethal career shooting percentage in the playoffs (20.4 per cent) is second in NHL history behind only the great Boston Bruin Rick Middleton (20.7 per cent).

“Honestly, I believe he’s playing some of his best hockey right now,” said goalie Stuart Skinner. “Obviously he’s an offensive threat, but the way he’s tracking back … it’s pretty incredible.

“They had a three-on-one last game, and out of nowhere Leon comes back and grabs a stick,” marvelled Skinner. “I’m just cheering him on when he does that. Those plays, they make a playoff game either a win or a loss.”

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There are times during the regular season — when Draisaitl is consumed with the task of annually scoring 50 goals and 100 points — where Draisaitl’s defensive game may come under fire. But here in the playoffs, where he is working with extra protection for his back and the Sportsnet cameras caught a glimpse of what looked like a splint on one of his fingers, he is simply a beast at both ends of the rink.

“He wants to win,” Knoblauch said. “I think he’s felt that the team has been really close … and the team’s fallen short. He doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. You don’t get many opportunities to win a Stanley Cup, and he wants to do everything possible.”

Draisaitl has nine goals, an NHL-leading 25 points, wins his faceoffs, plays physical, shows up in the biggest moments…

What does he do best?

“Tough to pinpoint one or two things,” said Ryan McLeod. “He does so many things so well.”

The big German won’t blow his own horn, but he does see how his Oilers can be better in Game 2.

“Shoot the puck more. Have the puck more. Create better looks,” Draisaitl said. “We have another step to go to when it comes to creating offensive zone time. It wasn’t our best in Game 1.”

How they line up

Both teams have pretty significant “game-time decisions” to make before Game 2, with both Roope Hintz and Adam Henrique expected to take the pre-game skates with their teams.

To our eye, Henrique is closer to playing, as he left the ice with the regulars after Saturday’s morning skate. Hintz stayed out longer with the extras, usually a sign of a player not intending to play a hockey game that night.

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Here are your expected lines without either of those players, but keep an eye out tonight for changes:



















Zebra games

One of the bits of gamesmanship inside this series revolves around Dallas being the least penalized team in both the regular season and among the remaining teams in these playoffs.

The Stars average just 5:00 in penalties per playoff game (Edmonton averages 11.27), and it’s a bit of a theme here as people around this series — including series supervisor Don Van Massenhoven — are constantly reminded of what a clean team these Stars are.

Say it enough times and it becomes true, and in Game 1 Dallas took just one minor penalty — a too many men call — otherwise keeping Edmonton’s wicked power play off the ice.

Is that a testament to the Stars responsible play? Or could Edmonton influence that tonight with their play, perhaps forcing a couple penalties out of the Dallas defenders?

“It’s a little bit of both,” Draisaitl said. “We can do a better job of holding on to pucks and creating some potential calls our way. But our power play, it’s good, and we know they’re going to try and limit their penalties.”

It’s the curse of having perhaps the best power play unit the sport has ever seen. Opponents know they can lose a game with as few as two or three minors on any given night.

“Any team we face at this point, they’re not going to want to give us power plays,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, part of a power play that is clicking along at 26.3 per cent. “They’re going to be more aware of their stick positioning, and not want to (provide) any easy calls for the refs.”

Little Joe

Joe Pavelski was out late at practice, as is his wont, working on a game that hasn’t been up to snuff for the sure-fire Hall of Famer.

It’s one thing to go through a slump in your prime, but another when you’re 39 and watching the game speed up around you. He opened the playoffs with just one assist in his first 11 games, and notched a goal and three points at the end of the Colorado series. But he wasn’t much of a factor in Game 1, as he tries to make an impact among the next generation of lightning fast young players.

“I’m trying to give Joe his space,” said Dallas head coach Pete DeBoer. “Joe’s as much coach as he is player, but at the same time, you still have player insecurities if you’re not producing.”

Pavelksi will go down in hockey history as one of the best deflectors of a puck ever to play the game, alongside names like Tomas Holmstrom, Dino Ciccarelli and Patric Hornqvist. He’s been a nightmare for goalies since he came out of the University of Wisconsin in 2006, scoring 476 goals in his 1,332 games played — nearly all from Zach Hyman range.

“It’s a great challenge for me,” said Skinner. “I remember when he was in San Jose with Brent Burns, they were always working on that. Practice makes perfect, and it’s a really good challenge for me to step my game up against a guy like that.

Is there anything a goalie can do, when a point shot is being deflected five feet in front of him?

“There are a lot of things I can do,” Skinner said. “You have to be really patient, essentially. If he doesn’t tip it, you’ve got to make that save. And if he does, well, you’ve got to react from there.”

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