Oilers-Stars Game 3 Notebook: Searching for that home-ice advantage

Edmonton Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch talks to the media about what his team can do to draw more penalties from the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference final.

EDMONTON — Plenty has been made about the shocking home-ice disadvantage throughout this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

Following Dallas’ 3-1 win at American Airlines Center on Saturday, home teams have a .452 winning percentage (33-40), which is the worst in the NHL’s expansion era (since 1967-68).

However, you’d have a hard time convincing anyone in blue and orange the Oilers aren’t about to get a huge boost from a raucous fan base that almost blew the roof off Rogers Place while the local heroes were busy earning a 1-1 split in Texas. 

“We have one of the best buildings in the league when the playoffs come around, so we’re excited to get back into Oil Country,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse before his team flew home Sunday morning.  

“The game plan doesn’t change for us.”

That plan, said forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (and every other NHLer), is to get their legs going early and ride the wave of emotion Oilers faithful will provide.

“This time of year it’s just an amazing place to play,” said Derek Ryan, whose club is 4-2 at home this spring, while the Stars are 5-1 on the road.

“Everyone on our team knows that. Anyone who has played against us knows it.

“When you’re getting warmed up you can see the people through the windows. It’s just an amazing environment outside 

“You drive around the city and the flags are everywhere. I go to the grocery store and people are coming up to me and thanking me and being appreciative and supportive. It’s just a great place to play.”

While the Stars have a depth advantage over the top-heavy Oilers, Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said he was just as comfortable seeing his fourth liners going against Dallas’ top guns as Peter DeBoer seemed when the scenario was flipped.

“Teams typically feel better at home, you sleep in your own bed and have the support of your own fans,” said Knoblauch.

“But as far as the last change, I don’t think there’s much of an advantage. I think our bottom two lines have played extremely well.”

He can downplay it all he wants, but you can count on the last change being even more impactful in Games 3 and 4 when Knoblauch gets to decide who will face off against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. 

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The long pause from Knoblauch when asked after Game 2 about getting just two power plays said plenty about the frustration being felt by the Oilers over the way games are being called so far in this series, as his club has had just three opportunities with the man advantage.

He diplomatically pointed out the age-old reality that games are officiated differently in the playoffs than they are in the regular season, which is tough on a club that has had the world’s best power play for a couple years now.

DeBoer disagrees that the standard has changed when it comes to how his team is handled by the officials.

“I don’t understand that narrative,” he said Sunday afternoon. 

“I think we’re playing the same way we’ve played all year and the refs are calling the same ways they’ve called it all year on us.”

The Stars were penalized an NHL-low 6:45 minutes per game during the regular season, which DeBoer says is a credit to the way his team checks, defends and generally conducts itself.

“I think it’s part personnel and part mindset on how we want to play every night,” he said.

“We want to check with our legs and stick on puck. We don’t get into a lot of scrums after whistles, unless we’re standing up for teammates.

“At the same time we play a hard brand of physical hockey and we make no apologies for that.”

Asked what his team can do to draw more penalties, the Oilers’ Ryan shrugged.

“I think we can continue to move our feet in the offensive zone,” said Ryan. 

“I think they are using their sticks a lot and getting away with a little bit more there, but that’s kind of out of our control. It’s just the way playoff hockey is.

“I think maybe some consistency there would be great in terms of, ‘is it playoff hockey or are they calling it to the regular-season standard,’ or what it is.”

The Oilers were 15-for-40 in the first two rounds on the power play, good for a 37.5 per cent percent success rate, but are 0-for-3 against the Stars.

“I think we’re doing the same things in previous series to draw penalties, but you can’t really look to draw too many penalties. You can just keep playing the way you’re playing and hopefully you get the calls,” added Ryan.


When asked Sunday morning whether Adam Henrique would be available to play Game 3 Monday, Knoblauch continued to be optimistic. 

“He’s day-to-day. We had him out there for warm up last game and (he’s) very close.

Adam, hopefully, is ready for Game 3 or 4, and when he does come in he’ll provide us with some secondary scoring and be key on faceoffs and just good defensive play.

“He’s a good 200-foot player and that’s what we wanted from him and why we traded for him.”

DeBoer said Roope Hintz is similarly close.

“Call him a game-time decision,” he said of the team’s top centre, who skated Saturday morning with the team but didn’t play Game 2.

“I’m optimistic he’s going to play on this road trip. 

“He was close. Had it been a Game 7 I think he probably would have played.”

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