Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Oilers Sink the Sharks in Round 1

     The Edmonton Oilers have been having their best season in over a decade and have worked hard for all the success they have achieved in this 2016-17 season. Their last appearance in the post season before this year was in the 2005-06 playoffs, where they eventually lost in the final round to the Carolina Hurricanes in an exciting 7 game series. For anyone who does not remember this long ago playoff season, I want to point out that in the conference finals the Oilers became the first team in NHL history to go into the playoffs in a number 8 seed to win a conference championship and move on to play for the cup!


     The Oilers had a great series, they only completely fell apart in one game, game 4. Otherwise they played with the consistency that we have seen from them all year. The Surprising hero of the series was Zack Kassian, he had the game winning goal in both game 2 and game 3, one of them being a short handed goal! This is surprising because in several of his past season in the NHL he has not scored more than 7 goals all season and his highest number of goals in a season is 14. That being said, 2 in 6 games is a surprising and outstanding performance for the 26 year old winger. For the Sharks there are only a couple of things I can say that fall under the good section of the series.  One is Martin Jones, even though the team struggled and in the end did not prevail on the whole Jones played a very strong six games.  He never had fewer than 18 saves and in game 5 he made an amazing 44 saves.  For the playoffs this year he had a save percentage of .935 which was a significant improvement over his 0.912 percentage of the regular season. The Sharks only played 1 truly good game in this series, game 4 where they had a shocking 7-0 blowout win.  The whole team played up to their potential with 3 of their 4 offensive lines contributing to the score.  This game 4 Sharks team was the team that we watched surprise everyone last year as they made an amazing push to their first ever Stanley Cup final match!


     The San Jose Sharks played most of this 2016-17 season fighting for the top spot in the Pacific Division with the Oilers and the Ducks. Up until the last month of play they held that top spot the majority of the time. Unfortunately in that last month of the season, as they have many times before, they started to fall apart. They dropped into 3rd and as a result started the Playoffs against the Oilers.  The Sharks fought all season long with consistency of play and as such I do not believe they would have made it through to the final no matter who their early opponent was, but I do believe that if they had been able to hold onto 1st in the division they could have at least taken out Calgary and made it to round 2. It is embarrassing as the defending Western Conference Champions to be eliminated in the 1st round. The Sharks were definitely not playing at their best in this first round, they were shutout in 2 of the 6 games and one of the 2 games they did manage to win was forced into OT.  As there was very little good to say about the Sharks in this series, there is also very little bad that can be said for the Oilers. Two things come to mind, the first is Cam Talbot having to be pulled from game 4 part way through the 2nd period after having let in 5 goals. In that game he had a horrifying 0.792 save percentage in 35 minutes of play bringing his playoff save percentage so far this year down to 0.927 which is certainly still a strong showing, but imagine what it could have been with out that bad game 4. The other thing I can say about the Oilers performance that could be categorized as bad is Connor McDavid's showing.  He was held to only 4 points total in the series, 2 goals and 2 assists.  This is not what anyone expected for a player who had 100 points during the regular season and was the 3rd youngest player in history to win the Art Ross trophy. The competition only gets harder from here and McDavid will need to get on the scoreboard more often if the Oilers want to make it to the final round.


     The ugly for the Oilers comes in the person of Leon Draisaitl in game 4. At 13 minuets 44 seconds into the 2nd period Draisaitl speared Chris Tierney in the groin. This is a dirty play no mater how it happens, but in this case it was particularly ugly since the indecent took play well away from the puck and with absolutely no provocation. Tierney had not made any underhanded or dirty plays against the Oilers at all in the game or even the series and the two were not involved in any sort of altercation at the time of the strike. It simply appeared that Draisaitl just lost his temper, probably regarding the very lopsided contest, at the time the Oilers were down 5-0. Draisaitl received a game misconduct and a 5 minute penalty served by Patrick Maroon in addition to his ejection form the game. He was not suspended for the incident, probably because Tierney did not sustain any lasting injury, Draisaitl had no history of this type of dirty play, and he did already miss almost half of a playoff game with the game misconduct ejection. While it was definitely and ugly and very dirty play, I believe that the department of player safety made the right decision, and he did have to pay the maximum fine for the incident. For the San Jose Sharks the ugly in this series had to be the injuries.  Joe Pavelski suffered a facial fracture late in the season and missed several games. He did return before the post season, but was not playing up to his normal standards of excellence. Then we have Patrick Marleau who was playing with a broken thumb during this series, and Tomas Hertl who was skating on a broken foot. Finally we have Joe Thornton who took a bad fall on his knee just before the end of the regular season and missed the first 2 playoff games. He returned in game 3 and played well for someone just coming off a knee injury, he was not quite as fast as he might have been, but was not showing the extent of his injury in any way. We found out the morning after the Sharks were eliminated in game 6 that he was playing with tears in his ACL and MCL on his left knee! Given all of these injuries that the Sharks were recovering from and playing through they did remarkably well.  It makes me wonder if they could have won the series against the Oilers if Hertl, Marleau and Thorton were not all playing with broken bones or damaged joints. I still don't believe they would have been able to beat the Ducks in round 2, but it would have been a less embarrassing exit to the playoffs not to have been eliminated in the first round. Still the most shocking and dramatic first round exit still belongs to the Chicago Blackhawks this year.


     This season the Oilers came into the playoffs as the number 2 seed in the Pacific Division and number 4 in the Western Conference.  A much stronger position than their last post season entrance, and they are making a strong push to make it back to the finals but they still have a long road ahead with a number of strong teams still in the running.  The, Nashville Predators, for example had that number 8 spot in the conference this season and are making a strong play to repeat the Oilers 2005-06 conference championship feat. They are up against the St. Louis Blues who are also battling hard to make the finals. The Blues have a strong history of making the playoffs but have not played in a Stanley Cup match since 1970. In this 2nd round the Oilers are now up against the Ducks. The Ducks had a slow start this season but finished strong to take the number 1 slot in the Pacific division from both the Sharks and the Oilers. The Ducks have not won a cup since 2007, but have only missed the playoffs in 2 of the last 10 years.  They are coming off of a sweep of the Calgary Flames in round 1, and their goalie Gibson has been playing strong with a playoff save percentage of 0.926 having allowed only 9 goals in 122 shots faced in round 1. Congratulations to the Oilers for a well deserved victory in round 1 and excellent play all around by the team. Now however they face a stronger challenge in their opening game against the Ducks which starts tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Good Luck to the Oilers and all of the other teams who are moving on to round 2 this week. Here's to another series of exciting playoff hockey!

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