After an emotional win in Game 7 over the Dallas Stars at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Sunday night, the Calgary Flames have their sights on their next opponent: their number one rivals up the QE2.
The Edmonton Oilers also advanced to the second round via a Game 7 win, and will head down to Calgary for Game 1 tomorrow night.
This season was incredibly fortuitous for both Alberta teams, with Calgary and Edmonton finishing first and second in the Pacific Division. Now, the Flames, with home ice advantage, will look to do something they haven’t done since 2004: advance past the second round of the playoffs. The Oilers last got past the second round in 2006, but did advance to the second round in 2017.
The Flames have the statistical advantage when you look at the regular season as a whole, but since Jay Woodcroft took over as the Oilers’ head coach, things have been different in Edmonton. And, with arguably the two best players on the planet on the other side, all bets are off.
This will be a huge series for both teams, and an even bigger one for the province as a whole. All eyes will be on Alberta, and this series is sure to live up to expectations. Let’s break it down.
The Oilers’ offence
Up front, it’s obvious that the Oilers are led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The two superstars are arguably the best two players on the planet, and are truly generational talents. But, this iteration of the Oilers are much, much deeper than the two big guns.
New additions to the team this year—Zach Hyman and Evander Kane—have provided invaluable secondary scoring for the Oilers. Add in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto, and Jesse Puljujarvi, and you have one of the best top-nine forward groups in the league.
That’s not to say the group hasn’t had its struggles, though. Just Hyman and Nugent-Hopkins managed to crack the 50-point mark in the regular season, and only Hyman, Yamamoto, and Kane hit 20 goals. It’s been a work in progress for the Oilers up front but when you’re led by such incredible forwards, you can’t really complain.
Overall, the Flames counter the best player in hockey with the best line in hockey. The top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk was instrumental in getting the Flames past the Stars in the first round, and will no doubt be looked to for offence in this series. How they stack up against the Oilers big dogs remains to be seen.
Regardless, there is a lot of firepower in this series. McDavid finished first in NHL scoring, Gaudreau second, Draisaitl fourth, and Tkachuk eighth.
In the first round of the playoffs, it was exactly what you could have expected. McDavid led the league with 14 points in seven games, Kane is the leader among players still in the playoffs with seven goals, and Draisaitl has five goals and nine points. The usual suspects were at it again in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings, and the Flames will have to pay close attention to these players in the second round.
The Oilers’ power play was their number one weapon and has to be the focus for both teams; for the Oilers it’s to keep doing what they’ve been doing, and for the Flames it’s to stay out of the box at all costs. In the regular season, the Oilers power play ranked third overall, operating at a 26.0% clip. McDavid and Draisaitl ranked first and second in power play points with 44 and 41 respectively. This power play is absolutely lethal and if the Flames want to win this series, they need to be disciplined.
A big X-factor will be the health of Draisaitl, who, according to reports, is not 100% and is playing through some sort of injury. Having a few days off between series will be extremely helpful, but will it be enough to heal whatever is ailing him right now?
On the back end, the Oilers have some legit weapons. Youngster Evan Bouchard has burst onto the scene this season, stealing first power play duties from Tyson Barrie. He had an incredible breakout campaign with 12 goals and 43 points, good for fifth in team scoring. Barrie is still an offensive threat and put up seven goals and 41 points this season. And to round things out, Darnell Nurse had another strong season with nine goals and 35 points.
On the whole, though, the Oilers got 39 goals from their defence this season, and only 29 at 5v5. Compared to the Flames who got 41 goals with 31 coming at 5v5, things are pretty even across the board in terms of offence from the blueline.
Head-to-head this season, the Flames have the slight edge in goals (17–16), but it’s much more lopsided at 5v5 where the Flames hold a 14–7 edge. That Oilers power play has been a major factor so far. Fancy stats wise, the Flames have been the much better team in the season series. Here are Calgary’s total stats against Edmonton from the season series courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com.
The Flames led in literally every category, by a wide margin. An interesting one is unblocked shot attempts, otherwise known as Fenwick, where the Flames own a very impressive 58.1% share. This is known to be a good indicator of postseason success, and if the trend continues, the Flames have a clear edge. Other key indicators are high-danger chances and expected goals where the Flames have large leads in both categories as well.
The Oilers’ defence
The Oilers are definitely more of an offensively driven team than a defensively driven team. After Woodcroft took over, they made serious strides at 5v5, but are still much further behind the Flames in pretty much every area. Per 60 minutes, the Oilers allowed 54.38 CA in the regular season under Woodcroft which ranks 16th in the NHL (out of 39 combinations of teams and coaches). For comparison, the Flames allowed 50.61, good for third in the NHL. Again, this is per 60 minutes, so it adjusts for the fewer games coached by Woodcroft compared to Sutter.
Under Woodcroft, they did climb up to the ninth-ranked Corsi share in the NHL, and in turn became one of the best teams at limiting scoring chances and high-danger chances against. Still lagging behind the Flames, but the Oilers are no slouch on the defensive side of the game at 5v5 anymore.
The major concern for the Oilers on the defensive end is their penalty kill. This season, it ranked 17th in the NHL and operated at just 79.4%. For reference, the Flames had the sixth best penalty kill at 83.2%.
The Oilers defense definitely has some liabilities. Duncan Keith and Barrie specifically have a tendency to allow more scoring chances than they create, and Ceci is just hovering around breakeven. Keith has been on the wrong end of a few key plays in the playoffs as well, and this might be the way the Flames can break through and attempt to match the offence the Oilers bring.
Similar to the offence, the biggest X-factor on defence is the health of a stud defender, this time on the Flames side in Chris Tanev. It’s suspected that Tanev will be out for more than just that one game, and that will put immense pressure on the Flames’ defence corps to shut down McDavid and Draisaitl. Thankfully Michael Stone has stepped in and has done a great job on the blueline, but losing Tanev is a huge blow.
The top pairing of Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin is definitely the class of the series. The 102-point pairing was incredible all season and in the first round, and will be carrying most of the load for the Flames.
Nurse will be a big factor for the Oilers and will definitely be looked to for a physical punch. The Flames will have to keep their emotions in check as Nurse is one of the toughest players in the NHL.
I said it before last series as well, but this is where the ice should tilt in the Flames’ favour. Jacob Markstrom is a Vezina finalist this season and put forth one of the best campaigns from a Flames goalie in a very long time. He’s been tremendous at 5v5, solid on the penalty kill, and has given the team a chance to win every time he’s between the pipes.
Jake Oettinger got all the praise in Round 1, but Markstrom was right there with him. He made several incredible stops to keep the Flames in the series, and was a major reason why the Flames only needed to score three goals to win Game 7.
The Oilers have turned to Mike Smith in net, and he was really, really good in the first round against the Kings. Oettinger led with 14.34 goals saved above expected in the first round, but Smith and Markstrom are right there at #2 and #3 respectively.
Smith is risky and it’s been pointed out that he either plays lights out or is absolutely terrible. Which version the Oilers get in the second round remains to be seen. Here are comparisons between the two goaltenders from HockeyViz.com.
Markstrom has been the better goalie this season, but faces another tough matchup in the other crease. Breaking it down a little further, Smith does have a weakness that the Flames will surely look to exploit.
Markstrom has more saves than expected across all shot types this season, whereas Smith has a clear weakness on wrist/snap shots. The Flames are a team that almost exclusively use this type of shot, so maybe that will be the difference maker here. With snipers in Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Tyler Toffoli, Gaudreau, and Tkachuk, the Flames may have the edge in beating Smith.
The edge goes to Calgary
It’s not as lopsided as we thought last series would be, but it does feel like the Flames have the overall edge against the Oilers.
Power Play: Oilers
Penalty Kill: Flames
I will never bet against McDavid, but the if the Flames can stick to their system and do to the Oilers what they did to the Stars, they should emerge victorious in this series. Either way, this is going to be a series that we all remember for a very long time.
The puck drops tomorrow night—let’s see who draws first blood in the Battle of Alberta.