"Containing Connor McDavid is possible": P.K. Subban still has his doubt about the Edmonton Oilers

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Former NHLer and current hockey analyst P.K. Subban — infamous in Edmonton this winter for saying the Edmonton Oilers are a one-man team reliant on Connor McDavid and are too easy to play against in their own zone —  still has his doubts about the Oilers.

Whodathunkit?

Subban was on the Pat McAfee show today and picked the Florida Panthers to beat the Oilers in six.

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Said Subban:  “The Florida Panthers don’t care who they are playing , whether it’s Connor McDavid, whether it’s (Tampa’s NIkita) Kucherov, whether it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the New York Rangers and Artemi Panarin. These guys have shut down the league’s best players all season and all playoffs. The way they look at it is that if you want to win the Cup, you got to beat the best. Connor McDavid and company are the best right now.

“And the Florida Panthers for me, they’re going to be a very, very difficult team to beat in the finals. I’m going with the Florida Panthers.”

Again, Subban played up his McDavid argument. “If the Edmonton Oilers are going to win, it’s going to be on Connor McDavid. It wouldn’t surprise me. But I’m going with the Florida Panthers. I think they’re ready after being beat in the finals last year. They’ve had all year to prepare. I’ve watched them beat this year’s best team on the planet for hockey, the New York Rangers. And they beat them like I’m not going to say easily, but it was a one-sided series.”

The most important factor is the goaltending, Subban said, where Florida has an edge. “Edmonton can win this series but it’s going to take Stuart Skinner to be better than Sergei Bobrovsky which I don’t believe is going to happen. I got all the respect in the world to Stuart Skinner and the way he’s played. I give that kid a tremendous amount of credit. He’s playing the best hockey of his career. And I know he’s going to play well in this final, but to think I’m going to pick him over Sergei Bobrovsky? As of right now I just can’t do that. Sergei Bobrovsky has been unbelievable and I believe he’ll be the best player in this final when it’s all said and done.”

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Subban also stressed that Florida is the deeper team.

“I also think the match-ups are in favour of the Florida Panthers. They got (Matthew) Tkachuk and they got Sam Bennett on one line, so you got McDavid and Draisaitl, if you split those guys up they’re going to have heavy guys on their top two lines. You know what (Alexandre) Barkov brings. You saw what he did to (Boston’s David) Pastrnak. You saw what he did to everybody that was coming.

“The X Factor is going to be McDavid and Draisaitl… I think containing Connor McDavid is possible.”

Florida has dominated on the special teams, shutting down the league’s best power play with the Rangers, Subban said. “If they win the special teams battle, this series is going Florida’s way.

“I’ll give Edmonton a lot of credit. They have come a long way defensively. They played remarkably well down the stretch. They really, really have but the Florida Panthers, what you’re seeing from them is who they have always been and what they always will be every single game in this series. That’s the toughest team to play against. They’re going to pull you into the alleyways and those dark areas, and that’s where this series will be played.

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“I think for Edmonton’s defence, this is going to be their biggest challenge. Do the Edmonton Oilers have a better defence than the New York Rangers with K’Andre Miller, (Braden) Schneider and (Jacob) Trouba and (Adam) Fox and (Ryan( Lindgren? I don’t think so. So look at what Florida did to these guys on the cycle….There’s not going to be any easy passes for Edmonton in this series.”

As an aside, McAfee said that a source told him McDavid does not like the nickname of McJesus, to which Subban replied: “Which athlete is going to say that they want the name and they’d like the nickname McJesus. He ain’t going to say that. But let’s be real, deep down inside he has to like  nickname McJesus. I mean, come on!”

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My take

1. Thank goodness for P.K. Subban, a former NHL player who has plenty to say and says it well. He’s not afraid of shouting out a loud, unpopular opinion, such as the New York Ranger being the best hockey team on the planet. That’s a fascinating take, especially as I strongly suspect most Oilers fans and commentators would have rather seen Edmonton go up against the Rangers, a much softer team than Florida, but so be it.

2. There’s little to pick between the two teams. They might even be more closely ranked than Edmonton and the Dallas Stars.

Since Kris Knoblauch took over as coach in mid-November, the Oilers have had 97 points in 69 regular season games, and were +72 on goals differential. Florida had 93 points in 97 games and a +64 goal differential.

In the playoffs, Florida has won 12 of 17 games with a +14 goal differential, the Oilers have won 12 of 18 with a +16 goal differential. Florida is 3.2 goals for per game, 2.3 against, Edmonton 3.5 goals for, 2.6 against.

3. Teams will question Edmonton’s depth until those depth players come through on the game’s biggest stage, the Stanley Cup finals. Beating the Dallas Stars — a team renowned for their depth — wasn’t enough, even as the Oil’s depth players were as good or better than the Dallas depth players.

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4. Not sure what Subban is on about when it comes to special teams. Edmonton’s playoff power play percentage so far is 37.3 and its penalty kill clearance rate is 93.9, both tops for NHL playoff teams. Florida’s power play is 23.1 per cent, sixth best out of 18 playoff teams, and its PK rate is 88.2, second best.

The major cause for concern in Florida should be that Edmonton will dominate special teams. In Edmonton it should be that Edmonton’s special team’s success won’t be a factor, either because the Oil’s solid run comes to an end or because the referee’s call almost no penalties against an aggressive Florida team.

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5. Edmonton is an outstanding team. You don’t beat the Dallas Stars without being an outstanding team. But Edmonton is a team with stronger links that any other team in the NHL in its top group, but it’s also a team with weak links, inconsistent and/or limited players with holes in their game.

Knoblauch did a good job of getting the best out of his strongest links against Dallas and also limited the damage caused by his weak links, mainly be finding the right combinations of players in most games.

He got more mobility and puck movement in the line-up when he inserted Philip Broberg.

He got a more reliable game out of Darnell Nurse when he was paired up with reliable Brett Kulak, a fast and skilled puck-mover.

And he found a way to coax some good moments out of depth forwards like Corey Perry and Ryan McLeod, even as they struggled mightily in Game 6. I would not at all be surprised to see Warren Foegele go in for Perry in the series, perhaps as early as Game 1.

On top of it all, Skinner — a hot and cold goalie all year — got super-heated at just the right moment, out-duelling and out-playing star Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger in the series.

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6. I’ve seen enough now that I’ll pick the Oilers in six over Florida. Florida sounds a lot like Dallas, only with more hitting. I don’t under-estimate the more hitting part. Edmonton will get bashed around more.

But the Oilers have become a rock, paper and scissors team. Whatever the other team throws at them, they can counter with, the scissors of Edmonton’s brilliant attack going up against a smothering defensive systems, the rock of that hard man of hockey Evander Kane and solid team defence hammering on and thwarting top opposing players, and the paper of a tough, patient and disciplined defensive formation taking the best and most ferocious shot of the opposition and surviving it, as we saw in Game 6, where a desperate Dallas team greatly out-shot the Oilers, but only could get six of the most dangerous inner slot shots on Skinner.

Having found numerous ways to lose in recent years, Edmonton found a way to win. Now it must do so again.

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At the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: Can Tkachuk’s Florida Panthers disintegrate the Edmonton Oilers like Oilers did to Tkachuk’s Calgary Flames?

STAPLES: Cult of Hockey Game Grades for Game 6 win

STAPLES: Cult of Hockey Game Grades from Game 5 win

McCURDY: Cult of Hockey Game Grades from Game 4 win

LEAVINS: Cult of Hockey Game Grades from Game 3 loss

McCURDY: Cult of Hockey Game Grades from Game 2 loss

STAPLES: Cult of Hockey Game Grades from Game 1 win

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