Edmonton Oilers aren't waving white flag, but some calls would be nice

“It’s unfortunate for us that it’s tougher to draw penalties in the playoffs than it is in the regular season.”

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The Edmonton Oilers aren’t going to tie a white flag to a hockey stick, send a kid out to surrender for them before the start of Game 3 on Monday.

This isn’t Vancouver.

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But, yeah, they’re kind of wondering where the whistles went through two games of the Western Conference Final.

Through seven periods so far, the Dallas Stars have only taken two penalties — one for too many men in Game 1 and only one when it mattered in Game 2. Their second came at 18:30 of the third period after they’d already sealed things with an empty netter.

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You’d expect more than two calls in a charity game between kindergarten teachers and nuns, so it’s fair to wonder if the referees are really paying attention out there.

The Stars only had one power play themselves in Game 2, so it’s not like one team is getting the short end of the stick, it’s more like everyone gets to use the stick all they want.

“In the NHL sometimes the standard gets changed a little bit,” said Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch, taking a long pause before answering the power play question. “That’s obviously unfortunate for us. We have a very good power play and we win a lot of games on the power play.

“It’s unfortunate for us that it’s tougher to draw penalties in the playoffs than it is in the regular season. The standard is the same for both teams. I’m not saying it’s unfair for us, but we would like the same standard (as the regular season).”

The old, ‘We don’t want to determine the outcome of the game,’ excuse is once again determining the outcome of games. Goals that used to come from Edmonton scoring on the power play aren’t coming because the calls aren’t coming.

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And goals that used to come from opponent’s being reluctant to hack and hold for fear of taking penalties aren’t coming because at this time of year, a lot of that stuff becomes legal.

Getting so few power plays recently also seems to have disrupted Edmonton’s rhythm. They have two power play goals in their last chances on the man advantage. That’s not how the Oilers typically make their living.

What used to be their life blood is running dry.

‘They check with their feet’

They’re doing well enough at five-on-five and the penalty kill to have eliminated Vancouver and stolen home ice advantage from Dallas, but they’d really like to unholster their most dangerous weapon.

What do they have to do to draw more penalties?

“That’s a good question,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, not wanting to go there. “I don’t know. Yeah, that’s a good question.”

Oilers defenceman Mattias Ekholm went there a little bit.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I looked at Darnell’s penalty today and five minutes later I get crosschecked right in the same spot in the paint. It’s physical, it’s playoff hockey out there, it just seems we need to kill more than we get power plays. We need to work harder to draw more penalties.”

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It also doesn’t help Edmonton’s cause that Dallas is the least penalized team in the playoffs and was the second-least penalized team in the regular season.

“They check with their feet,” said Oilers forward Connor Brown, who’s killed enough penalties to know one when he sees one. “They’re a pretty disciplined club but I think we can do a better job holding onto the puck and creating some momentum so they have to chase us around a bit. That’s usually when you get your calls.”

‘Come out hot’

Still, coming home to Edmonton with the series tied 1-1 leaves the Oilers in a pretty good spot. If there is an advantage to be had in a series that’s been dead even so far, it’s having the next two games in Rogers Place, where they haven’t played in nine days.

“We’re playing well enough to win but we still have another level to our game,” said Ekholm. “We got the split, now we’re going to go home, regroup and come out hot for Game 3.

“We’re in the Western Conference Final, it’s going to be tight, it’s going to be hard. It’s supposed to be this way. You just have to make sure you’re on the winning side of it. We’ll regroup and come back better.”

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Losing Game 2 and missing out on a chance to really take command of the series kind of stings, but Knoblauch is taking the philosophical approach to what is now a best-of-five with home ice advantage.

“If you would have told me four or five days ago that we would have come in here and split against Dallas, who just knocked out Vegas and Colorado, we’d have taken that,” he said.

“It’s little more bitter when you win the first one and lose the second one, but we’re just excited to go back to Edmonton and play on our home ice.”

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