Edmonton Oilers with plenty to worry about, even if things down and angry in Dallas Stars country

Article content

Ready to celebrate Edmonton winning the Western Conference title? Looking ahead to which team the Oilers might play in the Stanley Cup finals?

Not me. Not even close.

I say this even as things have taken an ugly turn in Dallas Stars country, with commentators down on the team and the coach lashing out at the media.

Advertisement 2

Article content

The Oilers are finding ways to win in these 2024 playoffs, but this is also a team that has not yet advanced to the Stanley Cup finals in the McDavid/Draisaitl era, and there are a few statistical indicators still pointing in the direction of a Stars victory, even if the odds are now against them, and the mood is sour in Dallas hockey circles.

How sour?

Here is what Dallas hockey writer Sean Shapiro — who was so confident of Dallas beating Edmonton that he jokingly picked the Stars to “win in three” at the start of the series –had to say in Dallas Magazine after Dallas’ Game 5 loss: “The Stars were uncreative and predictable, and it cost them. Throughout Game 5, Dallas relied on chip-and-chase hockey, electing to dump the puck in and play into the Oilers’ strengths. Edmonton happily allowed it to happen, circled back to collect the puck and exited the defensive zone without much pressure at all. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.”

And commentator David Castillo in Dallas Magazine: “Maybe the Stars are out of magic. Or maybe, going back to their special-teams and home-ice issues, they’ve squandered it.”

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

At NHL.com, long-time Dallas hockey writer Mike Heika set out the gloomy facts:. “Yes, it is harder to score in the playoffs, but the Stars are having some serious struggles right now. Dallas ranked third in the regular season at 3.59 goals per game. It is at 2.83 in the playoffs. In the past three games against the Oilers, the Stars have had periods with shots on goal of 3, 3, 4, 6 and 6. Joe Pavelski, who averaged 0.82 points per game in the regular season, is at 0.22 in the playoffs. Duchene has gone from 0.81 to 0.33. Roope Hintz from 0.81 to 0.57.”

Commentator Robert Tiffin at Stars Thoughts noted: “It’s hard to be optimistic about the Stars’ chances right now. This series no longer feels like a wild emotional swing, but more like one that has settled into a disturbing trend of Edmonton generally being more dangerous while Dallas fecklessly tries to vicitimize Stuart Skinner. And unless you’re Jason Robertson, that hasn’t been working well as of late… Generating offense against a Vegas-like system (as they now seem to be facing) is a tall order for a squad that looked gassed for long stretches.”

Advertisement 4

Article content

At the Dallas Morning News, hockey writer Lia Assimakopoulos also noted that the Stars are struggling to generate scoring chances. ‘Edmonton is not known as an elite defensive team. In the regular season, they ranked 10th in the league in goals against per game at 2.88. In the playoffs, they rank ninth at 2.81. But in the last few games of the series, they suffocated the Stars, preventing Dallas from getting many quality offensive scoring chances.”

Commentator Tyler Mair of the Defending Big D hockey blog, added, “I’ll more or less never question the effort of the players and teams that get this far… but you have to admit the Stars looked kind of lifeless, right? … They were flat, and the Edmonton Oilers got to do what they’ve loved to do against Dallas this series: minimizing shots on Stuart Skinner to makeup for subpar goaltending.”

My take

1. Dallas is no longer the favourite to win this series Edmonton has looked solid in the past five periods of play. Since being down 2-0 to the Stars in Game 4, Edmonton has scored eight goals, Dallas just one, and has out-shot the Stars 55 to 39.

Advertisement 5

Article content

But overall in the series, the teams are essentially even when it comes to generating Grade A shot, 13.0 per game for the Oilers, 13.2 per game for the Stars. And if we look at the subset of 5-alarm shots, which go in on average about a third of the time, Dallas has had 7.0 per game, the Oilers just 5.2.

2. Many Dallas fans and commentators still doubt Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner, but he’s been a key difference maker in this series so far, allowing his team to take the lead even as the Oilers have created significantly fewer of the most dangerous shots.Grade A

3. Skinner’s weak play almost cost the Oilers the Vancouver series, but he’s come up big against the Stars. Dallas is getting at him for more Grade A shots per game, 13.2, than did the Kings, 11.0, or the Canucks, 10.7.

4. The Oilers had a massive +6.0 per game Grade A shot differential against Los Angeles, and were +3.9 per game against the Canucks. But, again, against Dallas that differential has evaporated on Grade A shots, with Dallas getting more of the most dangerous shots. If this keeps up, of course the Dallas Stars can come back and win the next two games. Why not?

Advertisement 6

Article content

5. Who do I think will win the series? The Oilers.

Who do I think will win Game 6? The Oilers.

Hockey is a game where the weakest links cost victory, as they are often exploited by the strongest links on the opposing squad.

The Oilers have found a way to minimize this kind of harm. Coach Kris Knoblauch inserting Philip Broberg dealt a major blow to Dallas’ dump-and-chase game, as Broberg is mobile and good with the puck, at least when he settles into a game.

Putting Brett Kulak with Darnell Nurse also settled Nurse’s game, as Nurse has now got a strong skater, puck-mover and positional defender at his side. Kulak can rapidly shut down opposition attacks and advance the puck under pressure.

At forward, Knoblauch has also found solid line combinations, doing so consistently since Game 6 against the Canucks. And then there’s Skinner and his remarkable turn-around.

I’m not at all down on the Oilers. But I’m still up on the Stars. They are a potent, effective and dangerous team.

Edmonton will need to play its smartest, most diligent hockey of the year in Game 6 to beat them. I’m seeing enough signs of that kind of sharp, intelligent and focused hockey to pick the Oil, but the game is essentially a coin flip.

Advertisement 7

Article content

17g GrA

6. I’ll end with a word from Connor McDavid about Game 6, as I think he nailed the attitude the Oilers should have right now, which is markedly more grounded than the high level of optimism in Edmonton just now.

Said the Oilers captain: “We’ve been able to put together two good games and, you know, that’s all it is. We’ve put ourselves in an opportunity heading home to win a big game but that’s all we’ve done got a lot of work to do.”

Perfect statement.

At the Cult of Hockey

LEAVINS: Coach K is more than OK

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

Article content