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How the Edmonton Oilers can beat the Colorado Avalanche

David, meet Goliath.

While the Colorado Avalanche have yet to do much beyond what the Edmonton Oilers have in recent years, the club down south is coming in as heavy favourites. Goliath.

The Oilers, meanwhile, have likely already overachieved in this post-season dispatching the LA Kings in seven while ousting the Calgary Flames in 5. Still, they’re David.

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Edmonton rolls in as pretty heavy underdogs in this series at +215 to win outright. Is it justified? Perhaps.

The Avs are one strong team. They’ve got a loaded top-six as potent as that of the Oilers. Their backend is, as a whole, stronger than that of Edmonton. While losing Samuel Girard has been a significant loss, the lean is still in the Avs’ favour.

In net, however, things start to balance out. Darcy Kuemper was one of the best goalies in the league this year posting a 37-12-4 record, a .921 save percentage and a 2.54 GAA. But ol’ Schmaddy wasn’t terrible, either. 16-9-2, a .915 and a 2.81.

Come playoffs, however, there’s been a shift in the force, if you will. Kuemper’s numbers have plummeted, while Smith’s have only gotten better.

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YOU Sv.% GAA GSAA GSAA/60
Mike Smith reg. season 1579:58 0.915 2.81 7.27 0.28
Smith playoffs 666:06 0.927 2.70 5.48 0.49
Kuemper reg. season 3258:07 0.921 2.54 25.19 0.46
Kuemper playoffs 516:04 0.904 2.44 -2.18 -0.25

The largest swing we see here is in both goaltenders’ goals saved above average per hour. Smith’s has nearly doubled, increasing 75%, while Kuemper’s has dropped 154%.

But how can the Oilers take advantage of Kuemper? Traffic to the net. It’s a recipe that has worked for them so far in the playoffs. In all situations, the Oilers have scored 30 of their 52 goals from high danger areas, according to Natural Stat Trick. Edmonton’s HDGF/60 has risen from 1.92 in the regular season, to 2.48 in the playoffs.

The adage is simple: get to the net, and you’ll score goals.

This is exactly how the Oilers can feat Darcy Kuemper. Among eight goaltenders who have played over seven games in the playoffs, Kuemper’s .811 high danger save percentage is the worst. Nashville and St. Louis, the first two foes in this post-season for Colorado, have generated the fewest, and second-fewest high-danger scoring chances these playoffs. My read? The Avalanche aren’t giving up lots of looks inside during these playoffs, but when they are, Kuemper is struggling to stop them.

This shows a significant spot the Oilers can exploit. They’ll have to get creative, but getting traffic to the net and lots of shots that way is going to be key.

  • It looks like the Oilers are opting to keep the lines together as they were in game five against Calgary. That means Hyman is on the top line instead of Kane, and Yamamoto is on the second line, while Puljujarvi bumps down to the third with Foegele and McLeod.
  • There are a few ways to go when trying to match against Colorado here. You could go big-on-big with Draisaitl-McDavid-Hyman against Landeskog-MacKinnon-Lehkonen and Kane-RNH-Yamamoto against Nichushkin-Kadri-Rantanen.
  • I think going big-on-big in this series, much like against Calgary, is the play. McDavid against MacKinnon hasn’t been favorable in Edmonton’s favour. The shot attempts and expected goals at 5×5 have swayed fairly heavily in Colorado’s favor when McDavid and MacKinnon are on the ice together, but balances a bit adjusting for score and venue. That being said, I think you need to match speed vs. speed here, and high-end skill vs. high-end skill. That would leave the Nugent-Hopkins line against the Kadri line.
  • It seems straightforward, but I’d also just go L3 vs. L3 as much as possible. Burakovsky-Compher-Aube-Kubel has done well controlling the shot attempt share at 5×5, but have gotten caved in on expected goals. Foegele and McLeod have some chemistry, while Puljujarvi will be a key shaker there too.
  • In terms of the fourth line, Edmonton has to shake things up here. Archibald-Ryan-Kassian have been crushed at 5×5 and the Oilers have been outscored 5-2 with Archibald on the ice and also 5-2 with Ryan on the ice. Colorado is a smart, smart team and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see them target this line heavily and pick them apart. I detailed some of the major issues with Archibald/Kassian here on Twitter. That being said, I think Archibald is the guy to come out of the lineup here. On their own,
  • On the backend, Toewes-Makar is as solid as they come as a pairing. They control and push the pace of play exceptionally well, but have been outscored 2-5 in terms of high-danger goals. As mentioned earlier, this is a good spot to exploit.
  • Jack Johnson-Manson have struggled in these playoffs. Barely breaking even in terms of shot attempt share, but have been crushed in expected goals. This is a pairing Edmonton can beat up on.
  • Lastly, Byram-Erik Johnson have been solid. Dominating shot attempt share, goals scored and expected goal share. They’ll cause some issues.

In my eyes, this is going to be one heckuva series. Colorado plays such a strong game front to back, but it feels like they’re maybe getting too much love here. I get it — they’re a great team and are deep, but it’s not like Edmonton has been awful in the playoffs. Despite some struggles against the Kings, they got it done when it counted and closed out game six on the road, and seven at home. Against Calgary, the Oilers absolutely rolled a cup favorite in five games. After a tough game one loss, Edmonton won four straight including two in Calgary.

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And now? David meets Goliath.

I truly like the Oilers chances here and I think it’s a series that goes long. Six, likely seven games are going to be needed to close this one out. The Oilers big guns in Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane are playing the best hockey of their collective years, while other key contributions up and down the lineup are coming up big, too. That trio will need to keep up the production, while the second line needs to be postive contributors too. Edmonton’s third line needs to keep their heads above water, which I fully expect them to do, and for the love of god the fourth line needs to play as little as possible.

Defensively, the Oilers are going to need to play a tight game and take away Colorado’s speed. They love to play a fast game, and I think that plays into Edmonton’s favour. Above all else, there will need to be a deep commitment to playing back to the puck from all players.

Goaltending, as mentioned above, will play a key role as well. Mike Smith needs to play lights out and the Oilers need to take advantage of Kuemper’s shaky play getting to his net early and often. If they do…

Oilers in six.


Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaingor reached by email at [email protected]

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