The Edmonton Oilers will face the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Game One slated for Wednesday.
Everyone knows all eyes will be on Connor McDavid in this series. The 24-year-old led the NHL in scoring this season, with an astonishing 105 points in 56 games. The Jets will have their work cut out for them when it comes to containing the best player in the league, but the Oilers have to know the pressure is on. McDavid has to know that too, as this is the year when expectations could not be higher.
In nine games against the Jets this season, McDavid had 22 points.
Leon Draisaitl gives Edmonton its one-two punch. The 25-year-old from Cologne had 84 points in 56 games this season, including 31 goals and 53 helpers. The combo has been used in various critical moments throughout the regular season, with head coach Dave Tippett choosing to pair them up on the power play and in late game circumstances.
How the Jets counter McDavid and Draisaitl will tell the tale of the tape for this series. But recent struggles may have made things more difficult for Winnipeg. They were in the running for the North Division lead in mid-April before they took a 1-9-0 slip that included a seven-game losing run.
Mark Scheifele led the Jets in scoring with 63 points in 56 games, including 21 goals and 42 assists. The performance marked his sixth straight season with over 20 goals.
Scoring comes from all corners for Winnipeg, a team that boasts eight players with 10 or more goals in the regular season. Kyle Connor led the way with 26, including 10 on the power play.
When it comes to special teams, Winnipeg can hang with Edmonton better than you might think. The Oilers snapped off the NHL’s best power play at 27.6 percent, while the Jets counter with a lesser but still impressive 23 percent. Winnipeg was seventh overall on the man advantage, a hair behind the St. Louis Blues.
In terms of the penalty kill, there was less to separate these two. The Oilers ranked an 82.5 percent PK, ninth overall, while the Jets posted a 13th overall 80.5 percent penalty kill.
If the Jets have any particular ace in the hole, it’s got to be goalie Connor Hellebuyck. The 27-year-old posted 24 wins in 45 starts, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.58 goals against average with four shutouts. The issue, however, is how Hellebuyck has played against the Oilers. Let’s just say he hasn’t been good.
In fact, the Commerce native was 2-5-0 against Edmonton with an unfortunate .877 save percentage. The Oilers also cracked off eight power play goals against Hellebuyck.
Mike Smith has gone 21-6-2 for Edmonton, with a 2.31 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. He has three shutouts in 32 games. The issue for Smith may be wear and tear, especially as he missed the first three weeks of the season with an undisclosed injury, and he may not be able to win the goalie showdown in this series.
But, honestly, he probably won’t have to. The Oilers are superior at just about every aspect of this showdown, owning better team defence and better offensive prowess. And they are taking on a Jets squad that seems to be trending in the wrong direction.
That said, Winnipeg could put together a plucky performance with their backs against the proverbial wall. With few expecting them to win this thing, now’s as good a time as any for these Jets show their stuff against a stacked and ready Oilers squad.
Pic: Jason Franson/CP