Going into Game Three of their first round series against the Winnipeg Jets, the Edmonton Oilers find themselves in a curious position.
Down two, the Oil has been outplayed – at least on paper. They’ve been outscored 5-1, with Edmonton’s top stars still looking for a place to happen. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have yet to record a point.
The storylines are coming into focus. Some say the Oilers have to regroup. Some say it’s about luck, as in the Jets have been getting the bounces and soon Edmonton will get the bounces because that’s how luck works and all that. Some think that’s a pile of nonsense.
“You earn your breaks. We’re not sittin’ here crying that we’re not getting breaks,” said Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. “They’ve scored two goals off of deflections — one of them deflected off (Adam) Larsson. They’ve got those goals. We haven’t. We still have to work to get those goals. We’re not sitting here thinking, ‘Everything is all right. We’re just not getting breaks.’ There are things we can do to help earn those breaks.”
Earning the breaks is something, but the tale of the tape is something else. Winnipeg has put just two regulation goals past Mike Smith, adding empty-netters and a 1-0 overtime winner to capture the advantage.
But does it matter? Losses are losses and they are starting to pile up for Edmonton, who was favoured to take this thing by just about every single “expert” across the board.
Still, if you’re a fan of the Oilers, there’s hope.
Jesse Puljujarvi is the only Edmonton skater with a goal and the only player on the plus side of plus-minus. He leads his squad with nine shots. His play has the potential to turn the tide and get those top players cranking.
The Oilers have outshot the Jets 71-58 and most of this series has been tied, with Winnipeg only leading for 11:46.
“It’s tight. It really could go either way,” Draisaitl said Saturday. “The bounces haven’t really been in our favour. That’s the way it goes. That’s playoff hockey. Eventually they’re going to go our way.”
In order for that to happen, the Oilers have to solve Connor Hellebuyck and break the D wide open. The Jets keeper enters Game Three coming off a 38-save shutout and has turned away 70 of 71 shots, plus he’s won his last four and permitted just three goals in that span.
Edmonton has to challenge on the forecheck. The Jets have adjusted, drifting the third forward high to cut down on Oil transitions. That, coupled with a shortage of Winnipeg blunders, makes space a premium out there.
So while luck and bounces count for a lot, preparation is fundamental. The Oilers will have to adapt if they want to roll back in this series. The battle continues Sunday.