Down three games to two in their best of seven series against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Oilers have their backs against the wall. Needing to win two straight games to advance, the margin for error is slim.
Even a dominant effort can be ruined by a call, a bounce, or a three minute lapse, as we saw in a Game 5 loss. The good news is that Darnell Nurse will return to action for the Oilers as they stare into the abyss of the offseason.
With that in mind we polled our readers to give their take on where the path toward victory will lie.
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Increasing depth scoring
The Oilers have seen a narrative develop in this area. With the team’s top scorers producing at an incredible rate the blame for scoring woes must fall somewhere else. Two popular scapegoats have been named in the form of depth scoring and even strength scoring.
While every goal can make a difference, and a multi-goal effort from any depth scorer would be a huge boost, the Oilers have held decent production rates through the lineup. Simply put there aren’t too many Oilers who have fallen off their regular season averages as far as production goes.
Finishing third in our poll, the focus on these issues is accurately appraised here, if not a bit muted.
Showing more discipline
With the Golden Knights power play wreaking havoc, the Oilers would do well to be wary of any trips to the box. Of course, the Oilers power play has been absurdly strong through these playoffs, so it is a bit surprising the series has devolved into a chaos of undisciplined behaviours so often.
Clearly, the intensity, physicality, competitiveness, and pressure has players on either team acting out of character. The animosity is real, and it might well be the team who best keeps their cool that has success in any of the games to come in the series.
What is and isn’t called can be unpredictable, as refereeing is an inherently impossible job. How the games are called will always be up for debate and scrutiny, but gripes about a call here or there, however sound or valid they may be, do little to quell the agony of defeat or lead a team to victory.
The Oilers will need a lot of luck to stay out of the box completely, but starting with a disciplined focus of play will be crucial in laying the foundation for success. The importance of discipline is well understood by Oil Country here, leading the poll with 57% of the vote.
Starting Campbell in net
While it would be hard to pin any of the Oilers losses on Stuart Skinner, his play has come into question after his third time being pulled this postseason. Meanwhile, Jack Campbell has been strong in all three of his relief appearances, including an effort that saw him lead the team to victory against the Los Angeles Kings in Round 1.
Skinner has had a breakout season that has seen him named a Calder Trophy finalist for rookie of the year. Skinner has continued his steep upward trajectory, building over the past four seasons to the point where his status as starter is fairly entrenched.
Still, true bell-cow netminders are increasingly rare league-wide. More and more often we see a trend towards a decreasing workload for goalies as tandems become a more popular approach. Skinner starting all 11 playoff games so far is far more usage than he was given this season. In retrospect, it might have been prudent to give Skinner a rest at some point in a non-elimination game.
After more than his share of rough patches in the regular season, Campbell still authored a strong win/loss record. This is a fairly poor metric in encapsulating goalie performance, but ultimately it is the only metric that matters at this time of year. Given his performance over his playoff career, Campbell can theoretically be a legitimate option for the Oilers, even if only for a game or two. Both Eastern Conference finalists, the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers, have already started multiple goalies in their respective playoff runs.
In all the Oilers are built to win games by controlling play and converting on chances with the efficiency that only the most skilled teams are able to. The goaltending, either Skinner or Campbell, should be expected to live up to the team’s defensive performance more than it should be expected to steal games with regularity.
Finishing a close second in this poll, it is clear that the thought of starting Campbell is being seriously considered across Oil Country.
Nothing needs to change
Finishing last in our poll is the thought that the Oilers have already been good enough to win the series. Despite being down three games to two in the series there is some merit here. With the first four games of the series alternating blowout losses for each team, both had their moments of being the better of the two. Through most of the Game 5 loss the Oilers were the better team, though that counts for little.
The Oilers might well be playing a strong enough team game to beat the Golden Knights, but only about 7% of voters think that the solution is to keep the status quo.
Write in candidate: Stop Eichel
In the first meaningful contest between Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the latter has held his own. A dominant force in the series, Eichel has dominated his minutes against Nick Bjugstad. Whether on the second line or the fourth line, Bjugstad has not been able to shut down Eichel. As this was the Oilers plan heading into the series, a clear area for adjustment might surround a new plan here.
With home ice advantage, and last chance, in Game 6, we might see Woodcroft pivot to chasing a different matchup against Eichel. Both McDavid and Ryan McLeod have had strong results against Eichel in the series. The Golden Knights employ a depth at forward, with four very respectable lines, meaning that the balance between sending more resources to stop Eichel and leaving enough defensive capabilities for checking the other three lines is a tenuous one.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire