3 Things we Learned About the Edmonton Oilers in Round 1

EDMONTON, AB - MAY 14: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Los Angeles Kings during the third period in Game Seven of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on May 14, 2022 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
EDMONTON, AB - MAY 14: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Los Angeles Kings during the third period in Game Seven of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on May 14, 2022 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images) /

The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs are a big deal for the Edmonton Oilers Franchise, a team that had just 1 series win in the McDavid era prior to this year, and a 1-7 postseason record from 2018-2021.

Whether it’s the goaltending, the depth, the coaching, or the top players, it hasn’t been good enough for the Oilers in the playoffs in recent years.

This season, Edmonton made some big changes, adding two top-six forwards in Zach Hyman and Evander Kane, a new head coach in Jay Woodcroft, and several key changes to the defense core with Cody Ceci, Duncan Keith, Evan Bouchard, and Brett Kulak entering the fray.

All of these changes had Oilers nation wondering if the team had the pieces to finally get over the hump and become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

The Oilers came out on top over the LA Kings in a hard-fought seven games to kick off the 2022 playoffs for their first series win since 2017. Here are three things we learned about this Oilers team in that series.

Connor McDavid Can Take Over a Series

Any time a superstar doesn’t succeed in the postseason, their leadership and ability to step up when it counts gets called into question.

McDavid was ok in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he was a young player that still had much to learn, and opposing teams covered Connor with a wet blanket by putting their best defensive players on him at all times. He wasn’t yet able to deal with this kind of tight-checking playoff hockey and as a result, he only managed 9 points in 13 games.

McDavid registered 13 points in his next 8 playoff contests after that, but his defensive game left a lot to be desired (along with the rest of the team) against the Blackhawks in 2020, and his efforts weren’t enough to make up for the lack of depth on the team in 2021 against Winnipeg.

Connor McDavid had yet to put the team on his back and dominate his way to a series win like we’ve seen him do in individual games so many times in the regular season. This year, he has proven he can do just that in the biggest moments of the season.

In the first round against Los Angeles this year, McDavid became the first player to score 14 points in a playoff series since Claude Giroux in 2012, and the consistency was off the charts with 6 multi-point games in the series for Connor.

The offensive numbers are impressive, but there are two things that stand out to me in particular.

Firstly, McDavid’s defensive game was fantastic. He was a committed back checker and got good defensive sticks in the lanes of the LA forwards. His 5v5 xG% was an incredible 70.9%, by far the best of any player in the series. McDavid’s two-way dominance in this series is something we have never seen him do quite this well before.

The second thing I noticed was that he was particularly effective when the Oilers had their backs up against the wall. Games 6 and 7 were two of the best performances I have ever seen from Connor McDavid. Two must-win games where he was by far the best player on the ice and managed to get a combined 5 points.

No one should ever question Connor’s ability to perform in clutch situations. He took over this series and willed Edmonton to victory.

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Ceci and Kulak are Key to Edmonton Oilers Success

Cody Ceci was an expensive offseason acquisition that needed to perform well in order to anchor that right side of the Edmonton defense. Ceci is playing some of the best hockey of his career in this postseason thus far, with an amazing Gf% of 71.4%, an xG% of 55.12%, and a High danger chance share (HDCF%) of 55.07%.

The defensive numbers are impressive, but Ceci quietly had the best offensive series of his playoff career with 6 points, including the game-winning goal in game seven.

Brett Kulak was a trade-deadline day acquisition that flew under the radar. Thought to be a minor addition, Kulak has transformed the left side of the Oilers’ defense core. He has given Tyson Barrie a responsible defensive partner that helps him play his game much more effectively than before.

He also stepped up in game 6 playing a whopping 21:19 in a crucial victory with Darnell Nurse in the press box with a one-game suspension.

Without these two players, the Oilers would not have won this series, and they will be important pieces for the team moving forward.

Mike Smith is Capable of Winning in the Playoffs

Mike Smith lost 9 consecutive Playoff Starts coming into this season, including an 0-5 record in the postseason as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.

His regular season numbers have usually been pretty strong in Edmonton but he was out-goaltended by Connor Hellebyuck in the 2021 playoffs and he played poorly in his only start during the 2020 bubble playoffs.

It has long been a debate in Oil Country whether the team’s goaltending was capable of leading them on a deep playoff run. In this series, Smith had a large gaffe in Game 1 when he misplayed the puck, leading to the game-winning goal, which only served to increase those concerns.

Ever since that mistake in the opening game of the series Smith has silenced his critics with two shutouts and a playoff-best GSAx of 10.4!

Mike Smith has not only proven he can be good enough for the Oilers to win in the playoffs, but he has been arguably the best goalie of the entire postseason thus far.

dark. Next. We win