ABC – Always Beat Calgary

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) and Calgary Flames left wing Matthew Tkachuk (19) exchanges words. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) and Calgary Flames left wing Matthew Tkachuk (19) exchanges words. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Well that was a nice pleasant surprise. The Edmonton Oilers wrapped up their second round series with Calgary in five games with a win, in thrilling fashion, in OT with a goal by who else but Connor McDavid? That’s why he gets paid the big bucks, to come through when it counted, and he came through in a big way last night.

The series only went five games, which was quite a surprise to me. I thought the Flames were going to bite and scratch and claw this thing to seven games, but they continued their annual tradition of choking in the playoffs (the runner up tradition is not to make the playoffs at all).

There were many reasons why the Edmonton Oilers came through as the winners in this one. First of all, the Flames never once seemed to have an answer for the Kane-McDavid-Draisaitl line to handle. It just seemed to be too much for them, offensively and defensively.

One thing that didn’t surprise me all that much – Calgary’s offence dried up. Turns out that Tkachuk and Gaudreau’s guns went fairly silent in the playoffs. Case in point – Johnny Gaudreau’s shooting % in the regular season – 15.3%, almost 2.5% above his career shooting % of 12.9%. In the playoffs, that nosedived to 5.8%, below a not-great career shooting % in the playoffs of 8.7% to begin with.

And he’s not the only one. Mr. Turtle himself, Matthew Tkachuk, 16.5% shooting % in the regular season, 13.5% career – a full 3% above normal. In the playoffs, 11.4%, 0.1% off his career average of 11.5%. Still, that’s a 2% drop from the regular season.

Lindholm was 17.9% in the regular season, a full 5.3%(!) higher than his career average of 12.6%. In the playoffs he actually kind of kept up, 14.7% to his career average of 12.3% in the playoffs. Still, that’s a 3% dropoff from the regular season.

Mangiapane – 18.9% in the regular season, to a 17.1% career average. In the playoffs?  11.1%, 2.5% below his career average of 13.6% and over a 5% dip from the regular season.

Rounding out the top five scorers for the Flames in the regular season – and the only top five scorer who didn’t have a crazy shooting % – blueliner Rasmus Andersson, who was 2.6% this season compared to his career average of 3.2%. His shooting % actually improved a ton in the playoffs, as he went 13% in the playoffs, only 0.7% off his career average of 13.7%.

When four out of your top five scorers come crashing down like a house of cards, that’s not a recipe for success in the playoffs. But then again, when you have shooting %’s in the regular season that are all 2.5-5% above your career average in the regular season, that’s not going to last anyway.

The Flames had decent depth scoring throughout the lineup (every single player got at least a point in the playoffs), but there wasn’t enough of it up or down the lineup. For example, the top scorers on the Flames were Lindholm and Backlund, both tied for five goals apiece. On the Oilers that would’ve been only good enough for fourth on the team, as Evander Kane (12), Leon Draisaitl and Connor Mcdavid (7) and Zach Hyman (8) all eclipsed that mark on the Oilers.

Even key secondary scorers for the Flames – like Milan Lucic and Dillon Dube – only finished with a single assist a piece in the playoffs for the Flames. Noah Hanifin, a supposed puck moving d-man, only finished with three assists all playoffs. The blueline in general didn’t contribute enough for the Flames, who only had two blueliners – Andersson and Stone – who scored more than one goal all playoffs.

Compare this to the Oilers who thus far have only one regular d-man without a goal in the playoffs, and it’s exactly who you’d expect – Brett Kulak. There was also Kris Russell and Philip Broberg, but considering those two only played five games all playoffs combined I think we can overlook that. Neither of them are regulars at this time.

Even supposed stay at home blueliner Cody Ceci still has 1-6-7 in 12 playoff games so far. Fun fact – Ceci actually himself alone outscored ALL of the Flames stay at home blueliners – none of Tanev, Gudbranson, or Zadorov scored a goal and they only combined for five points.

Wow….

Jay Woodcroft himself seemed to out-strategize Darryl Sutter during the series as well. Not only did Sutter have no answer for the Oilers first line, but he never could really combat the donut line either which constantly rotated players in and out of the line, keeping the Flames guessing as to what was coming and not giving them a chance to adequately prepare a game plan against it.

That’s the entire top six forward group for the Oilers – no wonder they were able to outscore the Flames in four out of five games.

Special teams was a factor too, as the Oilers have a PP that’s head and shoulders above the Flames in the playoffs. The Oiler’s PP is at 28.2%, good enough for fourth spot of all the playoff teams. The Flames, meanwhile, had the third worst PP of all playoff teams, at 12.2%. Not surprisingly, most of the teams around them are out of the playoffs already, check it out.

The PK is a bit different, but even then the Oilers and Flames were fairly close together. Calgary finished with the fourth best playoff PK in the NHL while the Oilers are only sixth out of all playoff teams right now (86.4% to 85.4%). Not much difference in the grand scheme of things.

Goaltending was a factor too – the Flames got good goaltending from Jakob Markstrom but not necessarily timely goaltending – and Mike Smith gave the Oilers both better and more timely goaltending as he leaves another opposition goalie that he outduels in his wake.

First it was Jonathan Quick, now Jakob Markstrom. Not that this surprises me, of course – Markstrom like most of their top five scorers – had an unsustainable career year in the regular season. That’s usually not sustainable in the playoffs.

In fact, Mike Smith sits second of all goalies of playoff teams in sv% right now with .927, which is just below his career playoff average of .930 if you can believe it. Only Andrei Vasilevskiy is better with a .932.  GAA is closer, but still Mike Smith comes out on top with a 2.7 to Markstrom’s 2.95.

I wonder if Markstrom regrets signing with the Flames now….

But all of these are just petty poop in comparison to the biggest reason, and it’s an intangible.  Are you ready for this?