NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Blackhawks and Oilers. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Blackhawks-Oilers Game 2 stream at 10:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Connor McDavid scored 2:34 into the game to give Edmonton the early lead before Chicago scored four straight goals – two by captain Jonathan Toews – to take a 4-1 lead after the first period. Rookie Dominik Kubalik was the story the rest of the way.
While Toews, Patrick Kane, McDavid and Leon Draisaitl all found the score sheet, it was Kubalik who made the headlines. The Calder Trophy finalist, who led all rookies with 30 goals during the regular season, set an NHL record for most points (5) in a playoff debut.
“We’ll talk about where we are with our goaltenders, and I thought Mikko was fine in net,” Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said. “We have confidence in both our guys, we had long discussions about it. We think we’ll use both in the [postseason]… We started the season 5-0 (with) Smitty. We thought we wanted to start the postseason the same way. We were very confident in Smitty. Other than the giveaway that went off his back, he was kind of left on his own out there.”
WHAT: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton WHEN: Monday, August 3, 10:30 p.m. ET TV: NBCSN ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko, Pierre McGuire LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blackhawks-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (Blackhawks lead series 1-0)
Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap) Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream) Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD
You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.
If only starting Mike Smith was the only thing that went wrong for the Oilers as the Blackhawks dominated them in Game 1.
While the Oilers scored some late goals to make the score look more respectable, the Blackhawks still convincingly won Game 1 by a 6-4 score on Saturday. By just about any measure, Edmonton has massive, massive work to do.
Tippett must find answers for Oilers after Blackhawks control Game 1
Now, starting Smith in Game 1 certainly wasn’t the best decision. When Mikko Koskinen finally relieved Smith about midway through the second period, it felt inevitable, although people were surprised it even took that long.
But if only it were so simple as to lay every bit of trouble at Smith’s feet.
Instead, the Blackhawks handed the Oilers a steady beating in Game 1. Chicago controlled puck possession, high-danger chances, and plenty of other factors. Sometimes, shot totals don’t tell you a lot. Here, you can look at Chicago’s shots on goal advantage (42-29) and get a taste of how lopsided this one was.
Smith over Koskinen merely ranks as one of the biggest problems. People will rightly ask plenty of questions, including: were the Oilers properly prepared — physically, structurally — for Game 1 against the Blackhawks? If not, then it’s another mark against Tippett.
You’ll need to dig deep to feel too great about anything for the Oilers.
It’s not the greatest sign when the Oilers’ vaunted power play is productive, but the Oilers still get throttled. Granted, that’s not to say that Edmonton won the special teams battle, though. The Blackhawks feasted on the power play, with Jonathan Toews starting the bleeding and Dominik Kubalik taking it from there.
Kubalik doesn’t miss a beat from stellar rookie season; Mixed feelings for top Oilers
If there was concern about Kubalik failing to carry over strong work from his 2019-20 debut, such fears looked unfounded after the Blackhawks dominated Game 1 against the Oilers.
Kubalik set a rookie playoff debut record with five points (two goals and three assists) based on his work through the first two periods. Things settled down in a scoreless third period, for whatever that’s worth to what must be a shaken-up Oilers squad.
Dominik Kubalik (2-3—5) became the first player in NHL history to record five points in his playoff debut, besting Daryl Evans' mark during Game 1 of the 1982 Division Semifinals with the Kings (2-2—4). #StanleyCup#NHLStatspic.twitter.com/qCiNQjWYHy
On one hand, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl produced on offense for Edmonton. They helped the Oilers score three times on the PP in Game 1. McDavid ended Game 1 with a goal and three assists, while Draisaitl produced two points (1G, 1A).
On the other hand, the two Oilers superstars weren’t immune to Edmonton’s profound defensive/even-strength struggles against the Blackhawks. Both McDavid and Draisaitl likely realize they need to do more or this 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier series could get ugly. Or at least they need a whole lot more from their teammates — yet most of us realize that this team leans on McDavid and Draisaitl as much as any NHL team relies on its biggest names.
Game 1 was deeply ugly for the Oilers, while the Blackhawks hope to make a 1-0 series lead even prettier.
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (Blackhawks lead series 1-0)
Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD
The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups.
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks – TV schedule, start times, channels
Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m. ET – NBC Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD
Oilers – Blackhawks preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series
Crawford looked sharp during Wednesday’s exhibition win over the Blues. He stopped all 11 shots he faced in 30 minutes of action after only three practices following his recovery from COVID-19. If he can’t go in Game 1, Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia are Jeremy Colliton’s options.
Hampered by injuries over the last few seasons, Crawford had a solid 2019-20 with a .926 even strength save percentage during the regular season — good enough for sixth in the NHL among goalies with 30 appearances. It’s an important week for him to get up to speed and be ready for Saturday. There’s little room for error in the best-of-five series.
The productive duo have been incredibly important to the Oilers’ standing in the Western Conference. Their 77 combined goals this season was 35% of the team’s total output. It doesn’t begin with this season, of course. McDavid and Draisaitl have scored an NHL-best 197 goals since 2016-17 — 21.3% of the team’s entire goal total.
We know what they’re capable of doing. Beyond Connor and Leon is where the issue could halt the Oilers’ progress. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was next on the team with 22 goals, followed by James Neal‘s 19. But you need some context around Neal’s total. Remember when he scored eight times in their first six games? He’s goalless now since his New Year’s Eve hat trick, a span of 13 games before the pause.
An X-factor up front for Edmonton might Andreas Athanasiou, who was acquired at the February trade deadline. He was a 30-goal scorer last season, but struggled earlier this year in Detroit. The speedy winger played only nine games with the Oilers after the deal, but an extended summer camp could serve the pending restricted free agent well.
Oilers: Mike Green was one of the handful of NHL players to opt out of the Return to Play. Riley Sheahan didn’t finish the team’s scrimmage over the weekend and sat out Tuesday’s game against the Flames. He’s expected to be ready for Game 1. After dealing with a COVID-19 diagnosis, Caleb Jones returned but missed the exhibition game after being “nicked up,” according to head coach Dave Tippett.
Slowing Edmonton’s power play
A 29.5% success rate with the extra man from the Oilers’ power play was the best the NHL has seen since the 1978-79 Islanders went over 30%. It wasn’t so much volume that led to all those man advantage goals as it was the quality of their chances.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Oilers were 21st in Corsi attempts for (530) and 22nd in total power play shots for (291). Other than scoring, what the unit did successfully was creating scoring chances per 60 minutes (58.77, first overall) and getting high-danger chances (23.8 per 60 minutes, fifth overall).
Chicago’s penalty was solid, ranking ninth in the NHL at 82.1%. They’ll be put to the test when down a man.
The Oilers’ goalies split their exhibition game against Calgary. Both played well with Smith allowing the lone goal after 20 shots faced. So who gets the Game 1 start? They shared the workload during the regular season and there was no hot hand to turn to with Smith being the only one to get three straight starts in the final month.
Koskinen has the edge of even strength save percentage .917 to .902 and had the fourth-best shorthanded save percentage at .901 (Smith was tied for first with .918). Tippett is familiar with Smith’s experience having coached him in two previous stops with the Stars and Coyotes.
Smith has the edge in rebound control and puck handling abilities. If you want to win the possession battle, having a goaltender who can perform well in those two category is a good start.
Leon Draisaitl (Oilers), Nathan MacKinnon (Avalanche), and Artemi Panarin (Rangers) were named the three finalists for the 2019-20 Hart Trophy. The award is given to the “player judged most valuable to his team” and voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association at the end of the regular season.
Hart Trophy cases for finalists Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin
The Hart Trophy case for Leon Draisaitl
It’s not just that Leon Draisaitl topped all NHL scorers with 110 points. Voters must have struggled with the fact that it wasn’t even close.
Draisaitl’s teammate Connor McDavid finished a distant second with 97 points. Yes, it’s remarkable that Draisaitl was the only NHL player to crack 100+ points in 2019-20, and he added some extra gravy by reaching 110. Remarkably, Draisaitl was going on a goal-scoring tear toward the end of the regular season, finishing with 43 goals.
While “fancy stats” become more prominent in hockey debate circles — including among voters — Draisaitl’s blistering scoring pace will be hard to ignore.
Nathan MacKinnon’s Hart Trophy argument
There are two basic arguments against Art Ross winner Draisaitl: a) defense and b) quality of teammates.
MacKinnon enjoys his fair share of help on a talented, young Avalanche team, but injuries to the likes of Mikko Rantanen placed significant pressure on the Avs’ speedy center. While McDavid certainly helped Draisaitl reach 110 points, MacKinnon’s 93 points stands far higher than every other Colorado player (Cale Makar finished second in team scoring with 50).
Fans of more “complete” players might side with MacKinnon. As a Lady Byng finalist, MacKinnon played big minutes but only had 12 PIM. (Then again, Draisaitl only had 18, and Panarin just 20.)
Artemi Panarin’s tremendous first Rangers season helps him rank among Hart Trophy finalists
Remember when people downgraded Panarin, believing that he was merely Patrick Kane‘s passenger?
Panarin keeps proving that he can deliver big numbers in different situations. The late-arriving NHL star also seems to somehow get better every season. Despite being limited to 69 games played, Panarin established new career-highs in goals (32) and points (95). Like MacKinnon, Panarin produced far more than any of his teammates (Mika Zibanejad ranked second on the Rangers with 75).
“The Bread Man” possesses the sort of creativity you love to see on the power play. Even so, Panarin did his greatest damage at 5-on-5, leading the NHL with 71 even-strength points.
Overall, Draisaitl, MacKinnon, and Panarin present viable cases as Hart Trophy finalists. Who do you think should be named the NHL’s MVP for 2019-20?
“Colby was an unbelievable young man, great teammate. Obviously a friend to everybody in our locker room,” said Tippett. “He would be with us today if he hadn’t passed. He planned to be with our group. He’s with us in spirit.”
The Oilers are preparing for their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Blackhawks, which begins Aug. 1. Cave played 44 games with the Oilers in the last two seasons and spent most of 2019-20 with AHL Bakersfield. He had many friends on the roster, and his teammates will use his memory as inspiration going forward.
“This is first time we’ve all been together in a big group since Colby passed,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “Those emotions are still fresh, and it makes it even more real now that we’re all together and he’s not able to join us. He’s going to be in our thoughts and in our hearts as we go forward and move through training camp and into the [playoffs], and hopefully, go on a deep run here.
“We’re going to play for Colby, and he’ll be with us throughout.”