The Edmonton Oilers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets, losing 4-3 in triple overtime in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup First Round on Monday.
Edmonton (35-19-2) was the No. 2 seed from the Scotia North Division but was swept by No. 3 Winnipeg, losing the final three games of the best-of-7 series in overtime. The Oilers had won seven of nine regular-season games against the Jets.
Here’s a look at what happened during the 2021 postseason for the Oilers and why things could be even better next season:
Potential unrestricted free agents: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F; Alex Chiasson, F; Tyler Ennis, F; Gaetan Haas, F; Joakim Nygard, F; Patrick Russell, F; Adam Larsson, D; Tyson Barrie, D; Dmitry Kulikov, D; Slater Koekkoek, D; Mike Smith; G.
Potential restricted free agents: Jujhar Khaira, F; Dominik Kahun, F; Kailer Yamamoto, F; Devin Shore, F.
Potential 2020 NHL Draft picks: 5
What went wrong
Too much to ask: Edmonton was outscored 14-8 in the series and scored two goals in four games when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were not on the ice. McDavid and Draisaitl were the top two scorers in the NHL during the regular season but carrying so much of the offensive burden was a near impossible task. Each player was held off the score sheet in Game 1 and Game 2. Draisaitl scored five points (two goals, three assists) and McDavid scored four points (one goal, three assists) in Game 3 and Game 4 combined, but it wasn’t enough with little support.
Couldn’t close: The inability to lock down a three-goal lead in Game 3 was a harbinger for the series outcome. The Oilers were 26-1-2 in the regular season when leading after two periods but blew a 4-1 lead with less than nine minutes to play in Game 3 and lost on Nikolaj Ehlers‘ goal at 9:13 of overtime. In Game 4, Edmonton led 3-2 after two but Kyle Connor scored to clinch the series at 6:52 of the third OT.
Style adjustment: Speed was a weapon for the Oilers during the regular season, led by McDavid’s imposing hands, thinking and skating, and their rush game was a dangerous problem for every opponent. The Jets had more skilled forwards, but when they committed to getting in the way with bodies and sticks, they slowed down the pace made the game a grind. With fewer clean chances, McDavid’s shooting percentage was 6.7 percent, down from 16.5 in the regular season. Draisaitl’s was 8.3 percent, down from 18.5.
Reasons for optimism
Attractive core: Edmonton has McDavid and Draisaitl, a one-two punch at center and the two most recent scoring champions, to build around. Add emerging defenseman Darnell Nurse and the Oilers have a leadership core that should be stable and maturing for many seasons ahead.
Building a defense: The Oilers will be motivated to retain potential unrestricted free agents Barrie, who led NHL defensemen with 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists), and Larsson (10 points; four goals, six assists). They’ll also have to determine if Oscar Klefbom can resume his hockey career after the defenseman did not play this season and had shoulder surgery March 26. Edmonton has prime defenseman prospects in the system led by Philip Broberg, a 19-year-old who was the No. 8 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Evan Bouchard, a 21-year-old first-round pick (No. 10, 2018 NHL Draft), looks close to a full-time role with the Oilers after scoring five points (two goals, three assists) in 14 NHL games this season. Broberg and Bouchard were on the postseason roster but did not play.
Foundation in place: Coach Dave Tippett has made progress in getting the Oilers to understand the need for playing with more determination and diligence without the puck. Edmonton was 11th in goals against per game (2.75), better than the 3.03 per game (17th) they gave up last season, and its points percentage climbed from .585 to .643.