The main story through the first four games of the Battle of Alberta — and the entire NHL postseason, really — has been the brilliant play of Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid.
The 25-year-old has been simply unstoppable, seemingly creating Grade-A scoring chances every time he hits the ice. His 25 points would be an impressive total for a player whose team went the full distance in the playoffs, yet he has managed to do so in just 11 games.
What he is doing has many suggesting he is not only the best player in the world right now, but already one of the best to ever play the game. Like many teams, he's left the Flames completely perplexed when it comes to defending him. Matthew Tkachuk was quick to hint after a Game 3 loss that McDavid was essentially the sole reason they had fallen behind in the series.
“They’ve got one player that plays half the game and is playing some great hockey right now,” Tkachuk told reporters.
Tkachuk’s teammate Rasmus Andersson echoed those sentiments, implying that the Flames let “one guy” (McDavid) dominate the game.
While the Oilers captain has undoubtedly been brilliant, he is far from the only reason this Edmonton squad finds itself just one game away from a conference finals berth.
As we're all starting to find out, there's a lot more to this team than just the great No. 97.
Despite reportedly entering the series with a high-ankle sprain, Leon Draisaitl has managed two goals and 13 points through four games in this series so far, two more points than McDavid’s 11. In Game 3, Draisaitl really put his mark on these playoffs, if he hadn't already, becoming the first player in NHL history to record four assists in a single playoff period. He then proceeded to set another NHL record in Game 4.
Leon Draisaitl, credited with an assist on the Kane empty-netter to seal it, becomes the first player in Stanley Cup playoff history with four consecutive three-point games.
— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) May 25, 2022
Three of those apples were buried by Evander Kane, whose Game 3 hat trick and pair of tallies in Game 4 has him at five goals and six points in the four games, while Zach Hyman has also put the puck in the back of the net on five occasions while becoming a nightmare for the Flames on the forecheck. Rounding out the Oilers' terrific offense is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, whose two goals in Game 4 were critical in Edmonton securing the 3-1 series lead.
When Tkachuk and Andersson are saying one player is beating them, it begs the question: which player are they talking about? Not only are the four non-McDavid forwards mentioned above outplaying any of the Flames' top stars, but Jacob Markstrom is actually getting outdueled in net by Mike Smith, too. Outside of a rough Game 1 showing, and a super weird goal against in Game 4, Smith has given his team a chance to win the past three games, while the same cannot be said of the Vezina candidate at the other end of the ice.
As far as the blue lines for each team go, the Oilers have defended well aside from Game 1, while the Flames' backend has looked disorganized and a little slow in comparison to the Oilers' creative and speedy forward group.
What is even scarier about this Oilers bunch right now is that it isn’t just these past four games that they have put up numbers. They had plenty of offensive success in the opening round against the Los Angeles Kings as well, and have three players in McDavid, Draisaitl and Kane who are first, second and fourth among all players in postseason points, while Kane’s 12 goals ranks first.
Meanwhile for the Flames, Gaudreau’s 13 points rank him eighth in playoff scoring, and Tkachuk’s 10 are tied with several players, including Nugent-Hopkins, for 13th.
As for the goaltenders, Smith’s .931 save percentage ranks fourth among all goaltenders who have appeared in two or more games. While he has given up some frustrating goals in this postseason, he has been very solid for the most part and much better than Markstrom, whose .906 SV% comes in at 12th.
Simply put, if the Flames have any hope of coming back in this series, they need to begin to respect the fact their opposition is far more than just McDavid. If they focus specifically on trying to limit just him, the Oilers have plenty of other weapons who have, and will continue to make them pay.
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