Are the Oilers for real?

After handing the Flames their lunch in Game 3, is it possible that Connor McDavid could carry the Oilers to a Stanley Cup?

Video Transcript

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: I wanted the Battle of Alberta, and we're getting it. And it's been quite entertaining, but it's also been a little bit surprising to me. I mean, the Edmonton Oilers, after getting embarrassed In game 1, are starting to outclass the Calgary Flames. Or at least they did in game 3. Beating them 4-1.

Evander Kane with a natural hat trick. All seven assists that the Oilers registered in the game belonged to either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. It was a pretty spectacular showing from the superstars with Edmonton, and a pretty miserable showing all around from Calgary.

I think we both-- I mean, we both picked Calgary coming in with different degrees of--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I think we did.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: --confidence. Are you swaying off that? I mean, clearly it would be easier to sway off that. And now that the Flames are down in the series here. But it doesn't look like Calgary is that better team. At least the way that it's-- the way that it's played out so far through three games.

The Oilers look really good, and maybe they deserve to be up in the series. And perhaps they're going to win it.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah. I'm very surprised. I don't know if the series lead as it is for Edmonton is enough for me to say I change my mind. Because Calgary could easily win game 4, and then we're back to a best of 3. And eventually the best of 7. And that's all we really wanted from this series anyway.

But I think the Edmonton Oilers deserve some props. Because-- I mean, Connor McDavid. The best player in the world, having his best season. And I mean, we're going-- we're thinking regular season. We're thinking of how he's played in the playoffs so far. This is the best version of Connor McDavid we have ever seen.

And I don't think enough people are banging that drum. This is the best Connor McDavid we have ever seen. Because everything we've seen about him to this point, all the highlights, all the fun stuff we've seen from him, most of those are regular season highlights. Now we're seeing him play that dominant style that we all wanted to see him play in games that genuinely matter.

And if he puts himself in a position where he gets his team to win this series against the Calgary Flames. I mean, that is a huge, huge, huge asset for his legacy with the Edmonton Oilers as an NHL player and beyond. So let's not lose sight in the fact that Conner McDavid, because of the points he's been able to accumulate, the way he's been able to score goals and set his players up. Like, this is something fans have wanted.

But again, this is off of three games. And it's entirely possible that Calgary could adjust, and at least try to clamp down or try to contain Connor McDavid. And again, I think for a team like the Edmonton Oilers, you have to find a way to have some of the other players beat you.

And to the Oilers credit, keeping on the ice with Evander Kane, we all know about all the off ice stuff, but at least on ice stuff he's at least played up to expectations. The natural hat trick for him definitely helping the Oilers in the playoffs here. Leon Draisaitl was clearly not healthy. At 100%, but he's doing enough. He balled out against the Calgary Flames the other night.

Like it's-- the Edmonton Oilers look really good. And Mike Smith we all thought they needed help at goal tending. The fact that he looks like the best goalie in the series right now is something we did not see coming. Like, if you're Ken Holland right now, you are laughing.

Because everyone thought-- remember, we've had conversations about the Oilers all year. Saying, oh, they look like a desperate team making desperate moves. What is Ken Holland thinking? At the very least, right now, they look like they're in the rank. But people need to remember, this is the Battle of Alberta, and I still expect this to go to 7 games.

And there's still a lot of time for Darryl Sutter and the flames to adjust.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah, between Evander Kane and Jay Woodcroft it's been nothing but hits for Ken Holland. At least in what he's done in season. Of course, there's the worry about extending Evander Kane, but we're not we're not there yet. We're not-- we're not there. He's performing right now for this team.

And doing what-- you know, a very simple thing that could really help Connor McDavid, which is to just finish the opportunities he has after McDavid puts it on a team for him. That's basically all of Evander Kane's done in this series, and he's done it very well. And of course, what we've seen from Jay Woodcroft I think is a obvious upgrade on what we saw earlier in the season from Dave Tippett.

But I think you nailed it. This is what we're missing. This is what we have been missing. We've been missing Connor McDavid in big spots. All of a sudden he is playing in massive, massive hockey games, and doing things that we have not really seen in our lifetimes. You and I at least.

I mean his 23 points in 10 games is more than anyone through the first 10 games other than two names that have done it 3 times combined. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. So we're talking about--


JUSTIN CUTHBERT: --legendary, legendary stuff here from Connor McDavid to start. And it's only getting more dominant from his standpoint. And you know, it is a stark contrast, right? Because it needed like-- the Oilers needed something Herculean to get over the Los Angeles Kings.

And you're thinking, like, oh this is awesome. It's awesome watching Connor McDavid in these moments. But the moment seems to be fleeting because it's like-- all it is is him trying to overcome another team by himself. And of course, as the competition gets more difficult and more difficult, that's going to be more difficult for him to do.

But this series looks different than the previous series. And I'm not really sure why. Is it a confidence thing, is it a match-up thing? I'm not exactly sure.

But McDavid looks unstoppable. Evander Kane looks like the perfect person to play with him. Leon Draisaitl has simplified his game because he's hurt. He's just getting the puck to McDavid as best he can, and it's working out beautifully.

I mean this is a little bit different than the Kings series. And I think it's part the Oilers, but it's also the Flames. I think the biggest thing that's happened in this series is Chris Tanev's absence. Like the Oilers-- Connor McDavid is too much for pretty much every single defenseman on the Calgary Flames right now.

Like Noah Hannifin and Rasmus Andersson are getting a lot of play against McDavid but they can't stop him. And Kylington and whoever he's playing with, whether it's Gudbranson or Stone, they're not stopping McDavid. And of course, the third pairing of Zadorov and Stone, or Zadorov and Gudbranson has no chance to hang with McDavid. So it's a match-up heaven right now for number 97, and he's taking best advantage of it.

And normally the situation is, OK, McDavid is giving you a lot. He's trying to overcome the other things that aren't working for the Oilers. But so far, with Mike Smith playing very, very well aside from that game one, with all the other lines doing their part. Zach Hyman playing very, very well. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins playing very well despite him not being on the score sheet.

The defense holding up. They're not digging the hole that McDavid is trying to pull them out of. And now the difference that McDavid can have is basically shown on the scoreboard with him dominating the game in his shifts, and not having to make up for what is lost when he's sitting on the bench. That's been the key for the Edmonton Oilers.

And the key for the Calgary Flames, I think is getting Chris Tanev back. Because I don't think they can defend McDavid in this series without their number one defenseman.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Did you see that tweet from Harman Dayal about basically just lifting stats for a natural stat trick about how good Chris Tanev has been against Connor McDavid? At over 252--

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: I missed that.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: At over 252 minutes time on ice. 8 goals for, 11 goals against. And I think McDavid only has like 1.9 goals per 60. Like a 51% shot attempt share. 45.8% expected goal share.

Like, Tanev-- it's kind of weird to call him a McDavid stopper, because good luck stopping McDavid. Like, you still got scored on. But Tanev, at least through the advanced stats, they tell us that he would have made a difference on him in this series.

And I think just the space, the fact he's able to maneuver around players the way that he has. Like, once you're able to give Connor McDavid a full head of steam, good luck if you're any NHL defenseman trying to stop him. He's just been able to take advantage of that. Even in that first game, where it looked as if the Flames were going to run away with it, the fact that Conner McDavid was still able to take advantage of the game and get a 4 point night.

Lead all skaters in points after that game one bonanza of goals that we saw. Like, he's had an uncanny amount of room to maneuver through this series. And I get you can only contain guys like that, but you can't have Connor McDavid having 4 point nights in this series. You're going to eventually lose.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah. And that's pretty much been every night. He's basically getting everything he wants. And it's strange because-- like, the Tanev thing is a major factor. I'm at the point now where if Tanev's in, I can consider believing Calgary can win the game. But if he's not, I think the Edmonton Oilers are going to take advantage of it.

And with his absence-- and even with Draisaitl being injured, and kind of having to play with McDavid. Because maybe he can't skate to run his own line right now at the level that he needs to, it's kind of-- you stack the deck with McDavid against a defensive core that can't handle him even on his worst night.

Like it's kind of a-- it's an advantageous situation right now for the Oilers. Clearly you want Leon Draisaitl at full health, but the stacked deck approach to this series I think has worked out beautifully for the Oilers. From the Flames standpoint, I am surprised that their top line can't really get it going, or at least haven't for the last five periods or so.

Because I think they have the same matchups too, but they're seeing a lot of McDavid as well. And right now there is one powerful force, or the most powerful force on the ice by a wide margin is number 97. And he's really dictating everything in this series.

And the Oilers have gotten great contributions from other players. Hyman's been great. Evander Kane, of course, has been very good. 10 goals to lead the postseason. And, really, the contributions are across the board. But if Mike Smith is making the saves he needs to make, the match-ups really do favor the Oilers it seems.

And now they have a chance to take a 3-1 stranglehold on home ice in a barn that is going to be absolutely electric. Once again, I am very surprised that the Flames are in the situation that they're in, but without Chris Tanev you can kind of see why.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: But I also-- I mean, the defense is one thing. And I've seen people be critical of defense for the Calgary Flames, and maybe they don't think it was as great as some people made it out to believe, but I still expected Jacob Markstrom to be the best goalie in this series. And Jacob Markstrom has not been the best goalie in this series.

Even in that-- go back to that first one-- that game one. He wasn't-- he allowed some really weird goals. I think he allowed some goals that were worse than what Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen ended up going through in that game 1.

And he has not been the force we expected him to be. I think of all things the Edmonton Oilers should have run into a wall of Jacob Markstrom. And Mike Smith at 40 years old should have looked like the weaker goaltender. But instead it's been Mike Smith who has turned back the clock, and has put in some of the best performances he could possibly put in for his career.

And Jacob Markstrom, who the Calgary Flames put all that money to, we've made that point either on the podcast or on Zone Time. That oh, what if the Edmonton Oilers were that team that ponied up for Jacob Markstrom. They somehow look a little bit smarter not making that choice right now.

That I think is the biggest surprise of everything for me. Because I still think that Flames top line, some of those other guys can still eventually hit the score sheet. I think that could still happen. But Jacob Markstrom, I can't think of too many games of this series or too many moments in this series where he's looked really good.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Obviously there's pressure on the Oilers to have success this season, right? And I think they dodged a bullet with the Kings giving them all that they could handle. It seems like they can get through this series. And then I guess mission accomplished to a certain extent. Getting to a Conference Finals with this group with Connor McDavid.

I mean, it takes a little bit of the pressure off everyone. But I still have a hard time seeing this group overcome a team like Colorado or St Louis in the next round. Do you have any-- I mean, I think-- I think you're probably with me on that.

At least coming in, do you have anything that makes you believe that, hey, the Oilers have not only gotten past like you know, a level-- or the first checkpoint that they haven't been able to get by, but they could actually take this all the way. Do you have any inkling that that's possible?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Against Colorado or St Louis I'm not exactly sure. St Louis, just the fact that they've been able to hang in in that series against Colorado. And they're showing why they were the Champions in 2019, and some of that playoff medal that has served them through to the playoffs at this point. If they end up in a series against Edmonton or Calgary, however it might shake out, that could be really interesting.

Colorado-Edmonton. This friend of mine on TSN 690 made the point that with the way that the Oilers play, and the speed that they have going up against the speed that Colorado has, like, that's one of the few teams that could keep up with Connor McDavid. And I can understand the point being made there. And I still think it would be a really fun series to watch.

If we get Colorado-Edmonton we get the best possible team we could get in the Western Conference. With some of the dynamic players that they have with Cale Makar, and Nathan MacKinnon and all. Compared to Connor McDavid and some of the other guys that he has on his team. Like, we could be in for a very, very fun series.

I mean, Colorado, they're able to play with fire. They're able to play with speed. And seeing two teams kind of go at it and with those comparative styles, we could be in for a really fun Western Conference.

But again, this is really early in the Battle of Alberta, and Calgary could easily get a momentum swing.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah, we're definitely getting ahead of ourselves. But I do--


JUSTIN CUTHBERT: --if I'm looking forward. I have a hard time believing the Oilers can beat either team. I mean, St Louis and Colorado both have the personnel to at least throw McDavid off his game a little bit. Or at least make it not so it's one way traffic as it's been, at least through three games versus the Calgary Flames.

I mean, there's really, really strong defensive players on each side. There's speed. There's guys like Devon Toews who can be that Chris Tanev type. That can make it not as simple for McDavid to just break them down as he's been doing.

So I think both of those teams would hold a pretty serious advantage over the Oilers. But this has been an important step regardless. If they get to the Western Conference Finals it's a massive success for this team because there was so much pressure.

I mean, we talk-- we've been talking about the pressure on the Maple Leafs for so long. There's pressure on the Oilers too. They had to have something good happen along the way. And I think Jay Woodcroft is the right coach. They've got the right mix in terms of bringing together a core around Connor McDavid. There's some decisions they have to make, of course.

Evander Kane, and probably trying to improve that defensive core a little bit more. But this is the step in the right direction that this team needed so, so desperately. And I think Connor McDavid needed so, so desperately.

Even if it doesn't work against the Flames. If they go down in 7 it's still-- we saw the meaningful games for McDavid. He tasted it. And they can go back to the drawing board and be better coming back next season.

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