Take a deep breath Edmonton, the rebuild is over. For the first time since 2006 the Edmonton Oilers will experience the excitement of playoff hockey. They’ve qualified, now it’s time to play, and play they will against a difficult opponent in the San Jose Sharks. It has been over a decade since these two battled in the postseason.
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs the Oilers had the last laugh, beating the Sharks 4-2, in the Western Conference Semifinal en route to a surprise Stanley Cup Final berth. That’s ancient history now, and San Jose is coming off their own trip to the Final last year, ultimately losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. This is a hungry team thirsty for redemption.
Teams that enter the playoffs on a high note tend to carry that momentum into a successful postseason run. The Sharks have been mediocre to close out the regular season with a 9-11-0 record since the beginning of March. The Oilers finished off the season with 14-5-1 record within the same 20-game time frame.
Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks First Round Series Preview
Youth Versus Experience
There are multiple ways to dissect this match-up. These are two vastly different teams in terms of style of play, and the general make up of each roster. After years and years of suffering in mediocrity, dwelling in the basement of the NHL, the Oilers have finally figured it out. Edmonton is one of the youngest teams in the league with an average age of 25.8 years old. Not to mention the stellar offensive improvement. The culmination of a steady defensive core and a healthy Connor McDavid has boosted the Oilers goals-for percentage to an impressive 54.2%, good for seventh in the league. It’s an impressive statistic considering last season they owned a GF% of 44.1% ranking 29th in the league in that category. While credit go to Leon Draisaitl and for the offensive boost, the decreased goals against numbers stems from the elevated play of Cam Talbot.
Despite having a thrilling young offensive core, even before McDavid entered the fold Edmonton was widely criticized for their poor play in the defensive zone. Peter Chiarelli faced a good deal of scrutiny for trading Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. It’s difficult to label that as a bad trade now. The 24-year-old Larsson has been steady on the back end and has helped stabilize a young and inexperienced blue line. Kris Russell and Andrej Sekera are the two veteran rear-guards, and their mentorship has assisted in the development of these players. Oscar Klefbom came as advertised when originally selected 19th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft; a big offensive defensemen with size. While their back end has undergone vast improvement, the youth and lack of playoff familiarity could be their Achilles heel against a veteran Sharks squad.
You can’t teach experience, and that’s where the Sharks own a steep advantage. San Jose as a team has played 1,169 career playoff contests, and has an average age of 28. This is a team that has made it to the end and lost. They have been labelled as a Cup-contender for the better half of a decade. It’s been a common theme for the Sharks to exit early in the postseason, despite high expectations. Veteran stars such as Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau, have accomplished a lot, but unfortunately the lack of championship leaves a bitter taste in their mouths. The x-factor for San Jose entering the series is going to be the health of Thornton. Jumbo Joe suffered a lower-body injury on April 3. He has been out of the line up since then, but did skate on Monday and is expected to dress for Game One.
If the Sharks are going to be successful they have to possess the puck. San Jose ranked eighth in the league in with a Corsi-for percentage of 51.1%. In comparison the Oilers struggled in this regard ranking 18th in the league with a CF% of 49.98%.
While the Sharks are labelled a bigger more physical team, that may also be viewed as a disadvantage. It’s well-known that the game is getting faster, and Edmonton is one of the league’s quickest teams, with arguably the league’s fastest player in McDavid.
The Sharks are 1-1-3 against the Oilers this year, and McDavid has been a Shark-killer scoring four goals and eight points in those five games.
Strong San Jose Defense
It is a new season and fresh slate for the San Jose blue line. Despite those numbers they have been one of the most consistent back-ends in the league allowing 200 goals, tied for fifth in the NHL. It’s without the puck they need to focus on slowing down McDavid. Matchups are going to be pertinent for head coach Peter Deboer. He has a very strong and experienced defensive core led by Burns, a potential Norris candidate.
Martin Jones has a tough task ahead of him to slow down the Oilers forwards. Last year during the cup final run Jones posted a .923 save percentage. If the Sharks are to find success he needs to rediscover his game.
On the other side Todd McClellan has an advantage in terms of matchups. McClellan coached the Sharks for seven seasons, until 2015. This San Jose roster is quite similar to the one McClellan coached.
There is a magnitude of story lines heading into this series it could go either way. Edmonton has the speed, and the youth factor.
- Ben Kerr: Oilers in 7.
- Markus Meyer: Sharks in 7.
- Patrick Alan Dejbjerg: Sharks in 6.
- Sean Merz: Sharks in 6.
- David Elisio: Oilers in 7.
- Kyle Cushman: Oilers in 7.
- Griffin Schroeder: Oilers in 7.
- Charlie O’Connor Clarke: Oilers in 7.
- Hunter Hodies: Sharks in 6.
- Graham Anderson: Oilers in 6.
- Rachel Halliwell: Oilers in 5.
- Nic Hendrickson: Oilers in 6.
- Spencer Lussier: Oilers in 7.
- Jake Howorth: Sharks in 7.
- Nicholas Di Giovanni: Sharks in 7.
- Kenneth Stapon: Oilers in 6.
- Brandon Piller: Sharks in 7.