Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks: First Round Series Recap

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The kids are alright. The Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks was billed as boys up against men, but in this case it was the boys teaching the men how to play hockey.

Late Thursday evening Anton Shlepyshev was the unlikely hero scoring the game-winning goal in a 3-1 Oilers victory. Shlepyshev becomes the third rookie in Edmonton’s history to score a series clinching goal; he joins Jaroslav Pouzar (1983), and Josef Beranek (1992) to do so.

It was an extremely tight series from the drop of the puck. Only two of the six games in didn’t experience a one goal disparity in the final score. The only anomaly was game four. The Sharks embarrassed the Oilers by a score of seven to nothing. It was Edmonton’s ability to bounce back in the next two contests that exemplified that this is a very well run hockey team.

Now based on the series preview, let’s examine how the storylines panned out.

Youth Versus Experience

Entering this series it was expected there could be some postseason jitters within the Oilers locker room. There wasn’t. Aside from game four, the second youngest team in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs showed great composure and pushed back against a veteran Sharks team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals just a year ago. Connor McDavid had a crucial impact, leading Edmonton in points with two goals and two assists, against San Jose, but he wasn’t the central catalyst.

The goaltending in this series was lights out good. In a losing effort Martin Jones gave his squad every chance to win. Through six games the North Vancouver native boasted a .935 save percentage, and only allowed more than three goals against only once. Then there was Cam Talbot. His save percentage ranks slightly below Jones’s at .927, but his two shutouts came in impressive fashion.

The big reason for Talbot’s success in this series was the assistance he received from the blue line. Probably the most scrutinized facet of the Oilers game was their back end, and the defensive core surely silenced doubters after their performance. Oscar Klefbom lived up to his seven-year contract in this one. Averaging 21:03 of ice time, Klefbom also was able to chip in offensively with two goals and an assist, leading all Oilers defencemen in points. Andrej Sekera and Adam Larson anchored the top unit, leading all Edmonton players in ATOI with 23 minutes lining up against San Jose’s top line. It proved to be effective as Brent Burns and Joe Thornton were held goalless, while Joe Pavelski led the team with four points, three of which came in Game Four. Thornton did miss the first two games of this series, and even in his return didn’t provide much of an impact.

Key Match-Ups

Edmonton’s ability to come out on top in this series was their unity. From top to bottom they played as unit, a different player stepped up each and every game. No player was more impactful on either team in games two and three than Zack Kassian.

Kassian was brought in via trade from the Montreal Canadians mid-way through last season. It was a move that General Manager Peter Chiarelli was heavily criticized for due to Kassian’s dark past and struggles with substance abuse. In his three and a half years with Vancouver, the big winger showed inconsistent flashes of dominant physical play along with the ability to chip in offensively. Since joining the Oilers, Kassian has played the most consistent hockey of his career, and has a been a breath of fresh air within the bottom six forward group. In this series he notched two goals, both game winners and pushed the pace applying pressure to San Jose’s defense with a strong forecheck.

Speed kills, and it certainly overwhelmed the Sharks defense. Connor McDavid had no issues getting past Marc-Edouard Vlasic who saw the most ice time against the young captain. Once again McDavid is proving to be one of the more impossible players to defend in full stride. On top of that, Martin Jones was hung out to dry on the rush. Edmonton capitalized on four separate break-away opportunities throughout the series, including Leon Draisaitl‘s opening goal in Game Six.

It was a wonderful day for an exorcism if you are Todd McClellan. The former Sharks coach was ultimately let go from his post behind the bench due to his inability to get that team a Stanley Cup. Throughout his time in San Jose he was blessed with incredibly built teams that couldn’t get it done in the postseason. Even worse, the year after his firing the Sharks qualified for the Stanley Cup Final. That is all history for McClellan now as he gets the last laugh in a impressive display of unity with a young team getting their first crack at playoff hockey in over a decade.

Now the Oilers get the chance to prove this is no fluke against a team that plays similar style to the San Jose Sharks. The Anaheim Ducks are veteran team that enjoy the physical side of the game, and it will be interesting to see how these two teams size each other up.

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