EDMONTON — Tick, tick, tick…
Has the time finally arrived for the Edmonton Oilers? Are they finally legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, 31 years after the last parade down Jasper Ave.?
It’s a question we’ll fully explore here, on the eve of Edmonton’s 2021-22 season opener against Vancouver on Wednesday, but it’s also a query you won’t get a lot of help with from within the Oilers ranks.
They know — the players, the coaches, the management — that, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, whatever Edmonton accomplishes in the regular season won’t prove anything. After two years of second-place finishes in their division followed by first-round playoff exits, it is all about the playoffs for this team.
They know it. They just won’t say it.
“Right now, it’s all about the regular season. Then, it’s all about the playoffs. That’s the best way to put it,” said Leon Draisaitl, tap-dancing around the elephant in the room. “This league is too strong to think you can half(way) things and think you’ll just focus on the playoffs.
“Once we do that (qualify for the post-season), then it’s all about the playoffs, yes.”
This is the first year under the Ken Holland-Dave Tippett regime that a trip to the Stanley Cup would not be an absolute shocker. Forget the roster for a moment, and look at it like this:
The Oilers will contend for first place in the Pacific Division this season, in what should be a two-team race with Vegas. It’s fair to say the Pacific should boil down to a second-round playoff meeting between the Oilers and Golden Knights that will leave Edmonton as slight underdogs, we would predict.
But there is less to choose between the two teams than there once was, and whoever comes out of the Pacific is, despite being the dark horse against Colorado, undeniably one series away from the Stanley Cup. If Vegas is a legit Cup contender, then so is Edmonton.
Like Toronto, the Oilers have to figure out Round 1 before we start talking about Round 4. We know it, they know it.
“The playoffs are always going to be a different animal, and we haven’t found a way to be successful there,” admitted Connor McDavid. “We’ve got to find a way … to realize that certain things have to get done a different way. We might have to score goals the hard way, and all those types of things.”
There are two ways this goes: Either the Oilers have made the appropriate changes to their depth players to crack the playoff code, or they haven’t. Looking at the additions to this lineup — Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, Derek Ryan, a defensive-minded Cody Ceci to replace Adam Larsson, and a playoff whisperer in Duncan Keith — you can’t say that Holland hasn’t done his best to scratch that itch.
Depth and inexperience on the blueline was to blame for their playoff sweep at the hands of Winnipeg last spring. Goaltending had almost nothing to do with it, with three games going into overtime (one at 0-0), but we expect Holland to address that position at the 2022 trade deadline anyhow.
The GM has added several components to his depth, and a ton of playoff experience on the back end in Keith. The rest of the core –McDavid, Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, Tyson Barrie, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — have satisfied that age-old hockey rite of passage that a couple of sour playoff experiences represents.
There’s no law that says there can’t be another face plant, but Holland has armed his team with the necessary roster renovations to ensure that they can come at this thing from a different angle this time around.
“It’s definitely a different game. Guys dig in a little harder, the attention to detail goes way up. The officiating might change a little bit,” McDavid said of the post-season. “I can’t think of a sport that is so different, from a couple months to a couple months. You can only experience it by playing in it.”
We’re not into excuses, but the bubble loss to Chicago was a bit of a one-off in our eyes. Four months of inactivity and then — boom! — a playoff series? It was unique.
Last spring against Winnipeg gave us a true reading of where this team was, however. The Jets were strong against McDavid and Draisaitl, refused to let the Edmonton power play beat them, and left it up to the rest of the Oilers to get the job done.
Winnipeg was deeper and more playoff experienced, winning game after game that hung in the balance. The Jets managed to find that key tie-breaking goal four games in a row, where Edmonton could not.
No one in Edmonton thinks that was a fluke. Rare, that a team could dominate the analytics in a series the way Edmonton did, yet be swept? For sure.
But not a fluke.
“It sounds cliché, but it is a learning experience,” said McDavid, who we forget is still just 24, with 21 playoff games under his belt. “You have to go through it, and learn. You look at all the teams that have (won) — you do have to go through it, and earn it. Kenny (Holland) talks about it a lot, how before their great teams (in Detroit), they lost a couple of times where maybe they shouldn’t have.”
That’s exactly where Edmonton is today, with ex-GM Peter Chiarelli’s fingerprints almost completely removed from the project.
This is Holland’s roster now. Tippett has had two seasons to sculpt a team in his visage.
McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t kids anymore, at 24 and 25 years old. And the supporting cast is bigger, better and more experienced.
After being closed for 30-some years — that fluke run in 2006 aside — the Stanley Cup window is open once again in Edmonton.
Open it wide. This fan base could use the fresh air.
Astros' Garcia to start Game 6 of ALCS against Red Sox – Sportsnet.ca
Garcia started Game 2 and gave up a grand slam in the first inning before leaving with no outs in the second because of discomfort in his right knee. Manager Dusty Baker announced Thursday that Garcia would get the ball for Game 6 and said the Astros are confident the problem is behind Garcia and he’ll be 100% healthy for Friday’s start.
The Astros fell behind 2-1 in the series after two big wins by the Red Sox. But they rode their powerful offence to consecutive victories in the last two games to take the series lead and move within a win of advancing to the World Series for the second time in three seasons.
The Astros won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal, before losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games in the 2019 World Series.
The Red Sox previously announced that Nathan Eovaldi would start Game 6. Eovaldi got the win in a solid Game 2 start but was charged with the loss in Game 4 after giving up the go-ahead runs after coming in with the game tied in the ninth.
The Astros got eight terrific innings from Framber Valdez in a 9-1 win in Game 5. The performance gave Houston’s taxed bullpen a much-needed break after relievers pitched 29 1/3 innings combined through the first four games.
Baker said Jake Odorizzi would be available for long relief Friday if needed. Odorizzi threw 82 pitches in four innings in Game 2 after taking over following the injury to Garcia.
Baker also said rookie center fielder Jake Meyers, who hasn’t played this series after injuring his shoulder in the final game of the ALDS, probably wouldn’t return to the lineup in this series. He said Meyers could pinch-run or pinch-hit but isn’t ready to return to the field. Fellow rookies Chas McCormick and rookie Jose Siri have filled in at center against the Red Sox.
Houston is without ace Lance McCullers Jr. for this series because of a flexor pronator muscle strain in his right arm. Baker said Thursday that McCullers still hasn’t resumed throwing, so it’s unclear if he would be available to return if the Astros were to advance.
If necessary, Game 7 would be Saturday night in Houston.
NFL Prop Picks For Browns vs. Broncos: Bet This Donovan Peoples-Jones Over/Under On Thursday Night Football – The Action Network
Jason Miller/Getty Images. Pictured: Donovan Peoples-Jones #11 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after a touchdown
Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, is highlighting his favorite player prop for every primetime game throughout the 2021 season. He has a 428-326-6 (56%) all-time record on NFL bets he’s tracked in the Action app.
Broncos-Browns Prop Bet
Donovan Peoples-Jones Under 2.5 Receptions
Editor’s Note: Now that Odell Beckham Jr. is officially active, Browns player props are off the board at most books.
Peoples-Jones has been on fire over the past two weeks, posting lines of 5/70/0 & 4/101/2 against the Chargers and Cardinals, respectively. However, I believe it’s time to “sell high” on him as he’s due for some regression.
He’s caught a ridiculous 86.7% of his targets this season despite seeing an aDot of 15.7. Players with an aDot that high typically average a catch rate in the 57-60% range.
There are a few other reasons why my projections are lower for him compared to the market:
- Case Keenum is starting in place of Baker Mayfield tonight. Peoples-Jones has shown great chemistry with Mayfield over the past couple of games. The QB change seems like a setback for him.
- Weather could be a factor tonight. Steady winds of approximately 20 mph are expected with the possibility of some occasional rain. That would (in theory) negatively impact a high-aDot player like Peoples-Jones.
- Jarvis Landry is making his return from IR. He should be Keenum’s main target tonight, while the TE group should also see an increase in target share after a season-low five targets as a group last week. I also expect RB/WR Demetric Felton to have an expanded role tonight and he has been heavily targeted (37.5% of routes run) when on the field this season.
I’m projecting DPJ for 2.3 receptions tonight with a median projection of 31.5 receiving yards (market is currently at 38.5) — I’d give this under about a 60% chance of hitting. He’s the type of player who could clear his yardage prop on a couple of deep catches, so the safer play here is to take the under for his receptions, especially since we are getting + money. I would bet this down to -105.
Pick: Donovan Peoples-Jones Under 2.5 Receptions (+115) at BetMGM
Canadiens fans welcome Kotkaniemi back to Montreal with boos, vulgar chant – Yahoo Canada Sports
The Carolina Hurricanes were in Montreal on Thursday night to face the Canadiens at the Bell Centre, marking the return of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was at the centre of petty off-season drama after signing an offer sheet with the Canes.
In true hockey fashion, the Bell Centre crowd greeted the 21-year-old with boos and taunting chants.
The Canadiens acknowledged the former third-overall pick by displaying him on the jumbotron, which in turn sparked another wave of disapproval from the near-sellout crowd.
It was Kotkaniemi who got the last laugh, though, tipping in a goal in the third period for his first point with the Hurricanes — much to the delight of Hockey Twitter. Carolina ended up walking away with the 4-1 victory, keeping Montreal winless on the season.
The native of Pori, Finland appeared in 171 games for the Habs over three seasons, scoring 22 goals and notching 40 assists. He also registered 12 points in 29 playoff games, including five goals in Montreal’s run to the Stanley Cup Final last season.
Carolina tendered an offer sheet to Kotkaniemi in late August, offering a one-year contract at $6.1 million. Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin chose not to match, and Montreal received a first- and third-round pick as compensation.
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