Game Day 50: Battle of Alberta
Matt Tkachuk isn’t the real enemy of the Edmonton Oilers, it’s the brutal schedule the NHL has set out before the team in February and March.
Here’s what Edmonton is up against:
- After a great run where the Oilers just won six of their last eight games, the team just faced ten days off between games. That long rest came because the NHL put the Oilers’ annual and mandated bye week next to the NHL’s annual All Star Game break. It’s hard to imagine that a team off ten days won’t have a considerable amount of rust in its game.
- Following up on this stupidly long break, the Oilers have two gruelling run of games in February and March, first 12 games in 23 nights, then 17 games in 32 nights.
- Three of those games are on the second night of back-to-backs.
- So far this year Edmonton has a record of just 13 wins and 18 losses in games with one day between matches. With two days rest the Oilers are much better, six wins and four losses. With three days rest, the Oilers are better still, with three wins and one loss.
- The only silver lining? For some reason, the Oilers in back-to-back games have four wins and zero losses this year.
- The only other good news is that in March 10 of the 16 games are at home.
What to make of it all?
One would think that the NHL would realize that Western Conference teams have the most difficult travel schedules, and that those making the sked would given an Eastern Conference team, where travel is much less arduous, the annual bye week/All Star game combo. This would ensure Western Conference teams each have two much-needed and lengthy respites during the season. But not to be.
It’s hard to imagine the Oilers will be able to bring their “A” game tonight against the Flames.
Perhaps coach Dave Tippett and his players will perform some kind of minor miracle here. It’s also the case that this match against the Flames has been highly anticipated, so the players should be highly motivated. But having that kind of ten day break can’ be a good thing.
Long breaks bad
How have teams done with such long breaks? In the playoffs last year, the New York Islanders swept Pittsburgh in the first round, then got a 10 day break, only to get swept by Carolina in the second round.
Carolina then had a six day break, then got stomped by the Bruins, reported Darren Hartwell of NBC Boston, who dug into this trend before Boston faced off against St. Louis in the 2019 Stanley Cup finals.
After the 2003 Conference Finals, the Anaheim Ducks had ten days off, then lost the Stanley Cup to the New Jersey Devils in seven games. The Duck lost their first two games, outscored 6-0 in total, Hartwell reported.
How did Boston do to start Game One last year?
Reported Nick Goss of NBC Boston: “The Boston Bruins didn’t have their legs early in Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. The B’s were careless with the puck, whiffed on passes/shots, struggled on the power play and just failed to execute at a high level. This slow start had consequences for the Bruins, as the Blues jumped out to a 2-0 lead a minute into the second period.”
The good and unexpected news is that the Bruins were able to storm back and win the game 4-2. So there’s hope here but don’t expect the Oilers to come out gunning.
Goss reported that the Bruins had defied the odds here:
The previous five teams with five or more days of rest than their opponent entering Game 1 of the Cup Final all lost.
Here’s a look at those teams:
1975: Sabres (six days) vs. Flyers (one day) — BUF lost 4-1
1986: Canadiens (six days) vs. Flames (one day) — MTL lost 5-2
1993: Canadiens (seven days) vs. Kings (two days) — MTL lost 4-1
2003: Ducks (10 days) vs. Devils (three days) — ANA lost 3-0
2006: Oilers (eight days) vs. Hurricanes (three days) — EDM lost 5-4
2019: Bruins (10 days) vs. Blues (five days) — BOS won 4-2
Of course, excuses are for losers.
But the NHL has done the Oilers no favours here. In fact, the opposite.
The magic act of “Whatever It Takes”
We’re never going to look at Connor McDavid the same now, are we?
This is Edmonton’s first game back since the airing of the “Whatever It Takes” documentary on McDavid’s injury and subsequent recovery.
The documentary showed just how badly McDavid’s knee was busted up, and just how hard and smart he had to work to get back in shape.
It packed such a powerful punch that I don’t think we’ll ever see McDavid in the same way again. It was as if the documentary performed a magic act, transforming McDavid from one thing into another.
Before, the shine of his brilliant skill overshadowed everything else about McDavid.
Now two other things come into focus: his all too human fragility and his superhuman work ethic.
The doc brought him down to our more human level, where hopes and ambitions can be crushed by bad luck and bad timing. When I watched McDavid in the All Star three-on-three game, I was suddenly hyper aware of every bad thing that might happen to him. All I could think was: Buddy, take it easy! Don’t get hurt!
At the same time showing his astonishing comeback from injury exemplified the greatest hope for every individual, how hard work, fierce determination and support from others is the key to success. In the face of long odds it’s at least possible to succeed if we’re able to surround ourselves with good people and are willing to keep grinding, grinding, grinding, no matter what.
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