There were some upsets on Night 1 of the NHL playoffs. One of them was the Chicago Blackhawks over the Edmonton Oilers. The Blackhawks took down a 6-4 decision by being the team more ready to play. They scored four first-period goals to take control of the contest and then held on for the two-goal win.
Losing Game 1 of a five-game series cannot be spun as a good thing, however, one saving grace is that the Oilers will go with the better goaltender now in Game 2. It will be Mikko Koskinen between the pipes after Mike Smith was yanked from Game 1. The Oilers are -135 to even up the series at BetDSI Sportsbook and the Blackhawks are +115 to take a commanding series lead.
There was some question as to whether or not the Blackhawks would go with Malcolm Subban or the wily veteran Corey Crawford. Crawford got the call, but he was iffy, making just 25 saves on 29 shots. That was certainly better than Smith’s effort, as he allowed five goals on 23 shots before putting on a cap and opening the bench door.
The Oilers actually drew first blood on the power play with Connor McDavid’s tally in his first career playoff game, but it was downhill from there. The Blackhawks scored four unanswered to finish out the period, including the first of their three power play goals. The Oilers had three power play tallies of their own, so neither penalty killing unit looked particularly strong.
The Blackhawks were the better team at 5-v-5, as they just looked more prepared. We expected that the Oilers would struggle to find a rhythm and some chemistry with the long layoff. That is a fast, skilled Edmonton bunch that needs to be able to gel a little bit. That’s why they made some trades just before the shutdown, like acquiring Tyler Ennis. Ennis and Andreas Athanasiou.
Neither team had a boatload of high-percentage looks in front of the net, but shots were coming from everywhere. The Blackhawks had 42 shots on goal and had 15 more blocked. The Oilers only managed 29 shots and also had 15 of them blocked. The biggest issue for Edmonton was that they could not get the transition offense going because they had too many giveaways. Well, that and Mike Smith couldn’t stop pucks.
As we head into Game 2 on Monday night, you have to like Edmonton’s chances. The choice to go with Smith felt like a nod to the 37-year-old veteran, but Koskinen was easily better in every way during the season. He had a higher save percentage, a lower goals against average, and also posted a 9.25 goals saved above average (GSAA). Smith was -7.71. There is no discernible reason why Smith would get the call, but that experiment is now over and Koskinen will be the guy the rest of the way barring injury.
The Oilers may not have a goaltending advantage in the series, depending on how the 35-year-old Crawford plays, but they are at least a lot closer. Crawford had a 9.01 GSAA during the regular season, but was limited to 40 games due to injury and the fact that Robin Lehner was a very strong backup.
It will be interesting to see how the Blackhawks do if they don’t get out to such a big lead. Chicago was one of the worst playoff teams in expected goals against at 5-v-5. That was expected to be a big positive for Edmonton, but the Oilers never really got to get the lines rolling because of some first period penalties and the early deficit. They did most of their damage on the power play, but a better effort at even strength should come in Game 2.
With Koskinen in net and some of those playoff jitters out of the way, Edmonton should be in a better spot for Game 2 and we’ll look for them to bounce back at -130 here.
Pick: Edmonton Oilers -130