With all due respect to the other Western Conference series, this matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks figures to be the series that draws the most eyeballs. In one corner you have the young, high-flying Oilers, who have finally put it all together thanks to phenom Connor McDavid. McDavid led the league in points with 100, and the 20-year-old captain has gotten his teammates to buy in and believe in the systems. In the other corner you have the Ducks, who are accustomed to playing deep into April. They have gone about their business quietly but effectively thanks to the likes of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. This series has the makings of a high-scoring affair as both teams love to use their speed to get the better of their opponent.
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Both teams come into this series in very different fashion. The Oilers had their hands full with the San Jose Sharks while the Ducks swept the Calgary Flames without too much cause for concern. It was the Oilers' first-round series that provided us with a glimpse of just how great the Oilers could potentially be. They earned back-to-back shutouts in Games 2 and 3 before getting thumped 7-0 in Game 4. It was the response in Game 5 that really let the hockey world know that the Oilers has a team toughness about them that wouldn't allow them to fold when the going got tough. They will need that toughness once again against a veteran Ducks' squad waiting in the wings.
But before you make up your mind, let me help you understand who should have the edge in terms of goaltending, offensive production, defensive resilience and everyone's favorite category, special teams.
Goaltending & Defense
The Edmonton Oilers have been getting timely goaltending all season long, and Cam Talbot has been the main reason why. Talbot had a heavy workload in the regular season, starting 73 games and posting a 42-22-8 record with a 2.39 GAA, .919 save percentage and seven shutouts. There was a bit of uncertainty surrounding how Talbot would perform in the playoffs given the workload, but he has responded well. Talbot posted a 2.03 GAA with a .927 save percentage and two shutouts. While Talbot is holding up his end of the deal, the defense corps in front of him are holding up theirs. Kris Russell had a series-high 27 blocked shots against the Sharks, and the likes of Darnell Nurse, Adam Larsson and Andrej Sekera really limited the Sharks' scoring chances to the outside. As a team, the Oilers ranked eighth in goals allowed (2.52) and ninth in shots allowed (29.5). They will need to continue to play sound defensively if they expect to reach the Western Conference Finals.
The Ducks' goalie, John Gibson, has been just as good as Talbot, which makes it hard to find an advantage with the goaltending category. Gibson posted .926 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average. The young goalie will need to be as sharp as ever in order to stop the likes of McDavid, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl from lighting the lamp. Most of that responsibility lies on the shoulders of Kevin Bieksa and Korbinian Holzer. For the Ducks to have any chance at successfully navigating this series, they will need their No. 1 defenseman, Cam Fowler, to return and from a knee injury and play a big role. Teammate Sami Vatanen is also questionable to suit up, so there are more questions than answers on the Ducks' backend.
Offense & Special Teams
Everyone knows what McDavid is capable of, yet nobody is able to stop him. The 20-year old phenom is a generational talent - think Sidney Crosby - who makes extraordinary plays look routine and who makes his teammates better. McDavid registered 30 goals and 70 assists this season to lead the league in points. He also helped his team average just fewer than three goals per game on 31.1 shots per game (both ranked eighth overall). The Oilers had the fifth-ranked power play at 22.9 percent and the 11th-best shooting percentage at 9.5. Players like Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle are just as dynamic in the offensive zone, so the Ducks will have their hands full to try and contain this team. The Oilers also can play a "heavy" game with the likes of Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon and Zack Kassian. These big bodies allow the superstars the time and space needed to make plays.
The Ducks, meanwhile, rely on older, more methodical players like Corey
Perry, Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf to get the job done. Kesler's line will
be responsible for shutting down McDavid, so any offensive production from
his line would a bonus. The Ducks have featured a balance scoring attack
through the first round, with three players tied for the team lead with
five points (Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell and Shea Theodore). These aren't
exactly household names, but the playoffs are always the greatest stage for
a coming-out party. As a team, however, the Ducks tend to struggle to score
goals, posting just 2.68 (18th) on 29.6 shots per game (23 rd). If the secondary scoring goes dry, Talbot might be able to
backstop his team to a supposed "upset" of the Ducks.
I fully expect this series to be an action-packed, high-scoring, drama-filled series that will hinge on one or two costly mistakes. It's hard to go against the Oilers right now as they look like one of the best teams in the league when they are on their game. Their speed is hard to match and the Ducks just don't have the horses than can keep up. Goaltending is pretty even, but I think the injuries to Anaheim's defense is going to be too much to overcome against a team like Edmonton. McDavid is the best player in this series, and he will be wearing orange and blue. Good enough for me.
Pick : Edmonton in six.
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