EDMONTON – Not so long ago, a playoff series between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Edmonton Oilers would have described a team as "just happy to be there".
It still does, but the boy has changed times.
In the "play-in" series being considered by the National Hockey League – a best-of-five series that would reduce 12 playoff teams to eight in each conference – the Blackhawks would be considered Enter 12th place in the Western Conference. Only in the wildest dreams of the Blackhawks did they see themselves on March 11, the last day before the break, as a playoff team. Despite a 6-2 win against the San Jose Sharks on March 11th, it was seven points and five teams that were the last placeholder. A dozen games were still pending.
Miraculously, Chicago would receive an invitation to the postseason after the NHL's new plan – and as a final qualification, they'd get Edmonton, the fifth-placed team from the West. (Had Edmonton not lost to Winnipeg on March 11, they would have displaced Dallas for the bye round.)
So let’s look at a play-in roundup between two teams that haven’t met in the postseason since the Blackhawks defeated Edmonton in the 1992 Campbell Conference Final – the only time in 4 postseason- Meetings in Chicago has prevailed.
At first glance
On the surface, this is one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL against an Oilers club with the best power play in the league (29.5 percent) and the two best goal scorers in the NHL (Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid). Chicago gives up most shots in the entire NHL at 35.1 per game – not great when the postseason is around and goals are so much more valuable.
But it gets worse for Chicago: According to the Natural Stat Trick website, the Blackhawks 2019-20 allowed the most goals in the entire NHL and were second from the top when there was a high risk of danger against them. These statistics do not lead to playoff wins no matter who the opponent is. But it's fair to say that a weak defensive team of this size is the matchup that the Oilers would drool over.
Hey, there's a reason the Blackhawks are a 12th place team.
Let's dig a little deeper
You could say that trade goalkeeper Robin Lehner contested the fact that Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman was not planning to freeze a team past game 82 as of the cut-off date. However, a perfectly healthy Corey Crawford in goal is just as capable of stealing a short series as any western goalkeeper, and the fact that he posted a 2.77 GAA and a 0.917 percent saving behind this Blackhawks defense , is proof of how strong Crawford was in a season.
Another fancy statistic: The Blackhawks had the sixth highest percentage of danger in the NHL, while Edmonton's duo of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith took 19th place. Well, that can be volume stats – the more chances the better the number – but those who have watched the Blackhawks closely this season will tell you that they needed a fabulous goalkeeper team to team with the 12th Place to be in the west.
In a short series, a hot goalkeeper – especially an experienced one like Crawford – can make a difference.
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Why Edmonton is Better
There is no doubt that Edmonton with the 27th best Corsi (47.87) in ice hockey is not a very dangerous team. Only two NHL teams gave up more goals in the five-on-five game.
However, what they do have are two striker lines that are able to score one goal per game and a bottom six group that also scores in every other game. In the Powerplay, Edmonton finished seventh because he had high chances of danger in the five-on-four game, but scored the most Powerplay goals in the NHL. Translation: With multiple options and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’s skills that complement Draisaitl and McDavid, the Oilers don’t always need a high-risk opportunity to achieve a PP goal.
Edmonton's PP scores in approximately four out of five games. For the 2019-20 season, teams that score at least one Powerplay goal in a game have a share of 0.616 percent in profit.
On the other side of this coin, the Oilers' penalty took second place in the NHL with 84.4 percent, while Chicago's Powerplay took 28th place with 15.2 percent. Edmonton wins the battle of the special teams in this series. In a 3-2 league, Edmonton is pretty good at scoring three despite some flaws.
Why Chicago Has a Chance
Every team with Patrick Kane has a chance in a big game. Nobody loves the limelight like Kane, who gives the Blackhawks a chance if they lag behind in a game or in extra time by one. He is one of the best money players in hockey.
Crawford is a steel veteran who, like everyone else, should be in good health. The shorter the series, the more important the goalkeeper matchup. Although we're not sure who will start Edmonton's first game, two-time Cup winner Crawford will likely play for the Hawks every minute.
If the goalkeeper can allow the Blackhawks to hang around, they have the option to win games late.
If you go strictly on points, this is the fourth team from the top in the Western standings to compete against the fourth team from below. There are so many wild cards for these potential playoffs in 2020 – fitness, no home advantage, the rust factor – we would say that if a normal round 1 causes two or three surprises in eight series a year, this "warm-up round" could be two against each conference four go.
But in a situation where everyone is fresh and healthy, I take over the youth through the experience. Edmonton's best players are in their mid-20s while Chicago is in their mid-30s.
Center Jonathan Toews would likely get the McDavid matchup. This leaves Draisaitl for the 18-year-old Kirby Dach or the defensively insecure Dylan Strome. The Blackhawks don't have enough centers to aggressively keep Edmonton at bay, and their defenses are weak. This leads to power plays that lead to goals being conceded.
No team is great defensively, so the team that has the puck most of the time will win.
That will be Edmonton in four games.