NHL Playoff Preview: Winnipeg Jets vs. Edmonton Oilers

NHL Playoff Preview: Winnipeg Jets vs. Edmonton Oilers

by May 18, 2021 1 comment

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl formed the best duo in the NHL during the 2020-21 season. The two have only appeared in three playoff series as members of the Edmonton Oilers, and not until now have they matched up against a Canadian foe in the postseason. 

The stage is set for the Oilers (35-19-2) and Winnipeg Jets (30-23-3) to battle in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Game 1 is scheduled to take place on Wednesday night in Edmonton. The two Western Canadian squads have previously met in the playoffs six times, most recently in 1990. History is not on the Jets’ side. 

Ignoring the fact that the current incarnation of Jets stems from the Atlanta Thrashers franchise, Winnipeg’s playoff history with the Oilers does not favor Manitoba’s team. Six series, six losses, outscored 114-73 overall. However, this quite literally is not the old Jets. It’s a team hungry to capitalize on division-friendly realignment put into place by the NHL during the condensed season. 

You can find the rest of our Stanley Cup postseason series previews here.

Goaltending

Jets fans, rejoice! Connor Hellebuyck is capable of stealing any given playoff series he plays in. Knowing who makes up the forward core on the opposing side, it might be needed. Winnipeg’s netminder has provided his team with stability all year long. The same cannot be said about Edmonton’s situation in the crease. 

Goaltender Mike Smith is one of the many backstops that has seen time in Edmonton’s crease during the McDavid era. Though his numbers this season were stellar in 32 games played (2.31 GAA, .923 save percentage), it’s been a position that has plagued the Oilers for far too long in big moments. Going toe-to-toe with Hellebuyck on the Jets’ side feels like more of the same. 

Defense

Winnipeg’s defensive core is in a transitional state. For the first time, they will be pressure-tested against a high-possession group for at least four consecutive games. Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey round out a collection of defenseman that will work by committee. Against a line that includes McDavid and Draisaitl, Jets head coach Paul Maurice will likely experiment with different combinations. He will hope to minimize the Oilers’ puck possession when the two stars are on the ice. 

The bottom-six forward groups for both Winnipeg and Edmonton are bound to play a key part in preventing offense.  It appears the Jets’ line of Adam Lowry, Mason Appleton and Andrew Copp will not be intact for the start of the series, This throws a wrench into the team’s plans of establishing a shutdown line to match up with the McDavid line. Copp’s injury (undisclosed), may have stunted his emergence into the top-six group for this series. When healthy, the group has broken up the two-way forward trio at times during the season.

Special Teams

It goes without saying that avoiding taking penalties in the playoffs is paramount to success for anyone. In particular with both the Jets’ and Oilers’ top power play units, it becomes even more crucial. 

When gauging the temperature in the other playoff series that have already begun in 2021, physicality appears to be the common theme. What also appears evident is the lack of penalties that are called. The number of the whistles that are being put in the referees’ back pockets favors the Jets.

McDavid, Draisaitl and the newfound weapon on the backend for the Oilers in Tyson Barrie make the Oilers’ power play as potent as anyone in the NHL. Their first-ranked man-advantage unit in the 2020-21 campaign only proves it. 

Offense

The common criticism amongst media, fans, and observers alike towards the Oilers over the last five years has been related to the team’s inability to find secondary scoring. This season has seen Edmonton find offensive contributions from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi. Their top-two defenseman, Darnell Nurse and the aforementioned Barrie have also chipped in.

On the contrary, Winnipeg’s top two lines are as dynamic as a top-six group as there is in hockey. A combination of health and consistency can push those six forwards over the top. The series has one common denominator for success — outscore McDavid and Draisaitl. 

The Jets’ forward group of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, and captain Blake Wheeler, though not as dynamic as the Oilers’ superstars, are just as capable of acting as “show-stoppers” in a best-of-seven duel. 

Killer Edge/Game-Breakers

Winnipeg has the luxury of experimenting on the fly with potential game-breaking combinations. Case in point: Ehlers and Connor. Despite not playing as linemates for the entire season, the two forwards have a chemistry that can stand toe-to-toe with the top duos in the sport. 

Connor’s 50 points in 56 games this season have come from both even-strength play and on the power play. The native of Clinton Township, MI poses one of the great threats in the series to be the most frequent shooter while having the most lethal release. 

Coaching

When Maurice walks into Rogers Place in Edmonton for Game 1, the health of his team is bound to be a concern. Pierre-Luc Dubois (undisclosed) missed consecutive practices. Ehlers (upper-body injury) wore a non-contact jersey at practice on Monday. As for Copp, his status has continued to remain week-to-week. Maneuvering around the potential injuries that may delay the Jets from having a full-strength lineup for game one is going to be key for the veteran coach.

Series Prediction

There’s no denying the threat that the Oilers pose to any team. They have an arsenal of explosive offensive weapons that Alberta’s team can present to the opposition on any given night. The Jets, however, have shown that they are able to match up well against potent forward cores throughout the condensed campaign. Their tightly-checked games against the top-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs being one example. 

A healthy Winnipeg team matches up well against Edmonton in a series. If Hellebuyck is locked-in, he can dictate the momentum in any given collection of games. 

Series Prediction: Winnipeg 4-3


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