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Avalanche nullify McDavid, outclass Oilers in Game 2

Avalanche nullify McDavid, outclass Oilers in Game 2

DENVER, COLORADO - JUNE 02: Mikko Rantanen #96 of the Colorado Avalanche celebrates with his teammates in front of Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers after scoring a goal on Mike Smith #41 of the Edmonton Oilers during the second period in Game Two of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena on June 02, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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For much of Game 2, the Oilers seemed more comfortable with the pace the Avalanche are capable of. Yet, all too often, the Oilers still were outclassed by a well-oiled Avalanche machine. Ultimately, Colorado won Game 2 by a score of 4-0, taking a 2-0 series lead.

Quick-strike Avalanche overwhelm Oilers in second period to win Game 2

To the Oilers’ credit, they adjusted to some of the Avalanche’s transition mastery from Game 1 to 2. The two teams ended the first period tied 0-0, with shots on goal almost even (14-13 in favor of the Avs).

That was Pavel Francouz’s time to shine. Sure, he had an adventure or two, including needing to make a save around the faceoff circle area. But Francouz was sharp, eventually pitching a 24-save shutout.

(Maybe Francouz should get a donut for his birthday on Friday, as he got that shutout?)

After the Oilers hung in there admirably with the Avalanche during the first period, things fell apart in the middle frame of Game 2. In just 2:04 of game time, the Avalanche scored three goals.

Nazem Kadri picked up three primary assists on goals by Arturri Lehkonen, Josh Manson, and Mikko Rantanen.

Fairly quiet Game 2 for stars like McDavid

With that Lehkonen - Kadri - Rantanen line sizzling, the Avalanche didn’t ask as much offensively from Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and others.

That’s not to say that MacKinnon was quiet. Although his eventual power-play goal happened in a Game 2 that was already basically done, MacKinnon ended the night with 10 shots on goal.

Just as importantly for the Avs, MacKinnon and others limited the impact of Connor McDavid.

Clearly, Colorado emphasized a “best-on-best” matchup here. That was especially true with top defensive players. Via Natural Stat Trick, Connor McDavid faced the following players most often at 5-on-5:

  • Devon Toews (9:06 TOI), Cale Makar (8:37), and Valeri Nichushkin (8:22) were out there the most versus McDavid. MacKinnon logged 6:55 against McDavid, and Gabriel Landeskog was deployed similarly (6:31). In those matchups, Connor McDavid generally broke even, with no goals scored for either side (again, at 5-on-5).

Heading into this series, the thought was that Cale Makar ranks as one of the rare defensemen who can skate with Connor McDavid. Would that stifle some of his transition dominance?

My guess is that the answer may be “sometimes,” and that might be good enough for Colorado.

Down three (and then four) goals for much of Game 2, the Oilers still found themselves hemmed in their own zone against an Avalanche offense that showed some cycling acumen.

It had to feel a little deflating. Edmonton slowed down the Avs, at least at times (or at least compared to Game 1). Rarely did it matter.

Could a shift to Edmonton help?

For the Oilers, the hope has to be that a change of scenery may help them level the ice against the Avalanche. There are some reasons to talk yourself into a turnaround:

  • That Avalanche transition game may be less terrifying without that “mile-high” elevation making matters worse for the Oilers. Perhaps? Hopefully?
  • Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft may be able to engineer some better situations for Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and others via the last change.

Right now, it’s fair to wonder if there’s really a setup that works to the Oilers’ advantage, and not just changing the style of Avalanche dominance.

If you slow things down, do you hurt Connor McDavid more than anyone else? Edmonton got pretty rough at times in this one, but they’d be playing with fire if they cross the line and allow a scary Avs power play to take over.

Neither of these losses should be pinned entirely on Mike Smith. That said, there were questions about who start for this one, and people likely aren’t going to stop criticizing the veteran goalie if the Oilers don’t get back in this series.

As great as this run has been for the Oilers, we’ll learn a lot about this team by how they approach Game 3 against the Avalanche at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday.