The key to the Edmonton Oilers winning their second round series with the Calgary Flames is Connor McDavid. Simply put, #97 is the best player in the world and the straw that stirs the drink for the team in orange and blue.
The Flames had a pretty clear plan to shut down McDavid in Game 1, but the results were fairly mixed.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Flames fed McDavid a fairly steady diet of their top defensive pairing (Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin) and their top forward line (Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk) at five-on-five, with McDavid playing between 7:22 and 8:25 against each of those five players. Besides that, the plan seemed to be to avoid having McDavid on the ice against the fourth line (Trevor Lewis, Milan Lucic and Brett Ritchie) for too long, and that trio played less than 2:30 against him.
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In terms of overall process, the top grouping did a very nice job at maintaining puck possession against McDavid. #97 was below 50% in the major possession metrics against Lindholm: Corsi (40.0%), Fenwick (38.9%), shots (37.5%), expected goals (46.7%) and scoring chances (38.5%). McDavid had a slight edge in high-danger chances (3-2 overall, for 60%).
But because McDavid is McDavid, the small cracks the Flames showed against McDavid absolutely killed them. He had a goal and three primary assists, all at five-on-five, and he was in on every Edmonton goal that was scored when he was on the ice. (He also drew two penalties.)
  • The Flames lost McDavid out front and after a puck squirted out from a battle below the goal line, he had years to deke-out Jacob Markstrom for a goal.
  • Dillon Dube got out-manoeuvred by McDavid off a zone entry, followed by two additional Flames following him around in the zone, leaving Evan Bouchard wide open for a pass (and shot) on a second goal.
  • The Flames couldn’t corral a puck at the offensive blueline, allowing McDavid to whack it over to Leon Draisiatl for a late rush goal at the end of the second period.
  • Rasmus Andersson lost McDavid off a face-off, leading to a McDavid scoring chance where Kailer Yamamoto buried the loose rebound.
The Flames were generally good against McDavid, but these are four really glaring errors in a setting where making glaring errors can be catastrophic. The Flames were lucky that Edmonton’s goaltending was so rough early on, otherwise they couldn’t have had any cushion prior to the Oilers’ push.
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The playoffs are like the NHL’s final exam, where teams and players apply what they’ve learned throughout the regular season. The Flames have a pretty decent book on McDavid and they’ve played well against him during the regular season at five-on-five, keeping him off the scoresheet (all his points were from the power play).
But in Game 1, the Flames had a good enough plan that mistakes poked gigantic holes in. They were really lucky that it didn’t sink them in Game 1. They probably won’t get that lucky again, so they’ll need to be much sharper when #97 is on the ice.
Otherwise, this series could be tied headed up to Edmonton for the long weekend.

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