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The Oilers’ Power Play Is Out For Blood

9:14 AM EDT on May 7, 2023

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 06: Leon Draisaitl #29 of the Edmonton Oilers skates with the puck ahead of Mark Stone #61 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the first period of Game Two of the Second Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on May 06, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Everyone knows the deal with the Oilers: Stop Leon Draisaitl, stop Connor McDavid, and you stop Edmonton's offense. They are top-heavy as a lollipop. But here's the thing about the greats: You can scheme and plan all you like to stop them, and they find a way anyway. So it becomes about limitation rather than full erasure, and the Golden Knights, looking to go up 2-0 at home, announced their containment strategy from puck drop. Against Edmonton's pace-setting line of McDavid, Draisaitl, and Evander Kane, Vegas sent out its tough-guy fourth line. They were going to get physical, to try to limit the space available for the Oilers' all-worlders, and lay some hits to make them think twice. That was the theory, anyway. It had flaws.

Because there's another deal with the Oilers: They are historically great on the power play—an NHL-record 32.4 percent in the regular season, and now, after a 5-1 demolition to send the series to Edmonton tied up, a mind-blowing 56 percent in these playoffs. You can hit the Oilers all you like. But when they draw a whistle, they hear a starting gun. “If they want to run around and play that type of game," McDavid said, "then we’ll play on the power play all night.”

Brayden McNabb got called for a cross-check just 1:13 in, and on the ensuing power play Draisaitl right-place-right-timed a rebound past Laurent Brossoit to crack things open.

Less than five minutes later, defenseman Evan Bouchard—who's emerged as a crucial part of the Oilers' PP1 unit, racked up his third multipoint game in a row in this one—let 'er rip through traffic to double the lead. There was a lot of hard work being done in front of the net on this one, and Bouchard wasn't going to let it go to waste. “They gave a lane and, with a screen like that, it’s hard not to want to shoot the puck,” he said.

When the Knights finally got their first power play opportunity, it went poorly for them. McDavid undressed Shea Theodore and beguiled Brossoit to score—both metaphorically and literally—shorthanded.

It was Draisaitl again to close out the scoring in the first, setting up in his left-circle office to feed Kailer Yamamoto in the slot, and once Yamamoto corralled his own rebound, he returned the favor to Draisaitl.

McDavid would add another PPG in the second, and the Knights would get one back in the third, and 5-1 is how it ended. Which means it's time to talk about Draisaitl.

When Connor McDavid says you're "playing on another level," you're doing some unreal shit. Draisaitl now has 13 goals in eight playoff games. If the Oilers advance, and not even necessarily all the way to the Cup Final, he's on pace to absolutely shatter the NHL postseason record, currently shared by Reggie Leach (19 goals in 16 games for the 1976 Flyers) and Jarri Kurri (19 goals in 18 games for the 1985 Oilers).

He's also up to six goals through just two games of this series, giving him a shot at Kurri's all-time series record of 12 (in six games against Chicago in those '85 playoffs).

Draisaitl's been a particular wrecking ball on the power play, tallying six goals on the advantage so far. That's just three shy of the record for most PPG in a postseason, a mark set by Mike Bossy in 1981 and Cam Neely in 1991.

And the Oilers want you to know they're not just waiting around at even strength for the chance for a man advantage; they're actively working to bring it about. "Special teams can win you games," Draisaitl said. "Obviously, we rely on that partly, but we're also working for our power-play opportunities, right? We're a hard team to defend." That adds a bit of a wrinkle to the notion that Edmonton is overmatched at 5-on-5, though Vegas would obviously take it over the alternative. The real variable here, the difference between Games 1 and 2— remember, Draisaitl scored four in a loss on Wednesday—is that Stuart Skinner and the defense held down the fort this time out. So maybe beating the Oilers is not actually about keeping their top scorers from going off. Maybe there's no way to stop that. Maybe it's about weathering it.

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