Round 2 Game 5: EDM vs VEG - No Nurse, No Pietrangelo, Who's Problem?
I cover the Edmonton Oilers as a blogger and while it's impossible to avoid completely unbiased statements, I do my best to provide a neutral opinion.
By the rules written as they are, the one game suspension to Darnell Nurse was the right call. My issue with it comes more from the fact that both players were clear willing combatants. The instigator call in the last 5 minutes of a game occurred twice in the regular season. In both cases it was rescinded. The instigator is supposed to exist to protect a player's safety who does not wish to fight. Hague wasn't unwilling to fight and in fact his own teammate Mark Stone after the game stated that Hague had asked Nurse to fight in the prior faceoff.
I bolded the words "player's safety" because that is what the Department of PLAYER SAFETY is supposed to do; dole out punishments for dangerous actions to deter players from committing those actions again, to ensure the players are protected.
Yesterday this Department of Player Safety stated to the hockey world that two players who decide to fight one another deserve the same punishment as a player who raises his stick above his head and two hand slashes a player who is no where near the puck. How on earth does that make sense and what kind of message does that send to the players? To me it doesn't matter if Draisaitl was hurt on the play or not. What Pietrangelo did is not a hockey play and could have seriously injured a star player in the NHL.
Back to my point on trying to avoid looking at this issue through "Oilers glasses," this call has been heavily criticized by people across the NHL. Reporters, insiders, and fans alike. Really the only people who think the right call was made are Golden Knights fans happy their best defenseman is only going to miss one game.
This off-season the Department of Player Safety needs a massive overhaul. George Parros needs to be gone and a set of far more stringent rules needs to be implemented. Players and fans alike should have some base understanding on whether an incident is suspendable or not, and what type of punishment it deserves.
The Department of Player Safety took the safe way out of this situation and decided to penalize both teams equally. It was a terrible decision and I hope we see some real consequences from it in the off-season. Knowing the NHL though I doubt it.
Focusing on the game tonight, the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights will both be missing their top minute logger on the blueline. Take Game 4 as an example:
Darnell Nurse played a total of 23:07
5 on 5 Minutes: 14:25
PK Minutes: 5:04
PP Minutes: 2:31
Alex Pietrangelo played a total of 23:54
5 on 5 Minutes: 13:40
PK Minutes: 5:28
PP Minutes: 2:09
Pietrangelo played the most minutes on the blueline for Vegas against the Connor McDavid line. Darnell Nurse played the most minutes for Edmonton against Jack Eichel. Both of these players were counted on by their respective team to shutdown the top producer for their opponent. It feels safe to say that the team that is more impacted by the loss of their player will likely lose this game.
With respect to Nurse who did play excellent in Game 4, Alex Pietrangelo is the better player of the two. He is a true #1 D man, plays in all situations and has had multiple Norris calibre seasons. In addition, that now means that Ben Hutton likely draws in for Vegas who has played in only one playoff game against the Jets back on April 27th. The Golden Knights will need to rely heavily on the McNabb and Theodore duo who struggled to match the Oilers attack in Game 4.
That being said there is a good argument for Edmonton coming out of this worse for wear. For starters, Vegas has the advantage here in home ice meaning they can use their line change to push for better matchups and shield their weaker defensive lines. The Ekholm and Bouchard pairing will likely be getting a much heavier dose of minutes and minutes against the Eichel line which is always a threat. For the Oilers there is also the question on how they will setup their defensive lines.
The Ekholm and Bouchard line I assume will stay together. It's been the Oilers best defensive pairing overall in the post-season and you need some semblance of continuity in a shakeup like this. After that it seems likely that Kulak who has also been excellent will get the bump up to play with Ceci. The issue is that leaves two rookies in Broberg and Desharnais to stand firm as the third pairing on the road.
That may mean we see Kulak with Desharnais as more of a second pairing with Broberg and Ceci as a third pairing. Both pairings would likely play similar minutes with the brunt of the workload still going to the Ekholm and Bouchard pairing.
As is any playoff game, this is a crucial game for the Edmonton Oilers. A win tonight gives the Oilers a chance to eliminate Vegas at home in Game 6. A loss puts all the pressure back on Edmonton at home, turning game 6 into a must win game to force Game 7 back in Vegas.
Every game this series has been a back and forth with a team dominating before falling flat in the following game. That trend needs to end tonight and Edmonton must put forward the same effort they did in Game 4. A strong puck possession game, constantly skating, winning puck battles in all situations; these are what made the Oilers successful in Game 4 and what they must do in Game 5 tonight.
Stuart Skinner had a great rebound game and the team needs him to deliver at least as good of a performance tonight. His glove high is still a weak spot and it's clear Vegas is targeting that spot. His teammates know this and the defense in front of Skinner needs to be working to help cover that spot and prevent the Golden Knights from getting those shots.
On the other side, Adin Hill went from looking unbeatable when he came in relief of Brossoit in Game 3 to looking very much like a third string backup in Game 4. What was most notable to me was how clean Hill was beat by the shots from Bouchard and Ekholm. Edmonton needs to test him early and often and not be afraid to just fire the puck on net and try and reap the rewards.
Lastly there is obviously bad blood between these teams now; that's part of the fun of the playoffs. Edmonton needs to ensure they are playing a hard and physical game but avoid situations where they take a penalty because they want to get one more shot in. Let Vegas make the mistakes and then capitalize on the powerplay against a PK missing Pietrangelo.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game!