NHL Playoffs Series Preview: Flames vs. Oilers

The first round in the Pacific Division shook out exactly how the hockey world wanted and now we get the heated Battle of Alberta in the playoffs for the first time since 1991 between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers. I can’t wait to watch this series. Both were pretty underwhelming to me in their first round series but I think that changes in Round 2.

The Calgary Flames had a great season under head coach Daryl Suter, who has this team playing fantastic in every facet of the game. They won the (pretty weak) Pacific Division with a 50-21-11 record. Including their last two games of the season where they lost while resting key players, the Flames go into the playoffs with a 10-2-2 record in their last 14 games. Calgary’s offense has been very good, scoring a sixth most in the NHL average of 3.55 goals per game. They’ve averaged 35.5 shots per game, third most in the NHL with a twelfth best 10% shooting percentage. Their power play is tenth best in the NHL, scoring on 22.9% of their shots. The Flames top line is one of the best in the league with Johnny Gaudreau (115 points, 75 assists, 40 goals),Matthew Tkuchuk (104 points, 62 assists, 42 goals) and Elias Lindholm (82 points, 42 goals) all scoring over 40 goals this season with some decent depth on the lines below them. Calgary’s arguably been even better defensively. They’ve allowed the third fewest goals in the NHL, an average of just 2.51 goals per game. Jacob Markstrom has had a fantastic season in goal and should definitely be a Vezina candidate this season (which will most likely go to Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers) with a 2.22 GAA, .922 save percentage and nine shutouts. The Flames have allowed the fifth fewest shots in hockey, an average of only 29 per game. They took the eleven most penalty minutes in the NHL but their penalty kill was very good, killing off 83.2% of those penalties, sixth best in the league.  

I thought the Flames would burn through the Dallas Stars pretty easily in the first round and going into the playoffs I saw that series as a huge mismatch. The Flames won the series in seven games, but it didn’t go how I expected it to. Calgary grinded out a 1-0 shutout win in Game 1 at home but the Stars answered back shutting them out 2-0 in Game 2 in Calgary. The Stars fed off the energy of their home ice in Game 3, beating the Flames 4-2. Calgary turned on the burners in a dominant Game 4, winning 4-1 and I thought that was a turning point to the series where if they held up that pace, the Stars wouldn’t win another game. Game 5 kept it up back in Calgary with the Flames winning 3-1 to put the Stars on the brink of elimination. With the chance to get eliminated at home in Game 6, Dallas cranked it up and forced Game 7 with a 4-2 win. In Game 7 on Sunday night, the Stars scored first being the better team in the first ten minutes of the game but Calgary dominated the rest of regulation. Jake Oettinger had one of the best goaltending performances I’ve ever seen in the playoffs, making 64 saves and keeping the Stars in the game while they got severely outplayed. Johnny Hockey ended the series with a hugely deserving Game 7 victory to give us the battle of Alberta. I bet unders all series and made a ton on those, switching to the over only in Game 6 and winning on that as well, which made up for my losing series bet on the Flames to win in six games.

The Flames struggled offensively in the first round of the playoffs but excelled defensively with the pace of that series. They scored an average of only 2.14 goals per game, fewest of all the teams to advance to the second round and only better than the Stars that they beat in that first round series. Calgary peppered Jake Oettinger with shots, with the second most shots of the first round but only scored on 5.2% of those shots, the lowest shooting percentage of the first round. Their power play was pretty bad, capitalizing on only 8.3% of those chances. Defensively they were fantastic allowing the fewest goals of the first round, an average of just 2 goals per game. Vezina candidate Jacob Markstrom was the best goalie of the first round with an impressive 1.53 GAA and .943 save percentage. The Flames were very good on the penalty kill, killing off 91.7% of their penalties.

The Oilers finished the regular season in second place in the Pacific with a 49-27-6 record. They had lots of swings throughout the season, going on runs where they looked fantastic and others where they looked like shit, even firing head coach Dave Tippett in February. Under new interim head coach Jay Woodcroft, they’ve played much better and improved in every facet of the game. Edmonton’s been playing great heading into the postseason with a 19-4-2 record in their last 25 games of the regular season.  They are lead by two of the best offense players in the NHL, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid is a generational player and the best in the NHL, leading with 123 points and second in assists with 79 (behind Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau). Draisaitl’s right behind him scoring a fourth most in the NHL 110 points and he was second in goals behind Toronto’s Auston Matthews (60) with 55 goals this season. They haven’t gotten a ton of production out of the depth in their lineup behind those two besides Evander Kane, who’s had almost a point per game (39 points, 22 goals in 43 games) since being traded to the Oilers. Despite that lack of depth, the Oilers offense is still one of the best in the NHL. They’re scoring an average of 3.48 goals per game, seventh most in the NHL. They’ve generated the tenth most shots per game, an average of 24 per game and have the 11th highest shooting percentage in the NHL, scoring on 10.2% of their shots. The Oilers power play is very good, third best in the NHL, scoring on 26% of those opportunities. Defensively, Edmonton has struggled pretty bad at points this season and on the year they’ve allowed an average of 3.06 goals per game, 14th most in the NHL. They’ve cleaned a lot of those issues up in the second half of the season though, especially goaltending which was awful early in the year. They have allowed the twelfth most shots against them in the league, an average of 32.3 per game. Mike Smith is confirmed in goal tonight and has a 2.81 GAA, .915 save percentage, 2 shutouts this season. That doesn’t show how high of a level he’s playing at right now though, coming into the playoffs with a NHL leading eight wins in a row, allowing only 1.25 goals per game in those eight starts. He’s been incredible and has the best form for a goalie going into the postseason. The Oilers penalty kill hasn’t been great at 79.4%, ranking 17th in the NHL. They did score eleven short handed goals though, third most in the NHL.

Going into the playoffs, my expectations for the Oilers was that the LA Kings were a solid matchup for them in the first round and that they should get past them but wouldn’t get much farther than that. I wasn’t impressed by their performance in that series which took them seven games. Edmonton opened the series with a 4-3 loss at home where the Kings never trailed. The Oilers answered back with a dominant 6-0 shutout win at home and then crushed the Kings and dominated them again with an 8-2 win in Game 2. At that point I thought it would be an easy five game series win for the Oilers but it sure was not. The Kings answered back in impressive fashion, shutting out the Oilers 4-0 in Game 4 to even the series going back to Edmonton. In Game 5, the Kings won 5-4 in overtime to put the Oilers a game away from elimination. The Oilers extended the series to seven games with a 4-2 win in LA in Game 6. The best player in the world, Connor McDavid showed he was the best as the Oilers won the series in Game 7 eliminating the Kings with a 2-0 win.

Statistically the Oilers were pretty decent in the first round. They averaged 3.86 goals per game with a 10.8% shooting percentage. They had the best power play of the first round, scoring on 36.8% of those opportunities. Edmonton allowed an average of 2.43 goals per game and Mike Smith wasn’t horrible with a 2.29 GAA and .938 save percentage. The Oilers penalty kill was pretty good, killing off 87.5% of their penalties.

In the Battle of Alberta games of the regular season this year, these teams split their four games with the home teams winning each of their games. The Oilers opened the season with a 5-2 win at home on October 16th and then won again at home 5-3 on January 22nd. In Calgary on March 7th in the only low scoring game these two teams played this season, the Flames won 3-1. Then in the final matchup of the regular season, Calgary’s offense put on a clinic in a 9-5 win on March 26th. 

I think this is gonna be an awesome series that’s going to be so much fun to watch. Calgary’s the better and more well rounded team with much better depth in every part of the game and better coaching from Daryl Suter, who’s been here before and lead the Kings to two Stanley Cups. I didn’t think the Oilers would make it far in the playoffs and continue to think that. I will lay the juice on the Flames with two units on them to win this series. I think this ends up likely going six games with McDavid and Draisaitl taking over to win a game or two and the variance with such a huge rivalry and I’ll take this series to go over 5.5 games for a unit.

I expect this series to trend over. In the regular season, these teams scored a ton of goals against each other with three of their four games going over 6.5. Although the Flames series against Dallas trended way under, the Oilers series against the Kings trended over. I think there’s going to be a lot of bad blood in this series which should result in a lot of penalties and power play goals from good units on each team.

I think the Flames open this series with a win at home in Game 1 tonight and will take them for 1.5 units. I’ll also take the over 6 for a unit.

Series Bets

2u Flames (-195)

1u Flames/Oilers over 5.5 games (-167)

Game 1 Bets

1.5u Flames ML (-170)

1u Flames/Oilers over 6 (-134)

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