Here’s how Oilers can win Game 2 of Stanley Cup Final against Panthers

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

After being shut out 3-0 by the Florida Panthers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Edmonton Oilers left a lot to be desired. But Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch didn’t seem deeply concerned by his team’s performance. 

“I thought overall we played a pretty good game. We had chances to score goals that didn’t go in. There are a lot of things I liked about our game, but we’re going to have to get even better,” Knoblauch remarked after the game.

In his defense, the Oilers played a solid game on many fronts.

They outshot the Panthers 32-17, including several breakaways against Sergei Bobrovsky. That is not a bad recipe for success usually for the Oilers.

They also had more five-on-five opportunities (according to Natural Stat Trick), which was anticipated to be a weak spot against a Florida team which thrives on grinding out wins with hard-nosed play and a blanket defense that keeps shooters to the outside.

Yet Edmonton was stymied by Bobrovsky and a pair of important goals scored by Florida against Stuart Skinner early on.

But what can the Oilers do to flip the script and pull even when Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final is played Monday in Sunrise, Florida?

Related: 2024 Stanley Cup Final: Winners and losers from Game 1 between Panthers and Oilers

Two changes Oilers must make for Game 2 of Stanley Cup Final

1. Oilers must shoot higher against Sergei Bobrovsky

As goalies age, it becomes easier to work around them as side-to-side agility decreases, so they must rely on excellent positioning to make up for it.

Not Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers netminder remains in his physical prime.

This acrobatic save on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins proves it: 

Bobrovsky’s exceptional play makes it imperative for the Oilers to find new avenues to score if they want to break the seal against Bobrovsky.

The only way they’ll beat him is in the upper half of the net.

In his 38 goals surrendered this postseason, only seven of them have been tucked down low.

Bobrovsky has also allowed zero five-hole goals. The wickets remain shut.

That’s a remarkable clip for a 35 year-old goaltender.

“He’s f***ing Jonathan Quick, 2012, Conn Smythe, baby,” NHL on TNT personality Paul Bissonnette touted.

Quick’s 2012 playoff run with the Los Angeles Kings boasted a 1.41 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. He carried that team to a Stanley Cup win over the New Jersey Devils in six games.

Comparitavely, Bobrovsky sits at a playoff total of 2.08 GAA and a .915 save percentage following Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

It’s great, but perhaps not Quick level.

The comparison holds water in the type of saves Bobrovsky’s been making, however.

Acrobatics and coverages of the low areas of the net were Quick’s specialty, which is exactly where Bobrovsky’s been excelling.

The difference?

Quick was 26. Bobrovsky is 35.

It’s in the Oilers game plan to change tactics. Expect the Panthers’ netminder to be peppered on the high blocker and glove sides.

“Obviously, you want to get it high, that’s your best chance,” Nugent-Hopkins said after Game 1.

If the Oilers try this tactic, we’ll see if Bobrovsky has an answer.

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2. Oilers need to change up blue line 

When Evan Rodrigues scored to make it 2-0 in the second period of Game 1, a furious Stuart Skinner threw his arm up in frustration.

That’s because it was completely avoidable.

Panthers’ center Sam Bennett dumps the puck in at the blue line and then beats not one, not two, but three Oilers to the puck below their goal line. 

He then backhands the puck to a wide open Rodrigues, along in the slot, where he rifles a shot past Skinner.

The inability for three Oilers to deal with Bennett is worrying enough, but how did Rodrigues get to such a position?

The answer is, unfortunately, the pairing of Codi Ceci and Darnell Nurse.

Both defensemen were on the ice for two goals against in Game 1. 

In this instance, Ceci lost the battle with Bennett (despite getting to the puck first) and Nurse is completely uninvolved with the play, getting caught puck-watching without his stick on the ice to interrupt the pass to the middle.

It’s been a bad streak for Nurse in his 10th season with the Oilers.

His plus-minus is at a staggering minus-15 this postseason.

That’s the lowest of any skater in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and seven worse than the next player in line, his teammate Warren Foegele.

“We didn’t give up too much, but what we did give up was dangerous”, Oilers captain Connor McDavid stated following the loss.

That’s true. 

Edmonton’s penalty-killing streak was extended to 30 stops in a row, proving that the defense can stand toe-to-toe with Florida. They just can’t afford lapses like on Rodrigues’ even-strength goal.

How will the Oilers fix the issue?

Knoblauch’s plan, which he revealed Monday afternoon, is to remove the veteran Ceci in favor of Vincent Desharnais, who hasn’t played since Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars.

It could be a great move to make up for Nurse’s defensive slump recently, as the 6-foot-7 Desharnais isn’t afraid to get physical in the corners, bringing an edge the Oilers were desperately missing in Game 1.

While he may not bring much to the table offensively, Desharnais was second on the team in blocked shots during the regular season (122), so Knoblauch is hoping that the 28-year-old will fill in the glaring defensive holes, trusting the elite forward core to continue their dominance and carry the day.

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