Surprising area could be X-factor for Oilers against Stars in Western Conference Final

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Edmonton Oilers at Vancouver Canucks
Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars biggest perceived advantage over the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final could be less of an edge than previously imagined.

The Stars are often lauded by hockey analysts for having the deepest lineup and most depth of any team in the NHL. It’s a big reason why the Stars finished with 113 points this season, most in the Western Conference. They are a 60-minute nightmare largely because of their deep, talented lineup, where contributions come from everywhere.

So far in these playoffs, 16 skaters have scored at least one goal for the Stars.

The Oilers, comparatively, are known to be top heavy.

Edmonton relies heavily on their offensively-minded “Core Four”: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Evan Bouchard. And you can add forward Zach Hyman, he of the 54 regular-season goals and 11 more so far in the playoffs, to the mix.

That top four led the Oilers in points during the regular season and are one-through-four in the League during the postseason. They are a big part Edmonton’s prolific power play, which leads all postseason teams at a staggering 37.5 percent.

Offensive success, however, has always come at the expense of their defensive strength and lack of consistency in the bottom half of their lineup. 

So how do you explain the Oilers’ playoff-leading 91.4 percent penalty kill rate?

The answer is, shockingly, in their depth. 

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Oilers depth players stepping up during Stanley Cup Playoffs

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Edmonton Oilers at Vancouver Canucks
Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Edmonton shut down a strong Vancouver Canucks power play throughout the Western Conference Second Round, and has not conceded a goal on the penalty kill in four games, authoring a perfect 14-for-14 since. 

Yet only one of the Core Four appears on the PK: Nugent-Hopkins.

A majority of the weight has been carried by the likes of Mattias Ekholm (pictured) and Vincent Desharnais, who aided Nugent-Hopkins in keeping Vancouver from high-danger opportunities on the man advantage.

“The best way to deter that is to keep them on the outside, it’s something that we talked about,” Nugent-Hopkins said following their 3-2 Game 7 triumph against the Canucks Monday.

Darnell Nurse has also joined Desharnais in the shot-prevention role. Nurse has 30 blocked shots, Desharnais 29 in the postseason.

In a series where six games were decided by only one goal, the humble Oilers penalty kill flexed its muscles at the perfect time.

That showed offensively, as well, in the final two must-win games of the series for the Oilers, who trailed 3-2 heading into Game 6. Dylan Holloway, Evander Kane and Cody Ceci each contributed a goal during the two wins, though the big guns did the heavy lifting on offense.

“We’re a deep team, just like Dallas is”, Connor McDavid noted after Game 7.

NHL fans may have laughed at that notion mere weeks ago. Now, it seems Edmonton’s biggest weakness is beginning to bear fruit.

The Stars host the Oilers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final in Dallas on Thursday.

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