On a night where suffocating defense was being celebrated across the sports spectrum thanks to the Celtics David Copperfield’ing the Warriors in the 4th quarter, the night’s other playoff action saw Nazem Kadri prove what a force he can be when he’s not letting his brain drip out of his ear.
In Game 1 of the Oilers-Avalanche series, Edmonton head coach/mobile clown mouth drive through ordering station Jay Woodcroft kept Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid on the same line, and watched the combination of Nathan MacKinnon’s line paired with Devon Toews keep his biggest weapons muzzled for the most part. The change in Game 2, while still on the road and not getting last change, saw Woodcroft split up Draisaitl and McDavid, slotting the German down a line to play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto. The thinking being that maybe getting Draisaitl away from Toews and Cale Makar would give the Oilers threats from more than one place.
Except the Avs are built for this exact kind of thing, and were only too happy to let Kadri square up to Draisaitl’s line at every opportunity. Not only did Kadri snuff out any threat from the Oilers’ second-leading scorer, but he turned them over in their own zone to the tune of three assists while his line produced three goals. The Avs had 57 percent of the attempts and 71 percent of the expected goals when Kadri was out against Draisaitl. The most impressive aspect of those indications of a TKO is that Kadri didn’t start any shifts in the offensive zone. He just kept turning the ice over.
The caveat here is that Draisaitl has been playing the whole playoffs with a high ankle sprain, and at times can look as mobile as a DMV. But that hasn’t stopped him from piling up two points per game in the 14 playoff games the Oilers have had. He’s still quite the challenge.
This is what Kadri does, when he isn’t too busy trying to behead someone, as his multiple playoff suspensions attest. He’s constantly up the ass of anyone his coach sends him out against, furiously chasing down the puck and using his quick hands to cause turnovers and set up plays. Not only can he do that, but he can generate offense. This was his coup de grace.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t an element of hockey HOCKEYING last night, as Pavel Francouz came in from the cold in net for the Avs and of course pitched a shutout. Whenever you think the game will zig it almost always zags on you. Who the Avs have in goal might not matter in this series if Kadri and MacKinnon continue to park McDavid and Draisaitl in a box marked “To Timbuktu” for the whole series.
With McDavid handcuffed by seeing perhaps the only opponent that can surround him with four or five players fast enough to cut him off at the blue line thanks to the speed of the back pressure and the confidence of Toews and Makar to keep their gaps close, the Oilers found themselves out of answers in a 4-0 Game 2 loss as they were at the end of Game 1. They can shift this all around in Edmonton when Woodcroft gets the last change, and the obvious solution is to re-pair Draisaitl and McDavid and throw them out against Jack Johnson and Josh Manson at every single opportunity they get. Of course, that ignores the fact that the Oilers do not come equipped with anyone other than McDavid who has any hope of being in the same zip code as MacKinnon. Perhaps it’ll just be a case of letting the intruder into your house while you break into theirs and just see who ends up with the most stuff.
Warriors turned to stone
As for the Warriors getting Medusa’d in the 4th by the Celtics last night, this is about the whole of it:
Eh, maybe one more just for funsies: