Is there a more intriguing first-round playoff series in the NHL this year than Edmonton vs. San Jose? It’s undoubtedly the first of many trips to the postseason for young Oilers star Connor McDavid, but his team has very little playoff experience. The Sharks’ window to win a Stanley Cup, meanwhile, might be closing as this veteran bunch lost last year’s Finals in six games to Pittsburgh. The Pacific Division rivals open their Western Conference series Wednesday in Edmonton. The Oilers are favoured on Sports Interaction NHL odds to advance.
San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers, Game 1
Stanley Cup Playoffs Series odds: Edmonton -175, San Jose +125
Game 1 odds: Oilers -155, Sharks +130
Game 1 total: 5
Date: Wednesday, April 12, 10 p.m. ET
Location: Rogers Place, Edmonton
San Jose Sharks
San Jose (46-29-7) finished third in the Pacific Division with 99 points. It was in contention for the division title, but the team lost nine of its final 13 games. The biggest in there was 4-2 at home to Edmonton on April 6, which allowed the Oilers to jump San Jose in the standings.
A big reason for the late-season struggles was injuries to two of San Jose’s top forwards, Logan Couture and Joe Thornton. Both are questionable in Game 1. Couture went through an entire practice Monday for the first time since being hit in the mouth by a deflected puck on March 25 against the Predators. He was wearing a full cage on his helmet. Thornton also practiced Monday after missing the final three games with an injured knee. Couture had 25 goals and 27 assists in 73 games and Thornton seven goals and 43 assists in 79.
The Sharks frankly have little chance if those two aren’t in the lineup. San Jose was just 19th in scoring at 2.7 goals per game and 25th on the power play at 16.7 percent (last among playoff teams). Defenseman Brent Burns is the leading candidate for the Norris Trophy as he topped the team in points (76), goals (29) and assists (47). He finished first among defensemen in goals and points, first among all players in shots and was ninth among all in points.
The team’s No. 1 goalie is Martin Jones, who was very good in last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Jones was 35-23-6 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .912 save percentage this season. San Jose was No. 5 in GAA (2.4 gpg) and 18th on the penalty kill (80.7 percent).
The Sharks were 26-3-1 when leading after the first period this season. They had two wins in five games against Edmonton but lost the final three. Burns led San Jose with six points (two goals, four assists) vs. the Oilers. Jones was 2-3-0 with a 3.00 GAA and .883 save percentage.
San Jose is +900 to win the West.
Edmonton (47-26-9) was one of the biggest surprises in the league this year with 103 points, two behind Pacific Division champion Anaheim. A surprise because the Oilers had only 70 points in 2015-16 and hadn’t topped 74 since 2008-09.
The NHL is absolutely thrilled that the Oilers are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006 because it’s finally a national stage for McDavid, already arguably the best player in the league in his second season. McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy with 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists) and could add the Hart Trophy. The Oilers scored 243 goals this season (eighth in NHL) and McDavid scored or assisted on a league-leading 41.2 percent. In addition, 21-year-old German Leon Draisaitl had a breakout third season with 29 goals and 48 assists. Are the Oilers too dependent offensively on those two?
In net, Cam Talbot played in league-high 73 games and was 42-22-8 (tying for lead in wins) with a 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage. The Oilers ranked eighth in GAA (2.5 gpg) and 17th on the penalty kill (80.7 percent).
San Jose’s roster has combined for 1,169 games in the Stanley Cup playoffs compared to 342 for Edmonton (most of those by Milan Lucic). However, the Oilers’ coach, Todd McLellan, has plenty of postseason experience. Before being hired by Edmonton in May 2015, McLellan coached the San Jose for seven seasons and reached the playoffs in six.
As noted, Edmonton was 3-1-1 vs. San Jose in 2016-17. McDavid had four goals and four assists in the five games. Talbot played in all and had a GAA of 2.59 and save percentage of .912.
The Oilers are +700 to win the West.
Sharks vs. Oilers Predictions
Edmonton was playing much better down the stretch than San Jose and had the best record in the NHL against both the Western Conference and Pacific Division this season. However, you can’t teach playoff experience. Talbot, for example, has never started a playoff game. Obviously neither has McDavid. Jones, meanwhile, had a 2.16 GAA in last year’s postseason. If the Sharks do have Couture and Thornton, they win in six to advance and face Anaheim.