Connor McDavid and Ryan Kesler. Image by: Getty Images
The Oilers took Game 1 over the Ducks with Leon Draisaitl the hero, but the match-up war between the two benches was just as good a plot line.
Oh, we’re really getting to the good stuff now.
Sure, the first round of the playoffs tends to be the best hockey and there is a greater chance of upsets, but as Ryan Kesler and Connor McDavid demonstrated in Game 1 Wednesday night, we’re getting into chess time.
Edmonton won the first tilt against Anaheim thanks to a team effort and offense from Leon Draisaitl, Mark Letestu and Adam Larsson, but the match-up war between the two benches was just as good a plot line.
Heading into the series, we knew that Ducks coach Randy Carlyle would drape Selke Trophy finalist Kesler all over McDavid as much as possible and lo, he did. Kesler wound up playing nearly 11 minutes against the Oilers phenom in Game 1. That’s more than half of McDavid’s total ice time, including special teams play, where 1-on-1 match-ups become harder to maintain (Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm got the McDavid assignment on defense).
And yes, McDavid and the Oilers are well aware of Anaheim’s designs. At one point in the game, McDavid even faked a line change, stepping onto the bench until Kesler changed, then stepping back on to continue his shift. That’s fun. I’m all-in on this storyline already.
That sneaky phoney line change by McDavid to get away from Kesler was great pic.twitter.com/Rt6Evyww3A— 🔹Ryan🔸 🦆🥊 (@IAmByks) April 27, 2017
Because this is where a series can be won or lost. You have to give the Oilers first blood here, (I mean, they won the game, duh) because McDavid’s line was crucial to the victory, even if it was Draisaitl doing the most damage on the scoreboard. Kesler actually had two points of his own on the evening, but ended up a minus-1. The savvy veteran also took two minor penalties, one a trip on McDavid. The Edmonton cornerstone also landed Kesler’s linemate, Jakob Silfverberg, in the box at one point. Draisaitl also drew penalties on the Ducks.
So Anaheim has a choice now for Game 2. The Ducks had last line change in the first outing and it didn’t get them the result they wanted. Perhaps it’s just a matter of patience – Kesler was much more successful on faceoffs than McDavid, so it’s not like he got killed in the match-up. And maybe Kesler adjusts and the McDavid line gets shut down in Game 2. But it will be much easier to get McDavid away from Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf (whose line played the second-most minutes against No. 97) once Game 3 rolls around in Edmonton. You don’t want to be down two games heading to Northern Alberta.
On the other hand, maybe the Oilers don’t mind messing with the Ducks’ heads when it comes to shift work. If the amusing Game 1 line-change chicanery continues, perhaps the Ducks get too concerned with match-ups and lose focus on the rest of the game. And we’ve already seen the Oilers draw penalties with their speed, so Anaheim must be careful. The Edmonton power play was a huge factor in the opening game and you do not want to trade chances with this crew.
What you really have to worry about as a Ducks fan is if McDavid begins to take over the series and coach Todd McLellan decides that it doesn’t matter who the Ducks throw out on the ice against the kid. Because No. 97 is not the opponent you want running wild against your squad in a series.
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