‘Another level’: Draisaitl scores 2, Oilers tie series
LAS VEGAS — Leon Draisaitl’s two goals Saturday did more than just help pace the Edmonton Oilers’ commanding 5-1 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Draisaitl’s performance was one of the primary reasons the Oilers departed the desert with a tied series — and momentum — entering Game 3 on Monday at Rogers Place in Edmonton. Those two goals are also responsible for starting a conversation about how the Oilers superstar center could be in position to own one of the most historic individual postseason efforts in NHL history.
The conversation in question? Could Draisaitl break the record for the most goals in a single postseason? The mark is shared by Reggie Leach and Hall of Fame forward Jari Kurri.
Leach scored 19 goals in 16 games with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 1975-76 playoffs, while Kurri tied the record with 19 goals in 18 games with the Oilers in the 1984-85 playoffs.
As for Draisaitl, the 2020 Hart Memorial Trophy winner already has 13 goals through eight games.
“You just get ready for the next one,” said Draisaitl, when asked about the record. “I think it’s a cliché and everyone will say it, but that’s just the way it is. That’s the way we work. That’s the way every player in this league works. You do your part and try to do it as good as you can every night. You move on and get ready for Game 3.”
Draisaitl’s run started when he scored seven goals in a six-game first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings. He continued by scoring all four of the Oilers’ goals in a 6-4 defeat to the Golden Knights in Game 1 on Wednesday.
How he scored two goals Saturday was a representation of the strategy the Oilers applied to tie the series. It was also a contrast from what happened in Game 1, in which the Golden Knights used an aggressive forecheck to limit scoring chances in part by taking away time and space.
Edmonton was immediately aggressive in the first period by drawing what would be its first of six power-play chances, which Draisaitl converted for a 1-0 lead less than three minutes into the game. Less than five minutes later, defenseman Evan Bouchard scored another power-play goal to double the lead.
Vegas was on the power play when Oilers superstar Connor McDavid created a turnover, grabbed possession and held off a defender with one arm before using the other to poke the puck past Golden Knights goaltender Laurent Brossoit for a short-handed goal and a 3-0 lead.
Draisaitl cemented the Oilers’ first period with another goal with less than four minutes left in the first for a 4-0 lead.
“At this point, nothing surprises me about what he does,” Bouchard said of Draisaitl’s two-goal game. “He had another two tonight. What is that? 13, right? In eight games, it’s something that doesn’t happen very often.”
What the Oilers did in the first period was another reminder of what they did in the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs: convert on the power play and, when possible, control possession. They finished the regular season leading the NHL with a 32.4% success rate on the power play while their shot-share saw them own possession 52.27% of the time in 5-on-5 play, according to Natural Stat Trick.
The Oilers finished the first period with a shot-share of more than 69% in addition to converting 50% of their power-play chances. As it relates to the postseason, the Oilers are now fourth in shot-share percentage at 52.35% while their power play continues to leave opponents searching for answers as they lead the league with a 56% success rate.
“They had the puck, they held onto it, and they were strong on it,” Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Cutbacks, you name it. The [offensive] zone support above the goal line, all those things. Stuff we didn’t do well enough to tilt the game back in our favor. We weren’t hard on the puck.”
A three-time 50-goal scorer, Draisaitl scored 52 in the regular season to further reinforce his place as one of the game’s premier players and most dangerous scorers.
Last year, he scored seven postseason goals but was still second in the NHL with 32 points in 16 games. Those contributions helped the Oilers advance to the Western Conference finals, where they were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
What Draisaitl did a year ago created the expectations that he could be in line for another significant postseason push this year.
He ended Saturday leading the Stanley Cup playoffs in goals, points, points per game, even-strength goals and power-play goals. His 13 goals also mean Draisaitl is now two goals shy of equaling the number of goals that the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets each scored before they were eliminated in the first round.
Then there’s this bit of context: Draisaitl is six goals shy of scoring more goals in this postseason than he had in his previous postseasons combined.
“Obviously, he’s playing on another level,” McDavid said. “I’m not sure why anyone would be surprised at this point because he’s the best player in the world a lot of nights. He’s showing that on a regular basis. Like he talked about, we’re here for a lot more than just scoring goals and putting up points. That’s not what it’s about at all. That’s not what we’re doing here. It’s just part of the piece.”