LeBron: How and why NHL coaches and coaches changed their expectations for the Battle of Alberta

LeBron: How and why NHL coaches and coaches changed their expectations for the Battle of Alberta

Calgary – The Edmonton Oilers are one win away from achieving what most people didn’t think was possible. Not that it would come as a huge surprise in any way.

But Pacific Division champion Calgary Flames were already favorites to head to the Battle of Alberta and didn’t look like them in most of their opening four games. Oilers have a lot to do with this.

Now, the series is not over yet. You won’t find a single soul within that Oilers organization that thinks this thing has been completely discovered. Way too much respect for their provincial rivals for it.

But I decided that the 3-1 Series led by Oilers was at least enough to re-visit with front office executives and coaches from other organizations who all picked Flames ahead of the series. In fact, one of the coaches came back to me the day after my story was published, so the tally was a 12-0 clean sweep, seven team executives and five coaches picked the flames for different reasons, although some of those reasons largely overlap.

As I wrote at the time, I wasn’t surprised that the Flames would be the team most of them would choose, but I was surprised that there were at least two of them that would go the turbulent path based on Connor McDavid’s ability to steal a few games alone.

While I also picked Flames before the series, I strongly felt that this was more of a symbolic match than many people had. And again, it mostly depends on player 97’s ability to change games on their own.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to go back to these twelve people and get their reaction now through four games of the series, and I repeat again that nothing is over yet.

All comments were via text except for those of Coach #2 and Team Executive #7, who were reached by phone. All comments were made on Wednesday.

Implementation Team No. 1

The Oilers are up 3-1 which is a surprise to me. (Leon) Drysetel’s health was one of wild cards as was Edmonton’s large group. Clearly, Calgary needs to solve McDavid’s streak. (Mike) Smith played really well. His passion and affection is one of his strengths but also one of his biggest weaknesses. He’ll need to control that for the Oilers to quickly close the chain. I think the series isn’t over yet and it’s going to Game 7. As we all know, in Game 7, anything can happen.

Implementation Team No. 2

Well, I always say that’s why we play games… The series is clearly not over yet. The last win is usually the hardest but should give a lot of credit to the oiler! They play hard – with very good detail and generally selfless play for the team’s success. I’m a little surprised (Jacob) Markstrom hasn’t stolen any game yet but like I said, it’s not over…

Coach No. 1

I see three main factors:

  1. Play #97 has consistently put Calgary on their heels.
  2. Edmonton’s Tier Two players – (Evander) Kane, (Zach) Hyman, (Ryan) Nugent Hopkins, were key players.
  3. In a series of momentum swings, Edmonton’s target was more timely than Calgary. The big moments have gone to Edmonton.

Implementation Team No. 3

The hardness of the oil was impressive. Clearly Connor is playing on the charts – a level we haven’t seen, completed 200 feet, and there are no shortcuts. Markstrom wasn’t good enough and Smitty outsmarted him from the very first match. Calgary’s D couldn’t manage the Oilers attacking as I thought and (Christopher) Tanev those first three games affected his group.

coach number 2

Who would have thought Edmonton would do this and their top streak would be this far? Sutter tries to put Tkachuk’s line against McDaid’s line. It is a mismatch in size and strength. Keep trying. It’s not right. Edmonton is on its way to launch now. I obviously change my mind (before the series) but Markstrom is not playing well now. I thought Edmonton would win it, maybe in five games but probably in six.

Implementation Team No. 4

Very (surprised). Markstrom was not good. McDavid can win games almost by himself. Such a huge effect. Smith was good enough. I don’t think Calgary did as well as they did in the first round.

Coach No. 3

Simply put, it’s the Flames that have no answer for the Edmonton big boys. Calgary’s top players underperformed. When Calgary averaged occasionally during the year, Markstrom would save them. He will have to be the best player in the rest of the series or it will be over quickly. This is not happening now. Edmonton has found a new level. The Flames try to match but it will take a special performance by more than one player. I thought Calgary would be able to smash Edmonton. So far it has not.

exec team number 5

Calgary plays Edmonton’s style, not his. They don’t want to play this kind of game because it shifts the advantage to Edmonton. Markstrom is not doing his part now and was supposed to be the difference maker because he is better than Smith. This is not the case now.

Coach No. 4

Apparently Smith has outdone Markstrom and McDavid’s streak has outdone (Johnny) Gaudreau’s, and by a lot…

Implementation Team No. 6

It’s really a close league (the response to Oilers is surprisingly advanced). McDavid raised the rest of his supporting team to play to a high standard, especially Kane. Confident team.

Coach No. 5

I would say the core of Calgary’s defense is going to be the part that’s been worrying me up to this point and that’s what we’ve noticed in the regular season against them.

Implementation Team No. 7

I’m a little shocked. Only because Flames blew the lead (3-0) in Match 2. This is definitely not Daryl Sutter’s type of team. I was a little shocked about this aspect. MacDavid is an exceptional player, and if not the best player in the world he would be 1A. He took his game to a whole other level. Which is important to me, symbolic and necessary for Edmonton to win. Similar to that, if you go back to the days when Gretzky took the team on his back, Mario Lemieux took his team on his back, and Patrick Kane took the team on his back – to finally eliminate those guys on the hump for each team individually. Now is this going to happen here? Time will tell. It may or may not be this year. But you see MacDavid finally got to a point…and people put so much pressure on him early on they thought he’d go to the Stanley Cup straight away. I mean, these other guys also took five years or so to get there. So it’s hard. But I think it’s coming, whether it’s this year or next. But I liked him a lot and never thought that you might actually like this guy more. Also, money spent on Hyman looks like money well spent. It was great.

My opinion

Some of the major sentiments intertwined here from this group including a goalkeeper match that didn’t go as expected, and MacDavid taking his game to another level dramatically influenced the series – as if anyone thought there could be another level for McDavid. And Calgary’s premium streak of Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk didn’t have a natural effect, especially five on five as this was their bread and butter all year long.

When asked about his first streak the morning of Game 4, Flames coach Daryl Sutter kicked off his answer by saying they’d make a good streak in a “regular season”… before making some other points. But the zinger was there. He was challenging his first streak to find another level here in the playoffs when it matters most. I think that streak was better in Game 4. They got a better look, but there will be more for Flames to bring back in the series.

I thought Markstrom had a strong stretch in Game 4 once his team was down 3-0 keeping his team at it with some big saves and buying time for a three-goal race. But his slips in the opening seconds that led to Edmonton’s 1-0 goal are probably what most people remember best. Mike Smith beats the finalist of the Vezina Cup, plain and simple. Obviously that could change starting Thursday night in Game 5, but let’s not discount the fact that what looked like a sure-bet matching feature wasn’t the case for Flames.

McDavid’s play in this series is clearly giant in talking about why the Oilers are so up. Being on the rink to watch what he does, all I can say is 27 years covering the NHL, I’m not sure I’ve seen a player do what he does in terms of speed, vision, creativity and anticipation. He was repeatedly chosen by The Flames in media interviews as the main factor.

But what’s really going to make me nervous if I’m in Calgary is that in Game 4, on a night where No. 97 was somewhat held up – at least by his lofty standards – second team player Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored twice as much as Zach Hyman (which was unreal in the serial).

The Oilers are still a heavyweight at the top, sure, but the support team is getting more confident day by day. This is not a scenario I think Flames envisioned before the series started.

Again, this series is not over yet. No one would be surprised if the flame found other equipment here. But the script in this series has so far surprised many.

(Top image: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

2022-05-25 20:25:47

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