Surprise, surprise: At the age of 40, Oilers Smith has outdone Markstrom

Surprise, surprise: At the age of 40, Oilers Smith has outdone Markstrom

Edmonton – Mike Smith was very old and, according to some, looked tired. According to me, in fact.

It was Game 2, and after picking up the hook in the opener 9-6, Smith left a rebound sitting in his flexion to be bid goodbye to Brett Ritchie. That made it 2-0 just six minutes into Game 2, and as Stu Hart, the old Calgary wrestling promoter, put it, at that point the Flames were “direct traffic.”

Smith looked like the 40-year-old who wasn’t supposed to be able to live up to Jacob Markstrom from Calgary. The man who doubted everyone in the hockey world could do so every two nights in May.

But from about seven minutes into Game 2, right through a near-perfect night in Sunday’s 4-1 win, Smith did something no expert thought he would – or could – ever do.

He was the best goalkeeper in the battle for Alberta, and she wasn’t even close.

And what about numbers?

How about a series that provides a 0.916 ratio for Smith, and a target versus an average of 3.45, compared to .853 and 5.74 for Markstrom?

Who looks tired now?

“I’m just trying to make a tackle for our group there, to be honest. I’m trying to stay as poised as possible and make a save when the team needs me,” Smith, his wrinkled man held hostage with the Oilers flat-brimmed hat, said. Tonight was no different, maybe a little louder with the Battle of Alberta. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be playing in front of such a fan base and I’m excited to win.”

On a night when Leon Drysittel set a National Hockey League record with four assists in one playoff period; When Conor McDavid set a National Hockey League record with his ninth multi-point game in his first 10 playoff games; When Evander Kane scored the seventh-fastest hat-trick in Stanley Cup game history (six fixed minutes), the most promising element of the Oilers’ game was how little they surrendered.

Their team defense was impeccable, and behind it all Smith looked to have plenty of games left here after a long weekend in May.

Yes, he looks tired now.

“He only played 28 games in the regular season,” coach Jay Woodcroft said. “I added 10 in the playoffs and that’s 38. He’s at mid-season level now. It’s not like he’s played 63 games and added another 10 on top of that and all that wear and tear.”

Edmonton gave up a little in the first half, didn’t give up anything in the second, and then sped through the third with score effects in control, helping the Flames hit 33 shots on goal. But while the match was in the balance, this was a defensive gem that no one who watched the first two games of the series would have expected.

And as we thought, this Oilers have something going for today that they didn’t have early on in toppling the past two seasons. It’s an evil two-headed weapon, which we wrote about two years ago:

When McDavid and Draisaitl drive a hockey game from the defensive zone as they do from the O zone, these Oilers become a very tough team to defeat. When it’s as hard for them to score as they have to defend, you now have a recipe that can go on – one for which Flames will have to find an antidote.

“Obviously they put in some plays on those goals which were amazing,” Woodcroft said of his two stars who are now top scorers in the playoffs with 23 and 19 points respectively. “But I will talk about checking them out. The way they defended.

“This streak (with Kane) — both Connor and Lyon finished plus 4. When our best players lead the way defensively, setting the tone for what is expected for the full 200 feet, it makes us a better team.”

“He took his game to the next level,” Kane said of his captain. “He doesn’t just do that on the score sheet – that’s what allows him to really show his skill. He’s physical, he’s involved. He wins puck fights along the wall, both in defensive and offensive areas. He’s a dominant force there.”

What McDavid does, averaging 2.3 points per game after averaging 1.5 per game in the regular season, is incredible. How Draisaitl plays on one leg, gives his team 21 minutes per game and outlasts every unnamed NHL player McDavid, is epic.

Then there is Ken, who was simply looking for the place to spend half a season to increase his value at the free agency. He delivered of spades, scoring 10 goals in the playoffs, three of which brought down Calgary in Game 3.

“I knew I was going back to the NHL,” Kane said, reflecting on his pre-season problems with the San Jose Sharks. “I was very confident about that. It was just a matter of when and when I had this opportunity, and to make full use of it.”

For now, it’s an Edmonton feature.

They are winning the goalkeeping battle, their best players are better than the best Calgary players, and in Game 3 they put out the flames for all the minutes that matter to them.

“When your best players play the best hockey game of their careers in the playoffs, your team really has a good chance of winning,” Smith said.

Is this not the truth?

2022-05-23 05:20:00

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