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Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch hammered home a mistake made by so many previous Oilers coaches in Game 7

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Hockey is a game of mistakes and the Edmonton Oilers made a big deal of that in the 2024 playoffs, with more than 500 individual mistakes leading to 270 Class A shots and/or goals conceded.

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Right now there’s a lot of grumbling and focus on goalie Stuart Skinner keeping an eye on the shot on Florida’s winning goal, and Brett Kulak failing to get close to Sam Reinhart to take the shot away on the same play. I know I will remember that part as long as I live. I will forever associate it with how the Oilers lost, probably forgetting the 500+ other similar mistakes the Oilers made on Class A shots during the playoffs, some of those mistakes as bad or worse than Skinner’s mistakes and Kulak on the winning goal.

I also remember two mistakes made by coach Kris Knoblauch. As many great calls and moves as Knoblauch made in the playoffs, often against the advice of fans like myself, these two calls in the Stanley Cup Final series had a huge impact on my impression of the coach. Again, it’s not fair that this is the case, especially considering the amount of excellent moves the coach has made and the total number of mistakes made by his own team, the opposing team, and the opposing coaches. But that’s how hockey is.

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It’s the loss that hurts, and, rightly or wrongly, it’s the mistakes closest to the loss that are burned into our brains. That’s why we’ll all remember Skinner and Kulak’s blunders, and that’s why so many of us are still a little sore about two of Knoblauch’s iff moves, first his use of the Cody Ceci -Darnell Nurse clutch in Game 1, and then his over -playing his hand in Game 7, when he had Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the ice way too much in the third period, draining all their energy so they had nothing left to give at the final push in the last few minutes.

I have to say that I loved most of Knoblauch’s moves this year. I liked his zone defense and aggressive forecheck. I admired his stoic attitude, his quiet steadfastness and the essential decency that characterized all his public statements about his team and players.

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But these two moves, the Ceci-Nurse Gambit and the McDavid-Draisaitl overplay? Not so much.

I won’t go into the details of the Ceci-Nurse error because I and others wrote and talked about it a lot at the time. There was no point. The two d-men had failed miserably together during the playoffs and had done better separately. It was a mystery why they reunited for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, and the outcome was as predictable as it was decisive: major mistakes by one or the other in the partnership on both of Florida’s goals in that game. .

Knoblauch quickly distanced himself from the duo in the next game, but one game too late, as the missed opportunity from Game 1 – when the Oilers had otherwise played excellent hockey – continued to haunt Edmonton in the series.

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The most important job of any coach, said Scotty Bowman, the NHL’s most successful coach, is to get the right players on the ice, and Nurse-Ceci was the wrong pair at the wrong time.

Putting the trump card into practice in Game 7

Then came Game 7, where Florida took the 2-1 lead on the Skinner-Kulak flub. The goal came with about five minutes left in the second period and at that point Knoblauch probably made a good decision to repeatedly hammer down his ace, with that ace being the line of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman.

Putting McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line together has generally worked out well, which is why every Oilers coach has gone to this line combination so many times, from Todd McLellan to Ken Hitchcock, from Dave Tippett to Jay Woodcroft and now Knoblauch.

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On average, in the 2015-2024 McDavid-Draisaitl era, McDavid and Draisaitl played 5-on-5 together, 351 minutes per season, scoring 24 goals and conceding 17.6, for a solid 57.1 goals per percentage.

Compare that to the season average of 1,429 minutes 5-on-5, in which neither McDavid nor Draisaitl have been on the ice and the team is averaging 41.5 goals for, 53.8 goals against and a 43.6 goals for percentage made.

Naturally, Oilers coaches would like to use the two stars together, but the problem has arisen when coaches use this strategy too much and for too long, which often results in McDavid and Draisiatl being pushed to the ground in games, and also allows opposition teams stacking the deck against them so they can make sure their own top defensemen are on the ice, knowing that if they can take down Edmonton when McDrai is on the ice, they have little else to worry about.

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This is exactly what happened in the third period of Game 7 against Florida.

Knoblauch leaned heavily on Drasaitl, McDavid and Hyman. They were on the ice for almost half the period, Draisaitl 8:59, Hyman 9:20 and McDavid 9:56.

And in one electrifying strike of lightning, with about seven minutes remaining, they nearly tied the game, working together to help set up two great outside shots from Evan Bouchard, with Hyman nearly scoring on a 5-alarm scramble play in tight, with it goal had only been stopped by Florida defenders swinging to block shots.

That was the last big step from Edmonton’s big line. They set up Mattias Ekholm for a Class A shot with just over two minutes to go, but then they were apparently gassed. Ekholm’s shot was the last good shot for Edmonton. They didn’t come close to scoring in the last two minutes. They were outnumbered in the attacking corners and competing for pucks. It was a sad moment.

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McDavid and Draisaitl had outscored the opposition by a combined nine goals to four in 5-on-5 in the 2024 playoffs, a huge lead, but they didn’t have the energy to extend that lead with another goal when it mattered most was necessary.

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The frustration of watching them get outplayed as they were outplayed and exhausted was compounded by the fact that Edmonton had essentially gone down to two lines in the final ten minutes, meaning Edmonton’s excellent and opportunistic third line of Adam Henrique. Mattias Janmark and Connor Brown barely saw the ice.

There was no point.

This line had scored Edmonton’s only goal of the game, a Janmark lightning strike on a breakaway in the first period. They could have mustered a few more shots on net. Given their hustle, tenacity and desire to win, they seemed as likely to score as any Oilers line in the third period.

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But in the final period Henrique played only 3:14 at even strength, Brown only 2:01 and the dangerous and aggressive Janmark only 2:30.

Talk about NOT going with the hot hand.

It was a mistake by the Oilers coaches, a crucial mistake, I think.

But that’s how hockey is. It’s a game of mistakes. It’s a game where one moment can cost you the Stanley Cup. And it’s a game where we fans never forget that one moment, even if in the grand scheme of things it was only a fraction of the time.

The fact that such errors were made by Skinner, Kulak and Knoblauch should not have much consequence in their assessment. It only has consequences if a player or coach repeatedly makes such mistakes. None of the three fall into that category. In fact, all three were excellent in the playoffs when all is said and done. I’ll try to take that into account too.

At the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: Storm of Edmonton Oilers insider info on McLeod, Perry, Janmark, Desharnais, Campbell, Fleury and others

STAPLES: ‘Obviously I love being an Oiler more than anything’: Leon Draisaitl with hint on contract negotiations with Edmonton

McCURDY: The greatest Oiler coach is retiring for good

STAPLES: There was nonsense circulating about the Draisaitl negotiations

STAPLES: Game 7 sets ratings records for ESPN and Sportsnet

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