Oilers-Stars Game 1 notebook: Breaking up McDavid, Draisaitl formula for success?

DALLAS — Against a four-line team like Dallas, it’s no surprise that Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch plans to start the series with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl centering their own lines. That’s the best Oilers team — when two world-class centres hop the boards, one after the next.

But don’t think for a minute that the Oilers will get away from who they are. They’re here in Dallas trying to beat the Dallas Stars, not trying to be them.

“There’s going to be games where we rely on (McDavid and Draisaitl) more than your typical rolling four lines. That’s not what we’re going to do,” Knoblauch said on the morning of Game 1. “We’re not going to have all four lines with equal ice time. Some teams have success with that, but when you have top players as good as they are, you have to put them out in more situations.

“More ice time, more crucial moments of the game,” he said. “But to say that they’re going to get all those key moments, I don’t think that’s a recipe for success either. We need other guys to do things too.”

This series boils down to a Dallas team with an old guard, a young guard and not so much in between. Against an Oilers team that isn’t as deep, but likely has more key players who are right in their prime, between ages 24 and 30.

oilers-stars game 1 notebook: breaking up mcdavid, draisaitl formula for success?

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And, as is usually the case, on any given night No. 29 and 97 give them two of best players in the game — no matter the opponent.

“There have been times in the last four or five years where they’ve been the two best players in the league,” said Stars veteran Matt Duchene. “Connor is arguably one of the greatest players that will ever play our game. Their power play, you can tell that him and Leon, their brain power is at work there with the stuff they come up with, the different things they do.”

The past two days have been full of interviews and talk. Every person on both sides is looking forward to dropping the puck Thursday at 6:30 p.m. MT / 8:30 p.m. ET.

“There’s no better feeling than walking down the tunnel at your home rink for the conference final, or the Stanley Cup Final,” Dallas head coach Pete DeBoer said. “That’s as good as it gets.”

Five For Not Fighting

The Oilers went 1-2 versus Dallas this season, and were blown out 5-0 in an April 3 game here.

The Stars are, analytically speaking, one the best teams in the NHL at scoring off the rush. That night, they clobbered the Oilers, a bit of a wakeup call.

“When we come in here through the regular season, that’s something we talk about, because they are the best rush team in the league,” said Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “We have to know that going in, remind each other on the ice, and make sure that we don’t give them anything easy.”

That night in April was a valuable lesson on how not to play Dallas, and probably provided some useful video for the Oilers coaches this week

“Definitely not the way that we wanted to play,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “They came out quick, we didn’t respond fast enough and they kind of took the game over.”

The good news?

“If I remember right, the next game we had a huge game at home against Colorado (a 6-2 win),” said Darnell Nurse, whose Oilers followed that win over the Avs with a 4-2 win at Calgary the next night. So, they recovered well.

“This is the playoffs. You’ve got to take the regular season and just park it.”

Calming Effect

The NHL had Knoblauch mic’ed for Game 7 in Vancouver, and released this snippet of him talking to his team during the timeout he called when the Canucks scored two late goals to close to 3-2.

“He’s been very calm all year,” said Oilers veteran winger Mattias Janmark. “And in the position we were when he came in (31st place in the NHL), that helped. It’s kind of spread through the team throughout the year.”

Knoblauch didn’t take that timeout in Game 1, and the Oilers watched a 4-2 third period lead get away. But he used it in Game 7, and coupled with a late, on-ice meeting presided over by Nurse, the Oilers got Game 7 to the finish line.

“In a game like that, when things crumble a little bit — when you get pressured and things are falling apart — (it’s important) to take that timeout, reset and start over. We played pretty good from there on out.”

How They Line Up

Both coaches promised the same lineups as their clinching game in Round 2, so that means no Adam Henrique or Roope Hintz in this series — yet.

Hintz is a top centreman in the NHL, big at six-foot-three and 212 pounds, and an annual 35-goal, 70-point player. He’s a huge loss for the Stars, out with what is believed to a hand injury, and has been skating to stay in shape.

“The legs are fine, wind is fine,” said Stars head coach Peter DeBoer. “He’s got an upper-body (injury) that’s keeping him out, but he’s progressing and really close.”

As for Henrique, Knoblauch said he is close too.

“We’re expecting him early in the series — whether that’s Game 1, 2 or 3. We’ll definitely be seeing him at some point,” the coach said.

“It’s painful watching,” said Henrique, who got into just one game in Round 2 after injuring an ankle in the first round versus Los Angeles.

Here are your Game 1 lines:



















Old Friends, New Series

The two general managers in this series — Edmonton’s Ken Holland and Dallas’ Jim Nill — first met as teammates with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the mid-70s.

“He kind of took me under his wing a little bit,” Nill said of Holland. “He was a goalie and I was a young rookie coming in. We built a relationship.”

Holland’s four-game NHL career concluded well before Nill’s, who played 524 NHL games. But when Holland found himself in management with the Detroit Red Wings and Nill was ready to retire, he called his old buddy.

“Kenny Holland, Jimmy Devellano, Scotty Bowman — I got to work under those men,” said Nill, whose scouting acumen is considered one of the highest in hockey today. “They’ve meant so much to me, to be able to learn from some of the greatest minds in the game.”

The two won four Cups together. “Probably left three or four more on the table,” Nill said. “That’s how competitive that (Red Wings) team was.”

Holland called Nill for a chat after the Oilers eliminated the Canucks on Monday, but said that will be the last time they’ll speak over the next couple weeks during Round 3. He’ll likely even avoid his brother Dennis Holland, who scouts for the Stars out of the British Columbia interior.

The Oilers GM did have one last call to take, however: From Bob Ridley, the legendary bus driver and play-by-play man down in Medicine Hat, now retired.

“I said, ‘Bob, did you think back in 1975 that you’d be driving around two general managers who are meeting in the conference final 50 years later?’” said Holland, with a laugh.

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