For the second straight series, the Calgary Flames find themselves trailing 2-1 after three games. By no means are they finished, as they proved in the first round over the Dallas Stars that they are a very resilient bunch. With that said, however, this Edmonton Oilers team is far more dangerous, as they are not only led by the best player on the planet in Connor McDavid but have several other offensive weapons in players like Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane.
The Flames have plenty of offensive talent themselves and have proven that by scoring 13 goals through the opening three games of this series. The issue for them hasn’t been a lack of goals, but rather their inability to keep the Oilers off the board, and McDavid in particular. That was never going to be an easy task by any means, though it’s been even harder for the Flames for one reason in particular.
Tanev’s Injury Proving Crucial
After being held out of the lineup in their Game 7 victory over the Stars, defenceman Chris Tanev was viewed as a major question mark heading into the second round. As it has turned out, he has been unable to play the first three games of this series, and given the lack of chatter, it seems likely he will be out for Game 4 as well.
Throughout his 652-game career, Tanev has been viewed as an excellent shutdown defenceman. Through his first two seasons as a Flame, he has been a player that can be counted on at all times and has gone a long way in elevating the play of any partner he is paired up with. He not only led the Flames this past season in terms of ice time on the penalty kill but also averaged over 17 minutes per game at even strength.
Darryl Sutter hasn’t had an answer to this point in the series in terms of finding a defenceman to cover those minutes, and more importantly, match up against McDavid. Through the first three games of the series, the Oilers captain has nine points. While that in itself is fantastic, what is even better, or perhaps scarier if you’re a Flames fan, is that all of those have come at even strength. If he and the Oilers are able to start converting on the power play as they did over the course of the regular season, his numbers could improve even further.
With that said, one can’t help but wonder what things would be like if Tanev was healthy. By no means am I suggesting he would keep McDavid off the scoresheet, as that has proven to be nearly impossible, but he would without a doubt be their best option to limit his offence. In fact, after Game 3, Harman Dayal of The Athletic put out some interesting stats showing how well Tanev has played against McDavid when the two have went head-to-head in the past.
As you can see, Tanev has done a very remarkable job against McDavid’s brilliance in the past. Of course, it should be mentioned that the superstar forward is playing at an even higher level than we have ever seen from him before, proven by the fact that 21 of his 23 points are primary. That said, the Flames don’t have another defenceman who is anywhere near as good at shutting down opposing teams’ stars. Not having him good to go has to be extremely frustrating for Flames coaches, players, and its fanbase.
Series Far From Over
Regardless of whether it’s coming from a Flames fan or an Oilers, both seem to be in agreement that this series is not over yet. The Flames were a consistent bunch throughout the course of the 82-game regular season, while the Oilers were one that experienced plenty of highs and lows, albeit plenty less with Jay Woodcroft behind the bench. You can bet that Sutter will be doing anything and everything in his power to ensure his team has a better game plan to limit McDavid not only in Game 4, but the remainder of the series. Whether or not it will be enough to turn things around for them, however, remains to be seen.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.