The 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs claimed another victim on Sunday night in the Edmonton Oilers.
Featuring two of the best players in the world in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers fell short of the Stanley Cup once again, falling to the Vegas Golden Knights in a six-game, second-round series. Considering that Edmonton made it to the Western Conference Finals last year and was a popular pick to win it all this year, this loss is a tough pill to swallow.
With the season over, all that's left to do is reflect. Today, we're looking at three reasons why the Oilers came up short against the Golden Knights.
The stars can't do it all
Perhaps more than any other team in the NFL, Edmonton relies on its star players to carry the offense. The Oilers don't do well if McDavid and Draisaitl aren't scoring; it's that simple. Unsurprisingly, that's precisely what happened in this series.
McDavid had an excellent performance for the most part, recording five goals and 10 points in the series. Draisaitl's stat line of six goals and seven points also looks good at first, but all six of those goals came in the first two games. That means he had just one assist in the final four games, which is nowhere near good enough. Draisaitl also struggled defensively, with a +/- of -4 in Game 6 and a -5 in the series.
Other notable players didn't play up to their potential as well. Evander Kane had just one assist all series, with his most notable contributions being 38 penalty minutes and getting into it with Vegas fans and players. Kailer Yamamoto was even less noticeable, also recording just one assist and being a -6 in the series. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was better but also not great, recording one goal, six assists, and a -4 rating.
When so many key players aren't producing like usual, the Oilers were fighting an uphill battle in this series.
Stuart Skinner wasn't good enough
Skinner had a remarkable season regular season. The 24-year-old recorded a .914 save percentage, a 2.75 goals-against average and finished as a finalist for the Calder Trophy. Even after the Oilers signed Jack Campbell to a big contract last offseason, Skinner established himself as clearly their best goalie.
However, the playoffs were a very different story for the rookie. He finished the postseason with a 5-6 record, a .883 save percentage, and a 3.38 goals allowed average. The Oilers also had to pull him in four games, and Campbell looked better even if it was a small sample size.
The first-round series against the Kings wasn't great for Skinner, but this series was especially bad. He saved 55 of 57 shots (.965 save percentage) in Edmonton's two wins but was abysmal in the losses. He allowed at least four goals in those four losses and had a save percentage below .850 in each game. It was clear that the Golden Knights figured him out more and more as the series went on.
Skinner will still be the Oilers' goalie of the future, but this series was not his best moment. There were times where Campbell probably should've been in the net instead, but head coach Jay Woodcroft stuck with Skinner through it all, and it wound up biting him. Can't judge him too harshly for his first playoffs, but he must improve his postseason play going forward.
Couldn't stop the bleeding
This point is somewhat an extension of the previous two, but it deserves its own mention.
There were many points throughout this series where Vegas snowballed one goal into multiple and Edmonton could never recover. On four separate occasions, the Golden Knights scored three unanswered goals in a single period, and unsurprisingly, those were the four games they won. Not so coincidentally, the Oilers had two such occasions of their own, and they won both games.
Simply put, Edmonton let Vegas gain too much momentum on too many occasions. The blame for that lies on both the defense for not coming up with the stops and the offense for not coming up with a timely response.