LAS VEGAS — Leon Draisaitl’s two goals on Saturday did more than hasten the Edmonton Oilers’ comfortable 5-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Draisaitl’s performance was one of the main reasons the Oilers left the desert with a tie run — and momentum — as they entered Game 3 Monday at Rogers Place in Edmonton. Those two goals are also responsible for starting a conversation about how the Oilers’ superstar center might be able to own one of the most historic postseason individual performances in NHL history.
The conversation in question? Could Draisaitl break the record for most goals in a single postseason? The brand is shared by Reggie Leach and Hall of Famer Jari Kurri.
Leach scored 19 goals in 16 games with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 1975-76 playoffs while Kurri tied the record with 19 goals in 18 games with the Oilers in the 1984-85 playoffs.
As for Draisaitl, the 2020 Hart Memorial Trophy winner has already scored 13 goals in eight games.
“You just get ready for the next one,” Draisaitl said when asked about the record. “I think it’s a cliché and everyone will say it, but that’s the way it is. This is how we work. That’s how every player works in this league. You do your part and try to make it the best you can every night. You go ahead and get ready for Game 3.”
Draisaitl’s run began when he scored seven goals in a six-game streak in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings. He went on to score all four of the Oilers’ goals in a 6-4 loss to the Golden Knights in Game 1 on Wednesday.
How he scored twice on Saturday was a representation of the strategy the Oilers used to level the series. It was also a contrast to what happened in Game 1, where the Golden Knights used an aggressive precheck to partially limit scoring chances by taking away time and space.
Edmonton was immediately aggressive in the first half, squandering his first of six power-play chances, which Draisaitl converted to a 1-0 lead in under three minutes. Less than five minutes later, defender Evan Bouchard scored another power play goal to double the lead.
Vegas was on the power play when Oilers superstar Connor McDavid rallied, winning the ball and holding off a defender with one arm before using the other to slip the puck past Golden Knights goaltender Laurent Brossoit for a goal shorthanded and to score a 3-0 lead.
Draisaitl cemented the Oilers’ first half with another goal, with less than four minutes left in the first for a 4-0 lead.
“At this point, nothing surprises me about his performance,” Bouchard said of Draisaitl’s two-goal game. “He had two more tonight. What’s that? 13, right? In eight games, that doesn’t happen very often.”
What the Oilers did in the first half was another reminder of what they did in the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs: convert the power play and control possession when possible. They finished the regular season at the top of the NHL with a 32.4% win rate on the power play, while their shot percentage owned 52.27% of the time in the 5-on-5 game, according to the Natural Stat trick.
The Oilers finished the first period with over 69% shot percentage and converted 50% of their power play chances. Going into the postseason, the Oilers are now fourth in shot percentage at 52.35% while their power play continues to have opponents looking for answers as they lead the league with a 56% win rate.
“They had the puck, they held it and they were strong at it,” said Bruce Cassidy, Golden Knights coach. “Cuts, you name it [offensive] Zone support over the goal line, all that stuff. Things we didn’t do well enough to turn the game back in our favor. We weren’t hard on the puck.”
A three-time 50-goal scorer, Draisaitl hit 52 in the regular season to further cement his place as one of the game’s top players and most dangerous scorers.
Last year he scored seven postseason goals but was still second in the NHL with 32 points in 16 games. Those contributions helped the Oilers reach the Western Conference Finals, where they were eliminated by eventual Stanley Cup winners Colorado Avalanche.
What Draisaitl did a year ago has raised expectations that he could be in line for another significant post-season boost this year.
He finished Saturday leading the Stanley Cup Playoffs in goals, points, points per game, goals with even strength and goals on power play. His 13 goals also mean that Draisaitl is now two goals away from matching the number of goals the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets each scored before being eliminated in the first round.
Then there’s this little context: Draisaitl is six goals down to have more goals this postseason than his previous postseasons combined.
“Obviously he’s playing on a different level,” said McDavid. “I’m not sure why anyone would be surprised at this point because he’s the best player in the world a lot of nights. He shows that regularly. As he said, we’re here for a lot more than that.” Score goals and collect points. It’s not about that at all. We don’t do that here. That’s just part of it.”