Getting defensive: Avs, Oilers shoring up ‘D’ before Game 2

Jun 1, 2022, 2:04 AM | Updated: 2:47 pm
Edmonton Oilers left wing Evander Kane (91) celebrates a goal against Colorado Avalanche goaltender...

Edmonton Oilers left wing Evander Kane (91) celebrates a goal against Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) during the first period in Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Western Conference finals Tuesday, May 31, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

DENVER (AP) — Colorado goaltender Darcy Kuemper remains questionable for Game 2. Same with Edmonton’s Mike Smith.

Same with the defense in front of them, for that matter.

To put it kindly, the “D” for the Avalanche and Oilers was shaky in Game 1 of a Western Conference final that produced 14 goals and 84 shots. It was the highest-scoring conference finals game in 37 years.

There could be more fireworks in store on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, TNT). That’s just the by-product of the fast-paced style both teams like to play even if it may come at a cost on the other end.

“As a group, we can be better defensively,” said Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar, who had a goal and two assists in the 8-6 win. “Definitely not the way you want to play games with these guys.”

The over/under for Game 2 was placed at a respectable 7 1/2 goals, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Betting on adjustments being made?

“I would expect it to tighten up because I’m sure they’re feeling the same way,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “You’re not going to win a lot of playoff games when you give up six or seven.”

Bednar had no status update on Kuemper, who left in the second period with what the team said was an upper-body injury. Bednar wouldn’t specify if Kuemper’s injury had anything to do with the stick that went through his mask and caught him near the eye during the Nashville series. Kuemper allowed three goals on 16 shots before departing.

“I’m not going to get into his injury,” Bednar said Wednesday. “Especially not this time of year.”

Backup Pavel Francouz took over and surrendered three goals on 21 shots.

“We have the utmost confidence in him,” Avalanche forward Logan O’Connor said of Francouz, who also stepped in when Kuemper was hurt against the Predators. “Tons of confidence.”

There are goaltender quandaries on Edmonton’s side, too. Smith was taken out in the second period after allowing six goals on 25 shots. Mikko Koskinen held the Avalanche in check — one goal on 21 shots.

Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft was noncommittal about his net situation Wednesday. Smith also was yanked during a 9-6 loss in Game 1 at Calgary in the second round, only to respond with four straight wins.

“I thought Mike Smith was excellent for us all playoffs long,” Woodcroft said. “Last night, I didn’t think we did much as a team to help them out in certain situations. We’ll determine Mike’s status and Mikko’s status tomorrow.”

This was how relaxed the Oilers appeared Wednesday: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sauntered into the meeting room for interviews wearing a pair of hotel slippers.

The series deficit doesn’t bother them. They’ve dropped the opening game each round of the playoffs.

“Game 1s haven’t been our thing, for sure, there’s no question about that,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “That’s something our team has done a really good job of this year — sticking with it and being resilient and not quitting on each other.”

The Oilers took comfort in the fact that despite being down 7-3, they rallied and were back in it until Gabriel Landeskog’s late empty-net goal. One thing they want to do — put playmaker Makar and the rest of the Avalanche defense on the defense.

“If you give them the puck and their eyes are staring up ice, they can do some things,” Woodcroft explained. “It’s to our advantage to make sure that they have to turn and go back and face their end, so that they have to solve some problems.”

As for slowing down Nathan MacKinnon and his speedy squad, well, that’s an area of emphasis as well.

“Playing fast in the neutral zone is something we need to be better,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Just being able to put pucks in positions where we have an opportunity to play in the offensive zone.”

Edmonton at least can always rely on Connor McDavid, who now has 29 points in 13 postseason games. His entire line had a big night — Leon Draisaitl had two assists (he has 28 points in the postseason) and Evander Kane added an assist and his league-leading 13th goal of the postseason.

“Pretty spectacular what he’s doing,” Oilers defenseman Cody Ceci said of McDavid. “You can see how bad he wants to win. I think that really reflects on him as a player. He’s not just sitting back saying, ‘I’m doing my job.’ He’s trying to do everything he can to move on.”

The same can be said of Makar, who notched his sixth career three-point playoff game. There are only two other defensemen who have recorded as many in the postseason before they turn 24: Paul Coffey (10 times) and Ray Bourque (six), according to NHL Stats.

Makar was more concerned about shoring up the defense.

“We’ve got to be tighter as a group,” Makar said. “We know that.”

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Bump & Stacy Show

AP

Houston Astros' Jake Meyers (6) watches as Jeremy Pena, left, and Yordan Alvarez (44) fall to the g...
Associated Press

LEADING OFF: Yankees-Astros play 1-game series in Houston

A look at what’s happening around the majors today: ___ GOING MY WAY? The Yankees and Astros will meet in a one-game series between AL division leaders at Minute Maid Park — it’s a makeup of a matchup postponed by the lockout. Both teams were on New York-to-Houston flights after wins Wednesday afternoon in the […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout hits an RBI double against the Chicago White Sox during the first in...
Associated Press

Ohtani Ks 11, extends scoreless streak in 4-1 win over WSox

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Whether Shohei Ohtani is unleashing his 101 mph fastball or dispensing his large array of breaking balls, the Angels’ two-way ace has overpowered every opponent during his shutout surge through June. Ohtani still had to dig deep into his nearly bottomless bag of pitches to beat the White Sox. The right-hander […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Bird sets WNBA career wins record as Storm beat Aces 88-78

SEATTLE (AP) — Sue Bird became the WNBA’s leader in career wins with 324 on Wednesday night as the Seattle Storm beat the Las Vegas Aces 88-78. Bird, who has announced this will be her final season, passed former Minnesota star Lindsay Whalen. Jewell Loyd led Seattle (12-7) with 24 points, and Breanna Stewart had […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Mercury beat Fever for 7th straight time, 99-78

PHOENIX (AP) — Skylar Diggins-Smith had 17 points and seven assists, Sophie Cunningham added 14 points and the Phoenix Mercury beat the Indiana Fever 99-78 on Wednesday night. Phoenix (9-12) beat Indiana for a seventh straight time, including an 83-71 victory on Monday. Shey Peddy and Diamond DeShields each added 13 points for Phoenix, which […]
1 day ago
Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog holds up the Stanley Cup as the NHL hockey team was ho...
Associated Press

Dodgers hit 3 homers, knock off nemesis Rockies 8-4

DENVER (AP) — Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and Cody Bellinger homered, and the Los Angeles Dodgers took advantage of Germán Márquez’s struggles and early injury exit to beat the Colorado Rockies 8-4 on Wednesday night. Trea Turner added a two-run double and Julio Urías pitched into the sixth inning as the Dodgers avoided a three-game […]
1 day ago
Chicago Cubs' Willson Contreras celebrates while running the bases after hitting a two-run home run...
Associated Press

Contreras homers, Morel also goes deep as Cubs beat Reds 8-3

CHICAGO (AP) — Christopher Morel unleashed a laser from center field toward the plate. In a flash, the Cubs let loose. Chicago catcher Willson Contreras pointed toward the dugout and let out a roar. Screaming pitcher Justin Steele pounded his glove several times. Morel’s rocket throw to cut down Tommy Pham trying to score on […]
1 day ago
Getting defensive: Avs, Oilers shoring up ‘D’ before Game 2