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Sharks vs. Oilers: These hits do lie

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Physicality won’t be the difference in the series

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Boy, how about that hockey game last night? That stunk. The Sharks got their butts kicked in just about every measurable way by the Oilers on Friday evening, including in the hit column. There are reasons to fret about San Jose’s chances of making it out of the first round this season (and I touched on some after game one), but hits aren’t one of them.

The hit stat isn’t particularly informative. For starters, it’s prone to bias. It’s recorded by humans and its definition changes from arena to arena and scorekeeper to scorekeeper. Let’s ignore that for the sake of this argument and focus on how the Sharks and Oilers have matched up in this category at Rogers Place this season. It’s illuminating.

Edmonton out-hit San Jose by 20 last night and over four games in Alberta this season has taken the body to the Sharks by 41. That’s an average of 10.25 per game for the not-so-mathematically inclined among us. Despite that hefty tally in the physicality department the games have been split 2-2. San Jose holds a +15 advantage in shots and the teams are dead even in goals.

San Jose led in hits in the second meeting in Edmonton this season by seven, out-hitting the Oilers 21-14. The Sharks lost that game 3-2. What makes last night’s win for Edmonton notable is that it’s the first time this season the team with more hits has won at Rogers Place in four tries. If anything, the team without a physical edge has had the better of the play, not the other way around.

Frankly, this matches the eye test. Early in the season the Oilers tried to play a physical style against the Sharks and it seemed to play right into San Jose’s hands. Once Edmonton switched to a speed game, the Sharks couldn’t deal with it. Last night the Oilers played physically, but they scored both of their goals on breakaways — utilizing the speed they should be using to victimize San Jose’s old, tired legs.

If the Sharks go on to lose this series it won’t be because they can’t deal with Edmonton’s physicality (unless we’re talking about the Oilers getting away with dirty hits like this). Last night Connor McDavid did what we were all afraid he would do: Took over the game. If he continues to do that ... well, the Sharks are in trouble.

Making the story about the Oilers’ physicality is typical of NHL narrative making. Last night was all about McDavid brutalizing the Sharks. If San Jose is to survive this series, he’s the guy they need to find an answer for — not the Oilers’ bone-crushing hits.