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

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.”


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