A lot of work for an ugly goal

Last night, the Oilers’ third goal – like all their goals – came on the power play, but it was pretty ugly. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins fired a slap pass that was redirected by Taylor Hall and then redirected by Shawn Horcoff past Semyon Varlamov in the Avalanche net.

The whole shift leading up to the goal was an interesting one.

The Oilers have just lost a power play draw in the defensive zone.

The key players on this sequence are numbered. David Jones (54 for Colorado) is going to try and take the puck past Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93 for Edmonton). Justin Schultz (19 for Edmonton) is in good position to backstop Nugent-Hopkins, and Shawn Horcoff (10 for Edmonton) will also lend a hand here.

Nugent-Hopkins knocks the puck free as Jones skates by; it’s now between him Nugent-Hopkins and Horcoff and moving toward the Oilers’ captain.

Horcoff picks up the puck. Jones has followed Nugent-Hopkins away from the corner, but is in a position to put some pressure on the Oilers in their own end.

Horcoff skates to his own net, drawing Jones toward the middle as he does so, and then drops the puck off to Schultz to setup the breakout.

Both Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle (14 for Edmonton) go to the right hand boards to give Schultz options; he fakes a pass in that direction.

Ultimately, Schultz fires the puck to the left side of his own end, where Taylor Hall (not on the screen) is already moving directly out of the zone.

Hall (4 for Edmonton) isn’t in an ideal position here, trapped on the left wing all by himself, though at this point he has a relatively clear lane to both Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins. Brad Malone (42 for Colorado) is going to turn and put pressure on Hall right away – a sensible move, given that he’s isolated. (Side point: I saw a lot of Malone in the AHL earlier in the year, because the Barons seemed to play Colorado’s affiliate in Lake Erie every other night, and was really impressed by him as an energy/checking line player.)

Hall gets a little lucky here, squeaking the pass through Malone’s skates and landing it behind Eberle, who slows and turns around to receive the puck. Malone jumping up rather than falling back made this particular zone entrance less smooth than other ones – we see that if he had played things more conservatively, Horcoff would have driven hard for a gap in the middle – much like Ryan Smyth did to help the Oilers gain the zone on Hemsky’s third-period goal against Vancouver.

Because Hall’s pass worked out, the fact that Malone and Jones were both aggressive works in the Oilers’ favour here – they now have a 3-on-2 advantage entering the zone and Ryan Wilson (44 for Colorado) can’t really afford to risk engaging Eberle too aggressively.

Still, Wilson gambles a little bit, playing Eberle tight, so Eberle does the obvious thing and drops the puck back to Nugent-Hopkins, entering the zone behind him.

Wilson is able to get back into position to prevent Nugent-Hopkins from going to the net too aggressively – Wilson actually handles this sequence really well – so Nugent-Hopkins gives the puck back to Eberle.

Eberle heads behind the net, then cycles the puck back to Nugent-Hopkins, again forcing Wilson to chase and then fall back. In the meantime, Schultz has gained the point (far left), Hall has put himself in position to help with the cycle, and Horcoff has gone to the front of the net, where he’s battling for position with Erik Johnson (6 for Colorado).

Zipping ahead a few seconds, Nugent-Hopkins and Hall have gone back and forth, with Wilson and Jones engaging and retreating depending on who has the puck. Hall’s decided to try something different now, though.

Hall stickhandles, than tries to go back to Schultz at the point with a hard pass. Jones plays this well and gets his stick back into the passing lane, causing the puck to deflect high.

The only purpose of this screenshot is to show Wilson jumping.

By rights, the Avalanche should get this puck – but Hall jumps into the group and gets possession before anyone can clear it.

Hall gets the puck to Eberle, who should be in position to attack the net – the Oilers have a 3-on-2 down low – but the puck bobbles on him.

The momentary flutter is enough to allow the Avalanche forwards to move low, so with the opportunity gone Eberle gives the puck back to Hall.

Hall passes to Schultz and starts for the high slot, even as Schultz shuffles back to the middle of the ice. The Avalanche penalty-killers get ready for the shot, though we can see that Schultz’s best option is clearly Nugent-Hopkins at the half-boards.

Schultz goes to Nugent-Hopkins, and the Oilers are set to attack – Hall drives the middle, with Eberle just past him along the same, relatively clear passing line – if Nugent-Hopkins can hit either, the Oilers will get an ice scoring chance. Unfortunately, Hall falls as he drives to the slot.

Nugent-Hopkins tries for Eberle, but somehow Malone gets his stick on the puck; it pops up and everybody’s looking for it.

The puck bounces clear of the cluster of players in front, with the Oilers in good position to regain possession.

Schultz gains possession, and passes out of danger to Eberle.

Eberle waits a moment to draw the penalty kill over to him, then returns to Schultz.

Schultz passes to Nugent-Hopkins, and the Oilers are in good position to try the same attack again – Hall is in the pocket at the middle of the ice, Eberle’s on the far side in the same passing lane, and Horcoff is in good position to create trouble in the crease.

Nugent-Hopkins slap-passes the puck to Hall, who redirects to the front of the net.

And the puck bounces in off Horcoff’s skate.

I see things this way:

  • The lost faceoff only cost the team four seconds – primarily because the Avs couldn’t dump it back into the Oilers zone. Put another way: there’s this weird dynamic on the power play where a defensive zone draw is probably less important than an offensive zone draw.
  • I’m generally a fan of conservative play on the penalty kill, particularly when falling back towards the defensive zone, but the way the Avalanche attacked did open up a weakness in the Oilers’ breakout – the first forechecker encouraged Schultz to move the puck to Hall, and Hall was vulnerable. If his pass had been picked off (and it nearly was) the Avalanche would have had a shorthanded 2-on-1. Of course, had Schultz passed to Eberle/Nugent-Hopkins exiting the zone, the Oilers would have come up ice with a 4-on-3, so maybe this is more on Schultz for choosing to use the left wing when a right wing exit is basically what the Oilers seem to have drawn up.
  • I love the structure to the zone entrances on the power play this year. Tyler Dellow talked a lot about this over the summer and it’s something I’ve been watching for – the Oilers have been awfully deliberate at this and so far it’s been working great.
  • Hall makes a bad pass, but pursues aggressively and manages to negate the problem – that aggressive pursuit once the puck hit a stick struck me as more noteworthy than the poor pass itself. Every power play is going to have passes picked off, and that sort of aggressiveness can mitigate the damage when it happens.
  • The Avalanche are really aggressive all over the ice, and the Oilers handle this exactly the right way: short, safe passes. The gorgeous setup through the box is what I typically think of as the power play pass, but its those small plays that get the penalty killers moving and open up lanes that do the bulk of the work.
  • When Nugent-Hopkins gets the puck with a bit of space, the penalty kill is always going to be in trouble. That passing line with Hall in the pocket and Eberle on the far side is designed to capitalize on anything but a very tight penalty kill box, and for na aggressive power play it’s going to be very hard to keep that box tight as the Oilers move the puck around the zone. If the puck gets through to either Eberle or Hall, there are huge problems – Hall’s in the world’s best scoring position and Eberle’s going to be taking a brilliant shot on a goalie moving cross crease. Nugent-Hopkins also has the option to attack low if the defenceman on his side is pulled to the middle by Hall, or to go back to the point if the box is in good position to thwart an attack.
  • It’s also easy to see why Horcoff’s role in front of the net has been given to him, Smyth and Hartikainen. There are basically two parts to the job: stand in front of the net and get repeatedly cross-checked while fighting with the defenceman for position, and be ready to retrieve the puck if it comes loose in your general area. It’s a waste to put a classicly skilled great shooter/great passer in the spot – that guy’s never going to score anything but a garbage goal, and doesn’t really contribute to the power play cycle. It’s also probably not a bad idea to put a guy in there who stands up well to punishment – Horcoff is by all accounts a fitness freak, Smyth’s made a career in exactly that spot, and Hartikainen is an immovable chunk of Finnish granite. 
  • I also really like Hall in the pocket, because he’s also filling the rover role – jumping in to help and add another passing option whenever there’s a problem. He seems like a unique fit for the assignment.

It was an ugly goal, but that doesn’t mean it was the result of anything other than a carefully coached and well-executed plan.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • vetinari

    The PP has been our bright spot all this young season… as for the front guys (Smyth, Horc & Harti), I imagine that the top of the crease will be their office all season long. I can also see them adding Jones to the mix at that spot when he gets healthy.

    As for the defence, I’m happy that Whitney saw some PP time to rebuild some of his confidence… and J. Schultz is a monster at moving the puck around. I was worried that we were pinning too much on Schultz when he signed but he has definitely exceeded expectations.

    Wouldn’t it be great for the Oil to have two potential Calder candidates on their 2013 roster in J. Schultz and Yakupov?

  • The Goalie 1976

    I have really noticed how well coached the team is this season compared to previous seasons. Ralph really seems to play to each players strength and put players in a position to succeed.

    If the only complaint we all have is who is a healthy scratch on D in the 5/6/7 position, well that’s a ‘1st world team problem.’

    He also seems to distribute the ice time very well at EV, PK, and PP. This will payoff bigtime late in the season as other teams best players get worn dowm, or in games where we still have the ability to roll 4 lines and the opposition does not.

  • Where's Your Towel

    Really like these breakdowns Willis. Thanks for this.

    What I’ve noticed (aside from one particular period) is that Krueger appears to have the guys taking responsibility for their mistakes.

    Hall makes a bad pass? He chases it down and retrieves the puck.

    J. Schultz tries to force a pass in the offensive zone and it gets knocked away? He’s reaching and rushing to boards to catch the dump and maintain the zone.

    It seems like in the last few years when a player made a mistake or fortune frowned on them they’d just try and wrap up their shift and go get told about it. I don’t know if Ralph is a better motivator or the players really want to please/play for him, but there does seem to be a different attitude.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Great breakdown JW…

    but, this:

    “By rights, the Avalanche should get this puck – but Hall jumps into the group and gets possession before anyone can clear it.”

    Needs more emotion. A clinical description of Hall’s wrecking ball play is off-putting, but also kind of funny in a Steven Wright kind of way.

      • It is obvious that the puck was redirected by Taylor Hall.

        I have to disagree that the puck was redirected by Shawn Horcoff as well. It appears that the puck hit Horcoff’s skate as he was trying to move out of the way. To say that it was redirected by Horcoff is to say that he was aware of the situation and meant to do so, not Horcoff.

        Pucks hit Horcoff and go in, pucks Horcoff hit go astray.

        Quick question: how do you feel about OG’s?

          • We crap on Horcoff alot, but he’s been ok. Decent in faceoffs, a few points, key contributer to the number 8 penalty kill in the NHL, hes been fine. Smyth has had a rough start…but I think he will pull through…he just needs to grow the mullet longer, and he will get his old man strength back.

          • Where did I diminish Horcoff’s effort?

            I did not say he didn’t work hard. Did I? I did not say anything bad about his positional play.

            All I said was that Horcoff didn’t redirect the puck and threw in a little joke about Horcoff shot. That is it-That is all.

            I dont’ know if you have a man crush on Horcoff, don’t like humour or maybe you’re a professional assumer, but I also don’t know how you got the idea I had a problem with Horcoff’s effort.

            Horcoff was in position of good fortune and got rewarded for it.

            Hall’s redirect was obvious. Once analyzed, what happens with the puck hitting Horcoff’s skate-can’t be called a “did redirect”.

          • “Horcoff was in position of good fortune and got rewarded for it.

            Hall’s redirect was obvious. Once analyzed, what happens with the puck hitting Horcoff’s skate-can’t be called a “did redirect”.”

            If you watched the goal from the angle behind the net, you can see that Hall’s redirection was going wide. Horcoff “did redirect” the puck onto the net.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Last nights game brought back some disturbing memories! Watching 6’6″ Bordeleau (& others) taking runs at our skill guys reminded me so much of the years the boogey man used to terrorize Hemsky & eventually hurt his shoulders bad! We need to play some physical guys on the 3rd & 4th lines who won’t let this happen or we’re going to be watching Hall, Eberle, Hopkins, Yakupov, Gagner, Hemsky & Schultz heading to the IR!

    • No coach is going to put Bordeleau out against Hall and Eberle because they’ll light him up like a Christmas tree.

      Besides, the guy he hit most frequently was Paajarvi, and Paajarvi actually took a run at Bordeleau too – thought he stood up to the big man well last night.

  • The Goalie 1976

    These ‘picture’ pieces by Willis really illustrate the Oilers evolution into a Detroit style puck possesion team. They don’t want to give it away and chase it around, and they battle hard to win pucks they turn over.

    It also highlights the players that would not fit well on Detriot, thankfully they are all in their last contract with the team.

  • geoilersgist

    The Avs owned the Oilers in the third Jonathan because of physical play (some of which I thought could have been penalized more), but thank heavens DD shut them down! Don’t you think we need an answer for their physical play? The constant physical play will eventually wear a skilled team down & probably cause injuries!

    • The Avs would have owned the third even if the Oilers had a guy like Steve MacIntyre to put on the ice against Bordeleau. They probably would have owned it by a wider margin, actually.

      The problem isn’t so much how great the Avs were in the third, in my view, as it is that the Oilers let their foot off the gas. The top line kept doing what it does, but lines 2-4 got worked in terms of shots against and scoring chances in the third period (that also goes against the notion that it’s strictly a physical play issue – since normally when there’s talk about the Oilers being small/soft its the top line being discussed).

      I’d love to see the Oilers be bigger and stronger, but I don’t think adding a few muscle-bound types or a designated enforcer to the depth lines is the answer. If they can add size that can play, great, but being able to play needs to be the primary consideration.

  • geoilersgist

    Really concerned about when the ref’s start to put away their wistles. The Oilers have alot of issues scoring 5×5 which is the same problem as last year. When the PP chances went from 5-6 a game down to 2-3 per game last year the Oilers were getting beat because they just don’t score enough ugly goals.

    I believe right now that the Oilers have to continue to run their small top six out there, cause right now they are getting the chances to score, but at some time is inevitable you got to put Hartski or even Smyth in the top six to either add some more size or grit to produce some 5×5 chances and to extend time in the offensive zone.

    The Oilers are also getting destroyed by teams being aggressive and going to their net. Last night was fire drill in their own zone, they got blitzed, shots from everywhere, bodies to the net. It seems like the Oil have two good defensive pairings. With Whitney, his foot speed is not there to deal with his apparant lack of defensive awareness lately. I’d be fine with a Potter, Fistric experiment for a game to see how that would go, but really the Oilers need to ad a another defenceman if they expect playoffs.

    Id rather see Eberle-RNH-Hartski/Hemsky-Gagner-Hall/Nail-Horcoff-Smyth/Petrell-Belanger-MPS, especially against San Jose, but I admit its hard to tear apart the wiz kids, however there is this problem scoring 5×5 that is going to start to cost games. It would be nice to see the third line contribute, and frankly Nail is seeming lost on the wing, cause Hemsky is not utilizing him at all. Gagner has at least figured out how to play with Hemsky, but Nail and Hemsky have yet to really find any chemistry. Nail would find himself with the puck more being with Horc and Smytty, and maybe he could find a Tarasanko type role on this team, and provide some third line scoring.

    • Citizen David

      I would not put Smyth in the top six. I wouldn’t even put him in the top nine. I wouldn’t change our top line at all. They create golden opportunities every shift. They also seem to be physically a match for most teams. Some games they might get worked a bit but they are really young and will learn to go power on power. I wouldn’t mind seeming Harti on the second line instead of Hemsky, who would be the prime trading piece. But I agree with JW: size isn’t nearly as important as ability to play. And like he said, Colorado got back into it not because they started imposing their size on us but we stepped off the gas.

    • The Soup Fascist

      I understand what you are trying to do, but I have concerns with the Smyth / Horc / Yak combo.

      I am not sure if we can expect Yak to rag the buck for 10 seconds waiting for his linemates to catch up and enter the offensive zone.

      One thing Hemsky has shown is that he can skate with anyone – when healthy. I would like to see this line together for awhile. They have been poor 5 on 5 to this point in the season, but it just seems to me there is something there. If Gagner can be defensively responsible and Yak can make better decisions as he learns the NHL game, I think this line has some potential.

      I know ……. lots of “ifs”.

      • The Soup Fascist

        Horcoff has been ok, not great, and I believe Smyth will pick it up a bit. If I was GM I would not have either, but the facts are as long as their your third line, they need to produce.

        Hemsky and Yak have had little chemistry so far, and there is no third line scoring. Yak and Hemsky are similar players who like to handle the puck in the neutral zone, and it appears Yak is having trouble figuring out Hemsky so far.

        The other factor is this line is getting destroyed at evens, and I don’t believe with the make-up of the line this will change. To small, bad on face-offs and to many turnovers, and a lack of defensive conscience.

        I agree you leave the line alone a couple more games, but if teams their playing against continue to hem this line in the own zone, you got to change that.

        • The Soup Fascist

          What if you do the unthinkable and switch Gagner and RNH?

          I realize that does not help your size issue at all, however ….

          1) Gagner has shown chemistry with Hall and Ebs

          2) RNH is VERY smart and skilled with the puck and would find a way to get the puck to his highly skilled but nomadic linemates

          3) RNH has a defensive conscience.

          4) Still play RNH / Ebs / Hall on the powerplay.

          I know this sounds looney and it will cause all the Gagner-haters to go on tilt once they realize he is your defacto 1st line center, but ….. just throwing it out there.

  • RPG

    Love these articles Mr. Willis, please continue to do them. I don’t think the goal itself is ugly, so much as how it went in. Had Hall scored the goal directly from the slap pass (and I love that they’re trying them) we’d say it was a beautiful goal. Completely agree that the execution of the goal was excellent, and sometimes lady luck has to shine on our Oilers. Glad they got the win. In the past they’d have found a way to lose that game.

    • Newj

      I thought the same when I watched that goal last night. At first take I thought that was a beautiful goal as they executed that quick redirect into the net. As it turned out it bounced off Horcoff for the goal. To me the beauty of it came from the thought process of firing that pass thru the dmans legs onto Hall’s stick and then onto the net.

      Doug McLean remarked today about the ingenuity of that line to create scoring chances and pointed out that goal as an example.

      I too considered it a beautiful play not so much as a lucky goal.

      Great work in setting up all the plays that eventually lead to the goal. Thats interesting stuff as JW breaks down those sequences.

  • Dan the Man

    Really nice breakdown JW. Hall was a beast last night, anytime a player goes after a puck that is surrounded by three opponents and still comes away with the puck, that’s pretty impressive.

    The one thing I’ve noticed about Hall this year is that he seems to be looking more for the pass this year than in previous years. Not sure yet if that’s good or bad…just an observation.

  • Rob...

    I love the breakdowns, Jonathan, and the numbers overlay in pictures is great for quick reference. ~For the sake of Don Cherry supporters, can you please also put the players nationality next to their number so it’s easier to know who to hate or discriminate against? It can be the difference between identifying a player getting open as a pass option or being unwilling to go to the tough areas for puck support.~

  • northof51

    Willis how do you think Fistric would have affected this game / how would taking Potter out have changed anything?

    It seems like the best way to discourage on the teams from taking liberties, is by hammering them on the power play.

    Also, I read your article about the 4th line being effective last night as many teams don’t have a fourth line constructed to play actual hockey. Do you have any tams in mind this would be effective against, as in either their top three lines are forced to play more minutes, are their bottom three guys get chewed up by this line?

    I feel like Dallas is a good candidate for this scenario. As well as several teams in the East we seem to have a hard time with (Toronto why?)

    • It’s really hard to say what kind of shift Fistric for Potter would have had; I love Fistric’s physical game and Potter hasn’t played all that well but it does feel a little bit like Fistric’s still adapting to playing with the Oilers.

      On fourth lines, I actually wasn’t thinking about specific opponents as much as I was thinking that the current fourth line would beat the pants off most of the Oilers’ L4’s from the past few years (with possible exception of Glencross/Brodziak/Stortini and one or two others that we saw for a short time).

      • Ha, I was going to mention the Stortini line in reference to getting secondary scoring from your bottom 6, and how his nine goals (not 100% on that stat) one year was about as much as you can ask from a fourth line player (I’m looking at you Eager).

        Anyway, I like these play breakdowns as they show the game as something a lot more in depth and technical than the average fan (myself included) is able to pick up on.

  • northof51

    Two observations from the 3rd period:
    1) We had a 3 goal lead and the defence (including Schultz the Younger)started backing off, making it difficult for the Oil to retain offensive zone possession
    2) Because the D backed off, it enabled them to keep the Avs out of the middle of the ice on the rush. I haven’t seen the scoring chance data, but to my eye, most of the Avs two dozen shots were from the outside. Dooby steered those shots harmlessly into the corners on most occasions, and stood tall on the few shots from the slot (not sure what he was doing on the goal, mind you).
    Sure we allowed 24 shots in the 3rd, but we still won and won handily.

  • This was a very well executed recap. These are entertaining and I hope you’ll do more of them!

    While watching it live I was ecstatic that Hall managed to rush the group of three Avs to regain posession. Hall does so much more than score!

  • Jon, the Oilers powerplay has really reminded me a lot of the Canucks recently. The play you just showcased is a great example of many of the sedin to sedin goals that are tip passes in the high slot. Also the oilers have adopted the style of zone entrance where they drop the puck back in the neutral zone after rushing three to four guys up, pushing the defenders back for easier access. This drop and circle play is vintage canucks hockey. It is a good example IMO of Krueger picking up on Vignaults technique and adapting it to the oilers. At least thats the way I see it. Good piece

  • Suntory Hanzo

    I would like to know what Jonathan’s take is on the missing $100 million for the Arena … Is it dead ? Does Rexall Place rise from the dead to just being brain dead on life support ?

  • Oilfan69

    Hey JW while i really do enjoy these you might want to tone it back to say 1 per week or so as then people won’t burn out reading them quite so fast:)

    I mean they’re great but covering everything Darcy Hordichuk does in a whole game leaves something to be desired πŸ™‚