Routine Little Plays

Dallas Eakins hung much of Edmonton’s 5-1 loss to San Jose on the second goal against, but for my money it’s the Sharks’ third tally that really deserves attention because it shows how even good players doing smart things can get exposed.

The Shift

First, a little bit of backstory. Six minutes into the second period, Ryan Smyth dumps the puck into the San Jose zone and both the forwards and defence change. Coming on to the ice is the first line of Taylor Hall (4), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) and David Perron (57) as well as the top defence pairing of Andrew Ference (21) and Justin Schultz (19).

Because of the change San Jose has an unopposed breakout and Dan Boyle (22 for San Jose) goes for the long pass along the far boards to Patrick Marleau (12 for San Jose) waiting at the Edmonton blue line.

Perron gets across the ice quickly enough to break up the pass, which means Marleau doesn’t get a clean possession and the puck ends up getting stuck at the line:

Edmonton’s in good shape here. Schultz and Perron got over quickly, as did Nugent-Hopkins. Off camera supporting that trio is Ference. So even with Marleau, Thornton (19 for San Jose) and Matthew Nieto (83 for San Jose) there’s nothing to worry about yet.

San Jose wins the two-on-two along the boards enough to get the puck deep and then outmans Schultz in the corner. How does a two-on-two turn into a two-on-one? Nugent-Hopkins had slid up ice to receive a pass if Edmonton had won the two-on-two and Ference had opted to guard the front of the net while it was just an even battle between Schultz and Marleau. But Nieto got on his horse immediately while Perron waited at the line. The predictable result is that San Jose wins the puck and works it back to the blue line.

The Sharks’ defence changed after Boyle’s breakout pass, so Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44 for San Jose) gets the puck and passes it over to partner Justin Braun (61) for a shot into traffic at the front of the net. So far things have worked out well for the Sharks – clean breakout, won battle at the line, won 2-on-1 in the corner – and it all culminates in this shot. But Hall gets his stick in the lane and instead of a hard shot into traffic the puck flubs into the slot, where Nugent-Hopkins is able to work it to the boards.

Hall and Nieto tie up, Ference has Thornton, and Nugent-Hopkins has possession of the puck with a bit of time and space. Ference will box out Thornton, Hall will move up the boards so that Nugent-Hopkins has an option and Perron will move out of the zone to give Hall one.

But that’s not how it works. Nugent-Hopkins turns it over to Nieto, Thornton picks the puck up and tries the pass to Joe Pavelski (8 for San Jose), who has come on the ice for Marleau.

Fortunately for Edmonton, the pass doesn’t work and Perron comes back to pick it up at the blue line, with Thornton and Pavelski in hot pursuit (Nieto has gone to the bench, meaning that despite good pressure San Jose has managed to change four of five skaters in the 30 seconds since Smyth’s dump-in). Perron skates the puck back into the Oilers zone and then coolly flips it to Ference, who has nobody near him.

Pavelski wastes no time in skating in on Ference, so Ference makes the low-risk play, banking the puck off the endboards to Schultz. Unfortunately Schultz misjudges the pass and the puck ends up on Joe Thornton’s stick.

I’ve noted the location of Ference and Nieto’s replacement Brent Burns (88 for San Jose) even though they’re off-screen to show Edmonton’s defensive system working. Schultz missed the pass but he blocks Thornton’s lane to the net, and Nugent-Hopkins correctly reads the situation and moves immediately to get to Burns while Ference goes to the front of the net to take Pavelski. It’s never a good thing for Joe Thornton to have the puck like this, but the Oilers actually do a nice job of responding.

Nugent-Hopkins’ quick action prevents a clean pass and he chips the puck ahead to Perron. Danger averted?

Unfortunately for Perron, the puck bounces on him and Burns, backchecking hard, is able to push him off it. Pavelski picks the puck up, and he and Thornton try to overwhelm Schultz at the blue line. To his credit, Schultz stands his ground and prevents a Sharks’ entry.

With the entry blocked, conventional wisdom would be to dump the puck in. Thornton has other ideas and loops back, and suddenly the Sharks have a nice, clean zone entry. Nugent-Hopkins had hurried back to backstop Schultz and Andrew Ference had similarly fallen off the blue line. With Hall forced to be wary of the Sharks’ defence, Burns and Thornton can basically stroll in with possession whenever they want now. I should also mention at this point that Vlasic has shifted off in favour of Matt Irwin (52 for San Jose).

Perron actually does a really nice job getting over to harass Thornton, Nugent-Hopkins jumps up to the line and Hall backs down. It makes what might have been an easy entry difficult, but Thornton manages to get the puck over to Braun on the far side and he has a clear lane now.

Braun has the puck and no great options but he makes a pretty decent choice, taking a bad angle shot past Ference (who doesn’t quite cut-off the shooting lane) in the hopes that the puck will rebound to Pavelski. It’s a low probability play because of Ference and Schultz and in this case Schultz is able to pick off the rebound and put it to Perron but it’s a nice simple move for Braun and if the puck had bounced on Schultz it might have paid off.

Perron skates the puck to the boards and then tries to bank it out to centre. Unfortunately for him, Thornton circles around to Braun’s position at the point and cuts the play off. Thornton plays it across to Pavelski, who skates it into the corner while his linemates change. James Sheppard (15 for San Jose) and Andrew Desjardins (10 for San Jose) come on the ice and Pavelski cycles the puck down to a charging Sheppard before heading off the ice for a change himself to allow Bracken Kearns (38 for San Jose) to come on the ice.

Ference seems leery of leaving the front of the net until Schultz can get back, which allows Sheppard to take the puck unopposed. To his credit, as soon as Ference can hand off the role he rushes to the boards to challenge Sheppard and he’s even able to gain the puck and kick it free. It doesn’t matter, though, because a gassed Nugent-Hopkins (he’s 1:10 into his shift; this is the Sharks’ third line in that same span) gets tangled up a little with Schultz and is easily beaten to the puck by Desjardins.


Nugent-Hopkins may be gassed, but he’s not quitting on the play; he blocks a cross-ice pass from Desjardins to a dangerous and fresh Scott Hannan (27 for San Jose). Hall and Schultz are both standing between Hannan and the net but neither is really doing anything useful; if not for Nugent-Hopkins block Hannan would have been in great shape to wire that puck home.

Nugent-Hopkins can’t control the puck in his skates, though, and on his third try Desjardins knocks it over to Bracken Kearns.

The results are predictable.

What Happened?

There’s a lot going on, but the funny thing is how many times there was solid effort from Oilers players and good defensive awareness. Perron and Hall and Nugent-Hopkins and Ference and Schultz all do lots of things right on this shift. Unfortunately for Edmonton, however, there were lapses. Let’s review:

  • On the initial entry, a two-on-two gets lost and turns into a Sharks dump-in. That’ll happen; it’s not a critical error.
  • More troubling is Perron getting beat back into the zone by Nieto, leaving Schultz fighting off two Sharks attackers. Given that Perron had skated hard to breakup San Jose’s initial breakout pass, likely this is just a lapse of concentration rather than an effort problem.
  • Hall makes a nice defensive play and those little problems are negated. At which point Nugent-Hopkins turns the puck over. But Edmonton gets lucky and the puck goes to Perron, who puts it out of danger.
  • And then we have another turnover. Schultz misreads a routine bank pass, and Thornton collects the puck.
  • More nice work without the puck by Edmonton, but just as it looks like they’re out of trouble the puck bounces on Perron, which eventually leads to a low-quality Sharks’ shot.
  • Our third turnover. Perron tries to keep it simple and just bank the puck off the boards; it’s picked off.
  • Ference wins a one-on-one puck battle but at this point fatigue is setting in and Nugent-Hopkins can’t get there in time; the one-on-one turns into another one-on-two and San Jose gains possession again.
  • Nobody picks up Kearns and there’s a goal against.

Turnovers and ultimately fatigue kill Edmonton on this shift. But it’s not really a case of guys being too fancy; these are routine breakdowns. Nugent-Hopkins can’t make a pass quickly enough. Schultz misreads a simple bank pass. Perron’s simple bank clear gets picked off.

The funny thing is that up until the very end when nobody picks up Hannan or Kearns, these guys all do a pretty nice job of defending without the puck. They also do a nice job of engaging in puck battles. But they make a bunch of simple mistakes on simple plays, and eventually getting trapped catches up to a team.

San Jose, incidentally, does something the Oilers need to learn on offence, something that has nothing to do with size or strength: They make quick changes. When there’s an opportunity to switch personnel without losing possession, they take it every time. That, more than brute force, is what wears Edmonton down here.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Serious Gord

    “Chopping wood. Carrying water.” – Dallas Eakins Dec 2013

    “There is a Zen saying, “Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.” What’s the difference? The tasks are the same. The need is the same. What about the frame of mind? Who is chopping? Who is carrying water?
    When you labor, stay awake. Notice the frame of mind you bring to your work. Do you approach your work as if it were a nuisance? Do you remove your consciousness from work so that you are filled with resentment or worry? What would you need to do to be more fully present in your work?
    Practice mindfulness in work. It does little good to attain clarity of mind on your meditation cushion if you lose it as soon as you become active. Start with simple activities like brushing your teeth, ironing clothes, or washing dishes. Be fully alert as you move. Notice the position of your body in space. Notice the feelings in your body as you move. Pay attention to the thoughts that enter your mind when you do the task. See if you can let them go and just focus on the work itself.”

    Huh?!! This guy is genius!! No wonder the team sucks.

    MacT – time to step behind the bench to end this madness.

    • pkam

      Not a lot of deep thinkers here today, or what?

      Think of the message. It actually makes perfect sense:

      If you equate or substitute “enlightenment” for “victory” this is actually a great ethos.

      Sometimes people use metaphors to help convey their point. It’s novel, I know.

      • Admiral Ackbar

        I’d like to know what Jon Cooper’s or Patrick Roy’s metaphors are given their success this year as first time coaches with rosters no better than the Oilers. Something as obtuse as “chopping wood and carrying water” is so sad it’s actually hilarious.

        • Oilers4Ever

          It’s a metephor, and a pretty vanilla one. Not really obtuse.

          I misplaced Roy and Cooper’s phone numbers, so I can’t ask them at the moment, but their message is probably pretty similar: work hard and enlightenment (success) will follow.

          Why do people have such a hard time understanding what that message is? It’s no more ridiculous than “protect this house” or any other goofy saying that teams put up.

  • How do we get out hit by something like 25 to 10 when we NEVER HAD THE PUCK?

    We are a soft, non contact team playing a contact sport. Arco(our 3′ physical presence) can’t come back soon enough. Same goes for Pitlick. Prefer him over Joensuu.

    • pkam

      Acro can hit but can’t scare the opponent with his hit. And he got injured when it comes to his turn to take a big hit.

      Since turning pro, Pitlick is spending more time on IR than on ice.

  • Zamboni Driver

    Oh this is the best news ever.

    Have we heard about the call up?

    A defenceman named “Brad” or “Bob” or something. Who cares what his name is, really?

    The important piece.


    I swear to god I think the braintrust needs to step away from the bong (or propecia in K-Lowe’s case) from time to time.



    • pkam

      If this is hilarious, how funny is those who suggested to trade one of young core player for
      Kimmo Timonen, a 38 year old defenseman who is only 1 inch taller than this call up?

      • Zamboni Driver

        Yeah I’m pretty sure no one with half a brain suggested doing that, at least not straight up.

        Now young player for Timonen and Simmonds, I think people mentioned that.

        Also Timonen is (okay, WAS) awesome. Bill or Bob or whatever this munkin nobody is, I’m going to guess is slightly less awesome.

  • 2004Z06

    And yet every night is a sellout!

    Stop your bitching and put your money where your mouth is!

    The only way Lowe gets fired is if every damn ticket holder calls the Oilers office and asks for his head.

    Stop buying the merchandise, boycott a game or two…The organizations biggest fear is that fans become indifferent. Well make it happen!

    • Rick Stroppel

      Are you for real? Do you know what happens to canadian teams that can’t fill buildings (hell, even to canadian teams that don’t fill big enough buildings)? They get moved. Katz may be star struck by his old heroes but he won’t hesitate to yank the oilers out of Alberta. Besides, there is a word reserved for fans who abandon their team in rough times; theyre called bandwagon fans.

      Like it or not, we are spectators, and it is not incumbent upon us to “do” anything. And empty buildings don’t do s***