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

  • Rick Stroppel

    Honest question here–and I want answers free from delusion, free from “what I really wish could happen but know its not realistic” answers:

    How do you fix this? Where do you start? Even assuming you get a new GM, and a new head coach (yet another new system to learn, which sets things back for at least another entire season)….I don’t know how you fix this in a real way.

    There are so many holes, and so many issues with the player personnel that we already have on the team, that it makes fixing it, even with a good GM and a good coach, a very hard and long road. You cannot trade pieces of crap players for the solid players a contender needs. Yet you can’t trade away the very few good players you do have, since you’ll plug some holes and open up new ones in their place.

    Genuine prediction here–the Oilers beat the playoff drought record, and its at least 2016-17 before there are even any glimpse of being considered a “good” team. I mean, consider this–all the fan boards now are talking about prospects who are coming down the pipeline. If that’s all you have to look forward to, batten down the hatches and prepare for a lot more pain and embarrassment

    • A-Mc

      In all honesty there are only 2 ways to get out of this if we make 1 solid assumption.

      The team is simply not good enough and there is literally zero chance that this collection of players will ever make the playoffs regardless of system buy in or added years of experience.

      Option 1:
      Draft Defensemen and sit on them for the next 4 years. Even at 4 years, we’d be rushing them along, but there is a slight chance that even inexperienced (yet decent) drafted defensemen bump the oilers into something other than a cellar team.

      Option 2:
      Flip our high draft picks for established players. It’ll likely take a few more years of picking top 5 and flipping them for half decent players. To use language lowetide gravitates to: We’d only be getting 60-70 cents on the dollar for our draft pick flips. But the flip side is atleast the player is good enough to play NOW.

      In both scenarios we’re likely waiting a solid 2-3 years before anything changes

      • aeiouY


        We have the right coach and management to see thing through to their logical conclusion.

        I think it’s time to seriously ask ourselves, “maybe we had the right coach in Krueger all along”? Just maybe the players have tuned out this current coach and his egomaniac ways? Just how many times is Mr. Blame going to run his players over and over?

        The team has tuned out Mr. Fitness and his three stooges!

        • A-Mc

          I didn’t mention coaching because i dont believe a coaching change can or will happen. Eakins could 100% be the problem but IMO i think we’re stuck with him for atleast 3 years.

          The players will have to dig themselves out of this hole with a little help from Mac T.

          • Admiral Ackbar

            Your logic is confounding? Exactly where does it say we have to keep this guy for three years?

            If you made a hire that has failed miserably ( you know in your heart things are not going to get better for the next 40 games) do you not correct the mistake?

            Just because Eakins has been hired does not mean he cannot be fired. Mac T was supposed to hire an assistant for RK and I for one believe that Eakins should have been mentored under someone with experience.

            Mac T screwed up ( he knows it) and the fact that players have NOT bought into Eakins system, tells me everything I need to know.

    • aeiouY

      Everybody knows it, but here is my 2 cents anyway…..we need to fix the back end.

      To me, it would look like this and it would happen over a span of 48 hours. It has to happen in season and before the deadline. This team is sinking way to hard way to fast.
      The organization needs a hard fast turn and it is possible.

      trade 1.

      Gagner, hemsky, and petry to ottawa for z smith and j. cowen

      trade 2.

      yakupov (who I do not want to trade) to ny for M. staal (maybe you get a conditional pick back)

      both staal and cowen have warts in their game and neither is a top pairing defenceman yet…. but they both have the chance to be soon. sooner than klefbom or nurse.
      And no NHL team is going around trading validated top pairing guys.

    • camdog

      I would fire Kevin Lowe. The firing would be more symbolic now rather than operational as the damage has already been done. It would send the message that nobody is safe. Not long ago Mac-t said that he has 8-9 core players that he believes in and doesn’t want to trade. Other than Hall and RNH nobody should be so privileged to be safe, not on a team this bad and that includes Kevin Lowe.

      This organization desperately needs a fresh face. Somebody who can honestly evaluate the players on this team. Mact may turn out to be a great GM, but he is biased, by previous relationships with players, how else can A player like Gags be guaranteed safety?

      • pkam

        Unless Katz hires a puppet to replace Kevin Lowe, the hiring of a new president of HC most likely results in new GM and new coaches. So do you want a puppet, or new GM and new coaches?

        Just look at Calgary, BB just fired JF and you know Hartley will be next when the new GM reports to duty.

        I’ll rather give the current management another year or 2, and if it doesn’t work out, replace them all at the same time.

          • pkam

            Because we just changed the GM and the HC. We need to give them some time to show their result.

            And I don’t believe the POHC really have much involvement in day to day hockey operation.

            So if we replace MacT and Eakins, we basically give up a year, with no guarantee that it will be any better.

  • camdog

    I just feel bad for the Oilers and fans at this point. Not only has this organization been horrifically mismanaged over the past several years, all signs point to little or no improvement over the next 3-4 years.

    This team doesn’t know how to win, and at this point, they’ve gotten so used to losing, and losing BADLY, that its “normal” for them. Frankly, I think that to fix it, you’d have to literally blow up half of the team, including parts that people really don’t want to let go of, and bring in a bunch of veteran players, enough to outnumber the losers in the room.

    Or we can just wait until the 2015-2016 season, when Yak has gone back to the KHL and Hall has had enough of this ish and asks for a trade to anywhere else in the league

  • The “Katz Era” of Oilers hockey has been a disaster. It has been so bad you almost think it has all been done on purpose.

    Well, maybe it has. Maybe Katz has instructed Lowe to bottom feed until the new arena is built. That way fans can jump on the bandwagon for both the team and the arena at the same time.

    But then again, maybe Katz and Lowe aren’t really as bright as we might give them credit for and they are both less than competent in their respective roles. I vote for the second option.

  • Serious Gord

    Sweet Lord, we are bad hockey team. It has become difficult to even sit through an entire game these days. Pure garbage!

    So, when does Lowe, Mac-T or heaven forbid, the elusive Owner come out of their protective covers and address the fact that their efforts thus far have proven useless. I honestly see no way out of this mess anytime soon. The once Mighty Oil has become the laughing stock of the league and even more so than the laughable leafs. Regrettably, I no longer poke fun at the leafs, it would be highly hypocritical of me to do so with the Oil’s pathetic performances these past years.

    Will Katz finally speak out about the dismal state of this team? For a man of his success, I am in total shock of his apparent contentment with the status of the team since his purchase. Surely he cannot endorse what has been happening to this organization, can he?

    From a winning and very respected organization to pure crap. It is more than coaching problems I fear. Very sad!

  • pkam

    We have won 13 games and are in 29th place under the direction of the guy that is going to do wonders for the Oilers. Eakins, the skinny little weasel needs to be given the hook. I am so over this big mouth asshat and all the bullish!t he fed us right out of the gate. When is he going to take accountability? He is no more qualified to coach an NHL team than I am.

  • Johnny Willis, that was a damn good read! I like these break downs of the break downs. I wasn’t going to comment, but then the show Oil Change is mentioned. Now it’s interesting idea for the fans, but that crap has to end. All the 24/7 shows before the Winter classic are labelled as “curses” maybe it’s time the Oilers scrap this knock off HBO show. Not everyone wants to be on TV or have their lives shown to thousands of people (potentially) what’s the worst that can happen?

  • Oilers4Ever

    The case of constant coaching change is the issue for Oilers lack of consistency, however that we should review the last few coaching changes and what actually happened.
    We start off from MacTavish, he was the bench boss for few years before was being let go. He was just the scapegoat for KLowe at the time because of all the bad signings by him and have a collectively a bad team. Later Quinn and Renney were both hired at the same time, but Renney was the original favor to take over the coaching job. Quinn was sacked because he wasn’t really the first choice to begin with. Renney took over the job and was the bench boss for 2 years, that was a year longer than he needs to be. There were the cases for firing a coach too early or too late, Quinn was too early, Renney was too late. Follow by Kruger was too early and now, we are going to have a coach will likely be fired too late. For the last 3 coaches that Oilers had, Quinn was unable to adapt, Renney was too soft on players, Kruger was actually have the team looks like heading toward the right direction but was fired because the new manager wants a new coach. Now, Eakins is just uninspired to be bother. How did Avalanche were so awfully bad last year but with a rookie coach like Roy that they look like a contender with very little change to the roster? He showed us why on his first game against Ducks, even when his team is blowing the opponent out that he will still get fired up by any misconduct toward his players. He almost killed Boudreau for it. If the coach is emotional and care for his players then especially the young players will be playing hard for his coach every single day. When Eakins named a new comer Ference as the new captain that actually will discourage young players because the certain lack of trust on the current rosters to have any kind of leadership. What is the major difference between both young rosters, bad records and new coaches of Avalanche and Oilers?

  • **

    Even when Yak scores he gets criticized, is that enough proof that Eakins is trying to be smart by deflecting all the attention towards Yakupov?. Don’t buy his bull, he thinks he is smart but he is starting to show his true colors, he’s pathetic. What coach says before the game that they are intimidated by the guys they’re about to square off against?.

    Fire this bozo!!!

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    accountability should start from the owner of the team and downwards. If not you get what you have!!!! As a leader of household,you set the rules to be followed and every one should obey them including the legistilator. In other words, when 6rings continues to make a change on the coaches, with no improvement on win column. The owner should say may be you are the issue!!! the tire one supporters should be accountable toountil then, do not talk about accountiblity or play offs…..

    • Bryzarro World

      This has to be the worst self confidence speech ever given into a mirror in the morning.

      Dude, try saying “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and dog gone it, people like me” when you face that mirror in the morning! Trust me, you’ll feel better about your life…

      If it doesn’t work, well, go F&*K yourself…