Holding the Blue Line


The Edmonton Oilers weren’t very good against Boston on Thursday night, and a big part of the problem was an inability to hold their own blue line.

Reilly Smith’s Goal

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


Let’s start with the Boston Bruins exiting their own end of the rink. The Oilers have two players trapped deep while the Bruins have three forwards coming out of their own end, making this a three-on-three scenario.


Eberle (14) does kind of a weird thing here, cutting over to the wing through Patrice Bergeron (37) rather than staying at the centre of the ice; this opens up the right side for the Bruins and unsurprisingly they opt to pass in that direction.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


Still, the Oilers are in good shape here. This is essentially a two-on-two rush with Eberle the fifth man; Schultz is playing Bergeron close on one wing so he isn’t a realistic pass option and that leaves Nikitin with the job of handling Reilly Smith (18) one-on-one. He’s already at the blue line while Smith has just crossed centre, so his job is simply to try and force Smith into making a play at the blue line – with Bergeron covered and Eberle trailing the play this shouldn’t be a problem.


Inexplicably, Nikitin doesn’t force the issue at the defensive zone blue line; instead he backs all the way in, playing Bergeron and Smith like this is a two-on-one situation despite the fact that Schultz is in really good shape to cover Bergeron (who realizing what’s up is booking it to the middle of the ice to give Smith an option). Eberle isn’t in a great spot after his weird decision to cut to the wing, but that’s decidedly an auxiliary issue; the real problem here is that Nikitin has rolled out the red carpet for Smith to enter the zone.


Schultz has his guy, Eberle has his guy, and Nikitin finally decides to stop backpedaling. The trouble is that he’s at the top of the circle by the time he decides to try and force the issue.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


Smith, finally forced to make a play, realizes he’s in a good spot so he lets the shot go. Nikitin tries to block it, but instead gets used as a screen. Eberle still has his man, Schultz still has his man, but Nikitin’s decision to back all the way up to the hashmarks before making a play on Smith means that Boston is now guaranteed a shot attempt from a dangerous area.


Smith makes his shot, and it’s a tie game.

I’m picking on Nikitin here, partially because he was wretched against Boston but mostly because this particular play resulted in a goal against. He wasn’t the only guy to do this; Oscar Klefbom in particular was really bad at it, too. A few minutes before Smith scored, he hammered a puck off the goalpost off this zone entry:


Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

It’s hard to tell from that angle, but this is a three-on-four rush by the Bruins. Brad Marchand has to beat both Teddy Purcell and Klefbom at the blue line just to gain the zone. But even with Purcell there to funnel Marchand right into Klefbom, Klefbom backs all the way up, giving Marchand all kinds of space to gain the zone with possession:


Marchand gains the zone, makes a short pass and Smith hits the post.

This is the kind of mistake that’s really interesting because a) defencemen face this situation all the time and b) it’s the kind of thing that can have a large impact on possession numbers. We know that there’s a massive difference in the number of shots a team gets when it is able to carry the puck into the offensive zone as opposed to being forced to dump and chase, and the defencemen who make these decisions correctly time and again are going to be forced to spend a lot less time defending their own zone against opponents who have the puck.

This is the one area where Martin Marincin really shines. Marincin has some notable weak points to his game, but one of his great strengths is that his gap is generally good when defending an opposition rush and he’s excellent at using his reach to prevent the other team from gaining the zone with possession.

It’s the kind of subtle thing that doesn’t stand out the way physical play in front of the net or a good outlet pass do, but it matters a lot all the same.


  • CMG30

    This article is like a dispassionate, technical analysis of a massive car wreck. Sure, ten people may be in the hospital right now, but let’s talk about the skid marks.

  • T&A4Flames

    As bad as our defence is on occasions we still need stellar goaltending to hold us in the game at appropriate times . An .877 save percentage ( not including the two disputable goals disallowed ) makes our defence look even worse than it was . Scrivens let in six , but only 4 counted . I felt Scrivens was weak on the goal you choose , and was as much at fault as Nikiten . We have to get more consistent/better goaltending to aid our defensive mistakes from burning us so frequently .

  • Livinginthepast

    I understand the fan base being disappointed and a bit angry with the Oilers. Emotion aside, the Oilers played a pretty good first 45 minutes in this game.

    They exchanged scoring chances fairly evenly with the Bruins, played a decent defensive game and Scrivens was OK. What happened in the last 10-12 minutes of the game wasn’t pretty and resulted in another loss.

    What appears evident to me is that the Oilers are making some headway. The D, for the first 45 minutes was playing sound hockey, they were making some solid choices distributing the puck and didn’t seem to be panicky. Who would have guessed the Oilers could accomplish this without their Captain?

  • CMG30

    Within minutes of Nikitin being signed for $4.5 million per year, I was on this site proclaiming it to be an incredibly dumb contract. Predictably I was trashed.

    “It’s only two years!”… “in MacT we trust” … “it’s not my money”

    • bazmagoo

      Absolutely agreed at the time, and remember your comments. Horrible signing, lots of comparable defenders were signed over the summer for 1 season at less than 1.5 million. Sure wish I could make a 7.5 million dollar mistake and keep my job. That signing reaks of Howson/Lowe though to me, to be honest.


      • Duchess

        There’s a reason Columbus didn’t want Nikitin and used him sparingly last year, before dealing away the liability. It’s about frickin’ time management stops pretending they know more than everyone else does to try to “steal” a player and rejuvenate their game in E-town. Why don’t they dole out the dough for legitimate NHLers, instead of overpaying for a declining asset?

        Also heard on the radio that fans want Lowe gone but the radio host claiming Lowe has very little to do with managing the team and that after years of losing, nobody wants to come here. Wrong!

        A) Lowe admitted candidly to having his fingerprint on HIS team;
        B) NYI have been losing for more years than we have but they have no problems signing players or free agents;
        C) Lowe has a distasteful reputation amongst players in the NHL from how he handled players in the past – “I should have buried him (Souray) in the minors” – Making irrational decisions that hurt the team due to his pride sticks in the memories of players;
        D) Many GM’s are still mad at his offer sheets so teams do not want to trade with Edm;

  • CMG30

    They are lacking the Stand-up defense , they cannot deny possesion o-zone entrys without a Stand-up efense.

    They brought in men capable of executing it,then changed the gameplan to many times.

    This was being worked on just before the win streak.It is an area of regression.

  • Jayz

    Poor Nikki. Everyone has off days.
    That said, the man needs to sit down next game.

    I really thought we had that one.
    It’s like their cursed.
    The spooky Edmonton Oilers.
    I wonder if firing Lowe would help?
    Oh wait no, that was 7 years ago..
    F this team

  • CMG30

    Oh.. wasnt nitikin the guy all you mac t lovers said was awesome when mac t told you hss was a great defenceman. Mac T couldnt tell the diffrrence between hockey and a hole in the ground.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      I gotta be honest. I liked The move when MacT was announced. I questioned and didnt like the Pouliot and Nikitin sign and trade but I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.

      As soon as he paired the words “Norris trophy” & “Justin Schultz” into the same sentence I instantly became a hater. Maybe all the years playing without a helmet caught up to him?

      People “say” he’s improved the team but how? He over paid for Columbus worst defenceman, brought in wingers when we need centers. I guess he slightly improved the goaltending, but I’m not gonna give him credit for turning pathetic goaltending into slightly less pathetic goaltending

  • Andresito

    4-8-1. Is this not the same record as last year so far? Basically eliminated again early November. I have been disappointed for 9 straight years and this year had 0 expectations for this club, but still didn’t expect this bad of a season. I actually hope they lose to buffalo tomorrow and lose every game this year so there MIGHT be changes in management and the “CORE” which is painfully obvious just isnt good enough to win in the NHL. Oilers tier 1 and tier 2 fans should organize a protest and no one show up for 1 home game. See what Katzy does after that. He obviously doesnt give a rats sphincter at this point in time as he soaks as much fan’s money as he can. That is probably the only thing that will provoke a change. I wish I could jump ship to another team but I too am a loyal fan and just can’t do it, but instead find other hobbies that are entertaining (which ive done the past 2 years. ffw the pvr when the oilers are losing because wasting 3 hours every couple nights to watch this garbage is NOT ENTERTAINING anymore.

  • Serious Gord

    I think this is the last year of this…

    I expect that after a horrible finish…

    Eakins will be let go(hopefully they don’t hire Torts or Carlyle after he is fired from the leafs)

    Kblowe will retire from his position

    Mac-T will move possibly Eberle, Yakupov, or sadly Nurse for something of immediate value

    Oilers will get a gem at this year’s draft

    Hopefully the Oilers move Shultz + something at or before the deadline for a legitimate NHL 2nd pairing (4th defensman)

    Hopefully the Oilers resign Petry

    Hopefully the Oilers buy out Ferrence

    Oilers will cleanse themselves of Purcell somehow

    Hopefully they realize enough with the other teams rejects (that they could acquire through signings for much cheaper) and instead use talent from Oklahoma suh at the finnish player, Lander, and Pitlik….(if your not getting good results.. might as well go cheap)

  • T&A4Flames

    I thought Craig Ramsay was supposed to improve this group. Not a complete indictment of him per se but the Oilers D looks just as terrible as last year.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    It’s really difficult to know where to lay the blame. Is it poor decision making by the players themselves, or gap/lane control positioning preferences from the coaches.

    If there’s ever an example of a team that’s over coached, it’s the Oilers under Dallas Eakins chosen system of the day.

    These d’men would be far better off playing on instinct, rather than following instruction.

    • Livinginthepast

      @ Quicksilver

      Just yesterday you said “they should play like they’re scared to lose”. Well, that’s what they always do if they come into the third period with a lead.
      They got very lucky playing that way against Montreal.

      If you’re scared to lose….that’s usually what ends up happening.

      Maybe we should have a no confidence vote.

      Tonight they will probably be overconfident, because it’s Buffalo.

    • S cottV

      I believe the reason cited by our pathetic coach was to inject grit into the lineup. Did you see any tonight??? He also said there would be lots of competition at the “D” position, but maybe he takes so long looking into the mirror every day that he forgets to enforce what he says in games.

      FUGLY Gong show!!

  • CMG30

    Dear Mr. Katz –

    I love the Oilers and couldn’t imagine cheering for another team in the NHL. I refuse to. It’s in my blood. I like winning and so does everyone in Edmonton. It’s obvious that many people feel the same way and I really think you should start taking public opinion into consideration and having your own little “gut” check. You make money off this team because of circumstance and market not the actual product you are responsible for delivering. If that were the case you’d be broke given the performance of team since you’ve taken over.

    Let’s stop pretending and be honest with each other, a whole bunch of #1 picks has never and will never make a “TEAM”. Your are being led down a old country road with no end. Team is and has always has been much more than pedigree and potential. I hope someday you’ll realize that and communicate that strategy down. In your business, how many times are your critical players allowed to make mistakes before strategic changes occur?

    Additionally, I’m not downplaying the potential talent on our current roster has and I’m not knocking our #1’s, but historically when has this ever worked? When has trying to build championship caliber crew with this method proven successful?

    All that being said, I’ve started to enjoy NFL which is weird and something I thought would never happen.

    Another part of me is disappointed since I can’t rub my colleagues face in Oilers wins everyday since moving and having to live in cow town. I’m not giving up on my Oil, but it’s time for results. Plain and simple. Forget the draft, forget the pedigree, find winners, period. You have many. Groom and grow them. Don’t kill them they way you are letting it happen now.

    I’d rather be paying more attention to Oiler hockey during the winter in Canada and spending money on my favorite team than my NFL football pool.

    I understand I’m a tier two fan now based on circumstance and location, but even in University when I was broke, I bought playoff tickets to support the team on credit. I sat in the stands in the 80’s with my dad and cheered every game. All I can ever remember is cheering for the Oil and have never deviated from my devotion. I’m a logical person, but what is happening is absolutely crazy.

    Please fix this mess.


    Not giving up.

  • Livinginthepast

    As the guy in the trenches Dallas Eakins is going to be the scapegoat for this most recent debacle. However, the real perpetrators of this fiasco or Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe, and also their little buddy Gilligan (Scott Howson). The trades, UFA signings, coaching appointments, player personnel decisions are flat-out overwhelmingly wrong.

    KLowe should have been fired when he self imploded during the press his infamous “six rings” press conference, where he alienated a faithful and long suffering fan base.

    MacT should be fired after making zero progress, paying to the cap, not improving any team weaknesses and firing a head coach for dubious reasons and replacing him with a flavour of the month overconfident rookie coach who has failed big time in the show.

    Where is the accountability? Other organizations fire GMs and top management all the time (the Canucks are a great example, so are the Canadiens). Why must we endure the same old tired, arrogant loser management year after f*cking year?

    Katz, pull your head out and give it a shake dude- asap please.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    This entire organization is broken.

    Three years is more than enough time to turn a team around. Look at Colorado last year, Calgary this year. Countless rebuilding teams in the past. The teams that stay perpetually at the bottom have fundamental organization problems, like the Oilers.

    I want to cheer for another team, but I can’t. Instead, I’m just not watching hockey anymore. Turning to ON and watching the venom spew is the only fun I get out of the NHL now. Katz has ruined this team.

    Lets not forget the time he went to Seattle for a meeting because he wasn’t impressed with his sweetheart deal with Edmonton City Hall…

  • HockeyYoda

    I thought the Oilers were playing ok until they took that bad penalty in the 3rd. Then the wheels fell off and they totally lost their composure. Hmm, that last part sounds familiar.

  • CMG30

    The Edmonton Oilers weren’t very good against Boston on Thursday night, and a big part of the problem was an inability to hold their own blue line.

    I think the bigger problem is the inability of management to assemble a proper mix of players to be competitive in the current NHL. But man this team would probably be average to decent in the 80’s

  • S cottV

    D men that stand up at the blue line, need forwards to do the right things, to support it.

    Maybe the old d man in me that wants to stick up for the actions of [email protected] forwards, but-

    Eberle had no business vacating a good position in the middle of the ice, creating the difficult to manage gap for Nikitin.

    Purcell needed to funnel Marchand outside – not inside. Purcell had awful alignment and timing on Marchand and was of no value to allow Klefbom to step up.

    Point taken – but let’s not forget how poor Oiler forwards are on the defensive side of things.

    • Rnr

      These are the type of small management details which are killing this team ,who is upstairs providing pespective variance?Who is helping the Coaches and players.Something subtle is missing,that 3d eye is missing,it was thee then it was gone.What happened?

  • TheBirdOfAnger

    If anyone looks at the last team to pick three #1’s in a row, eventually they were all traded for core pieces on the team. Not saying the Oilers should trade Hall, but I think RNH,Ebs, and Yak should all be on the block for core building pieces. Nordiques got rid of Sundin, Nolan, and Lindros… all becoming part of key trades for the Avalanche to sustain success throughout the late 90’s and early 2000’s

  • Rnr

    Bob Stauffer always uses this analogy when describing the level a player will perform at. “Water always finds its mark”. Have we seen NN best yet? His worse? Is he any better than Belov was last season?

    He compares to CAM Barker IMO. He is overhyped and he under delivers.

    NN is definitely in the running for Oilers Goat of the Year along with Teddy “do nothing” Purcell.

    What is Purcell waiting for when he is on the ice? The descriptors of his game were certainly true. He certainly is an edge player. Have yet to see him approach the net never mind the blue paint.

    Tonight may be the most pivotal game this season. Lose and all confidence and trust in the coaching staff an all good will MacT has tried to glean from the Oilers fans will be gone.

    Thankfully coach’s salary’s don’t count against the cap.

    If I were GM I’d waive Teddy Purcell and bring up Tyler Pitlick and go get B.Shenn or Anisimov.

    • Serious Gord

      It occurs to me that every trade/move that MacT has made thusfar save perhaps one involved players that the opposite team was not reluctant part with.

      The only exception I can think of is Perron.

          • pkam

            Perhaps you can list which players were traded this year that were due to cap problem?

            And even in this case, the teams will trade away their least desired player. Do you think the Blues will trade away Backes and Pietrangelo? They traded Perron because he is the guy they don’t want to keep anymore, whether they have cap problem or not because they need the roster spot.

          • Zarny

            Leddy and Boychuk.

            Players are traded for all sorts of reasons. Leddy and Boychuk were moved due to cap issues. Richards, Carter and Seguin were traded due to concerns with off-ice behavior. Spezza and Kelser were traded because they wanted out. Perron was traded because of cap issues out too. If there was no cap StL wouldn’t have moved him.

            Off course teams prefer to trade players that don’t fit their long term plans. Edm did that with Gagner. That doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t valuable to another team (ex. Bishop in TB).

            To suggest though that the only players traded are less desirable ones is just silly.

          • Serious Gord

            Perron was traded because he was the player they felt was the most expendable, but they didn’t like doing it – cap pressures drive them to do it.

            The Bruins traded Seguin et al and got some players that the stars had high expectations for – Fraser showed us that last night.

            The Hawks dealt a bunch of players they hated to part with to get below the cap after they won the cup.

            There are teams in cap trouble from time to time – MacT needs to be more predatory in that regard and make sure he has lots of room to take advantage.

            He hasn’t done that and this has left himself trading for/ signing castoffs. The results speak for themselves.

        • Dockstaff

          With this many teams, true difference makers are spread thin. Teams will rarely part with them and only trade marginal players, trying to find the right chemistry. Particularly #1 D-men. A shot at Connor McDavid however might loosen a top line player.

  • HockeyYoda


    You benched MM instead of NN……..you almost got it right, just off by one letter!

    Stupid decisions lead to results that are predictable………and the losses keep piling up.

    If real hockey fans want something to get excited about, look south at Calgary. Every player is playing over their head and consistently. Maybe Eakins should have asked Hartley about what to do?

  • pkam

    Memorial quote in today’s Calgary Herald from Jay Feaster ex GM of the Flames. He is now employed by the Lightning where the Flames played last night….When asked about the Edmonton Oilers finishing ahead of the Flames;

    “I’m tired of this question, How many teams every year fro the last 10 years, 5 years, 8 years, have finished in the bottom 5, bottom 7, bottom 10? They had a pick anywhere from No. 1 to No. 10 year after year after year, and they still wander in the desert. And they’re no closer to getting out than they were 10 years ago. You know what I look forward to the Battle of Alberta for the next X years….”

    Not rubbing it in..I really feel for the fans in Edmonton. They are tired of this act!

  • CMG30

    They have not been holding the blue all year and I don’t understand why. I am assuming it is the coaching telling them to do that for some random reason that I do not understand. You learn that as a teenager to hold the blue line and to see it in the NHL is ridiculous.