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Photo Credit: John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports

The Pavelski Minutes

Joe Pavelski was San Jose’s most successful offensive forward this season. His 68 points were 16 more than Logan Couture managed and 18 ahead of Joe Thornton, the Sharks’ next best forwards. He’s also played on the same line as either Thornton or Couture in every game of these playoffs.

Yet Pavelski has a single assist all series. At even-strength, he has only one shot over the last two games, both Oilers wins. Defensively, Edmonton’s done quality work against him, and the players in that matchup deserve some attention.

There has been some variation from game-to-game, particularly after Game 1, but it isn’t hard to pick out which players are doing the heavy lifting.

The Defence

Player TOI Corsi+ Corsi- Diff.
Adam Larsson 20.6 15 11 4
Oscar Klefbom 20.5 18 17 1
Kris Russell 14.1 13 13 0
Andrej Sekera 13.2 12 13 -1
Darnell Nurse 5.0 11 2 9
Matt Benning 4.9 12 3 9
Eric Gryba 1.9 1 5 -4

Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson have each played just over 20 minutes head-to-head against Pavelski at even-strength. Edmonton has controlled play for the most part with that duo on the ice, with a narrow edge in shot attempts.

That’s a little better than Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell have done. In 13-14 minutes each of head-to-head ice-time against Pavelski, Russell has broken even and Sekera has come in just below that. Realistically, there’s no significant difference between how the top two pairings have done; we’re looking at a short enough span of time that it’s not worth reading into that gap.

Both have held Pavelski’s line to break-even status or a little better. The real edge, surprisingly, has come with Edmonton’s third pairing on the ice.

The performance of Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning basically boils down to a couple of shifts in Game 2, where the Oilers managed to pin Pavelski’s line in its own end of the ice. The shot attempts were a whopping 9-0 in just two minutes of competition. McLellan and his staff have mostly avoided this matchup, wisely preferring to shelter the third pair, and they’ve been successful in doing so.

The Forwards

Player TOI Corsi+ Corsi- Diff.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 17.9 19 9 10
Jordan Eberle 17.2 16 10 6
Milan Lucic 16.7 18 9 9
Leon Draisaitl 10.9 17 10 7
Connor McDavid 9.8 13 12 1
Drake Caggiula 9.7 9 7 2
Patrick Maroon 9.4 10 10 0
Zack Kassian 8.9 7 7 0
Mark Letestu 8.1 6 6 0
David Desharnais 4.0 2 5 -3
Benoit Pouliot 3.5 3 5 -2
Anton Slepyshev 2.6 3 5 -2
Iiro Pakarinen 1.1 0 1 -1

The primary forward matchup has been between Pavelski’s unit and the Oilers’ second line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle. This is the kind of fact that would be fun to send backwards in time to early December, back when Eberle’s two-way game was getting torn to shreds (albeit with some justification). Now he’s playing a tough minutes role.

As was the case with the third pairing, most of the imbalance in the shot metrics comes from a relatively small number of shifts in Game 2. Unlike the third pair, this line has played nearly 20 minutes head-to-head at 5-on-5 and so far has shown no signs of losing the battle.

The first and third lines have also spend some time against Pavelski, with the exact ratio varying depending on the game. Connor McDavid saw a lot of Pavelski in Game 1 but less in the last two games; Zack Kassian’s promotion in Game 3 coincided with harder minutes. Edmonton isn’t losing these matchups, which speaks to some surprisingly good depth performances from Kassian, Drake Caggiula and even Mark Letestu.

The fourth line remains problematic. In the first two games, it didn’t play much against Pavelski, but in Game 3 saw some time against that line and didn’t do so well. We’re talking tiny samples, so it’s not good to read too much into it, but it does fit into the overall pattern of that unit being oddly unproductive.

TL;DR

McLellan’s strategy seems pretty conventional in that he’s reasonably content with anyone in his top-nine forward group or top-four defence corps playing tough minutes. Everyone in that group has done well, as has the Nurse/Benning duo in much more limited minutes.

The primary credit here, though, must go to an interesting mix of homegrown talent and big-name additions. Adam Larsson and Milan Lucic were signature moves for Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, and are rewarding him with solid work in a hard assignment. At the same time, the team is benefitting from the remaining holdovers of the last rebuild: Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and of course Klefbom. Those players can’t be overlooked, either.

  • Hemmercules

    I never thought Eberle would be anything more than he was before the Mcdavid era. McL is turning him into an all around player often playing him in the final minutes of close games. Its too bad his size is a bit of an issue and his offence took a hit this year. Heres hoping his offence returns next season if he remains with the team. A couple months ago I would have said there no way he is an Oiler next season but now I’m not so sure.

    • ricardo2000

      The biggest problem with the Oilers has been the age of the stars. They were getting pushed around and knocked on their asses by everyone in the league prior to last year. Now we have some SKILLED, strong, wingers, some years of frustration, and some years of man muscle, to go with the talent drafted. This trend will continue as the stars age from 20, to 25 or 26. McD, Ice, Nuge, Ebs, Nurse, Benning will all reach physical maturity in the next few years. Now, they are all tough to play against; later, they will be MONSTERS of talent and physical fury.

    • The older I get, the better I was...

      I admit to an expectation that Eberle would disappear in the tough going during the playoffs. I am pleasantly surprised by his performance so far. What condiment goes best with Crow?

  • Adam Larsson is mean and nasty to play against, the opponent pays a high price for engaging with him and it all happens during play. Ladi Smid and other pretenders did all their “battling” after whistles, Adam does his between them and he takes a toll on the opposition. It is awesome to watch and sadly under appreciated.

    Battle level has an Adam Larsson jersey.

  • vetinari

    In the playoffs, it is just as much success to keep the other team’s top players off the score sheet as it for your guys to score. If each team’s top lines neutralize the others and our depth guys (like Kassian) can be the difference makers to win games, I’ll take winning ugly over not winning any day. Go Oilers!

  • Prongers Promises

    I knew nothing of Larsson before the trade to Edmonton. I’m sorry but I tend to accidentally “forget” new jersey even exists. Theyre like Ottawa just sort of in the league and who cares… BUT ANYWAY

    What a player. WHAT A PLAYER

  • TKB2677

    When the trade was made, I was like many, a bit shocked at the return for Hall. I knew changes needed to happen. You can’t be probably the worst team in the league for 5-6 years with Hall, Nuge, Eberle being the main 3 guys and not change someone out. But I didn’t expect it to be Hall. When the trade came down I was shocked and felt they didn’t get enough and I didn’t know anything about Larsson.

    As the season went on and I saw how effective Larsson was, I slowly began to turn on the trade thinking it wasn’t as bad as I thought. As Chia said “Larsson isn’t a sexy dman.” He’s right, he’s not a sexy dman but he’s a damn good dman who flat out gets the job done and does what it takes to help the team win. The Oilers tried for all the Hall years to play “sexy” and got their heads kicked in.

    As the season went on, the Oilers kept winning and winning. They almost won the division, won home ice advantage at least in the 1st round and are poised to maybe win this series. Is it all Larsson? Not even close but he’s one of the guys that have contributed big time to the turn around. Then I look at the Devils and they are worse in all categories than last year and finished 14 pts lower than they did last year. Hall was brought in to make the team better and they got worse. I don’t place all the blame on Hall but he was brought in to provide a boost and the team went backwards.

    I watched Larsson out there against the Sharks. He’s a nasty, physical guy that makes life miserable on the Sharks and flat out gets the job done shift after shift. I see how good Klefbom has become looking like a potential #1 dman then I look over and who’s beside him every step of the way? Larsson. Any time Klefbom and his inexperience clicks in and he makes a mistake, Larsson is there to clean up after him.

    If this was a skills competition, I take Hall over Larsson every day. It’s not. It’s a team competition where you need a mixture of a variety of things to win. Larsson brings a skill set that the Oilers really needed in order to win. It’s very obvious to me know. By trading Hall, that allowed the roster spot and cap space to open to bring in Lucic. Lucic brings a different skill set than Hall but also the leadership and experience that Hall can’t bring. Since the beginning of March, who’s been one of the key forwards for the Oilers? McDavid and Leon of course but also Lucic. When the games get tougher and more physical, Larsson and Lucic will be out there leading the way. Would Hall be doing that if he was here? I don’t think so, it’s not his game. Everyone praises the turn around of Eberle and Nuge becoming more complete players. Would that turn around happen if Hall was here? Maybe but it didn’t the 6 years prior.

    If the Devils called in the offseason and said I’ll give you Hall for Larsson? I doubt Chia picks up the phone and I wouldn’t make that trade either.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    I think Dr.Drai played his best hockey of the series in the 3rd period of game 3. He seemed to have found another gear playing up the middle and had a few forechecks on Burns that produced turnovers, which 88 rarely commits. Of course he was on the ice for the Kassian goal as well.
    I think if he is sluggish to start this game, MacLellan will throw him back up the middle and hope a Slepyshev/Caggiula player that moves up can finish up a feed from 97 and steal another road victory.
    I can guarantee you Todd is hoping like hell to stick it to his previous manager and another smart coaching play to win a game would be icing on the cake. Hope 97 breaks out tonight in a big way.

  • dolenator

    Been a larson fan right from the time he was drafted. Was hoping the oilers would pick him that year although glad they didn’t the way they handled there young d for a while. I hadn’t followed his career super close but checked in on how he was performing a couple times a year so I was excited when I found out he had become a Oiler regardless of the cost. The writing was on the wall for one of the 6 million dollar men so was Abel to enjoy the excitement of a competent d man joining our team. I have to say though he has blown my expectations out of the water and I may of had a little bit of a panic attack when he was injured for those few games.