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Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

More to Matchups Than We Think

“It is easy to look for the simple match up. The simple match right now is (Ryan) Kesler on Connor (McDavid),” said Todd McLellan.

Anyone who watched the Oilers and Ducks this season could have predicted a Kesler versus McDavid matchup in game one. Randy Carlyle loves matching Kesler against skilled forwards, and in five regular season games Carlyle had Kesler play ten minutes more against McDavid than any Ducks defenceman.

That is the obvious confrontation, but McLellan explained there is much more that goes into matchups.

I asked McLellan about matchups yesterday.

“There are always secondary matchups that come into play in a series, and faceoffs dictate a lot of matching,” explained McLellan.

“Leave me out of it, but I don’t think it is fair to the 29 other coaches in the league when the media experts immediately say ‘He doesn’t have this guy on the ice or that guy on the ice.’ Sometimes it is hard to get those guys on the ice. You lose a draw and they get a line change, what are you going to do, change your five guys? It doesn’t happen that way.

“Matching can be over-emphasized and it can take a number of players out of the game. It can destroy your rhythm. You’d like to have an edge, but if you don’t get it you still have to find ways to win. We are going to play four of seven games on the road and odds are we aren’t going to get it (an edge), so we will find a way to get through it,” continued McLellan.

His response made sense, although he never fully answered my question which was about the difference in having a forward line instead of a D pair match up against the McDavid line.

Last series it was Vlasic/Braun almost exclusively against McDavid. I noticed the Sharks were so intent on getting that matchup that they would change instantly off of a faceoff, sometimes even when they lost the draw. The defender on the ice would cheat towards the bench and even if the Sharks lost, the right D would skate off, especially in the first and third periods with the short change, and Vlasic would jump on.

You can’t defend that as a coach. It would be ludicrous to pull McDavid off the ice because he has to face Vlasic. You never send the message you are scared of facing an opposing player. Of course you try and get the favourable matchup, but not at any cost.

This series, McDavid’s line will see a heavy dose of Kesler and I presume, based on what we’ve seen before, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson will be the D pairing. The one unknown is if Lindholm’s health will have Carlyle use him less against McDavid. He didn’t practice with the Ducks on Sunday or Monday but was on the ice today. He, like Oscar Klefbom did on Monday, is just getting more rest, but if he has a serious enough injury the Ducks might look to use other D pairs with Kesler against McDavid.

Regardless of Lindholm’s health, it is clear the main matchup Carlyle wants is the Kesler trio versus McDavid.

And I don’t see why the Oilers will try to shy away from it. The Oilers top line had very good production against Anaheim in the regular season.

Draisaitl had 6-2-7
McDavid had 2-5-7
Maroon had 0-5-5

All seven of Draisaitl and McDavid’s goals came at even strength, and McDavid’s seven points all came in the last three games.

While much of the focus will be on McDavid/Kesler, I think the Rikard Rakell-Ryan Getzlaf-Patrick Eaves line against Milan Lucic-RNH-Jordan Eberle line is just as enticing.

Getzlaf’s line combined for 13 points in a four game sweep over the Flames. Rakell and Eaves had 33 and 32 goals respectfully in the regular season, while Getzlaf had 73 points in 74 games and was red-hot down the stretch, totalling 25 points since March 1st (18 games).

The RNH trio has the difficult task of trying to contain them, but also finding ways to score.

RNH had no points versus the Sharks in round one, while Eberle had one assist in game one and Lucic had a goal and an assist in game one. They did not produce a point in the final five games. The produced a lot of chances (RNH led the Oilers with 17 shots on goal), while Eberle was tied for third with 13 shots, but they couldn’t finish.

They did a great job off limiting the Joe Pavelski-Joe Thornton-Patrick Marleau trio, but we discovered yesterday that Thornton was playing with a torn ACL and MCL in his knee.

Getzlaf isn’t injured, while Rakell and Eaves are more productive than the Marleau and Pavelski.

“We had success because we were in the offensive zone a lot. We rarely got caught defending for long stretches,” Nugent-Hopkins explained why he felt they were able to limit the Sharks’ top line. “When we have to play in our own zone I’m more in communication with our D-men. It becomes more about the three of us than the wingers per se, while our line can limit them in the neutral and offensive zone,” said Nugent-Hopkins when I asked him about the difference in forward lines versus D pairs playing a shutdown role.

If RNH wins the matchup or contains Getzlaf’s line, the Oilers chances of winning the series increase significantly.

Oilers fans should be much more concerned with that matchup than the McDavid/Kesler one. Now that Draisaitl is over the flu/cold, that line is much more effective. Draisaitl was excellent in games five and six versus San Jose, while McDavid could have a breakout offensive game any night.

This series might easily come down to which line, Kesler’s or Nugent-Hopkins’, does a better job of containing the other’s top line.

UNDERLYING MATCHUPS

  • I want to watch how Jim Johnson runs his Oilers defence. I’d want Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson out against Getzlaf as much as possible. Will the Oilers be able to get those two and RNH’s line out against them as much as they’d like?
  • The Ducks are a much better faceoff team, and I wonder if the Oilers will instruct Cam Talbot to move the puck more than usual instead of settling for a whistle. Often we see teams dump the puck in on Talbot and he freezes it, but if he can make a play to a defender, that might be better than just eating it and allowing the Ducks an offensive zone draw. Getzlaf, Antoine Vermette, Nate Thompson and Chris Wagner were a combined 58.3%. They were 105-75 in the dot in round one. Ryan Kesler took 90 draws and only won 44.4%. It was an anomaly for him considering he was 57.4% in the regular season, going 1029-764.
  • Draisaitl was the Oilers best faceoff man in round one, going 38-26 (59.4%), while David Desharnais was 50% (16-16). Nugent-Hopkins and Letestu took the most draws (87), but they were 41.4% and 47.6% respectively. RNH struggled so much we saw Eberle take eight faceoffs and he won five of them. McDavid really struggled, 14-24 (36.8%), so Draisaitl will likely take the majority of draws on his line. The Ducks were the best faceoff team in the regular season, 54.7%, while the Oilers were the worst at 47.2%. This allows Carlyle to get the matchups he wants more often, and the Oilers could do themselves a big favour if they can somehow win close to even 49% of the draws this series.
  • “If you start with the puck, you can use it to your advantage on the offensive side of the game. More importantly, when you’re trying to protect a lead and starting with the puck, you’re killing their momentum they’re trying to build,” Vermette said on the importance of faceoffs. The second half of the statement is crucial not only when you are trying to come from behind, but also if you can win a draw to keep the puck away from the opposition’s top line. If Kesler can win a lot of the draws and force McDavid and Draisaitl to waste precious seconds of their shift trying to regain the puck, it will make his job much easier.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Redbird62

    Good write up Jason, but stating that Rakell and Eaves are more productive than Marleau and Pavelski is probably a stretch. While the Ducks pair scored a few more goals during the regular season, Marleau and Pavelski combined for 114 points vs 102 for Rakell and Eaves. They are very worthy of attention, but the Oilers should be no more concerned about them than they were about Marleau and Pavelski.

    • Jason Gregor

      The Ducks winger had a .68 points per game. The Sharks had .69. To me the difference is this year Eaves and Rakell much better goal scorers. They had combined for nine more goals in 13 fewer games. To me that is more productive.

      To me they are more concerning because a healthy Ryan Getzlaf is much more dangerous than Thornton on one leg. Getzlaf makes the winger more dangerous and Eaves had 11 goals in 20 games since coming over from Dallas. For me that makes them a much tougher challenge than San Jose’s first line.

      • Big Jacks Meat

        Gregor – let Oates make his money during the regular season.
        He is boring Now. Did Deeper into Oilers stuff. Oates was
        great but now, seriously you may as well chat with Semenko.
        Spark up your 4 hours dudeski.

        zzzzzzzzzzzz

      • Redbird62

        If I follow your logic, Crosby scored 14 more goals in 7 fewer games than McDavid and the PPG difference was 1.22 to 1.19, which is neglible as well, then Syd was more productive than Connor and teams should be more worried about him. I agree Getzlaf is definitely more dangerous than Thornton now even if Thornton was healthy so overall that line is more of a challenge to defend but only because of Getzlaf. This is probably the only time in Eaves career anybody ever had to worry about him being a meaningful offensive threat.

      • Deep Purple

        Anyone remember Getzlaf blowing the tire and giving up the 2-1 for an OT win… My bet is Geztlaf will be the biggest concern on the point during the PP. Rakell is a guy that warrants O-zone management – quick, accurate shot that needs to be accounted for. Go Oil!

  • tileguy

    Likewise I wonder if they will be instructed to carry the puck in so there is less chance of Having the puck froozen for a face off. Neutral zone turnovers are killers.

  • Dirty Oil

    The best part of the Kesler line match is McD and line mates should play a lot of minutes. If they play 20 plus a night that means Getzlaf is sitting getting cold. I’m a fan of having Kesler on the ice instead of Getzlaf!!!!

  • Hemmercules

    Maybe Eberle should start splitting the face-offs with Nuge? Small sample I know I know. I like really Nuge but he’s terrible at draws and they will be very important in this series.

  • freelancer

    One thing that I don’t think gets stressed enough is a players ability to turn when coming back from an injury. McDavid should have a strong advantage over the Ducks D pairings in that regard.

  • btrain

    Small sample size but Eberle seems to be pretty effective at draws. Not sure how many he took in the 15/16 season but he was over 60% then, 50% this regular season, and so far over 60% in these playoffs. Its also nice that he is right handed as well. Easy enough for him to switch back to the wing after the draw just like Drai and McD do it. Its definitely an option worth going to more often if RNH is struggling in that area.

  • Randaman

    JG, I watched the media availability session you spoke of and heard you ask the question about forwards vs. defense pairings. I don’t think McLellan cares about match ups near as much as the media does. Something to write about during off days I guess. My take. Doesn’t matter what the match up is, you eventually have to win that battle if the team wants to move on. Best on Best. Let’s have at er

    • Jason Gregor

      He admitted after the San Jose series the matchup he wanted most was RNH, and he got it and was happy with the results. He cares about them, he just won’t go out of his way and “protect” McDavid from one.

  • ScottV

    While hard to blame McL, because McD and Drai are obviously pretty good together, his use of Drai at RW potentially exposes the team for appropriate depth and performance level at centre. PC probably should have worked the Boyle angle a little harder if the intent was to keep playing McD and Drai together. Nuge is suspect as 2c – particularly in the faceoff department and Desharnais is no Boyle. At this point, you might as well keep rolling with it and hope that the issue doesn’t emerge as the Achilles heal.

  • OilCan2

    The Oilers have looked very good across the board in scoring. DD did some amazing work to clinch us a game for example. One must also consider Kassian. My favorite would be to see Lucic explode in Keslers face and watch the dog whimper home with his tail between his legs. The Duck’s D is hurting big time so a heavy fore check could produce. Line matching? Maybe not so critical until we get home ice.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    McLellan is right. Matchups are important, but not important enough to blindly adhere to them. Our best players have to play better than their best players. Simple as that that doesn’t happen, we lose. Get after it. Fear no confrontations.

  • ScottV

    Nuge vs Getzlaf is a mismatch that will likely show.

    This is where you either needed Drai back as 2c or picked up Boyle to handle Getzlaf.

    Nuge at 1 or 2rw – or 3c should have been looked at, as an option – during the season.

  • Juniore

    “This series might easily come down to which line, Kesler’s or Nugent-Hopkins’, does a better job of containing the other’s top line”. Is that a slow play, Gregor? Of course it will!

  • toprightcorner

    I don’t like the idea of Talbot over handling the puck. Everytime he gets it behind the net, instead of just giving it to his dman, he tries to dump it around the glass, the other team gets it and that usually ends up in an extended shift in the Oilers zone.

    • Jason Gregor

      I didn’t say overhandle. I said move it quickly on dump ins on goal, not ones behind the net. The ones behind the net he already plays. I’m talking about when a long shot comes in on goal. He makes a glove a save and often just holds it for a whistle. I’d instruct him, as long as he has time, to drop it and quickly pass it to the D-man behind the net. It won’t happen all the time, but if it saves two or three D-zone faceoffs it could help limit the Ducks offensive zone possession time.