“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.
- 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.
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