The Oilers new assistant coach Jim Playfair will run the defence in 2019-20 and suggested he might run a Darnell Nurse-Adam Larsson shutdown pair this season on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer.
That would be a bit of a shift from 2018-19. The Oilers most used defence pair was Nurse and Kris Russell with 1054 five-on-five minutes over 72 games, followed by Oscar Klefbom and Larsson at 995 minutes over 61 games. Klefbom-Larsson trailed Nurse-Russell, but would have been at the top had Klefbom not been hurt.
Can Nurse and Larsson form an effective shutdown pair? Who plays with Klefbom on presumably the Oilers second pair, as shutdown implies Nurse-Larsson will face the toughest opponents. Russell? Matt Benning? Perhaps Evan Bouchard.
Nurse-Russell didn’t do well in shot attempts (corsi for percentage/CF%), but managed to stay afloat in goals.
Klefbom and Larsson weren’t as been successful in the past, but were a bit unlucky with their on-ice shooting percentage, the percentage of shots that turn into goals while they are on the ice.
Andrej Sekera and Benning did fine in third-pairing minutes.
Nurse and Larsson played 269 minutes together. The Oilers were outscored 19-10 with them on the ice, although the two had a dreadfully low PDO (a player(s) on-ice shooting percentage plus on-ice save percentage).
Nurse and Larsson killed it in 2017-18, but were riding a .940 on-ice save percentage. When Nurse and Larsson were on the ice together in 2017-18, the Oilers goalies were better than a prime Dominik Hasek. That wasn’t going to last. That fell to .870 in 18-19. Basically going from better than Hasek to worse than Viktor Fasth’s worst season with Edmonton.
Klefbom and Benning spent a bunch of time together. Likely because Klefbom was dealing with an injury and reduced to easier minutes alongside Benning. Can they have success in second-pairing minutes in 2019-20?
Klefbom and Russell played 217 minutes together and were almost even in shot attempts, but got outscored 12-7 in that time. They had a very poor on-ice save percentage, but I still wouldn’t unite them if Nurse and Larsson are the designated shutdown pair.
Klefbom and Larsson didn’t spend a ton of time together with Klefbom’s injuries. They were positive in shot attempts, but were outscored 14-9. Another poor on-ice save percentage combined with Klefbom’s injury probably didn’t help things.
Sekera and Russell tried to recover some 2016-17 magic after Sekera returned from, but were badly outscored this time.
2016-17 was Klefbom and Larsson’s best season together. They logged a bunch of minutes, almost broke even in shots, and came out on top in goals.
Sekera and Russell played a ton of minutes too. Sekera-Russell weren’t great in terms of shot attempts, but the Oilers outscored teams 30-18 with them on the ice five-on-five. Their .950 on-ice save percentage wasn’t going to continue, but it allowed the Oilers to make the playoffs for the first time in forever. Sekera, unfortunately, suffered a torn ACL after a fairly innocuous hit from Ryan Getzlaf and was healthy enough in the next two seasons before being bought out.
Sekera and Benning killed it in 2016-17. Benning looked like a future top-four defenceman, but couldn’t build off his success beside Sekera. Maybe Benning can assume more minutes beside Klefbom?
Can Nurse-Larsson succeed as a shutdown pair?
Nurse and Larsson have had success together before. They won’t return to 2017-18 levels, but throwing them to the wolves and letting Klefbom and another right-shot defender face softer competition is a defensible strategy.
Todd McLellan ran more of a ‘top four’ than a strict shutdown pairing. Nurse isn’t a stranger to playing against good players and same goes for Larsson.
PuckIQ separates a player’s TOI against three tiers of opponents: Elite, Middle, and Gritensity. Nurse faced Elite opponents more in 2018-19 and 2017-18 than Klefbom, but Klefbom had a higher percentage of TOI against Elite players in 2018-19. It’s not a stretch to see Nurse play more against top competition and try to find more favourable matchups for a Klefbom-ran second pairing. Nurse showed some more offence last season, but Larsson has almost no offensive game. Using Larsson in an extreme shutdown role is probably the best use of his talents.
The Oilers won’t be contending next season. Nurse needs a new contract after this season and Larsson has just two seasons left on his current deal. Running Nurse-Larsson against the opposition’s best allows the Oilers to evaluate multiple long-term solutions on defence.