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Can Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson form an effective shutdown pair in 2019-20?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Can Nurse-Larsson succeed as a shutdown pair?

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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.

Stats from Natural Stat Trick and PuckIQ.

  • OilTastic

    it kills me that we have to suffer with the d-men we have when so many goddies like Jones, Bear, Broberg, Bouchard, Samorokov and Joel Persson are on their way but not quite here yet !

    • Hemmercules

      This is actually a good thing. The Oil defence is decent if they can stay healthy and they will have a fairly steady stream of guys in the system being ready at different times. Someone gets injured, a kid gets a shot to show his stuff in the NHL. When was the last time the Oilers had defensive depth in the system?

  • Die Hard Oiler Fan

    I believe that Nurse and Larsson are indeed capable of forming an effective shut down pairing. They have done it before, and each are still young or entering their prime. That said, to me an effective shutdown pairing insinuates playing against the opponent’s top line, which to me would suggest that Nurse and Larsson would play a lot with McDavid, Drai and ????? (Kassian possibly). Are Nurse and Larsson good enough offensively to get the puck to these guys ? I’m not so sure. I guess what I am saying is that there is a difference between an effective shutdown pairing and an effective 1/2 pairing. What I do know is that we need each of Nurse, Larsson and Klefbom to play at least 75 games this year.

    As an aside, it only took Jesse Puljujarvi 2:42 into the first period to score against a team from France in his first SHL champions league game today (game still in progress).

  • Consultant

    They are to going to be competing. What’s with all the white flag waving in August? We have the best player in the world. Our D is young and getting more experienced each year. Plus we have multiple young players that could surprise. New coach, a GM that isn’t an absolute idiot. Playoffs for sure.

  • billsbills

    Nurse will be the best player on the blue line next season. He’s the only guy on the Oilers back end to ever score 40+ points. So Yes Nurse has the offense to play with McDavid and Draisaitl. He needs to improve his breakout passes but that will come in time.

    The syntax in this article is not very good. Good points Christian but your delivery needs work.

  • FutureGM

    This article shows the weakness of using only analytics.
    “But were riding a .940 save %” “unlucky with their shooting %”
    Crazy thought, great Dmen only allow low % shots and limit tap ins where Dmen that are poor allow grade A chances and back door tap ins to crater their save % while on the ice. On top of this we haven’t discussed goalies letting in soft goals or continually bailing out his team in front of him.
    There is something to be gleaned from ‘advanced’ stats, but most of it is using them to write articles that have no use when analyzing a D pairing’s effectiveness vs game film

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Honerstly we saw some great things from Nurse mid season he wasn’t fantastic at the starts but I would guess missing camp while waiting for his contract to get sorted out had something to do with that. The Oilers as a whole suffered from a poor defensive system that they were paying last year that the players couldnt seem to understand as well as the fans its was beyond brutal. Tippets teams have always played from the start of the game to the end of the game and they have been tough defensively because of their systems play in their own end.

    Once we start to see how things are going to go in the preseason and the beginning of the season with a defensive system that they play I think we will get a better sense of how the pairs will line up. Tippett will play to guys strengths in the back end, something the Oilers haven’t always done with guys on defence

    We can speculate all we want right now but once camp starts and then the preseason we will get an idea of what defensive system will employ and see how things progress from there

  • OriginalPouzar

    Its a no-brainer given how great they were together in 2017/18 (notwithstanding the save percentage). Klefbom/Benning, in over 700 minutes over the last three years have positive possession across the board and goal share and that is with a PDO under 1000 and a save percentage under .920.

    Larsson struggled big time last year but I think it was mostly mental dealing with his dad’s sudden death. We know he was frustrated with his own game. He will bounce back big time this year.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      I am sure Larsson dad’s passing weighed on him but he was also having some back problems as well. I dont mind Klefbom and Larsson together for the most part they have been pretty decent. last year not so much but both guys were battling injuries and what not. I Think both will do better this year

      • OriginalPouzar

        I hear the odd comment about his “back problems” but I don’t understand where they come from. Sure he looked labored out there sometimes but that’s his skating style – not pretty. He played 82 games.

        He missed a few weeks with a tight back two seasons ago and that’s the full multitude of his career back issues.

        Did I miss something?

        • Dallas Eakins Hair

          I think he has back problems, but to the extent of what the exact cause is I have never heard, I think with his back it’s more of maintenance issues and as someone with back issues my self from a car accident, you have good days and bad days and sometimes maintenance is the key to getting you better so you can function. I wouldnt wish back problems on anyone, because its one of those things that never truly seems to get corrected