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A Step In The Right Direction

The adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day” works well when discussing the Edmonton Oilers. If they want to win consistently they need to be better defensively at 5×5. Last night was another positive step in building their foundation.

It wasn’t pretty, In fact, the first 40 minutes were as uneventful a NHL hockey game that you could watch. But the Oilers won, and that is all that matters to them in the ultra-tight Canadian division. Not every game is going to exciting, but as long as you win, it is a positive.

The Oilers should feel good about their defensive awareness and effort yesterday. They allowed very few chances and only gave up one goal — one that Mikko Koskinen needs to stop, but the Finn gave them a chance to win with some other solid stops. When your goalie finishes a game with a .962Sv% you should be thrilled.

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However, I disagree with the notion Dave Tippett was standing on the bench giddy as his team had 11 shots after 40 minutes. Yes, they limited Toronto, who had 11 shots 5×5 after 40 minutes, while Edmonton had nine. It is accurate to say he was happy with their defensive play, but he and every other NHL coach have always preached, “The best offence is a good defence.” But he was far from upset either. He wants to win and proving they can win a low-scoring game is very important.

I’d assume he wants the Oilers to improve in the offensive zone. But it has to start in the defensive zone. I think is more accurate to say he was very happy with the defensive game, and is hoping that as they get more comfortable limiting teams at 5×5, that they can start to generate offence.

It will be a process, but in three of their five games this season the Oilers have done a good job limiting chances at 5×5.

In game two v. Vancouver, they allowed two goals at 5×5. Both goals came off point shots, not glaring defensive breakdowns.

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In game four against Montreal, they only allowed one goal at 5×5, and that is a save Mikko Koskinen has to stop. A wrister from the point. It wasn’t even a scoring chance.

And last night the Maple Leafs barely generated anything 5×5.

But Tippett isn’t going to be satisfied, because in games one and three the Oilers gifted Vancouver and Montreal eight 5×5 goals, many off of five-star giveaways from bad decisions. So he will keep on it, and a game like last night will build the confidence of the group.

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It is a work in progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but through five games the Oilers have shown much more ability to defend how Tippett wants.

POSITIVES…

We saw more positives than negatives.

The bottom six didn’t get crushed in shot attempts. In fact every bottom six forward was at least 50% or better in SF%.

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I value shots on goal and Fenwick much more than overall shot attempts (Corsi).

The Shore line was excellent. Alex Chiasson, Josh Archibald and Devin Shore played 6:22 when all three were together and they didn’t allow a shot against. They played closer to 10 minutes at 5×5, but due to shift changes and other factors they were only on the ice as a trio for 6:22.

Shore played 9:22 at 5×5. He played 4:30 against John Tavares and 2:04 against Auston Matthews. He finished 1-1 in shots for/against v. those two centres.
Chiasson played 9:52 at 5×5. He played 6:33 against Nylander, 5:39 Tavares, 2:04 against Marner and 1:22 against Matthews. He was 3-1 SF-SA in those minutes.
Archibald played 10:52 at 5×5. He played 6:12 v. Nylander, 6:00 v. Tavares, 3:31 v. Marner and 3:01 v. Matthews. He was 2-1 in SF-SA in those minutes.

Tippett deployed McDavid’s line against Matthews mainly, but Shore saw as much of Tavares line as Leon Draisaitl did.

The fourth line needed to play better than they had in the first few games, and it did.

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The Turris line also had a better night. They played the fewest overall minutes, but Turris played 10:21 and almost eight of those were against Matthews (4:45) and Tavares (3:01), and Turris didn’t allow a shot on goal against those two, while getting two on net. Granted, none of the shots on goal the third line produced were anything close to a scoring chance, but they made progress defensively in not allowing good chances.

OFFENCE…

Jan 13, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers players celebrate a third period goal by defensemen Darnell Nurse (25) against Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Tippett should be thrilled with how the team played defensively. They battled hard and were disciplined, but I’m sorry, I don’t buy he was happy with their offensive play.

They need to create more. And five-on-five production has been a concern for the past three games. They’ve scored two 5×5 goals in three games: One off the stick of Slater Koekkoek and the other off the stick and skate of two Toronto players. Kailer Yamamoto got credit.

Here is a look at the Oilers shots on goal at 5×5 through 40 minutes last night:

1st period:
1:47: Adam Larsson wrister from 69 feet.
10:41: Yamamoto goal. He and Dominic Kahun won puck battles behind the net, Yamamoto slid it in the slot to Draisaitl, but Jimmy Vesey stopped it, and shot it off  Jake Muzzin’s skate and it went in.
18:28: Shore wrister from seven feet.
18:36: Chiasson backhand from seven feet.

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2nd period:
0:06: McDavid backhand from 22 feet.
3:35: RNH wrister from 32 feet.
4:34: McDavid backhand nine feet.
12:13: Nygard wrister from 34 feet.
19:56: McDavid writers from 11 feet.

Nine shots, but only one, Chiasson’s, came with sustained pressure around the crease. The Oilers offence will need to improve by having more opportunities in quick succession. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

3rd period..
0:50: Bear slapper from 50 feet.
2:02: Archibald wrister from 44 feet.
3:41: Russell slapper from 62 feet.
3:46: Barrie slapper from 44 feet.
4:44: Koekkoek wrister from 39 feet.
Toronto tied it at on Matthews goal at 6:44
Oilers take lead with Draisaitl PP goal at 9:12
10:56: RNH wrister from 35 feet.
12:14: Draisaitl snapshot from 36 feet.
14:08: Koekkoek slapshot from 58 feet.
15:45: Draisaitl wrister from 115 feet (neutral zone)
17:05: Kassian crossbar from 24 feet. I think this was their best scoring chance of the game. But it is not an official shot on goal as it hit the crossbar.

The Oilers showed progress in the third period. They remained solid defensively. @Kassian lost the battle to Matthews, but Koskinen should stop that. The Oilers found ways to generate more offense while maintaining solid defensive structure. On a side note, I felt Kassian played much better after Toronto scored. He looked more engaged, and like the gaffe was a wake up call. They need him more involved, and he needs to play like he did in final 10 minutes from the start of tomorrow’s game.

Last night was a big boost of confidence for the Oilers defensive zone structure. They competed hard in their defensive zone. I really liked how they battled and protected the front of the net (red zone). Now they need to bring that same competitiveness to the red zone in the offensive end.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but last night was a positive step in building more of a solid foundation for the Oilers.

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