Breaking down Games 1-3 between Edmonton and Los Angeles, and how the Oilers can still win this series

Photo credit:© Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
11 months ago
The Los Angeles Kings took a 2-1 series lead against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night with a controversial overtime winner from Trevor Moore.
The goal was questioned for a potential high stick on the play prior, and eventually, it was ruled that there was no conclusive evidence the puck hit the high stick, meaning the call on the ice stood as a good goal.
Ever since, there’s been constant debate regarding the play, with countless videos at a variety of different slow-motion angles shared all throughout social media. It’s evident that frustration was quite high throughout the fanbase.
Without further ado, here are some of my thoughts on the series thus far, and how the Oilers can win:

The officiating has been poor, and the Oilers aren’t doing themselves any favours

Personally, I dislike complaining about the refs, and I try to avoid it as much as I can. It’s by far my least favourite part of hockey discourse. That’s not a defence of the NHL’s officiating by any means at all, as I completely agree it’s quite poor. But I don’t think there’s any clear conspiracy occurring against any team, and I don’t like claiming the league is “rigged” every instance a call doesn’t go my favourite team’s way. The unfortunate fact is that NHL officiating is a league-wide issue.
So far, the Kings have 15 power-play opportunities, compared to 8 for the Oilers. It’s easy to blame the outcome of this series so far on the refs. However, while the officiating has been awful overall, it’s certainly not the only factor for Edmonton being 2-1 behind in this series.
Yes, I can agree that there have been some missed calls against the Kings, but the Oilers aren’t doing themselves any favours by taking careless penalties. Bouchard’s high-stick late in the third of Game 1, Desharnais swinging his stick at an LA player’s feet in overtime, Kane flipping the puck over the glass, RNH’s blatant slash in Game 3 OT, etc, are all obvious penalties. 
As for the OT goal in Game 3, I’m mixed on it. Some angles do show that the puck did indeed hit the high stick. With all of that said, I’ve never been a big fan of micro-analyzing moments like this in such a fast game, with slow-motion reviews from countless different angles on something that didn’t really have much impact on a goal at all (and yes, that includes extremely close offside reviews). To be honest, I’m more frustrated at the missed slash and interference calls from Danault against McDavid earlier in the game, and Nurse’s awful coverage on the OT goal, which could’ve prevented this entire discussion in the first place.
It does seem like nearly every questionable call has gone in favour of the Kings, but the Oilers’ lack of discipline is an issue. I think both things can be true at once.

On the bright side, Edmonton has been the better 5v5 team by a good margin

These playoffs, I’ve continued my manual 5v5 microstat tracking project for the Oilers, and added some new data points. Here’s a look at both teams overall at 5v5:
The goals in this series at 5v5 have been 4-4, but Edmonton has controlled play by a significant margin, with Edmonton holding a 61 percent shot attempt differential. Per Natural Stat Trick, Edmonton’s scoring chance share is also 61%. 
In my tracking, I split shots into four categories; rush, forecheck, cycle, and faceoff shots. Rush shots are defined as shots within six seconds of a controlled zone entry, forecheck shots are defined as shots within four seconds of a dump-in recovery or an opposition turnover, faceoff shots are defined as shots within six seconds of a faceoff, and cycle shots are any other shots taken in the offensive zone that do not fit the above categories (for now, all NZ shots are omitted).
So far, Edmonton is ahead in each shot category, which is a good sign.
In total, Edmonton holds a +17 edge in successful zone entries, and a +20 edge in controlled entries. Their rush shot differential is 59 percent, and their rush chance differential is 69 percent. I’ve noticed a lot of weaker, low-quality shots off the rush from LA, so Edmonton is doing a solid job at limiting LA to the outside as they enter the zone, while firing dangerous shots off the rush themselves. The Oilers have also forced 34 failed zone entries.
As for the forecheck, the shot differential is a bit closer. Edmonton had a big 15-6 edge in forecheck shots in the first two games, but in Game 3, LA was ahead 8-2. Both teams have been somewhat similar at recovering dump-ins, although Edmonton also holds the upper hand there. The Oilers have done a strong job at forcing turnovers in the offensive zone in all three games, and going forward, they’ll need to convert those LA turnovers into shots and chances at a higher rate.
Edmonton’s most significant edge in terms of shot differential is off the cycle. When their controlled entries or recovered dump-ins haven’t led to an immediate scoring chance, the Oilers have done a good job at establishing possession and getting shots/chances off extended zone time. None of their goals has been scored off the cycle so far, and I expect that to change.
The biggest issue at 5v5 for the Oilers has been finishing. LA has won the goaltending duel so far, as Korpisalo has had an excellent first three games, allowing 4 goals on 8.8 expected goals per EvolvingHockey. By a solid margin, the Oilers have been the superior 5v5 team, but they’ll need to produce and capitalize on their chances at a much higher rate. 

Draisaitl has dominated. What about the rest of the top-six at 5v5?

What a series it’s been for Leon Draisaitl thus far. He has 3 goals and 6 points in 3 games, and is Edmonton’s only player with multiple 5v5 points.
He leads the team with 21 zone entries, 18 with control. His 22.3 controlled entries per 60 rate would rank first in the league using Corey Sznajder’s microstat data. Nine of his controlled entries have led to scoring chances, while no other Oilers player has more than three. Draisaitl also has 19 primary shot assists, 12 of them off the rush. LA’s 1-3-1 NZ trap hasn’t been able to defend Draisaitl well at all, as he’s been lethal in transition.
Furthermore, Draisaitl leads the Oilers forwards with 18 zone exits under pressure, 15 with control. He has 26 puck touches in the DZ, with just 1 turnover and 0 icings. 
So far, Draisaitl has been the best skater in this series.
However, the rest of the top-six hasn’t been productive at 5v5. Kane has just one 5v5 assist, while McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, and Hyman don’t have a single point at 5v5. Will this sustain?
Hyman ranks first on the team in recovered dump-ins, while Kane is second. Both of them are effective at getting the puck in deep and winning the race to recover it against LA’s defenders, but once they recover it, they haven’t accomplished much. Hyman doesn’t have a single shot or shot assist off the forecheck. 
In the 2022 playoffs, a significant portion of Edmonton’s offence came from their wingers, with Hyman at 11 goals, and Kane at 13. Neither of them was ever going to sustain their lofty shooting percentage from last playoffs, but Edmonton needs both to start producing some offence. Nugent-Hopkins must also play better, as he hasn’t really made much of an impact anywhere at 5v5. It’s unfortunate because the bottom-six has played well, but the top-six hasn’t produced enough.
In the regular season, McDavid averaged 21.6 controlled zone entries per hour. In these first three games of the series, he’s at 11.3. He still ranks second behind Draisaitl in entries leading to chances, alongside other various offensive categories such as shot assists and zone exits, but overall, the Kings have done a solid job at limiting him off the rush. 
With that said, McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, and Hyman have a 0 percent on-ice shooting percentage. Despite not being as excellent off the rush as he usually is, McDavid has still been on-ice for 3.1 expected goals and 35 scoring chances per Natural Stat Trick at 5v5; he isn’t going to stay at 0 5v5 points forever. 
Eventually, they should break through, but if Edmonton wants to win this series, that needs to happen soon.

Observations on individual performances from the defencemen

I’d also like to go over some of my observations regarding Edmonton’s defensive core. There are a lot of different stats I track, so let’s start off with some basic ones. Here’s a look at 5v5 zone entries and zone exits for the defencemen.
Evan Bouchard has been quite good at entering the offensive zone. He also leads the team in total zone exits, although he hasn’t been as efficient at exiting the zone with control. I’ve noticed a lot of instances, especially in Game 1, where he had an opportunity to make a pass, but went for the dump-out instead. He was the team leader in controlled exit percentage in the regular season, so that’s something interesting to note.
Regardless, Bouchard has just 3 DZ turnovers on 38 DZ puck touches, equating to a 7% turnover rate, which is the best (lowest) among the D. Overall, he’s played well. Bouchard also has 5 zone entry denials.
So far, Nurse has been Edmonton’s best defencemen at exiting the zone with control, which is good to see. However, while he’s been strong in transition, he’s been a bit high-event with transition defence. He does lead the team with six entry denials, but on the other hand, five of LA’s eleven rush chances have come when an LA forward gained the blueline against Nurse. 
Kulak also shows up well. Behind Bouchard, he also has a strong 9% DZ turnover rate. I think he’s playing his best hockey of this season.
Ekholm hasn’t been as fantastic as he was in the regular season, but by no means has he been bad.
Desharnais has been a bit of a mixed bag. While his controlled exit percentage is good, he has 6 DZ turnovers on 31 touches. That equates to a 19% DZ Turnover rate, which is the worst among Edmonton’s defencemen. LA has attempted to enter the zone against Desharnais at the blueline 9 times, and they’ve entered with control 7 times, equating to a 78 percent controlled entry allowed rate, which is also the worst among the defence.
Another stat I track is opposition dump-in retrievals (largely based on how Cam Charron tracks them), which is a big component of defending an opposing team’s forecheck. When Ceci is the first defenceman back going to retrieve an LA dump-in, he’s won the race to the puck against an LA forechecker 5/11 times. When he does win the race, he’s made a successful pass or zone exit 2/5 times. In total, Ceci has a 19% successful dump-in retrieval rate, while the rest of the D combined is at 55%. Ceci’s 14% defensive zone turnover rate is also the second worst among the D, and he hasn’t been a major factor in transition either.
All-in-all, Edmonton’s defence has been good, but they need more from Desharnais and Ceci. Their RD depth seems to be an area of weakness.

The series is far from over

There are several things that Edmonton needs to do to win this series.
Firstly, they need to be more disciplined. Simply put, they can’t control the officiating, so they need to focus on what they can do; play smart, and don’t grant the refs the opportunity to make an obvious call. Win decisively, and don’t let the game to be decided on a 50/50 call.
One other concern is Edmonton’s PK. They allowed a shorthanded goal with sixteen seconds left in Game 1, then allowed the OT goal on the PK in both Games 1 and 3, with Nurse’s coverage looking poor on both goals. Their penalty kill must be better in big moments.
Nextly, they need to solve Korpisalo at 5v5, and he’s certainly beatable. Edmonton needs their top-six wingers to start producing at their usual levels, and in general, their forwards need to consistently drive to the net to get rebounds and deflections.
Their overall 5v5 game plan doesn’t have to change much, because they’ve controlled possession and chances by such a strong margin. For the most part, Edmonton needs to keep doing what they’re doing; the team is getting plenty of high-danger chances, but they need to finish them.
It’s impressive that the Oilers are ahead 25 – 11 in rush chances despite McDavid not being at the top of his game off the transition; once McDavid starts playing at his usual level, and I believe he will, it’ll be difficult for LA to emerge victorious. Again, I don’t see his 0 percent on-ice shooting percentage sustaining for the remainder of the series, but when it regresses could have a major impact on Edmonton’s success.
It’s only 2-1. There’s plenty of time to come back.
Game 4 will be a big one.
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)

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