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Oilers and Stars: Offence v. Defence

Oilers Leon Draisaitl against Dallas Stars
Photo credit:Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 month ago
The Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars will meet in the playoffs for the first time since 2003. From 1997 to 2003 the Oilers and Stars met six times in the playoffs including five consecutive seasons from 1997-2001. It was the pre-salary cap era, and the Stars had a significantly higher payroll. It was always a hard-fought series, but Dallas was the better team and prevailed in five of the six series.
There was no salary disparity this year. The Oilers had a combined cap hit of $83.4m, while Dallas had $83.5m.
This season there is no David vs. Goliath. Instead, it will be Offence v. Defence.
The Edmonton Oilers lead the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 46 goals scored in 12 games. They have the top-four scorers in the playoffs with Leon Draisaitl (24), Connor McDavid (21), Evan Bouchard (20) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (16). Zach Hyman leads the playoffs with 11 goals. He is fifth on the Oilers with 13 points.
Miro Heiskanen leads the Dallas Stars’ offence with 13 points in 13 games, followed by Jason Robertson with 12 and Wyatt Johnston with 11. Johnston leads the Stars with seven goals.
The Oilers are averaging 3.83 goals/game, while Dallas has scored 2.92 goals/game. Meanwhile, Dallas has allowed only 2.38 goals against/game while Edmonton has allowed 2.75.
Edmonton has a +1.08 GF-GA/game while Dallas is at +0.54.
The Stars defeated the Colorado Avalanche in six games and outscored them 22-15. They limited Colorado to one goal in three of their victories.
Jake Oettinger has been excellent in goal for the Stars. He’s allowed 29 goals on 355 shots for a .918Sv% and 2.09 GAA. He has the lowest GAA of any goalie who’s played two rounds.
Edmonton’s goalies have allowed 33 goals on 294 shots for a combined .887Sv% and a 2.74 GAA. Stuart Skinner’s numbers don’t look great mainly due to three games. He allowed five goals in game two v. LA on 26 shots, allowed five goals on 24 shots in game one to Vancouver and four goals on 15 shots in game four. Allowing 14 goals on 65 shots (.784Sv%) in 30% of your starts will crush any goalie’s numbers.
In his other seven games Skinner has a .918Sv% and 2.00 GAA. Skinner doesn’t need to be great for the Oilers to win the series, he just needs to be solid.

WHO HAS BETTER OFFENCE AND DEFENCE?

When you look at the overall goals for and against, it suggests Edmonton is better offensively while Dallas is better defensively. It is probably fair, but when you dig a bit deeper, it is interesting to see how each team has looked as far as generating and defending scoring chances.
The Oilers are in the top five in more defensive categories than Dallas, while the Stars are ranked in the top five in more offensive categories.
Edmonton has allowed the fewest high danger chances of any team in the playoffs. And they have the lowest xGA at 2.16. The Oilers’ issue defensively is they are still prone to the glaring error that leads to what I call a “gift” goal.
Skinner allowing Connor Garland and Nikita Zadorov to score goals from the bottom of the circle on sharp angles are good examples. Or look at last night in Game 7. Edmonton was in complete control of the game leading 3-0 after 40 minutes and had limited Vancouver to 12 shots. You knew Vancouver would be desperate to start the third period, but the Oilers didn’t give them much.
The Canucks missed the net on three shot attempts and the Oilers blocked two other shots before Connor Brown took a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. On the power play Vancouver managed two shots, but neither was dangerous.
Over the next three minutes, the Canucks had some O-zone time, but no shots on goals. The Oilers did block three shots in a span of 29 seconds between 10:13-10:42. The Canucks didn’t have one shot on goal 5×5 until Ryan McLeod’s brutal giveaway.
Skinner makes a good play to stop the dump in and move it to Vincent Desharnais, who in turn makes a quick, accurate pass right on McLeod’s tape. McLeod fans on his pass, for no apparent reason. He wasn’t pressured, he just missed the puck. And Connor Garland took advantage and gave the Canucks life. If the score was 2-0 instead of 3-0, who knows what would’ve happened. It was an egregious lack of focus, or panic, by McLeod. McLeod had been solid defensively for much of the playoffs, but in game six he didn’t pick up Nils Hoglander in the slot, and then gave Garland a gift goal. McLeod didn’t see the ice for the rest of the game. Rarely do coaches bench players for just one error, so clearly Kris Knoblauch was irked with more than that one play by McLeod.
Let’s be clear: McLeod is not the only Oilers player guilty of “gifting” the opposition a goal. It has been part of the Oilers’ DNA for years. They did improve under Knoblauch in the regular season, and limited the “gifts,” but in the playoffs, it has crept back into their game at times. The numbers don’t lie. The Oilers have played sound defensively for long stretches, but then they make a 10-bell error that leads to an easy goal against. How many “easy” goals did LA or Vancouver give the Oilers?
If the Oilers are going to defeat the Stars, they can’t be gifting goals against in multiple games. The Stars are too good. They are better and deeper than Los Angeles or Vancouver.

DEFENCE V. DEFENCE…

Dallas has played 13 games thus far, while the Oilers have played 12. Dallas will have a few extra days rest leading up to Game 1 on Thursday, but their D-men have logged significantly more minutes than Edmonton’s have thus far, especially at 5×5. The Stars have essentially played with five D-men for every game. Their top-five D-men have logged more minutes than any Oilers defender at 5×5.
DALLASGPTOICF%FF%SFSASF%GFGAGF%xGF%PDOOZSNZSDZS
Miro Heiskanen13311:5149.6149.8812812151.4110855.5654.511.012576125
Thomas Harley13281:4251.2751.1712812051.619756.2555.821.012345328
Esa Lindell13273:5245.7749.3310912446.786842.8650.210.991236958
Chris Tanev13272:364850.3910712346.528466.6754.731.042207366
Ryan Suter13230:1050.8951.46829446.598657.1460.41.034183835
Nils Lundkvist1252:1055.4550192048.72335050.171.00815150
Alex Petrovic116:2563.6458.826554.550074.991130
EDMONTONGPTOICF%FF%SFSASF%GFGAGF%xGF%PDOOZSNZSDZS
Evan Bouchard12224:1057.1858.281146563.691786860.31.026384922
Cody Ceci12200:3441.7740.88410444.6851033.3335.550.963204227
Mattias Ekholm12200:2456.1857.54986062.0314766.6761.171.026375020
Darnell Nurse12193:0345.8146.319410148.216143041.880.925204029
Brett Kulak12178:4544.8244.64647147.417463.6444.211.053232923
Vincent Desharnais12166:1246.9546.31626748.065935.7150.960.946182724
Bouchard leads Edmonton with 224 minutes 5×5, while Ryan Suter is fifth on Dallas with 230. Dallas uses the Heiskanen/Harley pairing similar to Bouchard/Ekholm. They start more in the offensive zone and play more with Dallas’ best offensive players, as they should. Bouchard and Heiskanen are the most skilled defenders on each team, and it makes sense to play them with the most skilled forwards.
Chris Tanev (107-123), Esa Lindell (109-124), Ryan Suter (82-94) have all been outshot similar to Cody Ceci (84-104), Darnell Nurse (94-101), Brett Kulak (64-71) and Vincent Desharnais (62-67). The difference is the Oilers’ four defenders have been outscored more than Dallas’. The PDO of Tanev (1.042) and Ryan Suter (1.034) compared to Nurse (0.925), Desharnais (0.946) and Ceci (0.963) show that Dallas has had more consistent goaltending, but they also don’t gift goals at the same rate Edmonton does.

MATCHUPS…

Feb 17, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Corey Perry (90) celebrates after a goal against the Dallas Stars during the second period at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
I’ve seen a lot written about Chris Tanev v. Jack Eichel and Nathan MacKinnon in these playoffs. He, along with Esa Lindell, have had success against those #1 centres, but Vegas and Colorado didn’t have a second line option like Edmonton does with the NHL’s leading playoff scorer in Leon Draisaitl. It will be interesting to see how Dallas deploys its defence v. Edmonton.
Heiskanen plays the most minutes (311) at 5×5. He’s logged 160 with Harley, 71 with Suter, 47 with Lindell and 28 with Tanev.
Tanev has skated 272 minutes and played 132 with Lindell, 61 with Suter, 51 with Harley and 28 with Heiskanen.
MacKinnon played 52.7% of his 5×5 TOI v. Tanev. MacKinnon skated 131 minutes at 5×5 in the series and he faced Lindell (75 min), Tanev (69), Harley (46), Heiskanen (45) and Suter (24).
Based on that, it would be safe to assume Lindell and Tanev will see McDavid the most, but if the Stars are running only five defenders, it is unlikely Lindell/Tanev will log much more than 50% of McDavid’s ice time. The Stars had Wyatt Johnston’s line against MacKinnon the most, at 35.8% of MacKinnon’s TOI. Johnston was out against MacKinnon for 47 of MacKinnon’s 131 minutes. They trust Johnston a lot, and in Games 5 and 6 Johnston played with Jamie Benn and rookie Logan Stankoven, after the Stars switched their lines due to the Roope Hintz injury. Hintz is back on the ice and is listed as day-to-day.
The main matchup the Stars want is more about Lindell and Tanev, but Colorado didn’t have a second line threat, especially once Valeri Nichushkin was suspended. Casey Mittlestadt is not in the same category as Draisaitl. Will they still try get Lindell and Tanev out that often, or because they are playing mainly five defencemen, will they have to spread out Lindell and Tanev’s minutes across Edmonton’s top two lines?
The Stars are very deep up front, but the injury to Jani Hakanpaa has forced them to run five defenders. Edmonton product Alex Petrovic played in game six v. Colorado, and he logged 16:25 in double overtime. Their top-five defenders still played huge minutes with Heiskanen playing 38:25, Harley (34:37), Lindell (33:45), Tanev (32:58) and Suter (25:22). Hakanpaa didn’t skate on Monday. He won’t be ready to start this series, and there is no timeline on if he will play at all.
The Oilers need to be physical on Dallas’ defenders. The longer a series goes, it can often become a war of attrition, and considering how many more minutes the Stars defenders have played already, being physical on them could have big benefits later in the series.

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