Edmonton Oilers v. LA Kings Game 3: A Tactical Review

Photo credit:Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 year ago
When last we spoke on this fine website, I wondered if the LA Kings were starting to wear down under the Oilers’ success against both the offensive zone and neutral zone forecheck. Well, game three came along and the LA Kings decided to remind me that they were not done for and their ability to execute their tactics is just fine.

The Status Was The Quo

In terms of what both teams did in this game, nothing changed. The Kings continued to run the 1-3-1 in the neutral zone and the 1-2-2 wide offensive zone forecheck. However, in this game, I saw the first indications of the Oilers losing their way against both.
On the 1-3-1, I thought the Oilers started to settle far too much for the set play we noticed in game one. Here is a clip that I think illustrates this with some good context. Watch Brett Kulak early in this sequence. He can see everything in front of him and wants to go quickly. The Kings are changing and he sees the opportunity to go. What happens? The Oilers decide to change, so Kulak has to reset and now it is too late.

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The result was the Kings had more success winning these battles. I remain convinced the best way to beat the 1-3-1 is to simply not allow it to set up. The Oilers defenseman or the low forward should move the puck quickly north before the Kings can get set up as Kulak wanted to do here. This will be a key focus point for me in game four. In game three, the Oilers were outscored at 5v5 1-0 after winning the goal share at 5v5 4-3 in games one and two. More notably, the Oilers had their lowest high-danger chance totals of the series. I understand the Oilers need to play a patient game, but that certainly does not mean they need to play the game at the Kings’ speed. That will likely not work and it did not tonight.
In terms of the offensive zone forecheck, the Kings were a lot more deliberate in how they dumped the puck into the zone. They were looking for 2v2 wall battles down in the corners much more tonight than in the prior two games.

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The Kings definitely had more success with this adjustment and indeed it led to the first goal of the game. The Oilers need to continue that focus of having a F1 nice and low quickly and moving the puck out before the forecheck gets on them.
Now about that first goal of the game. I’m not sure what the focus of the media reports or the online discussion would be on the goal. I would imagine for some people Darnell Nurse will take some blame. Honestly, though, he had little to do with this goal against.
There were a couple of fundamental errors in this goal. First, prior to the puck being transitioned back to the Kings’ defensman, the Oilers had lost their defensive zone structure. Typically, the Oilers have D1 on the puck with F1 supporting. Then D2 maintains the strong side of the net front. F2 protects the strong side wall and F3 sags down into the slot to prevent seam passes.  In the first still shot, the Oilers are in good shape. McDavid maybe to low, but ok. In the second still shot, Ceci gets beat and is now down below the puck. This creates a lane across the front of the net and that is where the puck goes. Royal road passes have a tendency to create havoc for the defending team, so that was the first issue.
The puck does take a fortuitous bounce to the Kings’ defenseman, but the Oilers recover nicely and are in good shape up top. They switch to their man-to-man which is what they are supposed to do when the puck goes there. Kane, McDavid and Nurse have their players marked.
It’s the fourth still shot that is the problem. Both Ceci and Hyman get beat out of the corner and that cannot happen on man-on-man defence. This creates a lot of open ice in the most dangerous spot in the zone and the Kings’ goal scorer makes the most of the space.

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You can pick either Ceci or Hyman, but one of them was to blame. Ceci, to me, looked fatigued when he was slow to mark his man in the corner which allowed the seam pass to start.  So maybe he never had a chance to get back to the net front. Regrettably though one of them had to be there to prevent what happened.
In terms of other notes, Todd McLellan was Todd McLellan. He didn’t go for any real match-ups and tried to expose the Oilers down lower in the line-up. As for Connor McDavid, I would be shocked if we do not see some changes with linemates including more 97-29 together at 5v5. I personally think he is quite fine. His PDO of .880 at 5v5 would suggest that luck is not a following wind at the moment. There is no doubt that will change in this series. How soon it changes may be key to whether the Oilers carry on to round two.
That’s all for this review, everyone. As always, send me feedback here or @bcurlock on the blue check free version of Twitter.

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