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Edmonton Oilers vs. Dallas Stars Game 2: A Tactical Review

Edmonton Oilers Dallas Stars
Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
26 days ago
As the clock ran down on Game 2, the Edmonton Oilers should have been pleased coming home with a split against the Dallas Stars. Given the physical toll of the seven-game series against Vancouver and having to play a rested Dallas team on the road, getting one win was a victory.
However, as the Oilers flew home in the early hours, I suspect there was some part of each of them that said they had a legitimate chance to be up 2-0 in the series. Some of that was the play of Jake Oettinger, but some of it was the Oilers too. After a scintillating first period where Oettinger was the only reason it wasn’t 3-0, the Oilers seemed to lose their way and with it the game. What happened and how? Let’s have a look at the tape.

What Caught My Eye?

First Period Same As The First Game, But Better

The first twenty minutes were textbook. It was text book on how to play the game of hockey by the Edmonton Oilers. It was also a textbook on how to tend the goal by Jake Oettinger. The Oilers ended the period tied at 1-1, but it could and should have been 3-1 at least. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Oilers had nine high-danger changes for to one against. The expected goal share in the first period was 2.27 for the Oilers to 0.4 for the Stars. The Oilers executed a very structured game plan in all phases. Here is a clip that covers the full 200 feet of what the Oilers did in the first period.
They were disciplined in their forecheck structure always maintaining a nice F3 set-up. Here you’ll see Hyman back out into that role and the puck comes right to him. When they moved the puck low to high, a forward often came up top dragging a Dallas forward with him. This created a lot of space for the two forwards low to play 2v2 on rebound plays. Even when Dallas countered, the Oilers were ready. Watch the last part of the clip where Evan Bouchard is going to get squeezed by two Dallas forecheckers.
In this instance, he has excellent support from both Mattias Ekholm and Connor McDavid. Ekholm gets the puck and now can advance it to McDavid or look for a weak-side option. The Oilers are smoothly on the counterattack.

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Here is another example where the Oilers transition out of a nice defensive zone play. They recover the puck and three players are immediately headed up the ice on the attack. When the Dallas gets it covered, the activating defenseman comes into the picture and is able to support the play. The Oilers get some confusion on the net front and have a very good chance to score.

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Even on the Oilers’ first goal, there was very nice work in transition. Watch here as Warren Foegele regroups. In the process, he drags three Dallas Stars to him. Cody Ceci reads this and activates off it. He gets the puck and now the Oilers are able to counter. This ends up being a terrible play by the Dallas strong side defender who lets Connor Brown get inside of him, but it all starts with a very nice connected transition play.

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The wobble in the period came on Dallas’ first goal of the game, coming off a Stars exit play. Cody Ceci steps up on the Dallas player who is going to end up with the puck. Dylan Holloway’s responsibility is to stay above Ceci in a safety role. The issue here is Holloway has the whole play in front of him, but chooses to staple himself to the wall. However, he can see the Dallas player cheating up ice into the middle. The puck goes there and the Stars are off to a 2v1. Jamie Benn scores. Stuart Skinner needs to make the stop, but it all started with a tough read by Holloway who needed to play more conservatively here.

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Periods Two and Three: The Return of The Old Oilers

Whatever happened in the dressing room between the first and second periods impacted the Oilers negatively. No question Dallas played a far more detailed game in the last two periods. There was a lot more composure in their own zone. Instead of chasing all the time, the low forward for Dallas played a lot more in the middle of the ice waiting for the puck to come to him. The Oilers on the other hand lost their composure in their zone. Here is a clip showing both.
Watch Mason Marchment just sit in the middle of the slot and wait for the puck to come to him. Now watch as the Oilers attack watch Draisaitl and McDavid both get locked in on the puck down low leaving the slot wide open. The result is a very good Stars chance.

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The other noticeable part was how disconnected the Oilers played on the attack in the last two periods. A lot of unsupported plays that were killed early. This clip shows Dylan Holloway getting no help twice on a shift. The first he is on the forecheck but has absolutely no help. There are three stars and even a fourth one before the first Oiler enters the screen. Then when Holloway ends up with the puck on the far wall, Evander Kane keeps skating down the wall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t move his feet towards the puck. Instead, Dallas recovers and the play is dead.

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There was also a lack of desire by the Oilers to turn this into a cycle game. For my money, few teams are better than the Oilers at the cycle. However, they seemed not to be willing to try to set that up in the last two periods. Here is a good example where both McDavid and Draisaitl end up facing unfavourable numbers while attacking. Instead of dumping the puck in and getting on the forecheck, they try to beat multiple defenders by themselves. In each instance, the Oilers were set up with a number of players who could get in on the forecheck.

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The Third Line

If Adam Henrique wasn’t ready before, he better be now. This third line needs some help.
I understand a lot of the focus is on lack of scoring. However, in game one, they had some excellent chances, but in Game 2, not so much. They didn’t register one high-danger chance for, combining it with the fact they are now bleeding chances against, and this line needs a change. Last night, it cost them a shot at the win. Here is the play in question.
Twice, Derek Ryan has the puck in a spot to get it out and twice he is foiled. While I’m not crazy about Vinny Desharnais’s work on this play either (he had time to make a puck play), Derek Ryan had to get the puck out. He didn’t and it went in the back of the net.

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I’m certain there was a change coming and perhaps the win in Game 1 allowed the coaching staff to be patient. However, that patience cost them tonight.

The Jamie Benn Match-Up

This is Dallas’s only really offensive line. It got its show run when it got on the ice against the McDavid line, as it did for most of game one. However, I thought this was a match-up DeBoer could take advantage of by playing the line against Draisaitl. There are a lot of people who suggest Leon Draisaitl is a defensive stalwart in his zone. He wins face-offs even though he is a rover in his zone. This causes issues for his teammates because they need to read and react off of him. This is not something Evander Kane does well. Dylan Holloway is quite good at it, but it is still challenging.
The Benn line is a bad match-up because of this fact. Wyatt Johnson and Logan Stankoven are motion personified. They are constantly moving their feet. Jamie Benn is a big body who is very good on the wall. Watch this shift and watch the number of times, Draisaitl gets pulled out of position and what happens.

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Going back to Edmonton, the Oilers need to avoid this matchup. The McDavid line has tilted the ice against this group, and that should be the match.

Notes For Game 3

I see a lot of hand-wringing about Cody Ceci again. I would love to see Philip Broberg as well. However, that is simply to unfair to the kid at this stage beyond there being an injury. Ceci had more wobble in Game 2 and looked tired. So did Vinny Desharnais. I doubt changes are coming on the defence’s right side.
Kudos to the fourth line of Sam Carrick, Mattias Janmark, and Connor Brown. That line has played against all of the Dallas lines and not only held well but also scored a goal. This is the type of depth the Oilers have been looking for. This group is very effective on the cycle. It should be noted that they played more as a unit than the third line.
That’s it for the tactical review of Game 2. We will see you back here on Tuesday morning after game three.

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