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Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers Game 1: A Tactical Review

Edmonton Oilers Florida Panthers
Photo credit:Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 month ago
Early in the 2023/24 regular season, it was reported that the Oilers, under Jay Woodcroft, had sent help to Sweden in the off-season to work with Philip Broberg, who would play the right side, perhaps with Mattias Ekholm as his partner.
It was a novel idea for certain and many teams employ same-hand defensive pairings in the NHL. There is no question this meant the Oilers were trying to put Evan Bouchard with Darnell Nurse. For me, I thought it was a good idea but worried about Broberg on his weak side. I couldn’t understand why the Oilers didn’t explore upgrading the right side with a right-shot defenceman, as that seemed to be a more logical route.
Perhaps the trade market didn’t have the options the Oilers wanted. Perhaps their salary cap issues, caused in no small measure by the Darnell Nurse deal, made it impossible. Whatever the reasons, improvement on the right side didn’t happen. Then Mattias Ekholm got hurt which scuttled the plans with Broberg, and the Oilers were back to the same defensive group that failed to get out of the second round of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
Unfortunately, this same problem reared its head last night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Make no mistake, the choice to play Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci together cost the Oilers a chance to win last night’s game. Did the team need to score? Of course. However, when the opponent is held to 11 shots at 5v5 through two periods with only four of those shots being of a high danger variety and they are up 2-0 against the Nurse-Ceci pairing, it’s trouble. This time the stakes are as high as they can be.
Let’s review Game 1 and see what can be done to prevent the Oilers from going home down two games in this series.

What Caught My Eye?

Nothing the Florida Panthers did last night was either surprising or all that effective. The Oilers had little trouble navigating the aggressive Florida Panthers pursuit of the puck in all three zones. The pace of the Oilers was a challenge all night for the Panthers group, especially the defenders. The only Panther who played a high-quality game of note was Sergei Bobrovsky. The problem was that his game was off the charts good and it resulted in a 3-0 win. A big question will be if he can keep that up, but more importantly, what the Oilers do with their own team will be more important.

Nurse-Ceci

When the rumblings came out that Nurse and Ceci were paired again, I didn’t really understand it. I offered one concept behind why it might be happening, which related to how Brett Kulak struggled on his weak side in the last series.
The corollary to that was not wanting to have Philip Broberg with Cody Ceci against a hard-charging Florida Panthers forecheck. Whatever the reason, the coaching staff went with Nurse and Ceci. It didn’t go well. Let’s break down both goals against.
On the first goal, the Oilers had a bit of a team effort on this clunker.
The play starts with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins chasing the puck behind the net. That’s a no-no. The Panthers had full control and were set up to outlet and Nugent-Hopkins took himself out of the play. Connor McDavid then commits the sin that creates the odd man rush getting below his player on the forecheck. That cannot happen. Ever. It makes it too easy on the Florida defence to get the puck to their forwards with a chance to attack. However, all of this can be remedied if the Oiler defence holds the fort and waits for the back pressure.
You can see the setup is pretty good at the blue line. The Oilers forwards are coming back and all Nurse and Ceci need to do is stay in the middle and drift back to the goalie. At worst, they give up an outside shot. Instead, Darnell Nurse makes a very bad decision to turn and go to the puck. That immediately isolates him on a 2v1. Cody Ceci then decides to compound this mistake by also rolling over and putting himself in a 2v1 situation. So now the Oiler defence group has given up the middle of the ice while simultaneously putting themselves into small area 2v1s against. The passing is excellent by the Panthers. The play is finished with Zach Hyman coasting on the backcheck to the player who scored the goal.

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Woof. Five mistakes on a shift will usually get you scored on. It did. The very tough part here is this play could have been ended by McDavid in the offensive zone and by Nurse and Ceci in the defensive zone in a relatively easy manner.
The second goal against was not any better beginning with some poor decisions up ice. This time it is Evander Kane. McLeod had forced the play to the outside as the F1. What you tell forecheckers in these schemes is to attack from the inside out. Another way to say it is to keep your outside shoulder lined up with the puck carrier’s inside shoulder. Evander Kane doesn’t do that. Instead, he cheats to go at the puck carrier who feigns outside and goes inside and now the Panthers have the entire middle of the ice.
At this point, Ryan McLeod or Corey Perry needed to harass the puck carrier. Allowing him to get to the Oilers blueline before having to make a play isn’t good enough. The puck gets chipped down to the wall and now come Nurse and Ceci. This recovery starts quite weirdly to me. Nurse is skating forwards toward his goal and Ceci is transitioning. I really don’t understand why Nurse doesn’t surf over to get the puck and allow Ceci to head to the net front. He has the momentum in the right direction. Nevertheless, he does not. Ceci gets beat to the puck. Nurse isn’t paying attention and Evander Kane doesn’t make a great effort to get to the slot which is his assignment as the weak side forward. Goal.

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Again, there were multiple mistakes here across four players. Ceci gets a modest pass from me on this play because I still think Nurse needed to retrieve. Nevertheless, as with the first goal, Darnell Nurse could have stopped this play if he had his stick on the nice. That is the important part of highlighting these two goals. Your defencemen need to be able to shut down these plays. It gives your forwards confidence to attack harder if they aren’t worried that every single rush back might result in a goal. If you don’t think that happens, let’s get to the first clip of the next topic.

Philip Broberg

The Oilers have a serious young player here. Broberg is playing one of the hardest positions in the sport on a cheap contract and doing it well on the biggest stage. He, and his partner, Brett Kulak stood up well all night. Remember in the last topic, we talked about how your defensive pairs need to make stops. Watch this clip. First, let’s point out a couple of things before we get to the key part of the clip. Watch Broberg step up and disrupt the initial outlet pass. He does this so well. His reach is excellent and he’s confident in his recovery skating, so he holds his lines very well. In any event, the puck gets dumped in. Watch Brett Kulak here.
This is part of the trouble playing on your weak side. In this case, Kulak cannot see anything behind him because to give Skinner a target his body position needs to face down ice. So he cheats a look-up ice just as Skinner sends him an awful pass. This is part of the issue I think the coaching staff worries about. In any event, the Oilers survive and the puck gets out. Now comes the key part of the clip. Dylan Holloway gets checked at centre.
He needed to get the puck into the Panthers zone for certain, but what was more an issue was all three Oiler forwards changing. This created an immediate 4v2 against the pairing of Kulak and Broberg. Instead of the tactics taken by Nurse and Ceci on the first goal, watch what Kulak and Broberg do. They surf backwards matching the pace of the attack directly to their goalie. They do not concede the middle of the ice at all. This gives Florida no isolation opportunities to attack on the two defencemen. When they make a pass to the open man, Broberg rotates over and makes a heck of a play to block the shot.

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That is how you shut down a play after your forward group causes you some issues. Brilliant defending.
Broberg was equally good at moving up ice tonight. Watch this play from his own zone. This is my favourite part of his game. He skates with such ease for a big man and his puck skills have drastically improved since his early professional days. Watch how easily he defeats the Florida forecheck by himself. Then he sends a great pass to his forward who is on the attack.

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Give the kid some skilled forward trios and watch what he can do with them. He’s breaking out and doing so with great confidence.
I want to highlight another player from Broberg just to give you some idea of why the coaching staff put Nurse and Ceci back together. On this play, Broberg is on his weak side. As with most times, the Oilers like to spin the puck up the wall from low to high. Often this puck comes with some serious pace as it did here. Broberg struggles with his footwork to get into position; unfortunately, the play ends up offside. Had this been a right-shot defenceman, it would have been an easy pick-up.

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Here the bobble was only an offside. However, the more important part is that it was against the Florida third line. Because of the pairings, Broberg-Kulak was seeing line combos that would be less able to exploit this issue. Imagine a play like this that ended up not offside with a Nurse-Kulak pairing. It might have been the Bennett lineup against them.
For Philip Broberg, it was a great game. He played more minutes at 5v5 than any other defenceman except Evan Bouchard at 16:15. More impressively, he played his highest minute totals in the third period when the Oilers were trying to get back into the game. He also had the third most minutes on the penalty kill. Whatever else the Oilers coaching staff does for the next game, continuing to play Philip Broberg’s bigger minutes should be part of the strategy.

News For Game 2

I look forward to all the banner headlines from game one about how Sasha Barkov stopped Connor McDavid. The truth was it was utter domination saved only by Sergei Bobrovsky. The Oilers should allow this match-up to happen. It almost always comes with the Forsling-Ekblad pairing who can be attacked.
What should not happen is the Nuclear Option except in very limited circumstances. It is incredibly disruptive to the rest of the forward group. It can be effective, but the coaches struggle to put another elite line on the ice if it doesn’t score.
Warren Foegele’s addition to the line-up was up and down. He made a couple of awful turnovers that led to chances against, but also created a bunch. I would keep him in the lineup.
I wonder if we see a line that involves Henrique and Holloway as a third line and Ryan McLeod moving to left wing again with Leon Draisaitl. Holloway was very effective in this game, but McLeod looked lost to me. This is a heavy forecheck Florida team and McLeod can get quiet in these types of games. Perhaps getting him back to the wing helps his situation.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins playing only ten minutes at 5v5 is very noticeable. He was seventh in time on ice amongst Oiler forwards. The Oilers need more from him.
That’s it for the Game 1 tactical review. I look forward to seeing everyone on Tuesday morning right here.

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