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Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers Game 2: A Tactical Review

Edmonton Oilers Florida Panthers
Photo credit:Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 month ago
Two things can be true at the same time. The Florida Panthers played a much, much better game last night and the Edmonton Oilers were a big reason why that happened.
There is going to be a lot of narrative about injuries today and perhaps goaltending, but for me, this game was won and lost on the ice at 5v5. The Panthers’ aggressive style, which was exposed in Game 1, was very effective in Game 2. The Oilers, well, the Oilers did what they do sometimes.
Most of them, not all of them, tried to take the easy way out. The players will not make excuses about injuries, so we won’t hear either. The fact is, I am certain there are some big injuries on the Panther side too and that didn’t stop them at all. As the Oilers wake up today with ice bags strewn all over the place, they will fly home to try and devise a plan to turn this series around. For some of the players, there will be more to think about than others no question.
But collectively, there is a path forward and the Oilers will likely see that when they review the video from Game 2. That should be good news for them this morning. So, let’s take a look and see what the journey looks like for the Oilers to regain their footing in this series.

What Caught My Eye?

As opposed to Game 1, Florida’s aggressive play had a major impact on the game. There is no question. The Panthers were very good. The win was well-earned and that is that. However, the Oilers played a game that fed into the Panthers’ systems and that needs to change. If it doesn’t change, there will be a sad face emoji for Oilers fans this June.

Zone Exit

I want to show one zone exit that is a great example of what occurred last night and also why Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl playing together should be very limited. In this clip, the Oilers do a nice job recovering the puck below the goal line. Mattias Ekholm reverses and Dylan Holloway gets to the wall. Holloway could be a little lower here, but honestly, he’s a in a good spot.
Now, watch McDavid and Draisaitl. Both players immediately evacuate the defensive zone and do so on the far side. This leaves Holloway with nowhere to go with the puck except to eat it along the way. Yet, if there was any support in the middle of the ice, there was an exit available. The result is the Oilers had to defend longer than they otherwise had too.

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This was typical of last night. The Oilers’ lack of support in the middle of the ice all night led to continued defensive battles which essentially shut down the Oilers’ attack until well into the third period. Here is another example involving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Again, the Oilers do a great job down low and win the puck. Bouchard is moving up ice and sees everything in front of him. Instead of spacing to the middle of the ice, Nugent-Hopkins stands right there. Watch Bouchard take a look at the middle of the ice realizing this was his best option. Sadly, Nugent-Hopkins isn’t available. Bouchard tries to go up the wall on his weak side and the puck is knocked down and the Oilers are defending again.

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There is no question the middle is available for the Oilers should they choose it. However, it requires a low forward in a support position. The Oilers’ only goal came off this type of play. I made a comment that Connor McDavid showed the way last night on the ol’ Twitter machine and some people took that as his effort all night. That was amazing, but it wasn’t the meaning behind the comment. It was his play on the Mattias Ekholm goal that I was referring too. Watch this play.
The Oilers do a nice job winning the puck below the goal line and McDavid drops down nice and low to receive an outlet. Watch the Panthers come hard charging towards him. McDavid steps off the wall nicely and Mattias Ekhom fills the middle of the ice for an outlet pass. Goal.

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This play is here almost on every zone exit attempt by the Oilers. If that play is not available, the reverse is absolutely a tactic that could be used. Watch this clip involving Brett Kulak.
He flies black to recover the dump-in. This time, the Panthers do a nice job sealing the middle. Now I am not certain why someone (Broberg or Carrick) isn’t communicating with him to reverse or maybe he did not hear, but the reverse was clearly available. Instead, he takes the hard rim option to… no one.

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Let’s be clear. What I am proposing isn’t terribly novel. However, it requires very hard work by the forwards to get into lower positions in their zone. This is both on the wall and down low, and it also requires the other defenceman to be available to activate as well.

The Offensive Zone

Too often when things are going sideways for the Edmonton Oilers, they try to turn the offensive zone into an All-Star game where they try to attack off the rush without regard to the situation. Either that, or they look for an impossible seam pass to weak side at the first instance. Both inevitably lead to turnovers and counter-attacks in the other direction. Here is an example of this lack of patience.
Dylan Holloway does a great job entering the zone. Now watch what happens. Instead of perhaps reversing or stopping up, Holloway drops his shoulder looking to drive around to the far side, and the  freeze frame shows the trouble. Four Panthers absolutely collapse low to overwhelm him.

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Watch this group on another shift.
Adam Henrique enters the zone but slows up and allows Dylan Holloway to drive to the mid-lane which pushes off the four Panthers defenders. The puck ends up in the corner and watch all five Panthers collapse to the puck. This leaves Leon Draisaitl wide open net front and Mattias Ekholm’s pinch leads to a loose puck at the net front. The puck takes a hop and forces Draisaitl to the wall.
Watch Holloway step over to the wall to act as a hurdle to getting the puck outlet. The puck is won and is sent back to Bouchard. Draisaitl had done a nice job replacing Holloway as F3 and now Bouchard has Ekholm or Draisaitl in space because all of the Panthers are on the wall. A tough puck bobble kills the play, but again, the Oilers can impact the play quite well if they work the cycle off the wall with a strong F3.

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They are not going to win all of these, but this is where success will happen. It will keep the Panthers in their zone forced to defend and their aggressive defending will lead to some overplays that will create time and space for Oiler players. Unfortunately, this requires hard, physical work by the Oilers: something that was in limited supply by some Oilers in Game 2.

News and Notes For Game 3

In Game 1, Sergei Bobrovsky gave the Panthers a chance to win. They did. In Game 2, Stuart Skinner could have but did not. They lost. Perhaps unfair given the Oilers scored one goal, however, the longer the game is played at 1-0 and 1-1, the more the Panthers are forced to take more risks. Goals one and two are not easy saves, but they are saves that need to be made. For all the talk about the Oilers having zero high-danger chances, the Panthers had four of them at 5v5. None of those went in the net. Instead, it was two mid to low danger chances that scored. The Oilers have lost both games and had the second-best goalie both times.
The Oilers powerplay has posted a bagel in this series. The Panthers’ aggression is part of the reason, but the lack of puck support by Oilers flank players, especially from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, is contributing. The Panthers attack the puck up top instantly and the counter is for the flank player to come up the ice for a short pass in behind the pressuring forward. I’d also like to see the Oilers slide a player into the bumper position. This is a space that is wide open because of the Panthers’ pressure. The Oilers’ powerplay is so good, that I assume this will get sorted out.
Ryan McLeod has lost his way again. The Panthers have him flinching at his own shadow which makes the third line almost unplayable at the moment. That will need to change in a hurry because the Panthers third line is eating their lunch.
I wonder a lot about Cody Ceci coming back into the lineup. I didn’t mind Vincent Desharnais’s game, but he cannot outlet the puck quick enough to beat the Panthers’ check. In addition, he is not really an option to activate off the weak side. This is something that Cody Ceci does very well.
That’s it for the Game 2 tactical review. See you all back here on Friday morning after Game 3 in Edmonton.

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