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Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers Game 5: A Tactical Review

Edmonton Oilers
Photo credit:Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 month ago
When the story is written about the 2024 Stanley Cup Finals, the reasons for the Oilers’ win will focus on Connor McDavid and Stuart Skinner. No question if one looks at the whole of the game, specialty teams included, it was a very close.
Natural Stat Trick had it as a virtual tie in all game states. However, at 5v5, it was an onslaught from the start of the second period to the final whistle by the Florida Panthers. But for the superhuman effort of Connor McDavid with a massive assist to Stuart Skinner this game could have ended differently. Weirdly though this is a game that didn’t have to be this way.
After the first period, the Oilers had control of this game. I even posted that I thought maybe the Florida forecheck was getting beat again by the Oilers. Well, I was wrong there. Whatever happened in between the first and second periods, it looked the Edmonton Oilers were content to try and win 1-0. No question, the Florida Panthers played a desperate game, but the Oilers also played a large role in allowing the change in the state of play. In the end, they held on for a 5-3 win.
The Oilers will need to play a different 60 minutes next game to get to a game seven because what happened in the last forty minutes at 5v5 isn’t sustainable. More on all of this below and a shout-out to a couple of unsung heroes for the Oilers last night.

What Caught My Eye?

The Florida Panthers have once again changed nothing about their game from a tactical standpoint. They made a subtle change putting Evan Rodrigues on the Barkov line and moving Carter Verhaeghe to the second line with Bennett and Tkachuk. The Panthers ran their same match-ups, too, with Barkov on McDavid and Bennett on Draisaitl. The Panthers continued to press all over the ice, making a bet that the Oilers could not withstand the pressure for 60 minutes. It almost worked.
The Oilers will need to sort that out for Game 6.

It Didn’t Have To Be That Way

The Oilers actually were really strong in the first period. They didn’t give up any high-danger chances and created a number of their own. This came from a combination of effectively exiting their zone and defending both bluelines well to create or sustain possession. Take a look at this clip of a zone exit from the first period. Watch Philip Broberg absorb a check while ensuring the puck isn’t turned over. Corey Perry provides nice support on the play gathering up the puck. As they always do, the Panthers flow to the strong side of the ice as the Oilers set up well on the weak side and out the puck goes.

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Here is another quick example from a neutral zone play involving Cody Ceci. The Oilers win the puck back to Brett Kulak. He goes back up the strong side with the puck. Again, the Panthers flow to the puck as is their trait. Ceci steps up on the weak side. Leon Draisaitl makes a great backhand pass cross-ice and the Oilers are on the attack.

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In terms of the blue line, I thought the Oilers’ defence was excellent early on, maintaining tight gaps and forcing the Panthers to make plays in tight space. Credit goes to them, but also to the forwards who really committed to having a high F3. Watch this clip that starts with Leon Draisaitl holding a great spot up high.
This helps Ceci be aggressive on the puck and interrupt the play. The Panthers gather again and start moving up the ice. Leon Draisaitl is back and this gives Brett Kulak the comfort to hold his line and make a play on the attacking Panther. He does, the puck is turned over and the Oilers go back up the ice.

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The Second Period On…

The Oilers had good moments in the last forty minutes, no question. They defended their zone quite well, especially in the third period. However, that was borne of necessity because the Oilers as a group became very undisciplined in all phases of the game with zone exits leading the way. The forwards and the defence were both accountable for this change last night. The forwards started to lose their way of setting up to exit. The forward on the strong side started to get too far up the ice in his zone inviting an easy pinch by the Florida defenceman. Here is an example of Dylan Holloway. Leon Draisaitl gathers the puck in the zone and Holloway clearly can see him with control. Instead of coming towards the puck, Holloway stays high. Draisaitl makes the pass, but Holloway is already into the check. The result is a turnover.

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The defence also has its issues as well. Watch this play by Philip Broberg.
Broberg can see the entire play in front of him. He knows that he doesn’t have a player on the wall. He even looks there. He fires it up there on a “hope” play. When the camera pans out, you can see that Broberg had at least three other options. He could have reversed and skated the puck out. He also had two mid-lane options available. The result was a turnover and more defending.

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Then there were the times when everyone got in on the party. Here is a clip that illustrates all of it together.
It begins with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being too high in the zone and bringing himself into the pinch zone of the Florida defenceman quicker. Then when the Oilers gather the puck low and start to exit, Kulak, instead of taking the short pass sends it further up ice right into the Florida neutral zone. Finally, it ends with an opportunity for Leon Draisaitl to look at a mid-lane play, but instead, pitch-forked the puck up the wall to the waiting Florida defenceman. This last part might have been a little risky given Stuart Skinner’s position, but it was there.

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These plays also led to goals against. The first goal by the Panthers was an example. Here Holloway gets the puck on the wall. He has a mid-lane option but chooses to go up the wall. It is too soft a play that leads to a turnover. In the meantime, every single Oiler has decided to go up the ice. As the strong side defender, Evan Bouchard should have been more alert and stayed underneath the puck. Draisaitl, as the last man back, needed to be between his goalie and the last Panther player.

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Now I empathize with Holloway because he was on his weak side. However, there were options for him. I think it was notable that Holloway took a seat late in the game for right-handed shots to take his place defending the 4-3 lead.
The third goal against also had some of these issues. It starts with Brett Kulak playing a very soft blueline. He had Adam Henrique in a good spot to support him if he stepped up. However, he concedes the line to the Panthers. Then the Oilers win the battle and Adam Henrique gets the puck in the corner. All he needs to do is get on his forehand to make a better play. He also likely opens the middle lane because Sam Bennett is taking an angle up ice and if Henrique swings around to his forehand, he has a great lane. He does not. Makes a soft play and the Panthers make the Oilers play.

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Going into game six, none of this is fatal. The Oilers have proved in this series, and even in this game, that they can execute better on zone exits and defending their bluelines. However, the last two periods of game five should serve as a stark reminder that failing to play this way will have consequences.

The Unsung Hero(es)

I posted that the Oilers had an unsung hero in Game 5 that I would chat about in this article. I actually had two, but I felt that someone who doesn’t impact the scoresheet is more the definition of “unsung.” However, the other player garnered a lot of praise in replies to my post, so I am going to mention him as well.
Let’s start with Brett Kulak. I thought he was brilliant in Game 5. No question he was part of the early problems leading to the third goal, but that was a rare moment of challenge for him all night. He and Cody Ceci bent a little but didn’t give very much. Indeed, they were on for only two high-danger changes against of the nine the Florida Panthers generated. Here is a clip of the type of play the Oilers got from Kulak all night.
You’ve seen the last part of this clip once, but let’s look at the whole thing. Kulak defends his blueline twice in this clip. The first time making a great play to corral the puck and outlet to his attacking forward. The second is the one we already discussed.

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Here is another subtle play. Watch Kulak operate in his own zone using his feet and stick to break down a Panther attack and exit the zone.

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Nothing very fancy, but all of it is very effective. I thought Kulak was the Oilers’ steadiest defenceman all evening given his most common linemates. I think it is also telling that he and Ceci actually neutralized the Bennett line in their five minutes against them holding them to ZERO high danger chances on the evening. Brett Kulak was sublime.
The other player I had in mind was Corey Perry, then he went and ruined the “unsung” part by scoring. Nevertheless, I thought he was incredibly effective in limited minutes in Game 5. The numbers were similar to many of his teammates although his share of high-danger chances were at the top end of what the Oilers did all night. He provided composure and a moxy that I am certain the Oilers were after when they signed him. Let’s watch a couple of clips.
Remember how we talked about the Oilers’ troubles exiting? Watch how Corey Perry helps his defencemen out in this clip and gets the puck to safety.

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He recognized the situation well and was all done with his heart rate likely at 50 beats per minute.
This second clip is my favourite. The Oilers were not winning many battles at this point. Mostly just happy to get the puck out and defend. Watch Perry though on this play.
Twice he wins the battle on 50-50 pucks. He then gets into a great puck protection setup, allowing the Oilers to change forwards and get down on the forecheck. The puck is won by Warren Foegele, who draws a penalty. None of this is possible without Perry.

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This all happened with seven minutes remaining in the game and it was an important part of limiting the Panthers ability to tie the game. I suspect Perry will get spotted up the line-up a bit more in Game 6 on occasion.

Notes For Game Six

The pairing of Darnell Nurse and Philip Broberg was not good. Not one of them. Both. Not your favourite guy was good, but his partner was bad. Both. Period. Full stop.
The Oilers have been very lucky this pairing has not cost them in bigger ways in the series. Of the nine high-danger chances the Panthers had this pairing gave up six of them. They were bailed out early and often by Stuart Skinner. To compound the situation, they are getting matches with the Draisaitl line, which is not getting good play from Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins as a whole. This will need to change. I am not sure whether it is to flip Nurse and Kulak giving harder minutes to Kulak-Broberg with softer minutes to Nurse-Ceci. However, this will cost the Oilers at some point if there isn’t a change in their play or a change in who or how they play.
I noted Dylan Holloway sat a bit at the game’s end last night. Playing your weak side can be very tough against a hard-forechecking opponent, but he needs to be stronger. I wonder if Evander Kane is healthy, whether we see Holloway slide to a line with Mcleod and Ryan or Carrick for the next game. It could even be a mid-game adjustment if Holloway has some tough moments in the next game. Holloway may even sit, but his speed and scoring capability are needed on this team at 5v5.
That’s it for the tactical review of Game 5. See you all here on Saturday right after the Edmonton Civic Holiday on Friday.

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