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Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers Game 6: A Tactical Review

Edmonton OIlers Stanley Cup Finals
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 month ago
Coming into Game 6, the Oilers have won one game in this series 8-1, and were robbed by Sergei Bobrovsky in the first game of the series.
But the Oilers may have played their most complete game in the one that now brings this Stanley Cup Finals to Game 7. If you were looking for signs of a veteran team making mature plays and executing a sound game plan, this was your game. It had its moments for certain, but it was mostly a clinic by the Oilers in all three zones. When it did break down, Stuart Skinner was there to hold the fort. What it all means is there’s a Game 7 in Florida on Monday night.

What Caught My Eye?

Again, with every game in this series, the Florida Panthers came as advertised. Incredibly hard and aggressive forechecking in all three zones and in all phases of the game. Tonight, the difference was not a goalie or shooting percentages correcting, but an Edmonton Oilers team would played a very composed game in every facet. Let’s have a look.

The Defensive Zone Exit

Easily the most talked about aspect of the series has been the battle between the Florida Panthers offensive zone forecheck and the Edmonton Oilers breakout. The Panthers sell out on almost every uncontrolled entry betting the Oilers’ defence and wingers cannot handle the pressure. In Game 6, the Oilers won the battle more often than not. It started early and often.
In this clip watch Philip Broberg absorb a check and put the puck into a safe space. The key here is Leon Draisaitl getting nice and low to support his defenceman. Not because he has anything to do with the wall play. He is just in a very nice spot to assist in moving the puck out of the zone. Foegele wins the wall battle and Draisaitl is in a great spot to exit the zone.

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Here is another clip from early in the game.
Connor McDavid gets nice and low to support his defenceman on the retrieval. McDavid gathers the puck, but look at the Panthers: four players are all on the strong side. Evan Bouchard sees the opportunity to activate and takes it. This gives McDavid an easy outlet sans the broken stick on Bouchard.

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Finally, here is another one from the second period.
This time, it is a middle breakout. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins once againgets low in the zone to provide support. Bouchard sees the mid-lane outlet to Mattias Janmark. Janmark and Nugent-Hopkins work a great touch pass sequence to exit the zone.

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The Oilers’ shot differential in the first two periods of Game 6 had a lot to do with the creativity and will of their defence and forwards to exit the puck more cleanly. It also led to their second goal of the game. This play had the Dallas Stars written all over it. It starts with the Oilers switching sides down low to break the forecheck. In the meantime, watch Mattias Janmark. Once the puck is swung back to the opposite side, Janmark stretches up the ice. At this point, there are four Panthers all on one side of the ice. This allows a very easy exit by the Oilers. Also, because Sam Bennett gets caught low on the strong side, it turns into a two on one which Adam Henrique finishes well.

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Until the Oilers decided to defend the 3-1 lead, I thought they were very good at puck retrievals and exits. It took away from the Panthers’ offensive ability and even led to a critical second goal for the Oilers.

The Defensive Zone

Another key piece to the Oilers’ game last evening was their defensive zone. When the Oilers needed to defend, they did it very well. They maintained a very structured posture that took away lanes and collapsed to the slot to protect against high-danger shots. The Panthers’ zone time was mostly spent on the perimeter and when shots were taken, the Oilers either blocked them or cleared the rebounds away from trouble.
Here is a great clip of the Oilers’ efforts. The puck was in their zone for a significant period of time. However, watch how little danger the Panthers create with the puck. The first part of this clip shows the discipline of the Oilers to maintain a good structure with an Oiler forward always down low in the slow. When the Panthers attempt a shot, look at what they are trying to shoot through. In addition, the Oilers have all the Panthers marked in case of a rebound. Finally, the Oilers end up with a great exit by — wait for it — switching sides of the ice and activating the weak side defenceman.

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The Oilers’ defensive zone work also led to a goal for them on the key third goal of the game. It starts with the Oilers maintaining good defensive structure in the zone. There’s McDavid down low, defencemen marking the net front and the wingers in good positions up top. The shot gets through but is easily moved from danger. Watch the next part.
When the puck gets swung up top, the Oilers wingers pressure their points which is part of their design. In the meantime, the remaining Panthers are marked down low on the net front. This leaves the Florida defenceman with only one option, which is to shoot the puck. The high pressure causes the shot to be blocked. In addition, because Hyman is high in the zone on his man, he has a chance to chase the loose puck in space. Goal.

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The “Poop Your Pants” Zone

I had a coach who called the three-foot area of the defensive blueline something akin to the headline for this paragraph, but I have cleaned up the language.
What he said was that many games were determined by who won the battle for the 18 inches on each side of your blue line. There is no question that if he had seen this series, he would have cast a knowing smile. It has been a slog at each team’s blueline. The Oilers have done a more-or-less average average job in this area of the zone in this series. However, they have slowly gained more advantage here as each game has progressed. In Game 6, their blue line play was good and, more importantly, it led to a goal.
Watch Brett Kulak here. Instead of retreating, he stays up on the line. With the Florida Panther on his side at essentially a standstill, and because he has low support, he steps up to interrupt the pass. He makes the play and the Oilers are instantly on a 3v2. This has a lot to do with the Panthers’ aggression on the puck and when it gets turned in the other direction quickly, the Oilers get their chances. This time they capitalized.

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At the end of the day, the Oilers scored three 5v5 goals because of their composed play without the puck in their defensive zone. That’s right. The Oilers’ defensive zone work led to three goals and a win that resulted in a game seven for the Stanley Cup. These are heady days for the team as they make their way to South Florida for one last time.

Notes For Game Seven

The Oilers chased a match-up of Adam Henrique’s line against the Barkov line or the Bennett line. The coaching staff did not seem to be fussed running them against either. The line bent a little but never broke, and it scored a crucial goal against the Bennett line to start period two. This flexibility has a chance to be very significant in Florida, where the last change is in their favour.
The Nurse-Broberg pairing stabilized somewhat in this game. They played heavy minutes against the Bennett line and while the pairing made some questionable outlet attempts, they minimized the damage by suppressing high-danger changes against. I remain quite worried about this pair in Game 7, but they have been able to manage their way through without much in the way of poor results against.
Florida media can talk as much as they would like about the Panthers powerplay. However, that takes away from the incredible performance in this playoffs and the Stanley Cup Finals by the Oilers penalty kill unit. Mark Stuart’s group has turned this group into a shield and a sword. The unit barely allows entries, let alone chances. They have also scored twice. This unit has been more impactful in the series than the Oilers’ powerplay and that’s quite a statement.
Stuart Skinner is winning the goalie battle now. One more game to go. This has been a huge narrative change in this series.
That’s it for the Game 6 tactical review.
See you all back here on Tuesday morning after the extended long weekend in Edmonton.

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