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Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers Game 7: A Tactical Review

Edmonton Oilers
Photo credit:Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
17 days ago
There is no question we will hear a laundry list of injuries from the Florida Panthers as they celebrate with Lord Stanley in sub-tropics. However, I am almost certain the list for the Edmonton Oilers will be as extensive.
We will no doubt find out that some Oilers were playing games they would not have been playing had this been the regular season in November. In the end, the difference was that one team got out to a series lead that was just too difficult to overcome for the other team which was as depleted as injured. It’s not that the Oilers were not good in game seven. They were just fine. They had their moments. However, the moments were not enough. Chasing the scoreboard is hard to do in the NHL. The Oilers had to do it while injured and fatigued against a very, very stout defensive team. It was a valiant effort, but in the end, the other guys won and the Oilers will head to the off-season getting as close to the Stanley Cup as a team can get, without winning.

What Caught My Eye?

As with most posts on the Elon machine, this one went in some wild directions. People picking on certain Oilers. People championing certain Oilers. People praising the Florida Panthers. People claiming they were lucky. For me, the team lost. The team. Not one player more than another.
The Edmonton Oilers played a good game. Didn’t get many chances, but when they did, the Florida Panthers defended well. In the end, the legs that held up well for the Oilers in the run from 0-3 finally gave out. The margin for error is so small in the Stanley Cup and the Edmonton Oilers, as an organization, missed it by the smallest of all margins.

The Good Moments

The Oilers had some good moments, no question. The third line of Henrique-Janmark-Brown was a revelation in this series. They did a lot of heavy lifting against the top six of the Panthers and won the 5v5 goal-share battle. Their ability to defend patiently was only outmatched by their offensive zone game. Watch this shift from last night.
Watch the emphasis on the high F3 that allowed the five-man unit to recover pucks and stymie exit attempts. It was one of several good offensive zone shifts by this line.

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The line was also the only one to get on the scoresheet for the Oilers. After a puck got reversed to the weak side of the ice, Mattias Janmark, as he has done all series stretched the zone. The Panthers, in the meantime, had three players thinking about the strong side. The two defencemen get caught being too aggressive and Cody Ceci makes them pay with a great pass.

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The Legs Were Not Quite There

However, the good moments were not frequent enough. It looked from the outset like the Oilers didn’t quite have the energy. The Oilers resorted to some of their defensive zone exit issues. Here was a common type of play from the first period in particular. A couple of chances to exit clean were missed by all involved. It resulted in an icing call and more defending which is always hard on the body.

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However, I thought it was even more noticeable on the forecheck. Look at a couple of clips here of the Oilers forecheck and how the legs were just not there.
In the first clip, Philip Broberg makes a spectacular entry. He and Derek Ryan are on the forecheck for a moment. Broberg slides back out to his point and look how long it takes for another Oiler to get to the forecheck. Ryan gets outmanned by three Panthers and the puck is cleared out of the zone.

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Here is another example.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is working the puck along the wall. There is very little support from his fellow forwards. He then gets double-teamed and nobody comes to his aide until it is too late. Again, the Panthers outnumber the Oilers and the puck gets cleared.

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You could also see the fatigue in the second goal for the Florida Panthers.
After a nice offensive zone shift by the Oilers, the Panthers gain possession and start to work up the ice. Watch Foegele and Draisaitl. Clearly Foegele wanted to change and gets passed by an attacking Panther. Draisaitl is also out of gas and just cannot get back to help defend. It becomes a 3v2 that Foegele eventually evens up, but by then his defencemen had to play it as a 3v2 and allow easy entry and an outside shot. This one was good and the Panthers took the lead.

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The result was the Florida Panthers winning the Stanley Cup by the smallest of margins. The Oilers didn’t play bad, but the team lost and while some might not think they started slow in this series, they were down 0-3. The effort required to overcome that type of challenge is tough to achieve shift in and shift out for the remainder of the series.

Notes From Game 7

The Oilers need a second pairing. They have one-half of it in Philip Broberg. Did you know he had the best 5v5 goal share of all Oiler defencemen in this series? He was one of the bright lights of this series even in Game 7. His ability to help exit the puck with his feet and his passing will be invaluable to the Oilers next season. However, the Oilers just lost momentum too often when the Nurse-Broberg was on the ice.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Connor McDavid’s expected goal share with Ekholm and Bouchard was in the high 60 percentile. With Nurse-Broberg it was sub 40%. The pairing had a drag on the Draisaitl line as well. One of the ways to balance the forward lines is to create a second pairing that doesn’t get caught defending a lot and can get the puck up the ice to their skilled forwards in space.
I have mentioned a few times that Brett Kulak was a luxury on 3LD. Well, he paid dividends all series. He and Ceci were not always great, but they held their own as a third pairing. It’s too expensive a third pairing given the cost of the second pairing and what is coming for Evan Bouchard, but Kulak proved his worth. Will he be here in September will be interesting given the Ekholm, Nurse and Broberg logjam ahead of him.
I think Vinny Desharnais can command some dollars as a rugged, penalty-kill-focused third-pairing defenceman. However, those dollars will likely be elsewhere. The Oilers proved in this series that the penalty kill was larger than this one player. He also struggled with passing the puck which isn’t his strong suit, but also not a massive weakness. I wonder about a hand injury for him. Will he take a team-friendly deal?
I also would be surprised if Cody Ceci is back. His cap hit playing third-pairing minutes is too tough. He was quite fine in this series, but the cap and what the Oilers need on the back end make it tough to keep him.
The forward group was a great story. This team had a lot of secondary scoring in this series. That’s encouraging going forward. However, a couple of those players, Henrique, Foegele and Janmark are all UFAs. Again, the Oilers cap will be a challenge to bring all of them back. So expect more Dylan Holloway and also to see Raphael Lavoie next year.
That’s it, folks. It has been an absolute blast bringing you these tactical articles this playoff season. Appreciate all of your feedback and the interaction. I’ll be back before the NHL draft with a quick note on some players I would like the Oilers to draft with their second-round pick on Saturday. Until then, have a great week.
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