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Edmonton Oilers vs. L.A. Kings Game 1: A Tactical Review

Edmonton OIlers L.A. Kings
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
12 days ago
Coming into the series, most commentators, including this one talked a lot about the Kings vaunted 1-3-1 neutral zone forecheck.
It was certainly on display in game one of the series especially early on. Here is a clip displaying it in its most effective form.

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However, this tactic didn’t have much overall impact on the game. Indeed, the Oilers made it relatively unimportant within ten minutes of the opening puck drop. In part because the Oilers were very good at breaking it down, but more importantly, because they got out to a 2-0 lead.
How did the Oilers do that? Not by beating the neutral zone forecheck of the Kings, but by beating its offensive zone forecheck. In many respects, it was the Oilers’ work down low in its own zone that led them to success in game one.
Have a look at the first goal of the series by Zach Hyman. The Oilers are defending down low in their zone. Henrique wins the pick and is immediately faced with a Kings forecheck. Arvidsson (#33) becomes the F1 here to attack Henrique, with Moore (#12) becoming the F2 trying to seal the play from the weak side.
Watch Henrique with his patience. He has McDavid in the net front and Ekholm behind the net. He looks Moore off of Ekholm, feigning he is going net front with the outlet. Moore reacts just for a split second, and there is enough room to get the puck to Ekholm. He advances the puck to Bouchard, who goes across the ice to McDavid, and then the magic happens.

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It was a brilliant play by McDavid, but it all started with some great work by Henrique almost 200 feet away.
The Oilers did the same great job breaking down the Kings offensive zone forecheck on the second goal as well. Against the same two forecheckers (#33 and #12), Ekholm does a brilliant job of inviting both of them into him on the check. He then moves the puck to Bouchard who is now outside the seal of the forecheck. Bouchard then has two great options. He has Hyman on the wall and McDavid already accelerating up ice in the mid-lane.
Now notice the two Kings checks, who are not in great positions. Gavrikov (#84) is on the wall and needs to race back because the puck goes cross-ice. Danualt (#24) is already beat. Skating backwards against McDavid when he is winding up is asking for trouble. This causes a major issue for the defenceman not in the picture. He is now staring at a potential 2v1 against, so he backs right off.
This gap gives Henrique all he needs to find McDavid in full flight. McDavid doesn’t score, but the ensuing play results from this work, and Henrique has his first playoff goal since Henry Ford invented the Model T.

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Finally, the third goal caps off this great work by the Oilers in their zone. This time, it wasn’t beating the Kings’ forecheck but playing great zone defence. Watch McDavid come back to take the Kings’ players in the slot, who are in a very good spot for a scoring chance. Ekholm defeats the play with a nice deflection, but McDavid was in a great spot.
Now, the Oilers attack up the ice immediately. The second part of this clip is all about #24, Danault. He had a dreadful game against McDavid all night. Watch him get caught in no man’s land when McDavid gathers the puck behind the net. When McDavid reversed, Danault needed to seal the post. With two defenders trapped on the other side, he needed to be there. He hesitates, and when he finally reacts, it is too late, and McDavid finds Hyman for the easy tap-in.

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Much will be made of the brilliant play of McDavid all night. That should be mentioned a lot. The powerplay should also get a shout-out for its lethal execution tonight.
However, for me, this game was all about the Oilers down low in their zone. Either breaking the Kings’ offensive zone forecheck or playing strong zone defence — both of which contributed in very important ways to the first three goals of the game almost assuredly sealed the Kings’ fate.

Other Notes

Post game many players talked about cleaning up some play for the next game. It might sound a little odd given the outcome, but there was some sloppy play. Here was an example of what the players were referring to. The Oilers’ mantra was to counterattack quickly on transition. That led a few times to them getting up the ice too quickly before the entry was secured, which led to odd-man attacks the other way.
Stuart Skinner made three brilliant saves on plays like this one, which involved Mattias Ekholm. The Oilers do a very nice job again down low breaking up the play. There are nice outlet options for Bouchard, who chooses Henrique. Then it goes a little off the rails. Henrique moves the puck to Ekholm and every player starts attacking up the ice before Ekholm gets the puck through. When the puck is turned over there is no one left to defend, except Stuart Skinner.

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All that was needed here was a little more patience from Bouchard and Henrique to ensure the puck went through before going on the attack. I am certain this will be a focus for the Oilers in practice on the off day.
Finally, keep an eye out for the McLeod line with Perry and Kane. The line was slow to start the game and had a lot of trouble preventing the backtrack from getting them. They also struggled to get back when the Kings transitioned. The Dubois line with Byfield had good success against them early. Kane worked his way into the game, but as a unit there was some struggle. So much so that Knoblauch spotted Holloway on that line for one shift and moved Kane to the fourth line. Watch to see if the line can get up to speed in the coming games because I am certain when in L.A., the Kings will match this line hard with a quick, offensive set of forwards.
That’s it for the game one review. Oilers win 7-4 and lead the series 1-0. See you on Thursday.

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