Edmonton Oilers vs. L.A. Kings Game 3: A Tactical Review

Edmonton Oilers L.A. Kings
Photo credit:Yannick Peterhans-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
7 days ago
After three games in this first-round series, the Edmonton Oilers’ special teams have outscored the Los Angeles Kings 5-0. Some of that is a state-of-game effect, like last night’s two goals with the game well in hand.
However, to me, this statistic is not surprising. While the Kings have one of the best penalty kills, the Oilers’ powerplay is one of the best of all time. Furthermore, while the Oilers penalty kill only ranked middle of the pack at season’s end, it was in the top ten for the last half of the season. The Kings’ powerplay, while above average, isn’t spectacular. So these numbers should not be surprising.
What the Kings count on is winning the battle at 5v5. As I noted in the series preview, they want to slow your team down offensively and, at the same time, they want to shoot the puck a lot from everywhere and score by using quantity over quality.  That showed in their regular season stats. The Kings gave up the fifth least amount of 5v5 goals. While they ranked 21st in 5v5 goals for, they did have the third most shots in the league during the regular season. Just one problem: no one talked about the Edmonton Oilers 5v5 game.
While the Kings were fifth in 5v5 goals against, the Oilers were eighth. While the Kings were fourth best in shots against, the Oilers were sixth. All of this happening while the Oilers were third in 5v5 goals for and first in shots for. So should it be that surprising the Oilers are in a virtual tie with the Kings 9-10 in goals for at 5v5? Not really. The problem for the Kings is the Oilers are maintaining pace at 5v5 while thrashing the Kings on the specialty teams. That’s a problem. One that should it continue makes the chances of this being a long series quite small.

What Caught My Eye?

Evander Kane

First, and foremost, Kris Knoblauch is a poker player. After Bob Stauffer reported in the morning skate that the lines and pairings were the same, many people, including myself, wondered why. In the Game 2 review, I wrote that the second line needed a shake-up. Whether it was moving McLeod up or Kane up, the second line with Warren Foegele on it was not working.
The Kopitar line had destroyed that group in both of the Oilers’ home games in the series. So when the second shift of the game happened, and Leon Draisaitl had Evander Kane and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on his line, I thought, “I don’t want to play poker against Kris Knoblauch.” That’s a stealthy move. Leave the first line together, which has been tremendous in the series, and give a guy who earned it to help the second line.
Last night, it worked like a charm. The line was brilliant when the game was in doubt. The one element that Kane brings to this line that presents challenges for the Kopitar line is he can help sustain the forecheck in the Kings zone. While Foegele is more of a quick, juke and jive player, he can struggle on the walls. Kane does not. Kane is more methodical in his approach and with his size and puck skills, his wall work is very effective.
Only Quinton Byfield has the physical ability to handle Kane in these situations and I’m not sure that’s realistic. I thought last night that made a difference. It forced the Kopitar line to play more in their zone for the first couple of periods. Here is an example of a play where Kane can really be effective. Three times (yes, the third one is much easier) he kept the puck alive in the Kings’ zone. It lead a great chance on net.

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The second clip is the Kane goal. Again, just watch how hard he is to defend for Kings players. So long as Kane keeps moving, his size and strength make him a challenge to tie up even for bigger players like Kopitar.

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Kane’s push to the second line really balanced the 12 forwards in terms of their 5v5 play. In the first two games, three lines were carrying the mail at 5v5 with the Draisaitl line struggling. Beyond the play of that line, the Oilers would be winning the goal-share battle at 5v5 as well. The movement of Kane to the second line gave it a very strong night forecheck presence. It led to more puck possession for the Oilers in the offensive zone and less time for the Kopitar line in Edmonton’s offensive zone.
The third line with Foegele returning carried on where it left off and this is a much better deployment for Foegele. There is less competition and fewer high-leverage minutes. The result was the Oilers winning the 5v5 goal share battle 3-1.  The key going forward is whether Kane can keep up this play. He took some serious bumps in game three including a fight. He’s battled injuries all season and he’s an older player. This will be something to monitor.

The Demise of The 1-3-1

Now let’s be clear: some of the 1-3-1 being rendered useless last night was the score. Get out in front and it is hard to stay in that system. However, even in the second game, where the Kings played with the lead or were tied the whole night, it didn’t have much impact. Last night, it was a non-factor.
So much so, that I wonder whether the Kings would consider abandoning it if it wasn’t the playoffs and the team had played anything else all year. To give you a sense of its failings, watch this clip, which involves a line of McLeod, Holloway and Foegele. A speedy group for sure, but not the skill group of the McDavid or Draisaitl lines. Watch how easily they dismantle the Kings’ neutral zone.

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Then, of course, there was the goal.
This was an absolute thing of beauty. Let’s break it down even slower. One of the ways the Oilers have been breaking the 1-3-1 down is to swing everyone low, but one player and come up the ice as a unit. The defenceman sends it to a forward in motion who finds the high player posted on the wall. He makes a soft area chip into the zone to a spot where the defender cannot get there before the forechecker. In this case, it is Kane who gets to the puck. Goal.

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On the pass, no question it was intentional. Was he lucky? Yes. Were the Kings lucky on about four goals in this series? Yes. In the end, it was Draisaitl with a beautiful finish, but it all started with perfect execution on an entry against the 1-3-1.
The effectiveness of the Oilers in beating the 1-3-1 has really taken away a big piece of the Kings’ strategy at 5v5. Given the Oilers’ specialty teams’ strength combined with the more balanced approach to the forward lines, this development is not a good sign for the Kings.

Notes From The Game

If Leon Draisaitl does this every game, look out.

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I thought Draisaitl’s defensive play in game three was impressive — his best of the series. He created three turnovers by backtracking on the puck last night with this type of effort. Perhaps he was tired of the narrative around the Kopitar line. Whatever it was, he was determined on the defensive side of the puck last night.
Ryan McLeod quietly continues his history of being a strong playoff performer. He has thoroughly neutered any combination the Kings put out on the Pierre-Luc Dubois line. Dubois’s expected goal share is 23.6 percent when facing McLeod in this series. With the McDavid line destroying the Danault line (see below), the Kings have limited options for where they can counter the Oilers.
The McDavid line just continues to emasculate the Danault line. I really do not understand the Kings’ coach staff sticking with this match. Now, that said, they have limited options, so perhaps it is the lesser of two evils. However, the McDavid line is really unstoppable at the moment, with an 82 percent expected goal share in this series.
Going into game four, I wonder a little about Sam Carrick. The Holloway – Janmark duo continues its strong play, but, Carrick struggled in game three. His vision for offensive plays is somewhat limited. He iced the puck a couple of times when he had Holloway and Janmark in positions to attack. He also went 4-12 in the faceoff circle. Does Doc Ryan get a look in game four?
Finally, I remember when the NHL said they were going to crack down on these types of plays.

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No penalty. Perhaps the players are expected to take care of this themselves, but this remains one of these most dangerous plays in the game. The Kings have done it a number of times.
That’s it for the tactical review of game three. I’ll see you all Monday morning bright and early. Have a great weekend.

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