Edmonton Oilers vs. L.A. Kings Game 4: A Tactical Review

Edmonton Oilers Los Angeles Kings
Photo credit:Yannick Peterhans-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
5 days ago
For three games, the L.A. Kings had not really played like the L.A. Kings.
They either had been ineffective in trying to execute their systems or, in the case of Game 2, the Kings got some help from the Oilers that allowed them not to worry about their systems. Game 4 was a whole different matter. No question. The Kings likely thought Game 4 was their season. Going back to Edmonton down 3-1 in the series would be a difficult hill to climb. The Kings brought everything they had in their arsenal and the fancy stats were a clone of the their fancy stats all year long.
There was just one problem: the scoreboard didn’t match. Instead, the Oilers, led by Stuart Skinner and Yeoman’s work defensively, thwarted the Kings at every turn. The result was a 1-0 win, setting up the opportunity for the Oilers to close out the series on Wednesday.

What Did I See Last Night?

Stuart Skinner

Nov 24, 2023; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner (74) stands on the ice prior to the start of the second period against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.
Enough said. Skinner was excellent. When there was a big save that was needed, Skinner made it. The shot totals made this game look a little more lopsided than it really was in terms of high-grade chances. However, when you pitch a shutout in the NHL playoffs, you’ve done your job plus a whole bunch more. Whatever Skinner left on the table in Game 2, he more than made up for in Game 4.

The Defensive Zone

Again, I understand that people are going to be focused on the shot totals and offensive zone possession time. It makes the game look incredibly one-sided. However, the Oilers really defended well this entire game. Sportslogiq had the high danger numbers at 7-4 for the Kings. So, despite the massive shot total difference, the high-quality chances were much closer. In addition, I think it is incredibly telling that in the third period, when the Kings pushed hard, they could manage only three high-danger chances to the Oilers’ two. How did they do it? Let’s take a look at a couple of clips.
The first one here is a clip of the McLeod line transitioning to a defensive posture after an offensive foray. In my books, McLeod is the under-the-radar MVP of this series with his work against any of the Kings he’s been up against. He binds that third line together, and last night, he, Perry and Foegele had a very strong defensive game. This clip is an example of their work. Watch their commitment to maintaining a very tight and disciplined box plus one. It forces the Kings to play on the perimeter for the entirety of the shift. When the Kings finally settle for a 55-foot point shot, look at the lane, Skinner has to see the puck. He makes the save. McLeod moves the puck to the wall. Out the puck goes.

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This is textbook defending.
Here is another clip from the Draisaitl line. Now, I think this line did struggle last evening, and really, Evander Kane came back to earth, making a couple of tough plays in his own zone that led to chances. However, they still held the fort on the night overall. Here is a really good clip of their work.
In particular, I loved Leon Draisaitl’s commitment in this game to the defensive zone. The first thing he does off a lost draw is try to block a shot. Then look at the overlap defensive work down low to prevent the Kings player from reaching the loose puck. When the puck gets to the wall, the Oilers get into a great box plus one formation. It forces the Kings’ player to take the puck to the net for a very low percentage scoring chance. Skinner does his job. Also, look at the collapse once again of the net front by the Oilers. This is not comfortable hockey to play. Finally, Cody Ceci does a fantastic job of moving the puck from danger and then out of the zone.

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It’s not a Picasso in terms of defending, but a really solid effort by all five skaters and Skinner. There were numerous examples all night from every line of this type of defending and it should give the Oilers great confidence moving forward.

The Kings Offensive Zone Forecheck

The Kings took a decidedly more aggressive approach to their offensive zone forecheck. The F2 in their set-up was far more engaged down low if there was a chance at a loose puck. In the first three games, the Kings F2 would hang back and read and react. In addition, F3 was coming quite a bit lower in the zone in Game 4. This did give the Oilers some challenges throughout the game, but should it continue in Game 5, it should allow for some opportunities. Here is a really good example of the forecheck and the options it creates.
The Kings run a set dump-in here that is close to the net. This is designed to get the two Oilers D into very tight spacing and eliminate one of them as a passing option. Notice the two Kings forecheckers go hard to the puck and notice how low F3 gets. The final part is to see how F3 reacts to the wall instantly to try, and in this case, successfully, gain possession of the puck. Take note that should the Oilers have recovered the puck, the middle of the ice was available to exit, because there were so many Kings low, and it would have allowed for an odd-man rush. Finally, it also allows for the weakside defenseman to activate up the ice when the Oilers have full possession.

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Now, the Oilers did not take advantage of the mid-lane much in this game. Some of that was execution by the Kings and some of it was awful ice conditions in Los Angeles. Corralling loose pucks, let alone making a ten-foot pass, was challenging for both teams. However, the defence group led by Darnell Nurse did a really great job activating the weak side. Here is an example and it happens to be the play that led to the penalty being drawn and the Oilers scoring the only goal of the game.
The clip starts with another good example of the Oilers defending the zone: a very nice controlled box plus one set-up. Then watch when Ceci gains control of the puck as Nurse scans and realizes he can activate. While a 4-3 isn’t really an odd-man rush, it gives a nice weakside outlet for the puck carrier. Nurse takes the puck to the net strong. It ends up on the wall, and Ryan McLeod draws the penalty.

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While I could be proven wrong, I believe that on better ice, the Oilers will be able to exploit this more aggressive Kings forecheck by continuing to activate the weakside defenceman and exiting through the middle of the ice.

Notes From The Game

It was notable the Kings shifted the forward match-up putting the Kopitar line on the McDavid line. While the McDavid line did not score, it also stopped the Kopitar line from scoring. That line has really been the only effective Kings line with four goals at 5v5 in the series.
The corresponding move was to send the Danault line out against the Draisaitl line. This line did get caved again, but at least there were no goals against. The play of Evander Kane fell off as he made some notable mistakes in his own zone as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to be a perimeter player in this series. More inside work from him over the entire 200 feet of ice would be welcome.
Finally, all hail the bottom six. Ryan McLeod’s line continues to win its battles. Even last night, with possession being decidedly in favour across all four lines, the McLeod line did not allow one high-danger chance. Again, it continues to stuff the Pierre-Luc Dubois line. The fourth line had a couple of challenging moments, but Dylan Holloway, in particular, continues to shine. His speed and physicality is an asset. He is even seeing some spot rotations up the line-up. Still want to see more offense from him, but it will come.
That’s it for the Game 4 review. See you all back here on Thursday morning. Enjoy the extra day of rest!

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