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Edmonton Oilers vs. LA Kings Game 1: Tactical Review

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 month ago
If Todd McLellan could write a script for a road game against the Oilers, he likely would have plagerized game one of the 2023 NHL playoff series. Stay close to the Oilers for a couple of periods, keep McDavid off the scoresheet, get some goaltending and some specialty teams help. Then hope it leads to a hard fought victory. It did happen and the Kings should be thrilled. They took advantage of limited opportunities and made the most of them. However, I wonder when McLellan finishes his review of the game tape, whether he will be all that satisfied. Indeed, I would bet that from a tactical perspective, Jay Woodcroft might be far more pleased with his team’s efforts once he sees the tape and it should give him more reason for confidence.

What Did The Kings Do?

1-3-1 Neutral Zone Forecheck

From a tactical perspective, this game ran close to the pre-series assessment I wrote here on Monday. The Kings’ staple, the 1-3-1 neutral zone forecheck, was on full display in game one. Interestingly, until the third period, the Oilers handled it very well. As I noted, one way to beat this forecheck is not allow it to set up and the Oilers did that routinely early like here.

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They also ran an excellent set play a few times with above average success against the Kings 1-3-1. The Oilers brought a forward back and skated up as a unit. Then they ran two forwards high at the Kings blueline. As the Oilers came up the ice, they outletted to a side that had a chance to advance the puck to the high forward in space. This was a great design by the Oilers. Here Warren Foegele gets a great look off this play.

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Unfortunately, the Oilers stopped attacking in the third and the 1-3-1 really shut them down pretty effectively. Once again, we saw too many plays like this one.

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1-2-2 Offensive Zone Forecheck

If the Kings had concerns with the 1-3-1, they should be sounding alarm bells on their forecheck. One of the reasons, the Kings had so few scoring chances at 5v5 was their forecheck was routinely beat by the Oilers. How did the Oilers do it? Much like I discussed, they used quick decision passes and had a low forward there to assist. Here are two excellent clips of how this was done.

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From my perspective, the Oilers success at 5v5 in limiting chances came from this work against the Kings 1-2-2.

Defensive Zone Coverage

The Kings gave up a lot early on their defensive zone coverage with the Oilers using high switches and seam walks to expose the middle of the ice. That did not change much through the game and the Kings need their goaltender to bail them out routinely. Ironically, the two goals the Kings allowed at 5v5 resulted not from either of these counter tactics by the Oilers, but defensive break downs by the Kings.
One first goal, watch D2 cheat down to the corner and leave the net front exposed for Draisaitl.

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On the second goal, watch F2 and F3 get sucked down to the net front and when the puck pops loose they are too low to deal with Draisaitl. Perhaps a fortunate bounce, but there was a way to defend this play better.

No Love For My Oilers?

I did mention the Oilers great work at countering the Kings tactics, but the Oilers also had some excellent moments themselves with their tactics. The one area I want to highlight is the 1-2-2 neutral zone forecheck. The Oilers ran this to perfection tonight for the most part and it added to the ineffectiveness of the Kings offensive output. Watch this clip here and the interplay of F1 and F2 and how they force the Kings back and then to ultimately ice the puck.

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I was skeptical of the Oilers ability to run the 1-2-2, but there was zero evidence of that on Monday night.

Why Did The Oilers Lose?

Honestly, the Oilers had every reason to win that game and I think they gave it to the Kings. They stopped the aggressive attack on the Kings in the third and that showed in scoring chances. The only period Natural Stat Trick had the Kings lead in scoring chances at 5v5 was the third.
I understand everyone wants to talk penalties. I personally thought these were legitimate penalties and that the officials just missed calling some against the Kings. That said, it is a tall ask on a small group of players to have them kill a lot of penalties in a short period of time. Ultimately, the penalty kill broke down. Discipline needs to be better and while the penalty kill looked really good in moments, it still ends up at 66%. That is not good enough.
For me, the message would be simple. Play the first two periods over and over again and throw out the third period. If you do that, this game likely ends different. For now, all I can say is on to game two.

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