Edmonton Oilers vs. LA Kings Game 2: Tactical Review

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 year ago
One of the notes I wrote in the tactical preview of this series that can be found right here was that the Edmonton Oilers were going to give up chances. Their own credo is highly focused on offence and so naturally there will be lapses defensively that will lead to opportunities against them. What I did not write was that the Oilers would allow so few of these chances against while creating so many offensively that you would be shocked the series was tied 1-1. Yet here we are the morning after game two. If this series was scored on expected goals, the Oilers would have won both goals by significant margins. However, as my non-analytics friends have reminded me, the scoreboard matters the most. On this night, the scoreboard and the analytics moved in harmony and the Oilers head to sunny L.A. with a spring in their step.

What Did We See?

Kings 1-3-1 Neutral Zone Forecheck

This tactic is not working well for the Kings. The Oilers are beating it in a variety of ways. First, they are not letting the Kings get into the formation because they are turning the puck back up the ice very quickly like this clip illustrates.

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The Oilers are also skating through this forecheck quite successfully. Both McDavid and Draisaitl have done this a number of times. Last night, Draisaitl had a beautiful example of this counter.

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Finally, the Oilers continue to have some good success with this set play I mentioned after the first game coming out of their zone. Here is a clip that is not a true success, but I want to highlight it because but for a puck that skipped over a stick, Bouchard would have sent Draisaitl in for an opportunity.

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I also highlighted this clip because I really wonder if the Kings are starting to wear down. This was one of a series of loose plays on the 1-3-1 that the Kings run. Many pundits have noted the hit totals for the Oilers and that continued in this game. Perhaps we are starting to see some of the effect of this hit parade on the Kings players, especially their defence group.

Kings 1-2-2 Offensive Zone Forecheck

This Kings tactic was again a non-factor last night. The Oilers have committed to moving the puck quick and having a forward nice and low to help with exits going out the middle of the ice a lot. Again, here is another example from Connor McDavid of what is happening routinely across all Oiler line combos.

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Oilers 1-2-2 Neutral Zone Forecheck

On the Oilers side, as mentioned they were really solid structurally except on a couple of occasions that lead to goals. In addition, the 1-2-2 neutral zone forecheck continues to be a huge part of the shape of this series. Last night it was great again and even contributed to a goal by HIM. Watch this clip and the ability of the Oilers to create a turnover in the neutral zone with a very disciplined approach to their 1-2-2.

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For a nerd like me, this is the biggest positive surprise of this series. The ability of the Oilers to continue being effective at the 1-2-2 in the neutral zone will yield results.

Oilers Goals Against

Now while the Oilers were strong, I did mention they had a couple of wobbly moments and two of them ended up in the back of the net. Let’s take a look at each of them.
The first goal really was a classic example of the Oilers’ hunger for offence at all times. The play is immediately in trouble because Draisaitl is let coming back low. Then he needs to cover for Yamamoto who lets his check get by him.  Draisaitl makes a great play, but then he heads up the ice and doesn’t stop when the puck is lost. Kane is leaking the zone when he could have stayed lower. Evan Bouchard gets caught moving up ice when he should know he has multiple players behind him. As for Yamamoto, I really don’t know what he is processing here. If I am Mattias Ekholm, I’m suing for non-support.

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The second goal was a tough rookie break, but Vincent Desharnais didn’t get help from his goalie. Desharnais will learn that he’s not going to outrace many players in this league. Even with his reach, NHL speed is going to be able to attack the puck on his stick quicker than he is used to. Here he just gets beat. The positive is that he had two nice outlets and next time I am willing to bet Desharnais gets this puck out more quickly.

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Game Three Adjustments

I do not expect a lot of change from games in Edmonton to the games in Los Angeles tactically. Woodcroft doesn’t seem to mind the matchups that McLellan is getting. However, I do wonder about the defensive group match-up. As those who follow me know, I am strong believer that if you are going to play rookies, you play them and live with the mistakes. I thought Vincent Desharnais looked more challenged last night than previously. Manson has done a wonderful job keeping him out against the third and fourth lines of the Kings in the series. I wonder whether McLellan tries to use home-ice advantage to match his top lines against Desharnais to see if there is an opportunity to exploit.
The other area that I think about is the Kings 1-3-1 forecheck. I highly doubt it will change in the coming games. However, if the Kings get Fiala back after having Gabriel Valardi return in game two, I would consider playing a 1-2-2 in the neutral zone. With more speed and offensive skill in the line-up, the Kings might be better with a 1-2-2 that puts more pressure on the Oilers’ defence on exits and also on potential transitions coming off the 1-2-2. Again, I doubt it happens, but it is clear the Oilers are winning the battle against the 1-3-1 at this moment.
That’s it folks. As always, your feedback is welcome here or to @bcurlock on Twitter. See you after game three.

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