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Edmonton Oilers vs. LA Kings Game 5: A Tactical Review

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 month ago
When we last met on this here website, I spoke about the necessity of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins holding his own on a second line if the Oilers were going to run McDavid and Draisaitl together as was the case in game four.
Nugent-Hopkins had a very tough game at 5v5 with a shot share of just 28% and a 0-2 goal share. The main challenge being that Todd McLellan had decided to match the Danault line against RNH and did so with great success. Coming into game five, Jay Woodcroft made an adjustment to the line and added Nick Bjugstad to Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman perhaps in an attempt solve those game four woes. While game five was not a Picasso for this newly formed line, they held their own defensively, chipped in offensively and were an important part in the Oilers’ 6-3 win. If this line can hold together, the Oilers may be on to round two sooner rather than later.

What Did I See?

While this article usually delves into tactics, today I want to start with a breakdown of “Line 2” and its role in the Oilers’ victory last night. The first period was not a thing of beauty for the RNH line to be honest. I sent out the following tweet after the first period.
However, when I watched the game again, I felt immediately bad because I slandered Nick Bjugstad somewhat. One of the key shifts I focused on was this one here when the RNH line got hemmed in.

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My error on this clip is pretty clear, there is no Nick Bjugstad. This was one of these post power play shifts where Derek Ryan ended up with RNH and Hyman. So to paraphrase the great Denis Lemieux, “I feel shame”. Now that said, the line did have its wobbles. Here is an example of Bjugstad, Hyman and RNH all struggling with their assignments leading to a pretty good shot attempt against.

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Here is another one in the third period where RNH struggled along the wall and then he and Bjugstad got their wires crossed on how to handle the attack which lead to a great attempt by Trevor Moore.

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However, the line definitely did have some great moments. I know they were 2-0 in goal share at 5v5, but what I wanted to highlight was their defensive zone play, and in particular, what the assignments were. The coaching staff smartly tasked Nick Bjugstad to handle the F1 role defensively when play permitted. Nugent-Hopkins rolled up to a winger position defensively. I really liked this idea because Bjugstad’s size and reach definitely can fill space down low. He did it time and time last evening. Here is a great clip of him working down low and RNH moving up to the wing position.

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Again, here is another clip where Bjugstad really impacted the Kings’ offensive attack leading to a transition play for the Oilers.

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Now if we go back to the clip where Derek Ryan was on the ice, you can see it is RNH that is handling the down-low responsibilities and he is not as effective in that role. All in all, this was a successful debut for Line 2. I suspect that given three days off, there will be lots of time to work out the kinks amongst all three players. If this line can play like this on Saturday, it will go a long way to helping the Oilers win this series.
Another key to last night’s win was not so much a tactical change, but a commitment to execution change. The first period I thought was really sloppy by the Oiler forwards in terms of exiting the zone. Many times they were playing too high and often cheating for offence by flying the zone. The first goal against was a perfect example. Here Bouchard has the puck in good control down low. You would like Desharnais in a better spot lower as a safety valve for sure, but Connor McDavid’s positioning was the key here. He certainly could have worked lower to receive the mid-lane pass in clear air. Instead, he really stops and that puts him right in the middle of two forecheckers. The result was a tougher pass, a turnover and a goal against on a very weak play by McDavid.

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However, the second period and on saw a much more dedicated group of forwards to having players low in the zone, even under the puck giving their defensemen lots of options to exit the zone. Here are a couple of nice examples that really helped the Oilers limit the Kings’ 1-2-2 forecheck which, in turn, lowered the chances against. Here is a nice example of the Oilers doing a better job of having a forward nice and low away from the forecheck. Also, watch Bouchard support on the flank giving Draisaitl a relief valve.

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I thought this made a big difference in the Oilers limiting chances by the Kings starting in the second period.
Finally, it would be a tactical review article involving the LA Kings if we didn’t talk about the 1-3-1 neutral zone play. Today, I quickly want to highlight the fact that the Oilers are starting to attack the F2 side much more often. We noted in the last article the brilliance of Mattias Ekholm in attacking that side and how it led to a great goal. As we noted, if the Oilers can start moving the puck quickly up the ice with support on the “forward side” of the 1-3-1 as opposed to the defence side, it can lead to chances for. Forwards as a whole are not typically comfortable defending skating backwards, so attacking them has advantages.
In last night’s game, the Oilers did it routinely. Look at these clips from the first period alone.

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What’s that you say? Only Connor McDavid can beat the 1-3-1. Oh contraire, my friends. Here is a couple more by those not named McDavid.

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No question that the Oilers have a nice little counter to the typical play of a dump-in and chase to the loose puck. I’ll be curious if there is an emphasis on this given the three days off should allow for some detailed video work.
That’s it for game five. Everyone rest up and hydrate because game six should be a great one. As always, send your feedback here or to @bcurlock on Twitter. Have a great day.

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