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Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks Game 1: A Tactical Review

Nikita Zadorov Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 month ago
In the end, it was a team that played not to win, but more trying not to lose.
Game 1 of the Oilers and the Canucks has a plethora of talking points to it, but at the end of the day, when Zach Hyman scored his second goal of the game, the Edmonton Oilers decided to win the game 4-1 and failed. There is lots of blame to go around.
No doubt Stuart Skinner is getting properly critiqued today. The defensive pairing of Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci may need to get new passports under assumed names when flying back to Edmonton. The forward group as a whole lost the wall battle to the Canucks all night. However, in the end, it can be summed up in one big theme: playing safe will almost assuredly get you killed.
Let’s take a look below.

What Did I See?

The Oilers’ First Period

It was perfect. The team played hard and fast in the first period of the game. They took the initiative on every opportunity and didn’t give the Canucks a lot of room to maneuver. In the offensive zone, the Oilers were in constant motion working a combination of cycle and 2-3 offensive attacks that were wreaking havoc on the Canucks. Here is a great clip of both of these in play on the shift.
The Canucks try to maintain a very tight box with the center patrolling the center. They will compress to the net when the puck starts to head there. Watch the Oilers’ motion on this play and the switching that occurs. Finally, you’ll see McDavid come up the ice and drag that center with him. Ekholm sees the three Canucks coming high and makes a great move to pick up the switch and attack the net. That was a great save by Silovs.

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The Oilers also didn’t allow the Canucks transition game to take effect in the first period. The Oilers were hard on the Canucks defence, who tried to turn the puck up the ice quickly, causing multiple loose pucks and turnovers. Here is one example involving Warren Foegele, who was one of the best Oilers last night. Watch him get on Tyler Meyers who is retrieving the puck. Meyers wants to make a hard turn up ice and get on the attack, but Foegele is on him so fast that he is forced to retreat. With no options and under pressure, Meyers is forced to give up the puck and now the Oilers are on the attack.

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Now it is not that the Canucks didn’t have their moments. This team is very, very good at transition. Watch this little play here with Conor Garland. Cody Ceci makes the hard pinch down with Zach Hyman covering for him. When Garland sees his teammate is going to recover the puck, he starts to stretch up the ice as is the plan. Ceci is late returning, but really the team is in good shape with Hyman covering. However, Hyman gets puck-focused and loses his safety valve position. Ceci is slow to get moving and it leads to a breakaway.

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Overall though, the Oilers could not ask for a better period of hockey. Two more of those and it would be a solid game one win.

What Happened After The Second Hyman Goal?

Realistically, the Oilers’ fortune changed when Leon Draisaitl got hurt. It’s not that he wasn’t playing because when he wasn’t the Oilers actually added two goals to make it 4-1. It was almost as if they decided to go into a shell and play a very safe game and win 4-1. Vancouver is just too good to take that approach. The attack instincts of the team are very strong. Go passive against them and you are asking for trouble. The second goal for Vancouver is a great example of what I mean.
This play starts in the Canucks offensive zone. Watch the positioning of Kane and McDavid and once the puck is turned back up the ice, they are late returning. Cody Ceci does make a nice play in the corner to retrieve the puck, but when he turns to outlet the puck, both Kane and McDavid are behind Vancouver players and a second forechecker is on Ceci. So he panics and chips the puck up the wall. Could he have done better? Yes, for certain, but somebody needed to be yelling at him to swing the puck to the weak side. He would have no ability to see the forecheck. Nevertheless, the Canucks retrieve and the puck ends up in the far corner.
Here is another casual play, this time by Hyman. He potentially has a 2v1 if he chips the puck out of the zone hard. Instead, he is unable to get the puck out. The result is a Vancouver retrieval and a goal on something that would not even be classified as a scoring chance. Mostly on Skinner than anyone else on the net front side. The puck cannot go in the net.

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Even the last two goals for Vancouver to tie and win the game involved very tentative play. No question, Stuart needs both saves and especially the game-winner. However, each play started with the Oilers being very cautious. Here is a clip of the fourth goal against.
The play starts with the Oilers in good position on a Canucks exit. It is a 2v3 with Corey Perry doing a nice job getting into a recovery position. Then, the play goes sideways. Desharnais doesn’t step up, but instead just holds his position even though he has Corey Perry. Brett Kulak also takes a wild route back allowing the Canucks player to get to the inside of him. The Canucks’ player makes a brilliant area pass, and the result is a great zone entry. Again, does Stuart Skinner need the save? Yup. However, that play should have been dead at the offensive blue line.

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Finally, the game-winner was another very weird play by the Oilers. Again, it starts in the offensive zone. When the Canucks retrieve the puck, the Oilers are very casual to get set up. The two Canucks forwards stretch the ice on a set play. Watch the Oilers forwards here in the zone.
There is really no formation set-up and Foegele backs out. Draisaitl goes for a skate while Nugent-Hopkins gets picked off coming across the net. The Oilers forwards just assume this will be a deflected entry play by the Canucks. Instead, because they give the Canucks defenceman time and space, he makes a great pass straight up the middle.
Nurse and Ceci had their struggles last night, but I liked their defence in this play. This is a very tough play for a defender who is standing still marking a player. Nurse does a nice pushing Garland outside and wide, but then he got “Skinnered.”

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In the end, the Oilers were full value for the loss. They gave that game away from the goalie on out right up to the head coach. The moment got big, and for one night, the Oilers collective could not handle it. The bright side is that it was more what they did or didn’t do as opposed to the Canucks. That’s fixable. Whether it happens or not, we will see on Friday.

Notes From The Game

The Canucks went J.T. Miller against McDavid and he was fantastic. Miller was in McDavid’s way all night. That line was strong all night, and that is a match-up the Oilers will need to sort out.
One way to do that should start with not playing Mattias Janmark on the line. McDavid’s defensive capability is fine all by itself, but he needs another player who thinks offensively. Warren Foegele should have seen time on that line, as he was one of the best Oiler forwards last night.
Also, Quinn Hughes had a wonderful game. He played straight-up against McDavid and was very effective. Again, the Oilers will need to find ways to counter this match-up.
Another interesting match was the Petterson line on McLeod. It started rough, but I liked that line’s finish to the game. If McLeod saws off against Petterson all series that would be a win for the Oilers. Ryan McLeod remains an absolute defensive assassin in these playoffs.
That’s it for the Game 1 review.
See you all right back here after game two.

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