Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks Game 2: A Tactical Review

Edmonton Oilers Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 month ago
The Edmonton Oilers’ overtime win in Game 2 was really a tale of two games: one that lasted 40 minutes and one that lasted the remainder of it.
The game was relatively even in the first 40 minutes, with neither team generating much in the way of scoring chances. With this, Kris Knoblauch decided to play the line of McDavid, Draisaitl and Hyman for a disproportionate amount of time at even strength. The line played, on average, almost 15 minutes of the 31 minutes of 5v5 play in the first two periods. That is 50 percent of the available time.
Were they bad? Oh definitely not. They were humming. However, the Oilers were still trailing 3-2 in the third period. That’s when the game changed. It was initially subtle but became obvious by the middle of the third period. Finally, when Evan Bouchard banked in his overtime winner, it was obvious for all to see the change and its impact on the game. Let’s take a look at the numbers and the video from the game two win by the Edmonton Oilers.

What Caught My Eye?

As noted, the Oilers went with the nuclear option of McDavid, Draisaitl and Hyman from the opening whistle and went with it heavy. While that line was incredibly dominant all night, with an expected goal share of 81.9 percent. The team was constantly fighting an uphill battle as three times, the Oilers had to come back from a goal down. It wasn’t so much the Oilers remaining group was playing poorly, they were not playing.
Were they getting scored on? No, they were not. Indeed, but for another Stuart Skinner monstrosity of a goal against, none of the Oilers’ forward lines were scored against at 5v5. Were those lines creating much offence? They were not.
However, not being scored on is a thing — a good thing — and in the playoffs, a critical thing. They weren’t playinig much until the third period, and that’s when the game changed. In the 18 minutes of 5v5 hockey, the McDavid line played only 38 percent of the time, still seven minutes of ice time, but dramatically down from the 50 percent in the first two periods.
Did it yield a regulation win? Not quite, but it started to pay dividends. I thought by the midway point of the third period, the Canucks, in particular, the defensive group looked tired. The Oilers kept coming in waves. Take a look at this shift here as an example.
I’ve highlighted Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek. Watch how hard they have to work on this shift and watch when the Canucks exit, how quickly the Oilers turn and attack again off a great play by Derek Ryan. The puck gets to Evander Kane, and on the cycle, they go again.

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From there on, the game was a tremendous example of what four-line hockey can look like. They don’t all have to score people. Stop with that nonsense. What they need to do is not get scored on and also positively impact each shift. It pays dividends. Watch this clip to see what I mean. This is 90 seconds long, but I am certain to Hughes and Hronek, it felt like 900 seconds.

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This is a work of art. It is a Picasso. It’s the Sistine Chapel. Hang it in the Louvre.
I cannot properly explain how jacked up the teammates on the bench would be watching this shift happen and who it was happening against. These shifts pay dividends not just in the game but in the series.
Even in overtime, it never stopped. Of the 5:38 that was played, the McDavid line only played 35 percent of the available minutes. Every single Oiler saw the ice in overtime and made an impact. It all helped lead to the overtime winner, which might seem like a fluky goal, but the lead-up to the goal was pure skill in the highest order. Watch this clip.
McDavid’s line has just come on the ice. As the puck is going back into the Oilers’ zone, watch McDavid take a peek at the Canucks bench to see if a change is happening. It is, and watch him explode to retrieve the puck. The Canucks actually sort themselves out well into the 1-2-2, however, it is to tightly packed and McDavid has too much speed. The entry is really a foregone conclusion at this moment. Draisaitl makes a great reception and Bouchard makes a nice play.

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The goal was a lucky bounce, but the play leading up to it was pure skill. The Oilers come home with the split they wanted.

Notes From The Game

With the Oilers going home, the obvious question will be what the Oilers do with McDavid and Draisaitl. The line was incredible last night, and given that no other line looked overwhelmed, it is probably a good bet they remain together.
The pairing of Nurse and Ceci struggled again, although the former looked a bit better. Notably, the Kulak-Desharnais pairing actually saw more 5v5 minutes in the game, effectively becoming the second pairing. Look for Knoblauch to find soft match-ups for Nurse and Ceci on home ice.
Adam Henrique played, but he is clearly limited. A few times, I thought he was an impediment on the McLeod line. Hopefully, the ankle will continue to heal for game three.
The Canucks will have some interesting decisions. Tocchet was clearly keeping the Hughes-Hronek tandem away from the McDavid line last night. He tried to find them match-ups against mostly the 2nd and 3rd line of the Oilers. The pairing hasn’t performed poorly against McDavid, but I’m guessing this is more about ensuring the duo isn’t stuck in its own zone for large portions of their shifts. I wonder if Kris Knoblauch chases this match-up on home ice or just lets it go given the line’s success against Soucy-Meyers pairing.
That’s it for the game two wrap-up. I’ll see you all after game three in Edmonton on Sunday night.

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