Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks Game 3: A Tactical Review

Edmonton Oilers Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 month ago
Live by the nuclear option, die by the nuclear option.
Coaches may come and go, but Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl playing together in the playoffs stands the test of time. Yeah, that’s enough of the colloquialism for this post. In losing 4-3 in Game 3 to the Vancouver Canucks, we saw the old adage of a new coach, and the same team.
The team stuck with the nuclear option of McDavid and Draisaitl as they have done in years past. The team got outscored at 5v5. The team’s vaunted specialty teams sawed off neutralizing one of their great advantages. The team got suspect goaltending. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
So, on Monday, the Oilers face a critical Game 4, down 2-1 in the series. Let’s take a stroll into the coaches’ room and see if we can sort out what happened and what to do next.

What Caught My Eye?

Honestly, the game was pretty reminiscent of other playoff games in the last three years. The Oilers controlled the play but got goalied and did not get enough from their own goaltender. But it’s not as simple as that as tactically, there are some matters to resolve for the Oilers.

Why The Nuclear Option?

I was curious during the pre-game presser when Coach Knoblauch intimated that having McDavid and Draisaitl would partly depend on the match-ups Vancouver deploys. I found that a very strange comment. I can get behind the idea of running the pair together to protect an injury, but I really don’t understand the comment if the players are healthy.
Connor McDavid had a ridiculously good partnership with Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins through long stretches of the season, and the line had a 63 percent goal share. We also know that Leon Draisaitl is one of the best three players in the world and is a natural centre. No question the injury to Adam Henrique has been an issue. With him playing, he likely takes Draisaitl’s role and Draisaitl slides to a line with Nugent-Hopkins and Evander Kane. Without Henrique, I think it is probably time to move Ryan McLeod to left wing with Leon Draisaitl with Kane on the right and move back to the Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid and Hyman trio. This obviously leaves a hole at 3C, but perhaps Henrique is available, and he can be surrounded by Holloway and Perry.
The other modest effect is it can eliminate one of the very few flaws the duo has which is their communication in their own zone. The Canucks run a wonderful set play on their second goal of the game. They rim the puck to switch sides and get the Oilers adjusting and McDavid and Draisaitl always seem to get lost in this process of determining who is playing centre in zone.
You can see here that Draisaitl is trying to react to McDavid, who is floating around. When the puck moves to the weakside, McDavid is instantly lost in his coverage and reverts to what most aggressive players do: attack the puck. The problem with that is that Ekholm is already attacking the puck, so the net front gets open.
Vancouver goal.

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The nuclear option is great, but only in limited circumstances. I’m just not sure running it back last night made the most sense.

Nurse – Ceci

This pairing has to end. There is no other way to say it politely. The team knew this was an issue last summer. They can’t say they didn’t or they would not have contemplated the idea of a Broberg-Ekholm pairing and a Bouchard-Nurse pairing.
This is now two sets of coaching staff who cannot seem to move away from the pairing and the duo is getting absolutely hammered in this series. They are 1-5 in goals for at 5v5 and for the most part, the pairing is seeing the third line of the Canucks and still cannot make any headway. The ability of either of the two to break the cycle or outlet the puck has come to a screeching halt.
Even on a play where someone else (Hi Warren Foegele) deserves the blame, they contribute to the cause. Watch this third goal that got Foegele rightfully demoted. Watch Ceci’s play before the turnover and after the turnover. Youth hockey defenceman are taught that one of the pairing has to be the last man leaving the zone. This is a rule as old as time itself.

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Now again, Foegele cannot make this play, but Ceci could have bailed him out. He did not.
If the coaching staff wants to keep Ceci in the lineup, then Nurse and Desharnais needs to be tried. This pairing hasn’t been great in their limited time with a negative 5v5 goal share in the regular season at 42 percent, but it is better than the current circumstance. However, I would keener on bringing Stetcher into Ceci’s line-up, pairing him with Nurse, and playing third pairing minutes.


I said this in the pre-game and got some fairly salty retorts from people.
Obviously, I didn’t get my wish. I didn’t care for the first or fourth goal on him, but honestly, he just needs to make a save when his team needs him to. There is no way to sugarcoat this. Stuart Skinner is being beaten by a third-string goalie right now, and it is not very close.
Do you run him back again? Yes, I think you have to and he has responded in the past, but at the earliest signs of trouble, the hook needs to be very quick.

Game 4 Thoughts

Despite the loss, the Oilers had a lot of bad fortune. Several posts were hit, no question. Certainly, Vancouver cannot survive more games where they simply defend their own zone for huge swaths of the game, but it needs to be noted the Oilers are not dominating this series in terms of high-danger chances. The Oilers have averaged high-danger chances at a rate of 10.6 per 60 minutes of gameplay. The Canucks are at nine chances per 60. So, it is much tighter than some of the territorial play would lead you to believe. More concerning is the Oilers averaged over 14 high-danger chances per 60 in the regular season. So the team is down about 30 percent in high-danger chances. One of the reasons for this decline can be ascertained from the heatmap below.
Look at the red circles. Too many point shots. In the series, of the 67 5v5 shots taken by the Oilers, the defencemen account for 43 percent of the shots taken. As a comparison, the Canucks defence group has taken 25 percent of their 5v5 shots. During the regular season, when the Edmonton Oilers were third in 5v5 goals for (ahead of Vancouver, I might add), the Oilers averaged approximately 35 percent of their shots from the defence. In short, the Oilers are settling for too many shots from low-risk areas.
The Oilers would be wise to start running more 2-3 offensive attacks, bringing a forward high to give the defenceman an option to pass to or to at least draw a player up top and allow the defenceman to walk the puck into the net. Here are a couple of examples from the season of what I mean.
I have previously shown this first clip from Game 1 of the series. Watch the work by Ekholm and McDavid to create a better shot.

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Here is one from last year’s playoffs involving Nurse and Ceci, who are culprits in this type of work. Even here, Nurse cannot help himself, but at least Nugent-Hopkins gets up top to create space for himself in the middle of the ice.

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Less point shots and more slot shots, please and thank you.
At the end of the day, I think the Oilers require some change to help impact this series better at 5v5. The team didn’t get the breaks last night and could have gotten a better fate had they, but that doesn’t mean the status quo is acceptable. What this coaching staff does over the next 36 hours will be very interesting.
See you after Game 4.

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