Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks Game 5: A Tactical Review

Edmonton Oilers Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
1 month ago
When the dust settles on this series, one thing I know will be certain is Oilers fans will understand the Vancouver Canucks are a very good team.
I always thought it was a little foolish for Oilers fans to dunk on a team that won the division handily, a team that beat the Oilers in four games this season. For me, this series would always be incredibly close and, honestly, a coin toss on who would win. The Oilers probably had some inadequate goaltending and a couple of bad bounces from being up 3-1 in this series going to Game 5.
However, that doesn’t mean the Vancouver Canucks aren’t a good team with a very good coach. If that was ever in question, Game 5 should erase all misconceptions about the Canucks. In a game that ended 3-2 with the deciding goal happening in the 60th minute, the Canucks were full value for the win. They played an incredibly well-structured game, and their work ethic and compete level were the best it was in all series.
All that translates to the Canucks having two chances to put out the Edmonton Oilers in this second-round series. Can the Oilers overcome the deficit? Let’s review Game 5 and see whether any tells are coming for Game 6.

What Caught My Eye?

Damn The Torpedoes, Forecheck The Oilers!

The Vancouver Canucks brought an aggressive and heavy game to the Oilers in Game 5. There was a concerted effort to maintain very good structure but be aggressive all night against the Oiler’s defencemen. Here are a couple of excellent clips of their work on the evening.
In the first one, Darnell Nurse and Vincent Desharnais do some nice work to gain control of the puck. Desharnais finds himself with the puck on his strong side, feet, and eyes up the ice. We always teach defencemen to take a hard stride with the puck when you have space before you make a play. Get your momentum going up the ice before you decide what to do. You can always punt on the play if you have to. Here, Desharnais doesn’t do that. He’s essentially standing still.
For their part, the Canucks are set up very well. The strong-side defenceman is set to pinch. The two high forwards are retreating and covering the breaking Oiler forward. The Canucks also have back pressure on Desharnais. Seeing all of this in play, Desharnais makes the pass to the checked forward, who can’t make the play, and the Oilers ice the puck.
What Desharnais likely sees if he takes a stride is a very wide land to his defence partner available. This weakside activation was available most of the night given the way the Canucks were forechecking. For the most part, the Oilers couldn’t find it.

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In the second clip, the Canucks rim the puck hard and set up on the forecheck in good spots. Ekholm takes a little longer path to the puck but arrives in a good spot. Once again, the Canucks have marked the exits very well, except for the weakside defence. Ekholm doesn’t see it and loses the puck to the Canucks forechecker. This leads to a very good chance against.

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The Canucks were aggressive all night on the forecheck. Watch this clip of the second goal of Vancouver. The Canucks forechecker has no business going after Evan Bouchard behind the net. This is a cardinal sin for the most part on forechecks. However, I also noticed that Bouchard has very little support.
He has McDavid swinging, but he is swinging into the forechecker. Ekholm is marked by the original Canucks forechecker. There are no Oilers wingers on the walls. Whether this led to the decision to forecheck is uncertain, but the decision was right. Despite having little support, Bouchard cannot turn this puck over. He did, and the Canucks tied the game.

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To be fair, the Oilers’ defence didn’t get much support from their forwards. I thought this was the most disjointed the forward group looked all playoffs. They provided very little support to players trying to advance the puck for most of the last two periods. Take the winning goal as an example. Many people will focus on the Hyman turnover or the McDavid net front coverage. However, I want you to watch McDavid in the neutral zone when Hyman retrieves the puck. This is a really poor route to take, and he has zero chance of receiving a pass at all. He needed to sit down on the wall at center ice and be a “post” outlet for Hyman. Not everything gets to be a transition play.

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Here is another example from the Oiler forwards in the defensive zone.  Brett Kulak goes to retrieve the puck. You can see before he gets it, he quickly scans and sees no support on the wall. Evander Kane is late to get to his spot. Further, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is the low man in the zone, fails to get underneath the puck to all for a reverse play from Kulak. Instead, the puck goes up the wall, and the Oilers play defence for another 30 seconds.

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Now, it is not that the Oilers could not do it. They just didn’t most of the night. It requires a coordinated effort between defencemen and forwards that is mostly effort-based to gain the tactical positions necessary for success. Watch this example on another very good Canucks forecheck. It starts with Dylan Holloway working very hard to get to the wall in a nice low position so the Canucks pinch cannot overwhelm him. Similarly, Leon Draisaitl moves hard to get low and underneath the puck for a tap-back pass. A very nice play by the two of them. Evander Kane does his job by spring to center ice and Cody Ceci makes a really nice play to activate. It was a punt, but it was one that had some dangerous element to it. It was also one that was executed well against a very good forecheck.

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Again, not every exit will be a Picasso, but not every forecheck will be either. The Oilers need to live to fight another day like they did here by working hard to get into good structural positions to exit the puck. It will lead to less zone time against and also, eventually, odd-man chances on the Canucks.
As we said in game four, the Canucks forecheck is aggressive. The Oilers have allowed two games to go by without adjusting how they counter the forecheck. What they do in Game 6 will impact the result of the game.

The Offensive Zone Forecheck Disappeared

The other reason the Oilers were left to defend most of the last forty minutes was a fairly putrid effort to forecheck the puck in the Canucks zone. The Canucks had a relatively easy time exiting the zone in the second and third periods of game five. A lot of it was really poor structure by the Oilers. Here is an example involving the Nuclear Option line last night.
The puck gets dumped in by Hyman who chases as F1. Draisaitl is in a good position on the wall as F2, but Connor McDavid floats down, leaving the traditional middle-of-the-ice F3 role and hunting the puck. The result was a massive lane in the middle of the ice for the Canucks to advance the puck and exit the zone quickly and dangerously.

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Here is another example. Mattias Ekholm rims the puck, and the Oilers go on the forecheck. Watch Zach Hyman. Who is he forechecking? Derek Ryan has the wall sealed and can attack the puck. Hyman is below the puck, and there is literally no one to mark here. The spot he could have been in and should have been in was above the puck and in the middle of the ice. Had he done that the mid-lane exit would not have been available.

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This was the poorest the Oilers forechecked all playoffs. It let the Canucks off the hook and ultimately contributed to the loss.

The Effort Level?

I saw a lot of commentary about the top six looking gassed in the game. I wouldn’t really agree with that. I think the top line was a mess, and some of that might be fatigue, but give J.T. Miller’s line their due. They won the battle — something I wasn’t sure could happen.
What I did notice was a Canucks team that wanted this game. A lot. Here is one clip to emphasize the whole last forty minutes.
Cody Ceci took a beating on this play, but Evander Kane needs to get his share. He and his man are locked up in the corner. When the puck gets moved to the weak side, the Canuck forward immediately sprints to the attack. Watch what Kane does. He hangs the net front, waiting for his guy to win the battle. Instead, he needed to be hard back up the ice in the middle in case the puck exited. He was not there. Did Ceci see the play developing? That’s a hard call. Should he have rotated over? I’m 50/50 on this one because I am not sure he could see the weak-side attack coming. He does make a very nice recovery to help Pickard somewhat. However, what is certain is Evander Kane got beat down the ice because he was looking for his cherry play net front. Not good enough.

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Notes For Game 6

I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the third line, and I get that. However, when your second and fourth lines score and the first lines are populated with the best player in the world plus a fifty-goal scorer, they need to score, too. They did not. I would have more concerns about line one than line three going into a must-win game.
Skinner or Pickard? Pickard played well enough to win. However, the Oilers are coming home to a friendly environment. I think this is a very tough decision.
Philip Broberg and Troy Stetcher. I think one of them needs to play Game 6, no question. The Oilers don’t have enough defencemen who can exit the zone by passing or skating. The current six are simply locked in on up the wall plays. Fresh legs would be helpful for certain. More ways to exit the puck is the real reason to do it.
That’s it for the Game 5 review. See you all Sunday morning.

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