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Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks Game 6: A Tactical Review

Edmonton Oilers
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
30 days ago
When we last left the Edmonton Oilers, they were coming home having played their worst game of the playoffs and facing elimination.
The Vancouver Canucks simply took it to them. They were better all over the ice. Better structure. Better compete.
Now, it wasn’t like the Oilers didn’t contribute to their own demise, as the Oiler’s biggest struggles at 5v5 were exiting their zone and forechecking the puck. It led to lots of zone time for the Canucks and a worn-down Oilers team when the winning goal was put home with less than a minute left in the game. Coming into Game 6, it was clear the Oilers needed to do a much better job at both ends. Doing so would take the pressure off of them to defend, which is the most tiring aspect of 5v5 hockey.
There is no question about health issues with this team, as with many, and defending less would certainly help that. When the dust settled in Game 6, the Oilers did all of that and more. In doing so, they played their most responsible game of the playoffs, thoroughly shutting down the Canucks while also finishing their chances with the high level of skill Oilers fans are used to. How did the Oilers force a Game 7 for all the marbles, let’s take a look.

What Caught My Eye?

The Coach Gets A Game Puck

Once the game starts, a coach’s role is mostly to manage the bench. Some tactical changes can be made in a game, but most of that work is done in the days leading up to it. Kris Knoblauch and his staff used those days very well.
There were clearly two areas of focus for the team and the first was exiting the zone much cleaner. The struggle in Game 5 in this area related to both how slow the Oilers were moving and how unwilling they were to use the middle of the ice or even the royal road across the ice. The Canucks had committed hard to taking the walls away fast, but the Oilers just continued to go up the boards. At best, it led to punts out of the zone, but quite often, it led to turnovers and more sustained zone time for Vancouver. Game 6 saw a whole different Oilers team. There was much better support for the exit by all the players, and the defence group as a whole did a far better job looking at options. In addition, the Oilers did all of this quickly, which was another key. Here is a clip that is a great example of all of this together.
Watch here the play by Vinny Desharnais and Mattias Janmark. Watch the quick work by Janmark to get into a good position, combined with the quick work of Vinny Desharnais to make the read and outlet the puck. When he does so look at all the Canucks. They are all on the strong side of the ice. That can be ok, but not when you have a weak side player so open and moving up the ice. In addition, look at all of the Canucks focus. All on the puck carrier and all expecting the strong side play.

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Great execution of this play right up until Janmark shoots the puck. Eeek.
Here is another play emphasizing the “quick” aspect of the Oilers work in transition. Evan Bouchard has the puck with two forecheckers in close proximity. He could regroup to his safety valve, Mattias Ekholm, but instead makes a quick play to McDavid who has speed and space. This catches the Canucks in a change, and the Oilers are on the attack.

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Here is a play emphasizing the better support the Oilers had all night exiting. Watch Ryan McLeod on this play. He chases all the way back to gather a loose puck on the wall after Brett Kulak does a great job of eating the check but pushing the puck loose. Derek Ryan is in a great spot to receive the pass. He shields the pinching defender and can tap the puck to McLeod who is in a great position under the puck and moving north. Then watch Evan Bouchard. He sees the play developing and activates to give his forward a weak outlet opportunity. Down the ice they go.

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These types of plays happened all night rendering the Vancouver forecheck ineffective for most parts of the game. Here are a few more clips showing this same play.
In the first, Dylan Holloway literally waits out everyone because he knows he has two options supporting him below. Cody Ceci does a great job separating the puck from the Canucks player. The puck gets to Holloway on the wall. He sets up to shield but doesn’t need to as the Canucks all leave him and out the Oilers go.

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Here is another one involving the same line of Draisaitl-Kane-Holloway.
This line was spectacular tonight, for certain, and a good amount of credit goes to how they managed their own zone. In this case, Draisaitl gets caught roaming instead of holding his spot in the center of the box plus one. Holloway recognizes it and moves down to cover. Mattias Ekholm does a tremendous job freeing up the puck. The puck ends up with Evander Kane who has two nice options. He has Bouchard below the puck or Holloway in the middle of the ice with space and speed. He takes Holloway and off the Oilers go.

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The other area where the Oilers excelled was on the forecheck. Again, forcing the Canucks to play defence a lot really helped the Oilers with their own defending. Less time defending, more energy for attacking.
Here is a great clip of the top line maintaining a strong F3 position in the middle of the ice and forcing the Canucks to defend for more than 40 seconds.

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The Oilers’ second goal actually came off of some of this good work. Watch Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hold his spot in F3, and the puck comes to him. He quickly moves it down to McDavid to allow for an attack.
The Canucks are set up well, but watch what happens when McDavid switches sides. J.T. Miller is late getting back to support the low middle, which is his responsibility as the weak side forward. Boeser is responsible for slot coverage because the strong side forward needs to cover the point. He’s late to react, and the combination of these two missed assignments leaves Zach Hyman wide open, and he makes them pay.

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In game six, the players were excellent in terms of their execution of the game plan. However, the coaches deserve some praise here because they were fantastic in making adjustments that helped the Oilers counter the great work by the Canucks forecheck.

Notes For Game Seven

I don’t talk much about specialty teams, but given the state of the Oilers’ power play, I wanted to make one comment.
While I think the Canucks are doing a nice job in deflecting seam plays. I think the main issue with the Oilers is they have not adjusted to the Canucks pressure tactics especially up high. Players off the puck are too stationary and not supporting the puck carrier well enough. Watch what happens when they do that.
In this case, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sends the puck to the point. He knows there will be pressure so he races to give Evan Bouchard a second option for passing. Look at the space this creates for Nugent-Hopkins to attack.

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If the Oilers support the puck more on these pressure tactics, it will lead to lots of time and space to attack. The Canucks are cheating hard in this area, and it can be exposed.
The Oilers’ desire to use the Nuclear Option needs to be restrained, despite there being times to use it. Last night, of all of the forward line combinations deployed, it had the lowest expected goal share. It was ineffective and actually interrupted the rhythm of the remaining forward groups. Maybe it should have a “Use In Case of Emergency” sign around it. Those four lines last night were very effective. Roll ’em.
Mattias Ekholm played only 15:24 last night, the lowest of all the defenders. He is clearly ailed but was still effective. Smart work by the coach to keep his minutes down when not needed.
The Oilers’ defenders took 10 of the 24 5v5 shots last night, or 42 percent. It’s still a little too high for my liking, but their shot quality is improving. They are closer to the net and in the middle of the ice.
This is not a note but more of a public service announcement: not every goal that goes in when Darnell Nurse is on the ice is his fault. Last night, I saw a lot of yelling at him. That was not his issue. It was Vinny Desharnais. Desharnais gets lost in this play, playing the dot in the box. It’s his guy who gets the net front and bangs home the goal. Nurse played this shift well.

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That’s it for the Game 6 tactical review. Be back after Game 7. Enjoy your long weekend everyone.

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