G13+ Game Notes: Oilers’ Switch on Defence Led to Better Results

Edmonton Oilers Vincent Desharnais
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
29 days ago
For the first time in 21 years, the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars will renew their playoff rivalry. None of these players remember the six playoff battles between 1997 and 2003, but many fans do, and I suspect the disdain will soon return.
This meeting will be much different than those six. Back then the Oilers were heavy underdogs and entered each series with about half the payroll of the Stars. This season the Oilers have better high-end skill, while the Stars have a bit more depth. It should be a great series.
— The Stars are back in the Conference Final for a second straight season, while the Oilers return for the second time in three years. Dallas lost to Vegas last year, while the Oilers were defeated by Colorado in 2022. The same is happening in the East with Florida making its second consecutive appearance while the Rangers are back for the second time in three seasons. Florida has played the most playoff games since 2022 at 42, while the Oilers are tied with Carolina for second at 40. The Stars have played 39 and the Rangers 37. All four teams have playoff experience.
— The Oilers haven’t won the Stanley Cup in 34 years. Florida entered the NHL in 1993-94 and the Rangers won the Cup that season. Neither has won it in the 30 years since while Dallas last won it 25 years ago in 1999. All four of these teams have lost in the Cup Final in the salary cap era. Edmonton lost in 2006, New York in 2014, Dallas in 2020 and Florida in 2023. Both Conference Finals should be great.
— Paul Coffey switched two of his defence pairs after game four v. Vancouver. Here is how they fared at 5×5 through the first four games.
Evan Bouchard484:45481576.195183.3310.4293.331.03818191
Mattias Ekholm477:39481477.426185.7112.592.861.05418171
Darnell Nurse460:31262848.151614.293.8578.570.8246137
Cody Ceci460:21192741.31516.675.2681.480.8677127
Brett Kulak456:25192147.511505.2695.241.005776
Vincent Desharnais453:46202148.78020090.480.9057115
Coffey and head coach Kris Knoblauch decided to have Vincent Desharnais play with Darnell Nurse and paired Cody Ceci with Brett Kulak to start game five.
— The results were much better, and the TOI was even more across the three pairings.
Evan Bouchard351:37221362.865362.522.7376.920.9977125
Cody Ceci350:10242153.33201008.331001.0836117
Brett Kulak349:37192048.723010015.791001.1589107
Darnell Nurse343:52261760.472433.337.6976.470.842787
Vincent Desharnais341:31191359.38234010.5376.920.874568
Mattias Ekholm339:58141253.854266.6728.5783.331.1196135
Ceci and Kulak played the most minutes of any combined pairing, and they weren’t on the ice for one goal against. The O-zone and D-zone starts were much more balanced as well, after Bouchard and Ekholm had an 18-1 ratio in the first four games. Ekholm and Bouchard played fewer minutes overall in games six and seven, partially due to Ekholm being a bit under the weather. Nurse and Desharnais had a much better shot share. They were victims of being on the ice, but doing nothing wrong, on the Ryan McLeod gaffe in Game 7 — that makes their GA numbers look worse. The switch seemed to work, and it will be interesting to see how the Oilers deploy their blue line, in terms of ice time and Dzone/Ozone starts, in Game 1 tonight
— The Stars’ penalty kill has been brutal so far in the playoffs; however, they don’t take many penalties. In round one vs. Vegas, the Stars were shorthanded 12 times in seven games for only 1.71 Times Shorthanded/game. Vegas was second lowest at 2.00. Dallas allowed three goals and their PK was 75%.  In round two, Dallas was once again the least penalized team at 2.33 TS/game, but they struggled again allowing five goals on 14 kills (64.3%). They did score two shorthanded goals, to lessen the pain.
— The Stars’ PK has struggled at 69.2%, while the Oilers have the best PK in the playoffs at 91.4%. Edmonton has allowed three goals on 35 kills. Edmonton is eighth in the playoffs at 2.92 TS/game. In the regular season Dallas was eighth on the PK at 82% and 12th in TS/game at 2.91.
— Both teams have good power plays. The Oilers were fourth in the regular season at 26.3% and 19th in opportunities/game at 2.96. Dallas was sixth at 24.2% and 24th in PPO/game at 2.93. The Oilers are first in the playoffs at 37.5% and sixth in PPO at 3.33/game, while the Stars are fourth at 29% and 14th at 2.38 PPO/game. The Stars don’t take many penalties, but they don’t have many power plays either.
— Dallas games have been low-event games in terms of power plays. There has been a combined total of 4.38 power plays/game. They’ve had 31 PPO and 26 TS in 13 games. Edmonton games have averaged 6.25 total PPO/game. Edmonton has had 40 PP while being shorthanded 35 times. Edmonton has drawn nine more penalties in one less game. The Oilers have the advantage on special teams, especially on the penalty kill, heading into the series, and they need to use their speed and pressure the Stars into positions to take a penalty.
Roope Hintz isn’t expected to dress in Game 1. He didn’t play the final two games of the Colorado series, and his absence forced Pete Deboer to change all his lines. Prior to his injury he ran these four lines most of the time:
In Game 5 the Stars ran these lines:
Smith-Faksa- Steel
In Game 6, which went to double OT, he used multiple combinations:
Robertson-Johnston-Stankoven (13min)
Marchment-Duchene-Pavelski (12:12)
Benn-Seguin-Dadonov (10:13)
Robertson-Duchene-Pavelski (10:04)
Marchment-Seguin-Dadonov (8:11)
Benn-Johnston-Stankoven (7:19)
Smith-Faksa- Steel (10:36)
The Stars were on the road in Game 6, and he opted for pairs among his top three lines. He kept Johnston/Stankoven, Duchene/Pavelski and Seguin/Dadonov together and then switched his left-wingers.
— Based on practice it looks like Deboer will start with these combinations, but he isn’t afraid to move his left-wingers around.
Smith-Faksa- Steel
I feel the Oilers need to take advantage of Hintz’s absence. He’s an excellent player, and their best two-way centre. He’s like Adrian Kempe, big and fast, but he plays centre.
— I outlined earlier how Nathan MacKinnon played 131 minutes at 5×5 v. the Stars and he faced Esa Lindell (57%) and Chris Tanev (52%) the most. I expect the same for Connor McDavid, but the Stars didn’t have to worry about a second line in Vegas or Colorado that has Leon Draisaitl on it. I wonder how, or if, that alters their matchup strategy on home ice.


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