G16+ Game Notes: Oilers Can’t Waste Another Good Start

Edmonton Oilers Zach Hyman
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
19 days ago
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
This accurately describes the Edmonton Oilers’ previous two games.
— The Oilers outshot Dallas 16-4 in the first period of Game 2 but were tied 1-1 after 20 minutes. They were unable to get a lead, and they lost the game in the third period when Mason Marchment deflected home the game winner.
— In Game 3 the Oilers outshot Dallas 10-3 and outscored them 2-0 in the first period. They dominated the first 15 minutes of the game, but they allowed Dallas to take over in the second period, scoring three goals in a span of 3:33. The Oilers tied it late in the period, but once again couldn’t find the game winner in the third.
— As great as the Oilers’ first line was in the first period, they wasted it by allowing two goals in the second period. A wrong read and not clearing pucks cost them. The loss was a complete team effort in not getting smart, strong plays or a timely save from the skaters, defencemen and goalie.
— The Oilers have only allowed one goal in the first period in this series. However, they’ve been outscored 5-0 in the third frame, albeit two of those goals were into empty nets. The point is Dallas has found ways to score in the third to put games away, while the Oilers have been unable to find a timely goal. Vincent Desharnais came close in Game 3, when his point shot hit flush on the goal post, but the Oilers didn’t generate many chances after the first period in both losses.
— Edmonton has had long stretches where it’s put Dallas on its heels but have also allowed Dallas extended time where they are the dominant team. The Oilers need to find a way to put the Stars away when they have a chance, like they have in each of the last two first periods. They had two really good chances in the first, but Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were unable to bury their chances. Of course, they have to find a way to score in a tight game, specifically the third period, but until that happens, they need to have more of a killer instinct when they are carrying the play.
Darnell Nurse needs to play better. Much better. His best asset is his skating, yet far too often he is backing up, giving up the blue line, or leaving a huge gap to the oncoming forward. He’s better off pressing up, and if a guy goes wide Nurse has the speed to catch him. We’ve seen his recovery speed. It is elite, but right now he’s backing in far too often. And he needs to be more aware of his positioning. He is out of position by a few inches to a half a foot and in the NHL that might as well be three feet.
— Edmonton has played 15 games, and only twice has Nurse finished the game without being on the ice for a goal against 5×5. He didn’t get scored on in Games 3 and 4 in LA, but that’s it. It has been 11 consecutive games with at least one GA at 5×5. You can’t get scored on every game. I don’t care what his xGF% is in the playoffs — GA matters way more, and when you are getting scored on in 13 of 15 games, it isn’t good enough. Nurse has been on the ice for 18 GA at 5×5, which is significantly more than the other D-men: Cody Ceci and Vincent Desharnais (12), Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard (10) and Brett Kulak (6). If you look at GA/60, Nurse (4.33/60) is still the worst followed by Desharnais (3.39), Ceci (2.79), Ekholm (2.25), Bouchard (2.04) and Kulak (1.57). Nurse is capable of playing better. It needs to start tonight.
Will the Oilers opt to insert Philip Broberg into the lineup? His skating, mobility and offensive skillset make him a strong candidate to succeed in this series. But who comes out? Nurse needs to play better, but I’d guess they’d reduce his minutes first, rather than healthy scratch him. Vincent Desharnais? Desharnais has been elite on the penalty kill, and his passing has actually been quite accurate (more on that below), but with penalties being so few, the PK minutes aren’t as important as they were in the Vancouver series, where both teams were penalized three to four times per game. Inserting Broberg is an easy decision for those of us not directly involved in the series. If you insert him and he struggles, or makes an untimely error, because he hasn’t played a game in over a month, it won’t impact us, but if you’re the coach who makes that decision it is massive. He did play nine playoff games last year, but he never logged more than 10 minutes and five of those games he played less than seven minutes. It isn’t an easy decision for Kris Knoblauch and Paul Coffey, but based on Knoblauch’s comments it is one they are discussing.
— Dallas has had more success with the stretch pass than the Oilers. It is part of their game plan, where the weak-side winger stays high, and the Stars fire it up to them. I compiled some stats, with the help of Sportlogiq, to compare the Oilers and Stars passing from their defensemen.
OPA= Outlet pass attempt
SOPA= Successful outlet pass attempt
SPA= Stretch pass attempt
SSPA= Successful stretch pass attempt.
The Oilers only have two D-men (Ekholm and Ceci) above completed more than half their stretch passes. Their outlet passing has been pretty consistent, although Kulak is lower than you’d expect. Ekholm and Bouchard both being below 43% on stretch passes is odd considering, they play with the Oilers top line the most. But the Oilers haven’t made the stretch pass a focal point, and they don’t have a winger blowing the zone, or staying high as often as Dallas, and that likely some sort of factor in the completion%.
Dallas has completed 65% of their stretch passes to the Oilers’ 45%. Even if Nurse had completed two more of his passes the Oilers would only be at 48%. Dallas has made a focus on the stretch pass, which is why they’ve had more success. The Oilers defended it well in Game 2 and need to do the same tonight.
— Here is a team comparison of their D-to-D passes.
D2D PA DZ= D-to-D pass attempts in the defensive zone.
S D2D PA= Successful D-to-D pass attempts.
Dallas has attempted more but has a lower completion rate.
— I’d also look at re-insert Ryan McLeod and/or Corey Perry into the lineup. They could use McLeod’s speed, especially as the Stars like to use the weak-side stretch pass. I know McLeod hasn’t performed as well as he, the team or fans would like, but he also hasn’t been a healthy scratch in the playoffs. I’d want to see how he responds to such a strong message from his coach. Perry will be rested and frothing at the mouth to play. Like McLeod, he hasn’t produced any points thus far. Perry wasn’t on the ice for one goal for in the 10 games he played. If he does draw in, playing him alongside Mattias Janmark and Sam Carrick would make sense. They cycle the puck well, which is Perry’s strength, and Perry is better at it than Derek Ryan. Of course, the risk is Ryan isn’t out for the first faceoff on the penalty kill. He’s been good there, however, with so few penalties in this series, is it that important to have him? He only played :29 seconds on the PK last game.
— The good news for the Oilers is they have dominated the Stars for long stretches. They’ve shown they can not only keep up, but they can control the play. They just need to commit to maintaining their focus and commitment offensively and defensively. Win tonight and the series is a best of three. Lose tonight, and I’d argue the series is all but over. Tonight isn’t mathematically a must-win game, but I’d argue that emotionally, it is. The odds they can overcome a 3-1 series deficit are very low. I expect the Oilers to bring one of their best, if not their best, effort of the playoffs tonight.


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