G80 Game Notes: Managing Rest — and how Coffey Deploys the Oilers’ Defence

Photo credit:Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
21 days ago
There are 26 games remaining in the NHL season. Thirteen teams will play one game before the season ends on Thursday night, 18 teams play twice, and the Edmonton Oilers are the only team with three games in the final four days. It has been an oddly congested end of the season for the Oilers. They had five games in the final seven days and now three remaining games in four days.
— Playing three games in four days happens often during the regular season, but the Oilers’ distribution of those types of games was heavily skewed to later in the year. They didn’t have any three games in four nights in October or November, but it occurred twice in December, once in January and once in February. It happened four times in March and now three times in their final nine games in April.
— No team can change its schedule. It is less than ideal, especially in the days leading up to the playoffs, and I expect Kris Knoblauch to limit the minutes of some of his top-minute eaters. Philip Broberg will join the Oilers for their final two road games in Arizona and Colorado. I expect him to play in both games and likely play close to 20 minutes. I wouldn’t be shocked if Mattias Ekholm gets one night off and Darnell Nurse the other. Troy Stecher could play both as well to give Evan Bouchard a night off.
— Connor McDavid is getting closer to returning. I think there is a decent chance he plays tonight. I could see him playing again in Arizona, but then sit out the final game in Colorado. Of course, it depends on what happens to Vancouver tomorrow vs. Calgary. If the Oilers win tonight and Vancouver loses to Calgary in regulation, then Edmonton still has a chance to finish first. If the Oilers defeat Arizona on Wednesday, in the final game in Coyotes franchise history, then the Oilers would enter the final day of the regular season one point behind Vancouver. The Canucks play in Winnipeg on Thursday, while the Oilers host Colorado. And those games could have home-ice advantage implications for the Jets and Avalanche, if Winnipeg doesn’t pick up a point v. Seattle tomorrow. If they do, then they will finish second in the Central, but if they lose in regulation on Tuesday, then Thursdays games become very important to the Jets and Avalanche.
— We only have four days remaining in the regular season, but none of the playoff matchups have been fully secured. We know Winnipeg will play Colorado, but home ice hasn’t been determined yet. Only three teams, Dallas (1st in CEN), Toronto (3rd in ATL) and Tampa Bay (1st Wildcard in East) know where they will finish. It has been a great regular season, and I can’t recall not knowing any matchups this late in a season. It could make the first round even more unpredictable.
— Paul Coffey has shown a lot of confidence in Vincent Desharnais and Brett Kulak lately. They are still the third pairing in total minutes played, but Coffey has shown he isn’t afraid to play them against the other team’s top lines. I view this as a positive. The coach isn’t just guaranteeing minutes to players. He isn’t going overboard and suddenly altering the total minutes of his pairings, but he doesn’t just shelter his third pair. That being said, I think due to Oilersnation’s Sid’s post about TOI v. Elite, and Elliotte Friedman mentioning it on Saturday’s broadcast, it has led some interesting claims. Mainly that Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci are now the third pair. Actual data will tell you this isn’t accurate. Let’s dig in.
— Here is the allocation of TOI v. Elite (mainly first line players, but some second liners like Leon Draisaitl, for instance) since March 14th. All data courtesy of PuckIQ.com.
Desharnais (39.8%) and Kulak (35.1%) have the highest % of their icetime v. Elite. But would anyone claim they are now the Oilers top pairing over Evan Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm? You shouldn’t. It shows how much faith Coffey has in those two, but Bouchard and Ekholm still play more actual minutes v. Elite.
— Here’s the splits v. middle tier (mainly second line and high end third-line players, with a few exceptions) competition.
Nurse and Ceci have the highest TOI%, however Bouchard plays the most minutes, followed by Nurse. If you add the total % of TOI v. elite and middle, we see how Coffey has used all-six of his defenders quite evenly.
Ceci has the highest at 71.5%
Bouchard is at 71.3%,
Kulak 71.1%
Ekholm 70.1%
Desharnais 69.4%
Nurse 69%.
Stecher 52.4%
It is fairly even among the regular top six, if you use percentage of total TOI.
— Now, if you look at total actual minutes played, they rank: Bouchard (183.6), Ekholm (170.8), Nurse (161.3), Ceci (137.7) Kulak (137.7), Desharnais (119.3) and Stecher (34.4). Ceci and Desharnais missed two games, so you could add 17 minutes (half of Stecher’s) to their totals to see where they rank when playing. The total minutes shows Ekholm/Bouchard as top pair, Nurse-Ceci as second and Kulak and Desharnais as third.
During these past few weeks, Coffey has shown zero hesitation to use Kulak and Desharnais more v. Elite players. And that should be viewed as a good thing heading into the playoffs, because they don’t have to grossly shelter their third pair.
— If you are curious, here is how they rank v. Gritensity (some third line players and mainly fourth line players).
Stecher has the highest TOI% v. Grit, while Nurse is second, which could be due to them playing together. But in actual minutes played Bouchard and Ekholm (73) and Nurse (72) are again the leaders.
— Will we see Coffey use Desharnais and Kulak as often in the playoffs? It depends on the matchup. Look at the Vancouver game for instance. Elias Pettersson and JT Miller centre the Canucks’ top-two lines. Here are the minutes the Oilers D-men played against those two forwards.
Kulak 9:42
Nurse 9:34
Desharnais 9:28
Ceci 8:37
Bouchard 8:13
Ekholm 6:28
Ekholm and Bouchard played the most minutes (seven) with the Oilers top line, and Rick Tocchet worked hard to get the Elias Lindholm line out against them, so Bouchard and Ekholm didn’t face Pettersson or Miller as much. Bouchard still played the most minutes (20:57) of any Oilers defender at 5×5, but he and Ekholm played the fewest minutes v. Vancouver’s top-two lines.
— I’m curious to see how Knoblauch, and Coffey, will look for matchups. It is clear Coffey is confident to use any of his pairings against the opposing team’s top players. It will be interesting to see what they do in the playoffs and if they try to find any hard matchups.


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