G4 Game Notes: Oilers Confident They Will Bounce Back
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
By Jason Gregor21 days ago
A short memory and positive mindset are as valuable in the playoffs as skill and sound systemic play. Rarely will a team go through a playoff run without experiencing a devastating overtime loss or a bad performance. The key is how you respond. The Edmonton Oilers have shown an ability to bounce back after a bad performance and will need to again tonight.
— In 2017, Connor McDavid and his Oilers lost game four versus San Jose 7-0. They rebounded with a 4-3 victory in game five and won the series with a 3-1 victory in game six. Last year they got blown out 4-0 in game four v. LA, lost game five in OT, but rebounded with victories in games six and seven. They gave up nine goals in the series opener to Calgary, before reeling off four consecutive victories to win the series in five. After a shoddy game one loss to Vegas, the Oilers dominated the Golden Knights with a 5-1 win in game two of this series. They need a similar performance tonight to avoid going down 3-1.
— Edmonton didn’t have nearly enough offensive zone time in game three. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said, “Our plan was to chip it by their defencemen and make it difficult on them. We got away from that early and never got it back.” One stat that often reflects a lack of constant O-zone pressure is hits taken by D-men. When you are chasing the puck and don’t have it as much you often have more hits on the opposing defenders. In game one Vegas D-men took 22 hits. In game two they received 13, and in game three 21. Edmonton won game two and spent more time possessing the puck.
— And the number of hits the Vegas defenders delivered matches this pattern. In game one they had six hits. In game two it was up to 12 and last game they only had three. They didn’t have to chase the Oilers forwards and deliver checks because Edmonton was unable to sustain much constant pressure, either off the rush or in the offensive zone. They need to control the puck more and force Vegas’s defenders to battle harder down low.
— Edmonton wants to be more physical. They had more hits than LA in round one while winning. Total hits don’t always reflect puck possession, but I find the amount of hits the defenders deliver often illustrates how much time they are spending defending. Vegas blueliners delivered more hits in their game two loss than they did combined during victories in games one and three. In their five-game series against Winnipeg Vegas blueliners delivered a total of 56 hits. In three games v. Edmonton, they are at 21.
— There has been a significant discrepancy in hits and hits taken by each team’s blueliners in this series. Edmonton’s D corps has taken 34 hits, while Vegas blueliners have taken 56 hits. The Oilers blueliners have a total of 35 hits and Vegas D corps has 21. Defending is tiring, especially when you are delivering hits, and Edmonton has to make the Vegas D corps chase them around more tonight, which would mean more offensive zone possession time for the Oilers.
— “We had it (the puck) below their goal line a lot,” said Vegas head coach Bruce Cassidy after game three. “We feel if we have it there and are moving our feet, supporting one another, then we can generate offence. It worked out well for us in the first half of the first game and a lot tonight.” Vegas stuck to its game plan in game two and had success. The Oilers can’t deviate from their plan. They are the quicker team, but they need to use their speed more effectively tonight. They need to be chasing less and possessing more.
— Connor McDavid has 69 goals (nice) and 99 assists in 91 games played this season. He is two points shy of 170 and becoming the fifth player in NHL history to total 170 points between the regular season and playoffs. Wayne Gretzky did it 10 times, Mario Lemieux three times, while Mike Bossy and Jaromir Jagr did it once. Jagr had 73 goals and 172 points in 1996, while Bossy had 81 goals and 174 points in 1982. Lemieux had seasons of 178, 188 and 218, while Gretzky posted seasons of 178, 185, 190, 192, 217, 224, 234, 234, 240 and 255. If the Oilers win this series, McDavid should become the third player to surpass 175 points.
— Zach Hyman didn’t skate yesterday, and I’m told he’s 50/50 to play. However, I expect Mattias Janmark to return. It has been a week since he played, so he’s passed the concussion protocol timeline and has skated the past few days with the team. If both play, I could see the Oilers dressing 12 forwards and six D-men. Even if they go 11-7, I’d start McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on their own lines. Woodcroft started the series that way, but the Oilers got down in game one, and Janmark left the game early and the Oilers were down to 10 forwards, so he played Draisaitl and McDavid together a lot. The Oilers were behind 3-1 in the first 18 minutes to that altered his plan.
— I’d play them separately because it means you’d have one of them on the ice more often. Combine that with how well the Warren Foegele-Ryan McLeod-Derek Ryan is playing and the Oilers should match up well v. Vegas. But to do that, you likely play Janmark or Yamamoto with Draisaitl, so Nick Bjugstad is the fourth line centre with Kostin and either Yamamoto or Janmark. I’d play RNH with McDavid and Hyman, and Kane with Draisaitl to start. Janmark did play with Draisaitl at times this year and was fine. He’s very smart and rarely makes bad decisions with the puck. Or you could slot Yamamoto there. Draisaitl likes playing with him.
— Jack Eichel produced three points in game three and two in game one. He and Jonathon Marchessault were Vegas’ best forwards in game two, and Eichel could have had a few more goals as he had some really good looks. He has started to look more comfortable during his first time in the playoffs. He hasn’t been on the ice for a goal against in this series. In Vegas’ final 20 regular season games, when they were as hot as the Oilers, Eichel outscored the opposition 20-7 at 5×5. In their game one loss to the Jets, Eichel was outscored 2-0, but since then Vegas is 6-1 with him on the ice. The Oilers need to force his line to defend more tonight. They dominated the Oilers in game three.
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