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Game Notes Oilers @ Kings G3: Targeting The Defence

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Photo credit:Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
6 months ago
Hit. Pass. Hit. Shoot. Hit. Score.
Rinse, wash, repeat.
This was the Oilers’ recipe for success in game two, and they will look for more of the same tonight.
— The Oilers outscored the Kings 6-0 and outhit them 48-46, which counters those who believe hitting means you don’t have puck possession. If you look at who was on the receiving end of the hits, it was clear the Oilers’ game plan was to go after the Kings’ defencemen.
— @Zack Kassian had six hits. @Josh Archibald had five and Jay Woodcroft’s plan of having a physical presence on both of his bottom six lines came to fruition.
@Kailer Yamamoto, @Evander Kane, @Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and @Connor McDavid had four hits.
Zach Hyman had three hits. @Jesse Puljujarvi and @Ryan McLeod had two hits while @Leon Draisaitl, @Derek Ryan and @Warren Foegele had one.
The forwards combined for 36 hits. Every line was involved physically and it made for a long, uncomfortable game for the Kings.
— The main targets were the Kings’ defenders. Sean Durzi was hit seven times while Alex Edler got hit six times. Olli Maatta took five, Matt Roy three, while Jordan Spence and Mikey Anderson absorbed two. The D-men were targeted 25 times and I expect more of the same tonight. Every Kings player took at least one hit. Meanwhile, McDavid, Kane, and RNH were never hit once. When three of your top offensive players deliver 12 hits, and never receive one back, that is a clear sign of how more aggressive the Oilers were.
— Keep in mind that at even strength the Oilers had the puck in the Oz-one for a total of 18:47, and 4:47 of actual puck possession time, while LA only had 2:37 of actual puck possession. Edmonton had more hits and over two minutes more of actual puck possession in the offensive zone. You can maintain possession and still be physical.
— Zack Kassian only played 8:40, but he was noticeable on every shift. In 7:50 of 5×5 time Kassian was an absolute beast. His on-ice metrics were excellent. He outshot the Kings 8-2. Scoring chances were 8-3, his xGF was 74% and he outscored the Kings 1-0. He had an assist and six hits. He was flying and his energy was infectious.
— Many Oilers, including McDavid and RNH, delivered some solid hits. Not just rubbing guys out, but hard, skate-right-through-the-player type of hits. To go deep in the playoffs you need everyone on the team being comfortable in uncomfortable situations. In the regular season, McDavid and RNH don’t need to deliver huge blows, but in the playoffs, everyone has to be aggressive and in game two the Oilers showed their willingness to do it every shift.
— @Evan Bouchard has benefitted from playing with @Duncan Keith. Keith is highly competitive. He isn’t that big, but when he was winning Norris trophies and Stanley Cups, Keith was incredibly aggressive. Just ask Daniel Sedin. Keith played on the edge, and while he doesn’t bring that same level of nastiness now, it is still there, and he knows what it takes to win. And Bouchard has really listened to Keith’s words. Bouchard spoke very highly of how Keith has helped him. He is very vocal with his young partner, and Bouchard has not just heard the words, he’s absorbed them and is putting them in action.
In Game 1, Bouchard was roughing up a few Kings after scrums. It has been very noticeable. He is standing his ground and it has made him even better. His offensive skills are elite. His shot and quick release will make him a 15-20 goal scorer in the future, but his defensive game has really improved over the past few months. And now in the post-season, his intensity has ratcheted up. It is great to see a player mature and grow.
— “Playoff hockey is about upping your physicality and everybody has to get involved in that manner, and Bouch has gotten better and better the past few months,” said Mike Smith after game two. “He’s gotten really comfortable playing with Duncs (Duncan Keith). Duncs is a very vocal leader. He’s helped Bouch out in a lot of areas. Bouch has grabbed it and taken advantage of it. He is very poised with the puck and makes good plays. He has all the tools to be a great defencemen in this league.”
— I asked Smith about Bouchard’s shot. He rang one off the crossbar from just inside the blue line Wednesday night, had many other quality chances, and McLeod tipped home one of Bouchard’s shots for his first career playoff goal. As Nation readers call it, the “Bouch Bomb” went off often multiple times in game two. “It is just heavy,” said Smith. “Some guys just have the technique down where they use the stick, and their ability to shoot, and it goes really fast (laughs). He is one of those guys who can let it rip kind of effortlessly. That is an important part of his game. He finds ways to sift pucks through with his wrister, and when he has time he can really hammer it home. It is a great asset for him.”
Bouchard’s ability to get the shot through traffic is a rare skill, and when you combine that with how much velocity he gets on his shots without a huge backswing, or even on wrist shots, it makes his shot a very dangerous and useful weapon for Edmonton.
— The closest the Kings came to ruining Smith’s shutout was when Durzi’s dump-in attempt hit referee Jake Brenk (fifth round pick of the Oilers in 2001), and bounced just wide of the net while Smith had to dive back after having left the net anticipating the dump-in to come around the boards. I asked Smith about his ensuing conversation with Brenk.
“First thing was is he okay. The puck hit him pretty hard. I didn’t know where it hit him, but it got him pretty good. Then I asked him right away if it would have counted if it went in the net (laughs), and he said it no it wouldn’t. It was a little tense there, but it stayed out.”
— Smith picked up his fifth career playoff shutout. After game one I noticed some people taking shots at Smith about his playoff performances the past few seasons because he hadn’t won any games. Wins are more of a team stat than an individual in my eyes. Smith posted a .917Sv% in five games for the Flames in 2019. Colorado overwhelmed Calgary in that series. In the four losses Smith faced an average of 44 shots/game.
In 2020 in the bubble, Smith played 26 minutes in game one. He allowed five goals. He wasn’t good in that game, which wasn’t a major surprise considering the circumstances of returning to the bubble. He really didn’t want to as a father of four. Those 26 minutes significantly altered his Sv% of the past four playoff years.
In 2021 and through two games this season Smith has a .920Sv%. He made one major giveaway in game one of this series. Big blunder, but I don’t recall him being the reason Edmonton lost games v. the Jets last year.
Over the past four seasons, Smith has played a total of 763 minutes in the playoffs. He has a .911Sv% and 2.99 GAA. Now remove the 26 minutes v. Chicago.
In the other 737 minutes (97% of his total ice time) he has a .919Sv% and 2.72 GAA. Pretty significant difference.
I disagree with suggestions Smith hasn’t been good in the playoff since 2012. Looking only at wins is misleading.

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