Shawn Belle: The Edmonton Oilers playing with six defencemen is better

Photo credit:Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Liam Horrobin
1 year ago
The Edmonton Oilers played one of their best postseason games last night, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights 4-1. The performance came after a disappointing outcome in game three: a lacklustre effort in a 5-1 defeat.
The biggest change to the lineup was the insertion of Mattias Janmark into the forward group, replacing Philip Broberg on the blue line. That decision forced a full lineup shake-up with Jay Woodcroft going with 12 forwards and 6 defencemen instead of their typical 11 and 7 approach.
In game four, not one Oilers defenceman was outshot in five-on-five play. The lowest percentage was Cody Ceci, who had five shots against compared to his eight for. The best was Vincent Desharnais at seven shots for to two against.
Shots For 5-on-5
Shots Against 5-on-5
Vincent Desharnais
Darnell Nurse
Evan Bouchard
Mattias Ekholm
Brett Kulak
Cody Ceci
Shawn Belle was on Oilersnation Everyday following the Oilers game four victory and had this to say about the six defenceman approach.
“You feel like you can get into the groove of the game. When you have seven, you might miss a shift or two and are not used to that. Then all of a sudden, your minutes go from 18 to 16. It’s a big difference because you are sitting on the bench, and sometimes guys really like to get into the flow of the game. As a defenceman, it is way easier to go 12 and 6; however, I understand why the Oilers go 11 and 7.” 
Heading into game five at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Jay Woodcroft and his staff have almost no choice but to go with six defensemen again. However, their hand wasn’t forced by the play of their players, but instead, a suspension handed out by the league.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety handed Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse a one-game suspension for instigating a fight with Vegas defenceman Nicolas Hague. If a player is given a two-minute instigator penalty with less than five minutes to play in the game, then the NHL can determine if a suspension fits the situation. The league decided to hand Nurse, who has the most minutes by an Oilers defenceman in the playoffs, a one-game suspension.
Philip Broberg will likely slide into Nurse’s spot on the blueline, bumping up the minutes now for Mattias Ekholm and Brett Kulak. Broberg has played minutes in the playoffs, so stepping into the lineup won’t be unfamiliar. Of course, his time on ice increases, but he is a talented player who could handle them well.
Belle continued the discussion on what he has seen from Broberg recently.
“I do not mind what Broberg has been doing in the playoffs. He has played a simple game, isn’t trying to overextend and gets pucks moving quickly to the forwards. Vinny (Descharnas) was similar to that last night (in game four).
The secondary question is, who plays with who?
The Ekholm and Bouchard pairing likely sees the most minutes, but does Woodcroft split up the other two veterans in Ceci and Kulak to play with the two rookies, or does he trust in what Broberg and Descharnais can do together?
Belle gave his thoughts on what the game five defensive pairings could look like.
“The question for Edmonton is how do you get (Mattias) Ekholm), (Evan) Bouchard, and (Cody) Ceci out on the ice a little more. They are not going to have a true six-man rotation. It will be Ekholm you are with Bouchard; next shift, he is maybe with Descharnais, and they will mix it. It may get to the point of playing a factor.”
After that game four display from the blueline, playing with six defenceman feels like the way to go for the remainder of the series. The Nurse suspension is an obvious wrinkle in the plans, but at least Broberg has playoff experience. The veterans in that defensive group will be needed massively in game five.
With that said, once Nurse returns, it should be a simple in-and-out switch between himself and Broberg.

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