Coaches love playoff time. Well to be fair, players, management and fans love playoff time also. For coaches though, it is really the time of the year when they get to do what they love and what they are paid for, which is coach. The playoffs allow a coaching staff the opportunity to prepare for one opponent for two weeks or more. It allows them to devise strategies knowing the personnel and tendencies of their opponent with the ultimate goal of winning the series based on these strategies. This article is the premiere edition of what hopes to be four articles previewing the tactics of each Edmonton Oiler opponent and how the Oilers can successfully counter these tactics. In addition, we will review each game the day after to see if the forecasted tactics were used and if so what worked and what did not. Today, we start with who is fast becoming a serious rival: the Los Angeles Kings.
Los Angeles Kings Tactical Playbook
The Los Angeles Kings will never be confused with the ’80s Edmonton Oilers or the ’90s Pittsburgh Penguins. This team plays a highly conservative and disciplined style of hockey that would be far more reminiscent of Marty Brodeur’s New Jersey Devils teams of far-gone days.
Kings Offensive Zone Forecheck
The Kings employ the very common 1-2-2 forecheck in the offensive zone. The principle is to have F1 drive the puck carrier in one direction allowing F2 to react to that direction and either engage the puck carrier or who the puck carrier distributes the puck to. F3 for the Kings stays wide on the weak side waiting for the reverse. When the puck is moved on the strong side, F3 then fills the middle of the ice over top of the puck to prevent a mid-lane exit. D1 will often pinch down the strong side to compress the space available to the opponents. D2 remains in the middle of the ice as a safety valve should the opponent break out. Here is a pretty standard example of the Kings 1-2-2 in the offensive zone.
The way for the Oilers to defeat this forecheck is two-fold. The first is to move the puck quickly up the ice before the forecheck gets established. Secondly, the more the Oilers try to break out through the middle of the ice with a low forward, the more success they are likely to have. Here are two great clips of the Oilers moving the puck quickly and using the middle of the ice to defeat the 1-2-2.
Kings Neutral Zone Forecheck
Here is the staple of the Kings’ play: the 1-3-1 neutral zone forecheck. This can make for some really slow and really bad hockey when the Kings are doing it most successfully. Here is what the tactic looks like in video form.
The basic principle is to allow the opponent to come up out of the zone into a highly congested area with limited options to pass or skate. F1 starts by moving the puck carrier to the side where D1 resides. D1 immediately jumps up to attack the puck. F2 remains in the middle to protect seam passes. F3 turns and heads back into the zone to assist D2 in winning possession or acting as an outlet. D2 is the safety valve who is tasked with puck retrieval. Here is another example in quicker time.
The 1-3-1 is a tough tactic to employ for teams. It requires forwards to get back into the shape of the tactic very quickly. This is the key to defeating the 1-3-1. Beat the players back up the ice quickly.
Notice here how the Oilers do not allow the shape of the 1-3-1 to form with quick passes and a forward lower in the zone with space to attack. This will be a key to the Oilers success.
Kings Defensive Zone Tactics
The Kings employ a pretty simple defensive zone when the puck is down low. They have D1 on the puck. D2 net-front on the strong side and F1 playing off D1 covering the middle of the ice. F2 and F3 hold their positions on a line marking the opposition defencemen. Here is a clip of the basics of the Kings’ defensive zone down low.
The Kings will give up this shot on net every single time from an opponent given its low probability of success.
The Oilers can defeat this defensive zone tactic in two different ways. The first is to penetrate the space between the forwards up top and their three teammates below. This penetration will allow the attacker an opportunity to get to the net or to send a pass cross ice to a teammate.
The other way to do it is employ a 2-3 offensive zone attack where the Oilers bring a forward up top either with or without the puck. This allows for the player to attack down the middle of the ice if the low forward doesn’t come with him or it will allow the option of the Oilers defenseman to come low on a switch and create chaos. Here is a great example by McDavid and Bouchard of the latter.
I firmly believe that one of the ways we will be able to determine the success of the Oilers in this series is how many shots are taken from the point. Too many point shots will likely indicate an inability of the Oilers to defeat the Kings’ defensive zone tactics.
What About the Oilers?
While the article is focused on the Kings, I would be remiss not to discuss the Oilers’ tactics a little bit. The reason for this is that the Oilers are certainly going to give up some opportunities. Whether these opportunities turn into high-danger chances is difficult to say, but it is nevertheless the case that the Oilers will give up chances.
Oilers Offensive Zone Forecheck
The Oilers also run a similar 1-2-2 style of forecheck as the Kings do. The only modest change is that the Oilers F3 tends to play “narrow” or more into the middle of the nice instead of wide. Where the Oilers’ offensive zone forecheck has a tendency to break down is when F3 fails to stay over the top and in the middle of the ice. Here is a perfect of example of what can happen.
A critical element to the Oilers’ success in this round will be to limit these quick counterattacks because honestly unless the Kings have a healthy Kevin Fiala and Gabe Valardi, they may be challenged offensively. One way that can change is if the Oilers lack tactical discipline.
Oilers Neutral Zone Forecheck
One of the biggest changes this year to the Oilers’ strategy has been to move from a 1-1-3 to a 1-2-2. While I have been, and still am, skeptical of this change, it has not caused issues. Given the lack of foot speed with the Oilers’ defence group, it really is a testament to the whole team, including Stuart Skinner, that this change has worked as well.
The basic premise of the 1-2-2 in the neutral zone is to force a turnover higher up the ice so that your team can attack more quickly. F1 is to drive the play to one side of the ice. F2 is then to step up on the potential outlet pass and F3 moves into the middle to defend that area of the ice. D1 also steps up hard on the strong side to congest the passing and skating options. D2 remains as the safety valve should the opponent break the forecheck. Here is a brilliant example of the forward group working in cohesion allowing for a turnover that creates an excellent chance.
Now the risk with this type of tactic is that the Oilers do not always have the best discipline in running it. When it breaks down it almost invariably leads to an odd man rush-against.
For the Oilers, the meat of the game will be in the offensive and neutral zones. The more the Oilers can create turnovers or dump-ins, the higher the probability of success. At least that is how it looks to play out before the puck is dropped in this series. On Tuesday, we will be back to see just what happened and how team tactics influenced the results.
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