The Edmonton Oilers v. The Vegas Golden Knights Game 2: A Tactical Review

Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
11 months ago
When this game is reviewed far in the future, the numbers will show the Oilers won this game using special teams.
Three goals on the powerplay and one goal shorthanded sealed the fate of the Golden Knights last evening. Little attention will be paid to the fact the Oilers, until this game was well out of hand, won the battle at 5v5 1-0 ultimately settling for a 1-1 tie at the end. However, to suggest the Oilers’ 5v5 game was not instrumental in their win would be far from the truth. In fact, without the 5v5 play, the Oilers would not have gotten the opportunity to display their excellence on the powerplay.

What Did I See?

Great Defense Can Lead To Great Offense

This game was relatively decided by the end of the first and was put away in the second on another powerplay goal by the Oilers. However, in the first 30 minutes of this game, the Oilers completely flipped the script from game one. For me, the biggest change was the Oilers’ forwards’ commitment to backtracking all night. In the first game, the Golden Knights had so many transition opportunities because the Oilers forwards did not match the pace of the Golden Knights heading towards Stuart Skinner off turnovers. There were far too many plays in game one that looked a lot like this play by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in game two. Here you can see the hard pinch by Darnell Nurse to the strong side. RNH is in excellent shape to work back and provide support for Ceci. However, watch what happens with RNH after the break. He stops skating for just a couple of seconds. Sure it was bad luck that Ceci fell, but F3 is always taught to skate hard back through the middle of the ice to harass the puck carrier. Perhaps the breakaway is prevented if RNH is harder on his back check.

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Fortunately, there was very little of this type of play in game two. The Oilers were far more dedicated to working hard back when Vegas started their transition game. Here is a great clip where Ryan McLeod does it twice in one shift. On the first one, Brett Kulak is able to step up and knock down a clear because he knows he has Desharnais marking the weak side, but more importantly, he knows he has McLeod back checking another Vegas player. On the second backcheck, watch McLeod recognize Kulak is low and immediately turn and skate back through the middle picking up the puck after a nice defensive play by Vinny Desharnais. McLeod then initiates a quick up that leads to a great chance for the Oilers on a turnover off a sublime 1-2-2 forecheck. Also, can we just shout out Ryan McLeod who might have skated 400 feet in about 25 seconds.

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Here is another example of how great backtracking can lead to scoring chances. In this case, Kailer Yamamoto is the hero. Watch this great little read by Yamamoto who tight turns off an Oiler turnover and is able to support Brett Kulak in defending the attack. He then absorbs a tough hit to make a play and is rewarded by getting a great scoring chance and ultimately setting up Draisaitl for the goal.

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The Cassidy Golden Knights Are Not The Cassidy Bruins

After game one we talked about how well the Golden Knights played. However, we also pointed out that the Oilers did a lot of damage to themselves. Well, the Golden Knights took their turn tonight handing chances to the Oilers that led to their demise. It started very early in the game. A Golden Knights breakdown led to a penalty (actually two if you count the trip on McDavid that wasn’t called as per usual) which resulted in the most lethal powerplay in NHL history doing what it does best: score. So where was the breakdown? Well by luck I have it right here. The mess starts with the fact the Golden Knights are changing and F1 doesn’t realize it. He chases Skinner behind the net which takes him out of the play. Ceci is in a great spot and Bjugstad does a wonderful job supporting low. The F2 and F3 for the Golden Knights are nowhere in the picture. On the next break, Bjugstad has advanced the puck to Draisaitl who is two on two with Hyman. More importantly, F2 and F3 are not in good position and now are forced to race back. Inevitably when this happens back checkers will over-check. Once they do that they usually stop and are now standing still. Problem for the Vegas defenders is that Leon Draisaitl loves to button up inside the blueline to buy time for his teammates. Problem number two is that it is Connor McDavid who is coming in support. The result is that a poor tactical play by the Golden Knights leads to a McDavid rush and ultimately a penalty against them. 1-0 Oilers.

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The Oilers Defensive Zone Coverage

The Oilers were tactically excellent tonight, but I do want to address one play that did cause some heartburn. The reason I want to address it is that Darnell Nurse got some heat for his involvement and that blame was not warranted. The play relates to the Oilers’ defensive work up top in the zone. The Oilers play man-to-man up top in their zone. In addition, on entries, the strong side defenceman is asked to try and hold the line or at least squeeze the attacker inside the blueline, so he is usually engaged with the puck carrier.
In the first period, we had a play where the Golden Knights had a short transition off a quick up by Brayden McNabb. In this case, we have Darnell Nurse back on the strong side. At the first break, we can see Nurse sorting out his F3, now F1, Nick Bjugstad telling to pick up Barbashev. On the next break, Bjugstad lets Barbashev go and Cody Ceci rolls under to take him. Nurse stops up on the puck carrier. Bjugstad can be seen on the freeze actually checking the third Vegas attacker behind him, which is fine. The third break is where it goes sideways in a hurry. Nurse chases the puck carrier up top which is completely fine. Ceci has Barbarshev covered nicely playing off the post in the slot. Bjugstad starts in a good position, but then watch the clip from here. Not sure what Bjugstad reads, but this is his man in the slot with the great tip chance late in the first period.

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Yes, Darnell Nurse can sometimes try to do too much. Yes, sometimes his reads are not ideal. However, on this shift, he played the attack well and it was a forward that allowed this high-quality chance against.

Game Three Thoughts

Laurent Broissoit could be a broken man. Certainly, Leon Draisaitl must give him terror sweats at night. How does he bounce back in game three? Might be the series if he cannot.
The second line remains a challenge. Tonight, the special teams solved the day. However, the line involving RNH, Bjugstad and Hyman is struggling. Unfortunately, it remains clear that RNH is the one who is struggling the most. Injury? Fatigue? Or just plain poor play? Whatever it is, I will be curious if Woodcroft looks to match that line against more favourable competition at home.
The good doctor, Derek Ryan returned, and the third line was healed. Ryan McLeod played his best two-hundred-foot game of the playoffs. This line had excellent success against the Eichel line and I would be very interested to see if Woodcroft goes to that group against Eichel in Edmonton.
That is it for the tactical review of game two. Send me your feedback to @bcurlock on Twitter or just yell at me right here in the comments section.  See you after game three.

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