The Edmonton Oilers v. The Vegas Golden Knights Game 3: A Tactical Review

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
11 months ago
In the post-game commentary after the game three loss, Jay Woodcroft uttered the phrase “not good enough” several times. I wondered what the context was for him at the time and even now I think about it a fair bit.
Was it effort? Or was it execution? Or was it a combination? From my perspective, the Oilers could have led that game 2-1 late in the first period on a number of great chances from Leon Draisaitl and that might have changed the outcome. In the end, I think Woodcroft saw a team who had its chances, despite not executing very well, and gave it away as much as it was taken.

What Did I See Last Night?

Vegas 1-2-2 Neutral Zone Forecheck

The Golden Knights really got worked over in game two on their structure and it resulted in a 1-1 draw at 5v5 although it was 1-0 Oilers when the game was in doubt. Last night, it was clear the Golden Knights made a concerted effort to clean that up and it started with the neutral zone forecheck. The result was when the game mattered, the Vegas Golden Knights had thirteen high-danger chances for with four against and a goal share of 4-1 at 5v5. In game two, the Oilers did much more of what we see in this clip. Quick movement of the puck to a low forward in space. The result is a nice entry off a great stack by the other two forwards at the Vegas blueline.

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Unfortunately, this was a rare occurrence in game three. Mostly what Woodcroft saw was a failure to execute against the Vegas neutral zone. Here is an example of Darnell Nurse, who has McLeod coming in space available for a short pass. Instead, Nurse holds the puck longer allowing Vegas to get set in the neutral zone and promptly misses the pass. This leads to a great scoring chance against.

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Even Mattias Ekholm got into the fray on poor execution. Here he is three different short outlet options and instead, he chooses a 100-foot pass to a man who is being marked by two Vegas Golden Knights.

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Finally, here are two examples in one shift. The first where Leon Draisaitl has the wide lane open or even a circle back, but instead forces the puck up into the middle. To be fair to him, this was good structure by Vegas with a great switch by F1 and F3. That said, forcing into the middle of the ice here was almost a certain turnover. The more difficult one is the next one where Kulak has time to make an outlet to one of two short options. Instead, he settles for the lob pass and another turnover results.

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The Goals Against

The first three goals were really poor both in terms of execution and effort by the Oilers. The first goal was simply Bjugstad getting beat off the wall and watching his man score.
The second goal here was both execution and effort. I, of course, start with a freeze frame of two Oilers down after clear infractions against. Nevertheless, the Oilers were in good shape coming back up the ice. The execution piece to me is RNH. Watch 93 drop low into the slot when his man is behind him. He over backchecks here. Then the effort piece. Darnell Nurse just gets beat to the slot by the goal scorer and there is no excuse.

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The second goal I want to highlight is the third goal against. I know some people want to take issue with Darnell Nurse. Again, we need to highlight that when the puck goes up top the Oilers play a man-to-man. So Nurse moving up on his check is the correct move. Where it gets wonky is up top when Foegele and Nurse watched a switch happen and Foegele was late to get moving with a slight pick by Nurse. This is Foegele pure and simple. I do want to note Ceci here as well. I do not really blame Ceci to start. He has a man in a very dangerous spot and obviously doesn’t want to leave him. I could be picky and say he needed to step up when the puck carrier headed to the net, but that is unfair I think. In this case, simply poor execution by Foegele.

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What To Expect In Game Four?

The most interesting aspect will be the injury status of some Oilers. Zach Hyman cleared laboured after the knee/thigh hit he took in the first period. The long period of below-average play by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to make me think he is hurt. Also, McDavid took a hard hit into the boards as well that definitely had some impact on him.
The second one for me is the matching of lines. I really am stumped with Woodcroft not keeping the McLeod line on the Eichel line. It had great success in the first two games and when he had the chance to match at home, he went away from it. Woodcroft did match Ekholm and Bouchard against that line, which worked well, except for the blown tire.
That’s all for the tactical review of game three. On to game four. Chat with ya on Thursday. You can find me on Twitter at @bcurlock.

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