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The Oilers In Seven: Segment Ten — It’s All About the Eight Game

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
13 days ago
As the Oilers in Seven segments get higher in number, it means the Oilers’ regular season is nearing its end. With segment ten complete, there remain just 14 more games or two segments. For the Oilers, it is time to begin the process of getting ready for the post-season.
Long past are the days when the concern was whether the Oilers would even make the playoffs. Instead, the Oilers are now simply jockeying for position and getting their team ready for, hopefully, a long playoff run. One of the more integral parts of that is fine-tuning the team’s tactics in phases of the game, with an emphasis on 5v5. Why is that important? It is the state of play that dominates each game.
Therefore it carries a lot of importance to the success or failure of a team. For the Oilers, it is no less important than another team and perhaps might be moreso. Although the media and fan commentary about their 5v5 failures against Vegas last Spring are quite overblown, it is still a reminder that this team’s greatest area of focus is 5v5 play. Coincidentally, this past segment was one in which the Oilers had one of their more challenging times at 5v5.
While the Oilers posted a very good win-loss record, there were some cracks in their game. Cracks that were on display two segments ago as well. Given that this is now two of the past three segments, it merits some focus. What is happening? What needs to happen? We discuss that below, but first a look at the numbers.
STATG1-7 +  LEAGUE RANKG8-14 + LEAGUE RANKG15-21 + LEAGUE RANKG22-28 + LEAGUE RANKG29-35 + LEAGUE RANKG36-42 + LEAGUE RANKG43-49 + LEAGUE RANKG50-56 + LEAGUE RANKG57-63 + LEAGUE RANKG64-70 + LEAGUE RANK SEASON TOTALS
RECORD, PTS%1-5-1, .214% — 31st3-4, .429% — T-10th4-3, .571% – T-10th5-2, .714% – 9th6-1, .857% – 1st7-0, 1.000% – 1st5-2, .714% – 8th3-3-1, .500% -15th5-1-1, .786% – 7th4-2-1, .643% – 12th43-23-4, .643% – 9th
GF-GA17-30, 36.17% — 30th22-22, 50% — 16th31-27, 53% – 7th26-18, 57.8% – 6th30-15, 66.7% – 2nd21-10, 67.4% – 2nd25-16, 61.0% – 2nd27-30, 47.3% – 18th21-11, 65.6% – 5th30-24, 55.6% – 10th250-203, 55.2% – 7th
5v5 GF-GA10-18, 35.71% —28th13-14, 47.1% — 21st17-18, 48.6% – 19th15-14, 51.7% – 13th26-9, 74.2% – 2nd13-9, 59.1% – 6th16-9, 64.0% – 3rd17-19, 47.2% – 20th15-7, 68.1% – 2nd18-15, 54.6% – 13th160-132, 54.8% – 5th
5v5 xGF%54.58 — 8th59.6% — 2nd55.1% – 6th61.2% – 2nd57.2% – 5th60.5% – 2nd51.9% – 12th60.4% – 1st54.4% – 8th53.4% – 8th56.9% – 1st
POWER PLAY7-for-27, 25.9% – 8th6-for-22, 27.3% – 9th7-for-28, 25.0% – 8th7-for-18, 38.9% – 1st2-for-21, 9.5% – 29th5-for-18, 27.8% – 6th5-for-13, 38.8% – 5th7-for-20, 35.0% – 1st2-for-19, 10.5% – 29th10-for-24, 41.7% – 1st58-for-211, 27.5% – 2nd
PENALTY KILL20-for-27, 74.1% – 24th18-for-26, 69.2% – 27th28-for-31, 90.3% – 7th15-for-18, 83.3% – 9th18-for-22, 81.8% – 13th21-for-22, 95.5% – 1st11-for-16, 68.8% – 27th18-for-25, 72.0% – 24th14-for-17, 82.4% – 13th18-for-23, 78.3% – 19th181-for-227, 79.7% – 15th
SV%.861% —31st.885% — 18th.886% – 29th.904% – 14th.925% – 3rd.944% – 2nd.920% – 8th.857% – 30th.947% – 2nd.875% – 26th.898% – 16th
5v5 SV%.886% — 29th.907% — 16th.872% – 29th.909% – 21st.938% – 3rd.930% – 8th.945% – 8th.869% – 30th.960% – 2nd.904% – 18th.913% – 16th
From the above, we can see that the most notable two items were that goals against and save percentage were lower than the prior segment. In fact, each had returned to levels from the early part of the season when the Oilers were in pretty serious trouble standings-wise. Of particular concern is the 5v5 numbers. The goals-against numbers averaged more than two goals per game at 5v5 this past segment. This was the second time this had happened in the past three segments. A trend that had been long forgotten since the first 20 games of the year.
What is going? Well, it is a bunch of different items, but a big theme is the chaos of the Oilers in their defensive zone. This is something that had largely left their game shortly after Kris Knoblauch replaced Jay Woodcroft. Let’s watch an example that does not lead to a goal, but leads to a good chance and, more importantly, more zone time for the opposition.
This clip starts with the Avalanche and Oilers engaged in a 2v2 wall battle in good shape. Desharnais is a nice spot to handle MacKinnon should the puck go there and the two wingers are in good spots. Once the clip starts the puck goes down to the corner. Nurse, instead of retreating to his spot on the net front stays on the wall – that’s a mistake. Perry is then forced to come down to the slot because Desharnais needs to attach MacKinnon.
That leaves all five Oilers in a very small area and one Avalanche player open on the opposite side. The Avalanche find this player and now the Oilers are in scramble mode. They do a reasonably good job getting back to a box plus one set up although I am convinced #13 for the Avalanche is open for a pass and the Avalanche puck carrier made an error passing to MacKinnon.
Now at the next stop, Draisaitl is in a great spot if he just stays in the low spot of the slot net front. Instead, he leaks out to the puck carrier. Watch where the puck goes – right through where Draisaitl should have been. The result is the Avalanche get a good chance on net.

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This play didn’t result in a goal against, but because of two plays by two different players, it led to a longer time in the defensive zone and to a middle-grade scoring chance. This is the type of play that has been creeping into the Oilers’ play recently. Here is another clip where there is no goal against, but the results are a long shift in their own zone with their skills players on the ice.
The Jets start with an area pass inside the zone that Zach Hyman is forced to defend. He goes low with the player. Draisaitl is late to the game and really should have stayed high or come through the middle. As a result, the Oilers have four low and the Jets send the puck up top. Now the Oilers are in scramble mode again. The puck comes back down and both Draisaitl and Ceci go to the puck when only Ceci should have went. In addition, the Jets bring a defenceman down and that brings Hyman with him.
So now the Oilers again have an overload down low leaving the top part of the zone open. Once the puck goes up, all of the Oilers head up top including Draisaitl, whose prime responsibility is the slot. Look at the open space for the Jets in the middle of the ice. Once the Jets get the puck low again, Ceci and Hyman react to the open slot area and that leaves a Jet player loose on the net front. He never sees the puck, but the Oilers end up taking a penalty.

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While some could argue the penalty had nothing to do with the Oilers’ defensive zone work, I would make the case it did. The Oilers got caught trying to overcompensate, the legs got tired, and ultimately, Nurse took a penalty. These shifts take a toll on a team. The more they can be reduced, the more the Oilers will be in the offensive zone quicker and fresher.
The next clip is one that does lead to a goal against. In this case, Bouchard defends the blueline and Ekholm moves back to the net front. When Buffalo gets possession inside the Oilers’ blueline, there is a miss in the rotation. Hyman should move over quickly which would allow Bouchard to back off slowly back down to his position. That doesn’t happen, and so Bouchard stays high, as does Hyman. This leaves McDavid on the net front. When the puck goes low, there is a 2v2 with the Oilers have a forward back. McDavid reacts to an apparent loose puck leaving the net front and that frees up the Buffalo forward. Goal against.

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It’s always interesting to me when fans/media want to assign blame on a goal to an individual. There are almost always three mistakes before a puck goes in the net at any level of hockey. In this case there were more than that. Who is really to blame is really a “beauty is the eye of the beholder” exercise. Nevertheless, the overall theme was a chaotic defensive zone, resulting in a goal against.
There is one final clip from this past segment that again illustrates this area of concern for the Oilers. This is the first goal against from the Toronto game. In this case, the Maple Leafs make a very nice area pass entry that requires Desharnai, the weakside defenceman to surf over and cover. The read immediately for Darnell Nurse is to get back net front and the center, Carrick to also get there. One of them does and one of them does not. Once the puck gets advanced down below the goal line, Carrick reacts to check Tavares. No question, he is assuming that the net front would be covered by the remaining defenceman.
Could he have held up to wait until he saw what developed – yes. Should he have in hindsight? Of course. However, that is really Monday morning quarterbacking. He should have taken a peek to see what was happening behind him for certain. However, this is all Darnell Nurse missing his assignment which is to get back net front. He missed the check and the result was a dash one for all involved.

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It is these types of plays that have plagued the Oilers in two of the last three segments. That can be seen in a comparison of the high danger chances against. For the whole season, the team averages 10.1/60 which includes some putrid segments at the start of the year. For this segment, the high danger chances against was 12.0/60. A full 20 percent more than the season average. To give you a further example, the average in segment nine in this same category was 9.1/60. This was a segment where the Oilers gave up only seven 5v5 goals versus the 15 given up in this segment.
The good news is the Oilers still ran a 4-2-1 record in this segment. Further good news is the Oilers started to make some improvements in this area. It really started in the second period of the Winnipeg Jets. However, I want to show a clip from the Kings game which is technically not part of this segment. But I get to make the rules. Just don’t tell the boss.
It is one clip that shows just what a disciplined defensive zone looks like and what it can do. In this case, watch the work of Connor McDavid throughout the whole shift. Watch the economy of his movement. Watch how he takes micro-reads every couple of seconds to assess the play. This work, which I think McDavid doesn’t get enough credit for, helps the Oilers maintain a composed structure, which forces the Kings to settle for a long, clear point shot that is easily handled.

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If you ever want to argue with the Corsi nerds, use this clip. The Oilers would get a negative score here, but, I personally would take this sequence every single time a team was in the Oilers zone. The rotational work done by the whole group, anchored by McDavid’s work as a center in the middle, is impressive. There were no seams available and when the Kings had the puck move towards the net, the Oilers attacked it and collapsed the front to protect their goalie from secondary chances. The Oilers did this all net until the latter stages of this game and really took the high-danger chance opportunities away from the Kings.
The question becomes whether the Oilers are headed in the right direction at the right time of the year with their 5v5 work. Overall, the segment was not a great one, but the last two periods of game seven and a sneak preview of the first game in segment eleven look promising. This type of structure will lead to playoff success for the Oilers.
That’s it for segment ten of the Oilers in Seven. See you all right back here in two weeks time.

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