This matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights could cost the Edmonton Oilers

Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
11 months ago
The biggest issue for the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of these playoffs has been Jack Eichel.
Through five games, Eichel has three goals and eight points. His wingers, Jonathan Marchessault and Ivan Barbashev, have two goals and five points, and three goals and four points, respectively. They’re the three leading scorers for the Golden Knights.
This trio is producing at 5×5, too, with the majority of their points coming there and are fresh off a night where they outscored the Oilers 2-0. And in the series as a whole at 5×5, they alone have outscored Edmonton 5-1 accounting for almost half of Vegas’ 12 goals and just one of seven goals against.
While they’ve seemingly been tearing the Oilers up, the truth of the matter is that the Oilers have shot themselves in the foot allowing this to happen. They’ve done this by continuously running Nick Bjugstad and his linemates out there against Eichel as the primary matchup.
In games one, two and five in Vegas, Eichel saw the majority of his time against Bjugstad and a good chunk against Ryan McLeod, as well. In games three and four in Edmonton, however, Eichel saw the majority of his time against every line besides McLeod’s.
Isolating centers as a proxy for the line as a whole, here’s how all three of these players — and Connor McDavid for good measure — have fared against Eichel at 5×5, as sorted by TOI.
Nick Bjugstad17:2524.2403012.6321016.670800.800.800
Ryan McLeod13:2457.1401067.139564.2941800.8330.833
Leon Draisaitl9:1843.4801044.783442.862166.670.8570.857
Connor McDavid6:5258.331010071.133010010100201.001.20
There’s lots to take away from these numbers, so we’ll digest them slowly.
Bjugstad could be one of the worst matchup performances I can recall seeing. He’s getting absolutely caved in terms of shot attempt share and expected goal share (which, again, is a metric to track shot quality), and has been outscored 3-0. On top of that, he and his line have allowed Eichel’s line a staggering eight scores chances to their own zero. This is as bad as it gets.
McLeod, however, is a shining light. He is crushing Eichel in terms of shot attempt share, expected goal share, and scoring chances, despite being outscored 1-0. That lone goal, however, came in game one and was off a shot deflected in by Ivan Barbashev.
Draisatil has seriously struggled. He’s losing the possession battle in terms of shot attempt share and goal share, and in the scoring chances too. Nothing good here, but the time is fairly limited and in the one game he was matched against Eichel, game four, the Oilers were able to walk away with a win.
McDavid, in the most limited time, has actually had the best results dominating in terms of shot attempt share, expected goal share and scoring chances. He’s also the only one of the four to have scored against Eichel and not allow a goal.
If you want to shrink the sample size at 5×5 against Eichel to just games four and five where the Oilers have deployed a traditional 12-6, Bjugstad is 0-7 in shot attempts and has an xGF% of 0 (0-.48) and has been outscored 1-0 in 4:58 TOI. McLeod, meanwhile, is 7-3 in shot attempts, has a 35.9 xGF% and is an even 0-0 in goals in 5:22 TOI.
So yeah, we got a major problem here.
It baffles me that after watching McLeod have lots of success against Eichel in games one and two when Jay Woodcroft didn’t have the chance to issue his own matchups, he would go away from it in games three and four. Moreso, it’s asinine that he would continue to utilize Bjugstad in any way against Eichel given the results that we are seeing here.
Looking beyond the numbers in game five, big Bjugstad lost a puck battle to Eichel in front of the net allowing him to score to tie the game at one early. That’s straight-up unacceptable.
The Edmonton Oilers have a chance to still come back in this series, and even beyond the blunder that has been Bjugstad against Eichel, have two wins under their belt. But now it’s do-or-die time for the Oilers.
With the margin for error minuscule, the Oilers need to try and limit damage as much as possible, and one of the easiest things they can do in game six at home is staple Ryan McLeod to Jack Eichel. When that’s happened so far in this series, the Oilers have seen favourable results.
Puck battles need to be won all over the ice and I’ll bet on McLeod coming out on top here.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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