WWYDW(FE): What should the Oilers change following their loss in Game 1 to the Golden Knights?
Photo credit:Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
By Cam Lewis25 days ago
A playoff series with the Vegas Golden Knights is going to be a very different experience than one with the Los Angeles Kings.
The Edmonton Oilers learned that the hard way in Game 1.
After a six-game grind against the Kings and their slow-moving defensive trap, the Golden Knights completely flipped the script and ran the Oilers into the ground with their speed and relentless forecheck. Vegas won Game 1 by a score of 6-4, tagging Edmonton for more goals than they allowed in any of their six games against Los Angeles.
Losing the first game of a series is nothing new for the Oilers, so there shouldn’t be any reason for panic. They dropped Game 1 against L.A. in the first round this year and they did the same last spring against both the Kings and the Calgary Flames.
That said, adjustments will be needed if the Oilers are going to come out on top in this series against the regular-season Pacific Division champions. Let’s go through some of the decisions that Jay Woodcroft and Co. will have to make ahead of Game 2 on Saturday…
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest shift when going from facing the Kings to the Golden Knights is speed and forechecking.
Los Angeles had a fairly passive forecheck and they slowed the game down by plugging up the neutral zone so that it was difficult for the other team to gain speed as they entered the offensive zone. Vegas also uses a passive 1-2-2 forecheck but they move quickly and send two forwards in on loose pucks, so Edmonton’s defenders are challenged to get to the puck and move it quickly in transition and their forwards need to come back quickly.
Ahead of their first-round series with the Golden Knights, Winnipeg Jets head coach Rick Bowness said that the key to beating Vegas was playing with speed…
“Play as fast we can. To do that, your D have to get back, your forwards have to get back and help out, make that first outlet pass. Don’t be looking for second or third options, you have to make that first option and go.”
The Jets bought in and won Game 1 handily but the Golden Knights came back and pulled off a gentleman’s sweep and finished off the series in five games. Vegas turned up the pressure in the remaining games of the series and Winnipeg’s slow breakout and poor defensive zone play got exposed.
The case was somewhat the same for the Oilers in their loss to Vegas in Game 1. The Oilers struggled to generate chances in Vegas’ zone because they never had any time and space while most of the Golden Knights’ offence came from winning races and causing turnovers in Edmonton’s zone.
One player that had a particularly tough time with Vegas’ speed was Vincent Desharnais, who was on the ice for two goals against at even strength and one on the penalty kill.
Nobody should be pinning this loss on a rookie defender as many veteran Oilers had poor performances in Game 1, but the slow-moving Desharnais stood out when having to deal with Vegas’ attack. For the playoffs, the big man has been on the ice for just two goals for and seven goals against at even strength and the Oilers have a 0.949 save percentage when he’s on the bench compared to a 0.774 save percentage when he’s playing.
Again, this isn’t to rag on Deshanrias. The Oilers badly needed a big, physical shutdown defender and his mid-season call-up plugged a major hole on the team and helped them turn their season around. But the reality is Desharnais is struggling with the pace of the playoffs and the coaching staff should consider a change.
The Oilers could go back to the standard 12 forwards and six defencemen format and play the smooth-skating Philip Broberg on the third defensive pairing with Brett Kulak while inserting Dylan Holloway’s speed and skill into the forward group. That would help Edmonton go head-to-head with Vegas at even strength but it would also leave them without one of their penalty-killing options. With that in mind, the Oilers could also remain using 11 forwards and seven defenders but limit Desharnais’ usage at even strength.
Whether it comes from a lineup change or not, the Oilers will need to make adjustments in order to beat the Golden Knights. They did so after a Game 1 loss to the Kings last round and it’ll be interesting to see what they try in Game 2 in Vegas.
What say you, Nation? What do the Oilers need to change in order to beat the Golden Knights in this series?
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