April 20, 2017, 2:09 PM ET [25 Comments]
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Game 4 was an unmitigated disaster with the winning goal being scored 15 seconds into the game. I could spend a lot of time breaking down everything that went wrong but it can be summed up by saying “everything went wrong”. From goaltending all the way up through the lineup there were sub-par performances. I can’t even harp on the poor play of Kris Russell because he’s just one of 20 players who were utter garbage on Tuesday.
So we move on. And that’s the only choice here. The Oilers checked out of that game halfway through knowing full well that they were going to lose and spending another ounce of energy on it was a waste. We can debate the merits of that all we want, but that’s what happened. After the game the message was clear. 7-0, 1-0, or 15-0, it was just a single loss. The series is tied 2-2 and it’s a best two-out-of-three with two games in scheduled Edmonton.
This is where home ice advantage plays a massive role. The home team gets last change and therefore has the upper hand in the matchups. I’m looking at some key matchups for the Oilers and I think they’re extremely important for their success. The key line for matching, to me, is Edmonton’s 2nd line of Lucic-RNH-Eberle. That grouping has been tasked all year long with taking down top lines and successfully neutering them does two things.
1) It does the obvious of keeping top opposition players from dominating the game.
2) It keeps those players away from Connor McDavid and allows him to have the puck more frequently.
So RNH’s success against players like Joe Pavelski or Logan Couture is vitally important.
The wonderful website naturalstattrick.com keeps track of this information quite well and can be broken down not just by total minutes, but by game state. So I’m specifically looking at how many minutes RNH has played in the different games against key San Jose players.
Nuge Matchups vs Forwards
RNH vs Pavelski: 3:52 54.5% CF
RNH vs Couture: 3:28 50.0% CF
McLellan fails to match lines to his advantage in game one. The club is dominated after the 1st period. Oilers lose.
RNH vs Pavelski: 8:31 83.3% CF
RNH vs Couture: 8:55 75.0% CF
McLellan uses his home ice advantage to match Pavelski/Couture to RNH and the maneuver pays off in a big way. Edmonton dominates.
RNH vs Pavelski: 5:31 60.0% CF
RNH vs Couture: 4:00 62.5% CF
RNH vs Thornton: 5:25 60.0% CF
DeBoer, now at home, gets his lines away from RNH more than he did in Game 2, but not enough. Edmonton wins.
RNH vs Pavelski: 2:33 28.6% CF
RNH vs Couture: 1:49 50.0% CF
RNH vs Thornton: 2:00 16.7% CF
Edmonton goes off the rails. RNH barely sees these players, whose offense explodes. Edmonton dominated.
Now that Edmonton is back at home, it is going to be critical for McLellan to get RNH out against San Jose’s top units. This also ought to free up McDavid. DeBoer was forced to try a few things early without Thornton in the lineup, but now that he’s back it seems as though he wants Couture out against 97. In game 2 McLellan had RNH out against that unit and it was highly successful.
The other matchup to disrupt will be how often Vlasic plays against McDavid. Or perhaps the better way to frame it is how often McLellan can get McDavid out against Burns. The Sharks deploy Burns a lot but they keep him away from top opposition as much as possible. It maximizes the strength of their defense doing it that way. The less time McDavid sees against Vlasic the more he gets against Burns, and that is not what the Sharks want at all. Disrupting their game plan is key tonight.
Getting McDavid away from his would-be checkers is a job that McLellan is tasked with and it’s going to be Nugent-Hopkins tasked with soaking up as many of those harder minutes as possible. It throws the Sharks off their plan and should give McDavid some more time and space with the puck. It’s home ice in a tied series. Every advantage possible is critical.
Lines are shuffled back with Caggiula getting top spot duties. Same defense. McLellan puts the band back together.
Caggiula McDavid Draisaitl
Lucic RNH Eberle
Maroon Letestu Kassian
Pouliot Desharnais Slepyshev
OILERS KEYS TO THE GAME
1) Dynamic Duo. The Oilers top line has not provided the offense it needs through the first 4 games. Leon Draisaitl has 0 points. Pat Maroon has 0 points. Connor McDavid only has 2 points through the first 4 games of the series. If you were told that would be the scoring line of the Oilers top unit after 4 games you might expect to be told Edmonton was swept. That things are tied right now is a small miracle. McLellan split Draisaitl and McDavid up part of the way through the 3rd game. With Tuesday’s disaster performance it was almost certain that he would go back to the well of McDavid and Draisaitl as a duo. And why not. Edmonton’s success has depended on these two connecting for so much of the season that if this club is going to go out then it ought to do so playing them together again.
2) Caggiula and Maroon. The big change for the lines is that Caggiula was promoted to the top line and Maroon demoted to the 3rd. Watching this series you have to wonder how hurt Maroon is. He took a nasty spill into a goal post to end the year and didn’t play in one of the games against Vancouver. It wouldn’t shock me to find out after this season ends for the Oilers that he was playing with a banged up shoulder or cracked ribs. At any rate, he’s not moving around very well and Caggiula has legs going. He just needs to be able to connect on his shots and keep up with the play. 97 in orange will find him the puck. Be ready for it. Meanwhile, on the 3rd line, Kassian can be the physical presence for that line. It should suit him just fine holding down that role. Maroon wont have to keep up with linemates doing anything that requires high skill or precision. He can focus on just basic hockey.
3) Desperation. The Sharks were down 2-1 in the series, lost their first home game, and it doesn’t take a great hockey mind to see that there might not be a long time for their window to win to stay open. They played like their backs were against the wall and just crushed the Oilers. That level of desperation fueled their play and it was a huge lesson for Edmonton. It’s clear they need to elevate their level of play and their own desperation. Every single player on the Oilers needs to wake up after a 7-0 drubbing. From McDavid on down the line there were very few skaters who can look in the mirror and say they did a good job. Hopefully that loss awakened something inside them. Hopefully they are that much more keen on the details of the game. There’s just that much more jump in their step. There’s just that much more emphasis on finishing the check.
Puck drops tonight at 8:30 PM Mountain Time on Sportsnet. Game On!