I wrote a piece last week about the Oilers problems after they won defensive zone faceoffs this year with Taylor Hall on the ice. The short form of that (you can refresh your memory here) is that the Oilers stunk in that situation this year, despite being really good at it last year.
In the course of writing that, I made the following comment:
I can say that it seemed to me like, after Christmas, the Oilers seemed to run a certain play a lot when they won a defensive zone faceoff and it didn’t seem like it was paying off. Essentially, it boiled down to this: they win the faceoff, Hall takes off for the neutral zone and they try to go off the glass. I noticed it so often that I was taking screen captures and tweeting them with sarcastic commentary.
I caved to my lack of data and went back and watched their post-Christmas DZ wins and the subsequent zone exits so that I could comment on it a little more sensibly. I ended up with 67 draws, 37 of which were on the left side and 30 on the right side. Of the ones on the left side, I’ve got ten examples of them trying this (or Hall going like they were going to do it and the D getting run over). Here it is: 1:30 or so of glory.
Let’s talk about this a bit. First observation: this is a left dot play. I suspect that they might have tried it out of the right dot as well, but I had a bit of a focus on Hall while I was doing this and I suspect I might not have caught it off the right side.
A second general observation. This all flows from how the Oilers approach DZ wins. They have a standard approach to these faceoffs. If it’s on the left side, you’ve got a D on the wall and a D on the inside of the circle. Generally, it seems like they’d have the D flipped when they ran this play – i.e. a left handed shot on the inside of the circle, where the RD would usually play and vice versa. They didn’t always flop their D like this but I didn’t record when they were doing it and when they weren’t when I watched this. In a SportVu world, we’ll have this information with a few clicks. Then you’ve got your two wingers on the inside hash mark, with the left winger closest to the play.
When the puck’s dropped, the left winger cuts through the circle towards the left boards and then shoots up. When they ran this play, he’d push out aggressively into the neutral zone. It’s easy to say that this didn’t work – look at the video – but from a “Should this work?” perspective, man I’m skeptical.
A lot has to go right for it to work. It’s uncertain where the defenceman will be receiving the puck. It’s uncertain what pressure he’s going to be under. This is going to impact where he puts it off the glass, which is going to impact where it lands, making that uncertain. Then it’s got to get by a couple of guys and then Hall (or whoever is on the left boards) has to take it while it’s bouncing. Dambusters type stuff.
IF that happens, you get a 2 on 2. More often than not, you’re probably going to get a turnover or an icing. And the Oilers ran this more than 25% of the time off the left dot in the last half of the year.
Now, I should note that the play suspiciously disappears after March 13. Maybe that’s a coincidence, maybe not. I kind of doubt that it was coincidence but who knows. It’s unfortunate that this sort of thing isn’t really talked about in the media because it’d be interesting to know what prompted this.
I mentioned that I think this sort of flows from what the Oilers do generally. I have a tentative theory that they push the inside winger awfully high. So puck drops, the inside winger cuts towards the boards and then out of the zone. He’s giving the defence an option if they want to go up the wall.
If the puck goes behind the net, the outside winger comes across and back, providing an outlet for the defence. The inside winger is then expected to provide an outlet. Just observationally, it seems to me like the Oilers frequently had that winger really high up the ice, requiring a high risk pass to get to him. See, for example, this, a sequence of clips with Hall and Perron on the ice and the faceoff on the right side.
It looks to me like there’s been a decision made at some point to push that winger up the ice. Leaving aside the question of the off the glass and out thing that the Oilers do, is that a good tactic? Even if you hit the pass, you’re getting a guy up there alone. I assume that one of the things the coaches are hoping to acquire in a tradeoff is more room in the neutral zone, as the D back off to deal with the winger.
Is this coached? Is it the players? I don’t have answers to these questions but this seems like the sort of thing to me that’s more likely to have been coached. The closer you are to a point where the game stops, the easier it is for a coach to impose structure, in my view.
I still wouldn’t condemn the Oilers approach based on what we’re seeing here. To really establish a strong argument, I think you’ve got to show teams with similar talent issues that are doing it differently and succeeding. We know that there are teams with sketchy talent that are doing a lot better than the Oilers in this aspect of the game; the question is whether it’s tactical. I’m inclined to think it is but that’s a gut feeling.
Two other threads that come to mind for me here. First, I remember one of the Canucks, either Alex Burrows or Ryan Kesler, making a snide comment after losing to Edmonton that the Oilers cheat all over the ice. I wonder if this is the sort of stuff they’re talking about. Second, and there are a couple of threads here, I had someone who’s watched Craig Ramsey teams closely in the past tell me that he was struck by how they move in a group. That would seem to be counter to what we’re seeing here; maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t know.
That’s kind of hard to do in this medium, with this technology but I’ve got a few ideas as to how to go about looking at some other teams with talent issues who get results. We’ll see if anything comes of it.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org