Weird weekend for the Oilers, who were outplayed in Detroit and then really outplayed in Columbus and came out of the weekend with two points that could have been four – Nail Yakupov didn’t miss by much towards the end of the game in Detroit, when a goal likely would have meant overtime. A couple of quick notes on the game and the season:
I’m going to delve into the PP zone time over the course of the year when I’ve got time to track it. This got in my mind listening to the CBC crew yammering away about faceoffs. CBC’s broadcast has really gone in the toilet over the past few years, both in terms of technical expertise – like 40% of this game didn’t have the bug in the corner with the time, which is aggravating when you’re trying to track things that are happening on the ice and need a time stamp. Whoever was doing it was struggling, as he or she kept posting penalties on the wrong side and then having to pull down the clock. It was horrific work.
Compared to the discussion on the broadcast though, it was stellar. During the intermission, PJ Stock was in the midst of clubbing a point to death about the Oilers having Chris Vandevelde take a faceoff on a 3v5. Vandevelde lost the draw, the Red Wings scored and PJ was not happy with the Oilers having Vandevelde out there taking the draw. The draw was in the circle to Dubnyk’s right, which meant that Vandevelde, a left handed shot, wasn’t able to go to his backhand but had to try and win it on his forehand.
As Elliotte Friedman pointed out, this was kind of a John Turner moment for Ralph Krueger, in that he had no option, but for real. Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger were injured. Ryan Smyth was in the penalty box serving a ten minute misconduct. Lennart Petrell and Sam Gagner had just come off the ice. The only other centre choice was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is terrible at faceoffs and would also have had to try it and win it with his forehand. Even once this was pointed out, PJ was adamant that it was a terrible error of judgment from Krueger.
Given that these guys must discuss what’s going to be said beforehand, this was astonishing. Unless Friedman is a Rainman type character, Stock told him what he was going to talk about and Friedman looked at the Oilers’ options at that moment. Unless Elliotte’s a huge jerk, he then told Stock what his response would likely be. It was crazy enough watching Stock stick to his point after Friedman had demolished it – it’s all the crazier when you realize that they’d almost certainly had this discussion before going on-air and Stock could have altered what he wanted to say so as to make a perfectly serviceable point about the impact of the Horcoff/Belanger injuries when Smyth ends up in the box. Instead, it’s Crazytown with Stock criticizing Krueger for not having more veteran centres around.
There was another point being made throughout the CBC broadcast about the ineptitude of the Oilers in faceoffs. It’s not just CBC making this point – I’ve heard it on other broadcasts and saw Terry Jones making it today. Ray Ferraro made it somewhat more eloquently than most during the Oilers-Stars game last week after Taylor Hall lost an offensive zone faceoff to start a power play in the third period:
They’ve won two faceoffs in the offensive zone at the start of this period. They lost one here and they’ve blown twenty seconds off the PP as a result. Now, it’s going to be close to thirty before they get anywhere near the Dallas blue line.
The thing about this is that, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m just not sure that there’s all that much to it. I’ve heard the point made in the context of PP struggles but that seems to me to misunderstand how a PP works. Detroit had 7 instances of 5v4 PP TOI in the game; Edmonton had 8. I tend to think of PPs as involving sequences. Teams on the PP alternate between offensive zone and non-offensive zone sequences. A lot of hockey commentators will talk about losing a faceoff on the PP as if it means that instead of having a full two minutes in the attacking zone on the PP, you’ll only have 1:40 or 1:30. This, of course, isn’t right. What it really means is that instead your first offensive zone sequence is going to be pretty brief, likely lasting only a few seconds and requiring you to spend a little bit of energy re-entering the zone, which you’ll likely succeed in doing.
I wrote about this with the Oilers and the Sharks late last fall, on the basis of a look at their numbers over the last four years. San Jose was the best PP team in the NHL, Edmonton one of the worst. Here’s one of the things I found:
When the Sharks were on the PP, they spent 47.3 minutes, or 61.1% of their total PP time, in the Oilers zone. The Oilers spent 38.97 minutes, or 54.4% of their PP time in the Sharks zone. At the risk of stating the obvious, the marginal difference in PP zone time doesn’t account for the massive difference in shooting rates.
The Sharks were awesome at PP faceoffs, the Oilers terrible and they spent pretty similar amounts of time in the offensive zone at 5v4. This is a data point in support of my theory that faceoffs are overblown, I think. I appreciate that this isn’t intuitive but I’ve yet to see that data that confirms this point which is frequently made. For what it’s worth, Edmonton and the opposition spent pretty similar percentages of time in the offensive zone at 5v4 in the Detroit and Dallas games. On the PP that had Ferraro so up in arms, the Oilers ended up spending 0.92 minutes out of 1.90 minutes of 5v4 TOI in Dallas’ zone. It likely would have been 1.02 out of two minutes, but the Stars took a penalty that turned things into a 5v3 for six seconds. Which is kind of the point I’m making.
One (second) last point from the Detroit game: I’ve rarely seen such a perfect matchup of lines. The lines were basically as follows:
1: RNH/Hartikainen/Eberle // Brunner/Zetterberg/Franzen
2: Gagner/Hemsky/Hall // Cleary/Filppula/Datsyuk
3: Vandevelde/Paajarvi/Yakupov // Abdelkader/Tatar/Andersson
4: Smyth/Petrell/Eager // Tootoo/Emmerton/Miller
The numbering is what it is; I’d rate the HGH line head of the RNH line but it’s irrelevant which is The Mostest for this. Each team did four revolutions of its top four lines, 1-2-3-4 before the first penalty at 14:48 of the first period. After the Oilers killed that penalty, there was a round of 1v1 and 2v2, followed by a penalty. Special teams finished out that period and the first 3:21 of the second. Then it’s 3v3 before the Oilers get a coveted 1v4 shift at 4:04. I would guess that Krueger skipped his fourth line because Smyth was in the box with a ten minute misconduct and Petrell had just been killing a penalty.
Krueger then comes back with what was basically his fourth line – Petrell and Eager and Vandevelde. Smyth’s still in the penalty box. Neither Zetterberg or Franzen had been on the ice for two minutes at that point and Mike Babcock could have taken his own 1v4 shift, at the cost of starting to get away from the 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 that had dominated at ES to that point. He passed and through out his own third line. A 2v1 shift then led to a power play.
After the Detroit PP that sees them score at 8:33, Detroit’s lines are a bit of a mess. The Oilers start the shift after the PP with their first line; Detroit responds with a mix of Filppula (second), Cleary (second) and Abdelkader (third). Then it’s 2v1, with Datsyuk sliding in for Brunner for a shift. Then it was 3v4, followed by 1v1, 2v2, 4v3 and an Oilers PP which started an exchange of PP that had basically one side or the other shorthanded up to 17:55, when the Oilers tied the game.
The Oilers’ first unit, including Hall, had been out when they scored, so the 64/89/83 line came out and faced Detroit’s first line. There was an interesting twist here for the last shift of the period. Detroit changed first, with their third line coming on at 18:56 on the fly. Babcock presumably expected that the Oilers’ third or fourth line would come out, the second line being on the ice at the time and the first line having been on the ice when the Oilers scored at 17:55. Cleary and Filppula had been on the ice killing the penalty, but Datsyuk was certainly available to come out. Krueger snuck his first line out when the Oilers changed at 19:13. The Oilers generated a little pressure too, forcing an icing, but couldn’t capitalize. (I’ve seen some criticism of Krueger and there’s some stuff I don’t like but a lot of coaches would have missed this opportunity. I tend to think in-game coaching is trying to find minor edges here and there and Krueger seems good to me at that.)
The third started with 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 before the penalties started. After Detroit scores a PP goal at 6:08 to take the lead, the ES play starts again, with Detroit’s second line (featuring Abdelkader in place of Datsyuk, who’d been on the PP) matching up against Edmonton’s first line. Cleary and Filppula took a long shift at 1:51 thanks to a TV timeout in the middle; Abdelkader went to the bench during the TV timeout and was replaced by Datsyuk. When Edmonton’s second line came over the boards after the TV timeout, Babcock just left his second line out to face them.
A 3v3 shift followed. Then there was a moment that I think shows that Babcock was kind of guarding against getting caught 1v4. At 8:50, he changes on the fly, putting out his fourth line, with Zetterberg in place of Tootoo. When the RNH line spills over the boards for the Oilers at 8:55, it takes all of 11 seconds for Emmerton and Miller, Detroit’s fourth liners, to go to the bench to be replaced by Brunner and Franzen, the rest of Detroit’s first line. 1v1 again.
Babcock puts his fourth liners out after that 1v1 shift and Krueger responds with his own fourth liners. After a TV timeout, play resumes with 2v2 and 1v1 before another Oiler PP. After that PP ended, there was a 3v4 followed by a TV timeout. Babcock had been in the course of getting his first line out in the seconds before the whistle that gave rise to the TV timeout – when he saw Krueger put his second line out after the TV timeout, he put the Wings’ second line out instead. Penalties at 17:27 and 19:34 meant that the rest of the game was basically played on special teams.
I don’t intend to do this all that often; it’s a lot of work. It’s pretty interesting to see how a coach works his bench though. With the Red Wings tied or leading for the entire game, Babcock had no need to take any risks in terms of matchups whatsoever. This was pretty lockstep stuff – 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, etc. If, however, Edmonton had been leading, it would have been interesting to see how his matching had changed. The most likely thing would seem to be having his first line match up against the Oilers’ third and fourth line.
Last point: in 30 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman suggested that the Oilers were trying to get after third pairings:
17. As the Edmonton Oilers left on a road trip, rookie head coach Ralph Krueger wanted to see some of his top offensive players get minutes against the home team’s third defensive pairing. Tough to do without last change, so he tried to spread out some of those guys. There were moments he did get scorers out against Jakub Kindl/Kyle Quincey (DET) and Tim Erixon/Cody Goloubef (CLB), but no damage. It’s a chess match the Oilers will continue to try.
I’m not entirely sure that I buy the premise that Krueger was trying to get after the third pairing by spreading out the offensive players when basically what happened was a shifting of Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Teemu Hartikainen. Yakupov isn’t much at ES yet (this isn’t a criticism, just a statement of the obvious) and a line of Yakupov-Vandevelde-Paajarvi isn’t going to cause anyone much worry. Krueger didn’t really seem to be going after this in Columbus, with the top six guys seemingly being mixed and matched with each other.
When you look back at the Detroit game, it’s hard to say that the Oilers had much success with this. The only top offensive player to get notable ES TOI against that pairing was Yakupov who, as I’ve noted, is still sort of feeling things out at ES and more a “Guy Who Is There” than a “Top Offensive Talent.” Other than that, there were a couple of special team shifts or end of shifts where the Oilers’ top two lines passed these guys but it was pretty much ships passing in the dark, with no idea that they were there.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org