Taylor Hall made a comment that I couldn’t quite understand in his comments after last night’s loss:
I got stuck playing centre down low on their second goal and I Just lost my guy. I mean, it’s simple as that and they scored.
I was a bit baffled as to why Hall was playing centre, so I went back and looked at the PBP file on NHL.com. Sure enough, at 7:27, Hall loses a faceoff to Saku Koivu and, 21 seconds later, the Ducks score. Hall was on the ice with Jordan Eberle and Jerred Smithson and the faceoff came right after a TV timeout. I assume that Smithson was sent out to take the draw, got himself punted from the circle and then Hall took the draw.
If you ever wonder about the thought that NHL coaches put into faceoffs, this picture should help you understand it. This is a small thing but that’s Justin Schultz on the left side and Nick Schultz on the right side – the opposite of their usual sides. Why would the Oilers do that on a faceoff? I would guess that it’s because Hall is going to try and pull the puck back towards the boards and it’s preferable for a right handed shot to be taking that pass because he can go up the boards on his forehand or fire it around behind the net on his forehand. If it’s a left handed shot receiving the puck, it’s much more difficult for him to get to his forehand to move the puck behind the net.
Now, at some point after the puck is dropped, Hall and Smithson need to switch. I’m told by a friend who played a higher level of hockey than I did that Hall’s defensive responsibility here is the centreman, which makes sense, and that he and Smithson will switch when it’s safe to do so. The infuriating thing, given what unfolds, is that Hall’s in a better position to pressure the left point here than Smithson (which would permit a switch) but presumably they aren’t comfortable making the switch at that point.
The puck’s gone over to the far side of the ice now and you can that Hall’s gone with Koivu – he’s still in the centre’s role. Smithson kind of drifts an awfully long way across the ice here – I wonder if he was looking for a switch.
In this shot, maybe 14 seconds before the goal is scored, the Oilers have established possession. That’s Nick Schultz below the goal line, approaching the puck. Justin Schultz is the Oiler closest to Nick Schultz, with Hall on the far side of the ice and Smithson hurrying to try to get to the boards to provide Schultz with an outlet.
Schutz has already ringed the puck around the boards at this point. Smithson was never going to get there for that. This is an aside, but it seems to me like this is a pretty good example of what a lot of people have been wondering about, in terms of why the Oilers spend so much time in their own end. Smithson wasn’t going to get to that puck in a million years. Schultz is in a good position to see what’s going on and he had to know that there was nobody there to receive the pass. Why even make the play? Why not reverse and go behind the net?
The puck is chipped back in, past Smithson, and it’s a 2 on 3 down low. The Ducks work the puck behind the net, where it’s picked up by WInnik.
By this point, you can see how screwed up things are. As Daniel Winnik turns and shoots, Hall is kind of in no-man’s land, not covering anyone. Smithson is presumably focused on what’s going on at the left point.
It’s all over now – Hall’s ended up with nobody, Smithson wasn’t alert to the risk that Dvorak presented and Dvorak is about to score his second. So ends the realistic hope of making the playoffs.
This whole sequence is a sort of fine example of how you can play the odds and still have things not work out. It’s tough to criticize Krueger for replacing one of the worst faceoff guys in the NHL with one of the best faceoff guys in the NHL for an own zone draw in a must win game. The gap between is massive enough that you could see it making a difference and Smithson would presumably have gone to the bench as soon as the puck left the zone. Smithson getting himself kicked out and then the mess that followed? That’s hockey, unfortunately.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org