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Florida has done a fantastic job of erasing Edmonton’s offence


Legendary college football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once famously said, “Offence sells tickets. Defence wins championships.” It’s an adage has permeated through sports for decades, and one that’s surely humming around the minds of the Edmonton Oilers right now.

Many teams over the years have defeated that notion – perhaps the most notable in recent history would be the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, a dynastic run built off an unstoppable offence and hallmarked by multiple championships. That offence was centered on a generational player in Stephen Curry, with plenty of supporting weaponry around him. Sound familiar?

You could largely chalk up Edmonton’s 3-0 loss to Florida in Game 1 to running into a hot goalie. The Oilers created chances, but Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was simply sublime. It happens. It’s the type of frustrating single-game outcome you see in hockey, and the type of game you hope to erase with a little better puck luck the next time around.

Of course, that didn’t materialize. The Oilers looked horrific offensively in Game 2, and have now been outscored 7-1 over the first two games of the series.

It is do or die time in Game 3, and it goes without saying the Oilers – a team built around an offence that’s outperformed every other team in the league over the past three seasons – need a victory. And while the first two games of the series could not have looked any more different, there were two common themes for Edmonton: a quiet offence, and a multi-goal loss.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Florida has done a fantastic job of limiting opportunities against Edmonton. If you trend the Oilers’ expected goal rate over the full season, you can see how much of an outlier the past two games appear to be. The Panthers deserve credit for this. Much like the Oilers have been a dominant franchise offensively, Florida has turned into a defensive juggernaut:

The numbers are hideous when compared to what we have seen from Edmonton most of this season. But it also shows the dichotomy between the first two games; one with an aggressive offence that couldn’t break through, followed by a feckless offence that generated nothing dangerous.

Counting on power plays in the playoffs can always be risky (in part because we know officiating standards from series to series can be fleeting), so Edmonton needs to make hay at even strength. And that’s where there is a lot of decay within the skater group.

If we look at every skater’s typical regular season offensive production versus what we are seeing in the Stanley Cup Final, there is a concerning trend. Defencemen – typically low-probability, low-percentage shooters owing to their positioning and role in the offensive third – have been responsible for a huge percentage of the Oilers offence. Across the Oilers forwards, every attacker absent Connor McDavid (surprise!) has seen a volume drawdown. And some of these are stark:

Yost - June 12

It’s never a good sign when your defence is handling so much of the offensive workload, and frequently indicative of a defensive structure that’s successful at keeping attacking sequences to the outside.

There are other signs of that being the case – Zach Hyman, a wondrous goal scorer and perfect complementary attacker to McDavid, has seen a stark drop-off in his shot volume over the first two games. With so many of his opportunities coming from the low slot and net-front, it’s another indicator the Oilers are having trouble getting to the heart of the Panthers defence. You aren’t going to beat many goaltenders, especially the one the calibre of Bobrovsky, with a firehose of slap shots and wristers from the blueline. 

How is this issue resolved? Considering the depth and quality of the opponent, not easily. But watching the first two games, I think much of the issue has to do with the Oilers inability to deal with the Panthers forecheck, and subsequently, their ability to meaningfully transition up ice with pace.

Pieces of Edmonton’s defensive corps have struggled for stretches of this postseason, and that has been exacerbated against Florida’s units. Not only are they leaking goals against in the defensive zone, their ability to drive the puck up ice to Edmonton’s bevvy of quality attackers has also waned. To that end, most shifts have ended up looking like survival mode.

That’s not to say the Oilers forwards are blameless – puck support in the defensive zone is critical at even strength, and the best five-man units work in tandem.

Again, full marks to Florida for being able to bottle up Edmonton so effectively. Kris Knoblauch and the Oilers coaching staff certainly have their work cut out from them in advance of Thursday and Game 3. My guess is we continue to see tweaking of the defensive pairings.

Lastly, I’m going down with the ship: Oilers in six, but said a bit less confidently this time around.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference