Searching for Space
Connor McDavid's zone entries in Game 2
The Avs took control of this series by shutting out the Oilers in Game 2, and they did so in relatively easy fashion. They got three quick goals in the second period and the Oilers didn’t much of a comeback even with a few power play opportunities. One of the talking points was how well the defense pair of Cale Makar & Devon Toews did against the Oilers star Connor McDavid.
He had no points, two shots on goal, one scoring chance and setup seven shots on goal, only one of which was a scoring chance. For your ordinary top-six player, that’s pretty good but it’s well below McDavid’s standards. A more detailed at this game tells an interesting story, though.
Going by my Microstat game score (which factors in zone entries, shot contributions, zone exits & a lot of other individual contributions), McDavid wasn’t the best player in the game but he was involved in a lot of offense. Far and away the Oilers best player, which tells you how the rest of the team played. Most of this is from his contributions in transition, he entered the zone 13 times during five-on-five play, carried the puck in on 8 entries and had 3 lead to a scoring chance.
Objectively, those numbers are pretty good. Quick strike offense is important where you’re at a talent & speed disadvantage. So why didn’t it lead to any results for the Oilers in this game? Let’s dive into the tape to find out.
I’m not going to break down each entry one-by-one but there’s some themes here, the first one being that there’s nothing direct with how McDavid’s creating his chances. The tricky thing about playing Colorado is that Toews & Makar can skate with him & they maybe the quickest group of back-checking forwards in the league. Even the lower line guys like Darren Helm can fly even if they’re not the most skilled. There’s just too many bodies to weave through to get to the net. McDavid only tried to go one-on-one with Makar once, other times he pulled up & waited for help or had a winger as an outlet at the blue line.
It’s not a great chance, but getting something to the net with a rebound opportunity is better than nothing. Rushes with support were there at times for the Oilers too.
The chance here develops because the Avs missed on one of their own rushes, which is not the type of game the Oilers want to get involved in, but it does open up space for McDavid to attack with a little more support. Allowing for better chances like this to happen. Even then, it’s a pretty tough play because the puck had to through two players to even get the chance and Colorado got back into the zone quick enough to only give Edmonton one shooting option. Evan Bouchard did well to turn this into a scoring chance, but the Avs will take a defenseman shooting over one of their forwards.
Some of this they will just have to deal with. The Oilers defense corps isn’t great at making plays under duress, so McDavid will usually have to skate the puck out of the zone himself or have a winger give the puck to him off the wall so he can attack with speed. Leon Draisaitl is the best player at doing this, so you will likely see him back on 97’s wing before the series is over. As great as the Avs defense is, McDavid it only takes one misstep here or there to create instant offense, so he will eventually break through even with the Oilers breakout issues. It just won’t be as easy as it was against Calgary & Los Angeles at times, because it’s the first time they’re at a huge speed disadvantage.
There some areas where the rest of the team can be better. His wingers were guilty of some not-so-great forechecking. Looking for hits instead of the puck, going to the front of the net when the puck was going behind the net, allowing easy breakouts for the Avs and the Oilers wasting their energy chasing the puck down instead of creating offense. Colorado also played as close to a perfect game as you can defensively with how well they back-checked and recovered after turnovers. It’s tough to do that against any team in the league, let alone against Connor McDavid. If he has the puck this much, he will start to see some rewards and as I’m typing this he already has.
Now lets see if the rest of the team can get more than just 2 chances off zone entries.