The Tape: How the Canucks adjusted to shut down McDavid and Draisaitl in Game 3

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
1 month ago
The biggest challenge in this series for the Vancouver Canucks was always going to be slowing down the Edmonton Oilers’ two superstars, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They’re too good to shut down in a playoff series entirely, but the Canucks capitalized when they needed to by securing the win on one of their off-nights.
It wasn’t an off-night for Draisaitl on the scoresheet. He scored and had an assist, but McDavid was held off the scoresheet for the first time this playoffs. I’m not sure how much more that will happen during this series. 
With home ice switching to Edmonton, the Oilers had the opportunity to line match the big three away from the Pius Suter, J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser line. But they decided to keep the matchup. That didn’t bode well for most of the game as this line wouldn’t find the back of the net until 1:16 remaining in the third period, with the goalie pulled. 
At 5-on-5, McDavid and Draisaitl were completely shut down. They were outscored 1-0, and while they won the shot-on-goal battle (12-5), how dangerous were they? 
With McDavid on the ice, Edmonton had five high-danger scoring chances to Vancouver’s four. The Canucks have done an elite job at keeping the play around the perimeter and not allowing McDavid and Draisaitl to get into the high-danger areas in front of the net. A high-danger scoring chance is any shot from the slot area or in front of the net. So, while the shots were heavily leaned in Edmonton’s favour, it’s not as threatening as the box score says.
But let’s not give too much away before we dive into how the Canucks shut down the league’s most lethal duo.

First Period

It was on the very first shift of the game for the Canucks that they demonstrated how this Miller line was going to play against McDavid; man-to-man coverage. 
Miller is on McDavid like glue coming through the neutral zone and continues to follow him around the entire defensive zone. This type of defensive coverage helped hold McDavid without touching the puck for the whole shift. It wasn’t just McDavid; Draisaitl received similar treatment, as he was consistently shadowed by a Canucks defender.
Usually, you’d see a player play more in a specific quadrant of the ice despite the constant movement to avoid an attacking player finding open space for a grade-A scoring chance. But when you have two dynamic players like McDavid and Draisaitl, keeping the man-on-man strategy proved to have limited their space and upside offensively.
With the frightening Oilers powerplay, it’s hard to play the man-to-man defence while being down a man with all that extra space out there. But it’s not hard to be physical on these two! Draisaitl gets bulled over not once but twice by Tyler Myers and Teddy Blueger. This shows that playing the physicality game on the penalty kill bedevils their head and helps reduce the Oilers’ space on the powerplay.
I think this video encapsulates everything I’ve said up to this point.
McDavid and Draisaitl are playing the cycle game down low behind the net; notice how the entire time, they have a Canuck defender hot on their tail. Playing the man-to-man tactic forces them to play along the boards and on the outside. Nikita Zadorov makes sure to frazzle McDavid mentally, giving him a quick shove as he dishes it to Draisaitl. Miller gets to him physically and gives him a couple of wacks in the back. 
With Draisaitl running out of available ice to maneuver around, he’s forced to send a weak backhand floater to McDavid in the middle of the ice. This play almost immediately gets swallowed up as the Canucks clog up the middle of the ice so well, and they successfully clear the zone. 

Second Period

This top Oilers line opens up the second period with some offensive zone time. Zach Hyman wins the board battle and walks away with the puck, being instantly met by Pius Suter. When Hyman tries to take the puck to the middle of the ice, Myers and Boeser close the open window while Suter wraps his stick through Hyman and knocks the puck off his stick. 
The play would touch four of five Oilers skaters’ sticks, which were all around the perimeter and had a Canucks defender checking them right away. This all led to a very low danger shot on goal from the point that went straight into Arturs Silovs’ crest – something that the Canucks will take every time. 
Up until this point, the Canucks contained McDavid through the neutral zone. He likes to gain speed, drawing defenders in to allow teammates on the back side to sneak past defencemen and get sent on a breakaway – exactly what happened on this play. 
This is an article about how the Canucks defence played well against McDavid and Draisaitl, but I thought it was important to include some proof that one tiny slip-up puck watching could lead to a goal the other way. It was one quick turn the wrong way from Quinn Hughes that allowed Draisaitl to gain speed and take the McDavid outlet pass on a near breakaway. 
The Canucks have to continue to keep locked in and play the man-on-man structured defence to not allow chances like these because they may not have the post to save them again.
Another neutral zone coverage play here from the Canucks. Teddy Blueger sticks with Draisaitl as he gains speed through the zone. New to the lineup, Linus Karlsson steps up at the blue line to kill all of Draisaitl’s momentum and forces him to dump the puck in. You can tell the Canucks physicality has gotten to Draisaitl as he steps back away from this hit from Myers. This ultimately losses possession, and the Canucks make the easy zone exit. 
There are a couple of things I liked about this play defensively for the Canucks. 
Firstly, the pressure and level of defence Boeser demonstrates on this play is admirable. He makes sure he’s in proper positioning to not get beat, shows his strength to not get bodied off the puck when trying to keep him to the outside and finishes the play off with a hit. 
Watching McDavid religiously helped me notice how the Canucks vacate the net front for a clear view for Silovs. Now, this may be a by-product of being at 4-on-4 and the Canucks playing man-on-man coverage, but nonetheless, Arturs Silovs had a clear view nearly the entire shift.

Third Period

McDavid starts this final frame off hot, picking up the loose puck, zooming through the neutral zone and enters the zone. The only space he has to get by this Canucks defence is along the boards and to stay on the outside. This was the first time all game that the Canucks allowed McDavid to get through to the middle of the ice. 
But just because he finally made it there doesn’t mean the Canucks made it easy on him. Once he gets there, space shortens up immediately, with Myers sliding with his stick down to take away the passing lane while Ian Cole comes from behind to wrap up his stick for a potential shot. The play would amount to nothing, as he would lose possession in the slot.
This is less on McDavid or Draisaitl, but this play by Myers on the penalty kill was worth pointing out. On a long stretch pass from Evan Bouchard, Hyman takes it into the zone. Coming straight off the bench, Myers cuts off the angle for Hyman, who has to cut back for extra room, but Myers doesn’t give it to him. On the hot pursuit of the puck, Myers pushes Hyman off the puck to clear the zone easily. 
If they’re going to continue to make it tough for this Oilers powerplay to enter the zone will be a key to Game 4 success. 
This ensuing play, after the quick clear from above, displays how you limit the threat level when McDavid grabs speed coming into the offensive zone. Miller starts at the opposing blue line, gaining speed along with McDavid to reduce the advantage he gets. This also pushes McDavid towards the boards and cuts off his angle towards the net. Miller would get rewarded for this positioning as he would get the blocked shot from the point and the outlet pass to clear the zone. 
You can tell the Canucks watched some film on this Oilers powerplay. They know they like to drop the puck to McDavid with speed as they enter the offensive zone. Nils Äman stays back and in between McDavid and the puck carrier, which halters their neutral zone plans. 
If you look at the formation, the Canucks are lined up along the blue line, and there’s no room for McDavid to get past them. He’s got no choice but to dump the puck in and hop step by the Canucks defender to avoid the hit. McDavid would fail to regain the puck, and the play would later be cleared out of the zone. 
Just a quick clip here showing McDavid’s failed zone entry on the powerplay with less than eight minutes to go. Elias Lindholm and Nils Äman step up to greet him just inside the blue line, resulting in McDavid losing the puck. However, Edmonton holds the zone, but the continued pressure from Lindholm again forces a no-look pass down the boards, allowing Carson Soucy to intercept the pass and clear the zone.  
The Canucks trade acquisitions from this year make Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford look like geniuses after this clip.
Lindholm targets McDavid and cuts off his angle to take the puck down low, forcing him to turn back. Lindholm takes this opportunity to get physical with McDavid by literally shoving him off the puck. Boeser came in to clear the zone as Lindholm battled McDavid along the boards. 
After regaining possession, Bouchard makes a long stretch pass for Draisaitl to enter the zone. But he’s quickly met by Nikita Zadorov, who quickly makes Draisaitl pay by hammering him along the boards, disrupting his clean zone entry. 
The Oilers would bring this game to within one, but after scoring their third goal really didn’t produce much threat to the Canucks victory. It was mostly filled with the Canucks clogging up the neutral zone, forcing the Oilers to dump the puck in, and Vancouver would clear the zone – just like the entire rest of the game. 
It was a lot of tape to go through, as McDavid and Draisaitl played the entire five minutes. Edmonton’s coach, Kris Knoblauch, is going to burn his players out if he continues to play his first-line and top-defensive pairing this much.
Playing them for half the game is only going to hurt your team more than it helps it, but I understand why he feels he needs to do this. Outside of the five players listed above, only Darnell Nurse, Derek Ryan and Evander Kane have a point in this series. Their depth is non-existent so far in this series. 
The Canucks need to continue on keeping play to the perimeter, matching McDavid’s speed in the neutral zone and playing the man-on-man coverage that they utilized to perfection in Game 3. If they can, then Vancouver might be on their way to the third round. 
What do you think Canucks fans? How do you think they controlled Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Game 3?
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