"He had an excellent series": high praise for Darnell Nurse from top NHL analyst

Article content

This in from top NHL hockey analyst Ray Ferraro on The Ray & Dreg’s podcast, Ferraro’s high praise for Oilers d-man Darnell Nurse for his play against the Vancouver Canucks in the Pacific Division final.

“Defensively I thought a really interesting thing that’s happened is that (Desharnais) has moved out of a sheltered third pair into a pair with Darnell Nurse. And Nurse’s game has really been tamped down. He doesn’t run around as much. He doesn’t get up the ice as much. I thought he had an excellent series. The problem with that is that Dallas didn’t have one line you want to match with, right? So you might need to split that pair up a little bit. They’ve defended really well. They’re going to have to because I still don’t know what (Oilers goalie Stuart) Skinner is all about in these playoffs.”

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

My take

1. Ferraro has been the NHL’s most astute and eloquent game analyst for more than a decade, though he’s now being challenge for that title by Sportsnet’s Kevin Bieksa (who should be doing color commentary during the games).

2. I put a lot of weight on Ferraro’s take, especially when it lines up with our own video review at the Cult of Hockey of all Grade A shots for and against the Oilers. We look repeatedly at all Grade A shots to ascertain which players contributed to the Grade A shots on which players make mistakes on Grade A shots against.

3. In this case, I’ll suggest Ferraro has it mostly right, but not completely right. There are three d-men who played excellent two-way hockey at even strength against Vancouver, Evan Bouchard, Mattias Ekholm and Brett Kulak. Nurse wasn’t in that same category. Overall, he was good but not great. He trended up as the series when along, especially after his partnership with Cody Ceci was split up after Game 3.

As Ferraro suggests, Nurse did well when he played with big Vinnie Desharnais. You could even say he was excellent. In the final two games, both crucial Oilers wins, Nurse had his two best games of the playoffs, providing shut-down defence. He was a leader in Edmonton’s superlative defensive effort that limited the Canucks to just a small handful of the most dangerous slot shots each game.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

When it comes to his contributions to Grade A shots and mistakes on Grade A shots against, he improved on both categories against the Canucks compared to his play against Los Angeles, where Nurse’s struggles were far more apparent.


4. Nurse was also grew into a tower of power on the penalty kill. I agree with Ferraro that there have now been changes in Nurse’s game. He’s not dropping down to starfish on the ice to block shots and passes nearly so much. He’s more likely to stick to his main job on the ice, which is to cover off shooters in the slot. He’s more aware of the danger man in the slot, just as all his teammates were in the final two games vs the Canucks, the ultra-dangerous shooter who comes in late on a play to take a pass for a 5-alarm shot. Nurse has not been perfect in that regard but he’s been damn good in recent games. If he focuses on that, along with quickly moving the puck, Nurse will be a major asset against Dallas.

5. Every Oilers d-man performed better against Vancouver than they did against Los Angeles, save for Desharnais, who was about the same. Against Vancouver, Bouchard and Ekholm were out-of-this-world good, especially when you consider the quality of their competition, which is best represented in how much time-on-ice at even strength each forward played against Vancouver’s one powerhouse forward, centre J.T. Miller.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Bouchard played the most minutes at even strength overall, 150, and the most against Miller, 66, 44 per cent of his total even strength minutes. Ekholm was at 47%, Nurse 26%, Desharnais 27%, Kulak and Ceci 21%.

Ferraro appears to be incorrect to suggest that Nurse and Desharnais were getting heavy shut-down minutes against Vancouver. That job mainly went to Bouchard and Ekholm.

Against the balanced and consistently strong attack of the Dallas Stars, each Oilers pairing will be challenged with tough minutes. There’s no need to break up Nurse and Desharnais, just a need for them to play solid slot defence and move the puck smartly against whatever Dallas forwards line up against them.

top centres

P.S. The Oilers have inked veteran attacker Seth Griffin to a new two-year AHL deal.

At the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: 80 per cent of NHL analysts pick Stars over Oilers

STAPLES: “Tanev chose Dallas over Edmonton” Insider stuff on big deadline day action

STAPLES: Knoblauch made all the right moves to beat Vancouver, but will it be enough? 

STAPLES: Player grades for Game 7

Article content