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How Does the Edmonton Oilers Defence Stack Up Against the Florida Panthers

NHL Predictions

As the 2024 NHL Stanley Cup finals inch ever closer, we continue our look ahead. Today we shall discuss the tale of the tape comparing the Edmonton Oilers defence with that of the Florida Panthers. This is quite possibility an epic duo between two talented, above-replacement defence groups.

Edmonton Oilers vs Florida Panthers: the Blueline Edition

Analyzing Edmonton Oilers Goaltender Playoff Stats

When you compare their numbers from the regular season, you probably have to give the advantage to the Edmonton Oilers. They had an extremely consistent season, and their pairings stuck together with remarkable dependability. Yes, the Florida Panthers were a little more willing to juggle their group in the regular season, but that only adds to their versatility, and adaptability. And really, aren’t those two perfect attributes to carry with you for the post-season.

Oilers and Panthers Top Six xGoals% 2023-24 Regular Season


Ekholm and Bouchard were arguably a top-three pairing league-wide. Even the next two pairings scored above the Panthers when studying xGoals%. It’s hard not to argue the Oilers as a top-six were better than the Panthers in the regular season.

The Oilers did run into a problem this post-season, and that was the struggles of Darnell Nurse. However, that’s where the coaching abilities of Oilers Head Coach Kris Knoblauch has popped up. He’s known for identifying issues, and being able to push the right buttons at the right time. A very powerful skill to possess for the NHL Head Coach with only 69 games of regular season experience. Knoblauch had to dig deep when he strategized the gameplan to bring Philip Broberg in the lineup for the final three games of the Western Conference Final series. Moreover, this allowed Brett Kulak to jump up with Nurse, and bring some calm to his game. The athletic Nurse has rewarded his coach by playing very steadily in those three games.

It was unfortunate that the club’s top penalty killing defenceman had to be sat. Desharnais has really come to play this post-season, and if his name gets called again, he will be ready. He has 39 hits and 38 blocked shots this post-season.

Who’s the Best of the Best

Team LD RD xGF/60 xGA/60
Edm Ekholm Bouchard 2.97 2.05
Fla Forsling Ekblad 2.6 2.71

If we study the top pairing, there are some interesting details. From the expected goal differential, the Oilers pair has been dominant, while the Panthers has actually been sub-par.

Perhaps this is the playoffs and you can throw analytics out the window and only focus on results. Fair enough, Evan Bouchard is third (among all skaters, not just defencemen) in playoff scoring with 27 points. The Panthers top player is Matthew Tkachuk with 19 points, good for the sixth best total this post-season. Forsling has 11 points to lead Florida D-men.

Furthermore, Mattias Ekholm is great positionally, controlling the play, steady to support Bouchard’s offence. Similarly, Aaron Ekblad brings that needed playoff toughness and provides the calm for Forsling. He has 54 hits and plays 22:37 a game. However, there is a potential weakness in this Florida top pair, and that is the takeaway/giveaway differential. Through the playoffs, Ekholm sits at a -2 differential, meanwhile, Ekblad is at a -19. Now clearly, the steady Panther offensive attack is able to gameplan successfully despite this, but with the Oilers speedy, potent offensive players attacking, it could be something for Knoblauch to exploit.

Florida’s Depth Has the Edge this Post-Season

As we mentioned of Nurse’s struggles, take a look at numbers with Cody Ceci. In 153.5 minutes played together, they have a catastrophic 31.5 xGoals%. Moreover, their xGF/60 is 1.8 compared against an xGA/60 of 3.91. Nurse has been exposed way too frequently. Furthermore, he has recorded just three assists in 18 games with a CF% Rel of -11.4 in just 20 minutes of ice time, not acceptable. Hopefully Kulak continues to bring him peace or he can regain the regular season form with Cody Ceci.

Conversely, the Panthers next two pairs have been extremely consistent and effective. Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s numbers don’t jump off the page for a player earning $10 M. But then again he is a third-pair defenceman, and the Canucks are paying him most of that amount. He had nine goal and 23 assist in 80 games played this regular season in 18:24 of ice time. Playoffs, again, very steady, eh. In 17 games, he has four points and 45 hits. In other words, very reliable for a third pairing guy and as we saw, very efficient out there with his partner Dmitry Kulikov.

When it comes down to it, the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers defence heading into the finals are both very strong. You might have to get the top pair the edge to the Edmonton Oilers. However, between the inconsistencies, and struggles, the rest of the defence, and probably on a whole, the Panthers might get the nod. In any case, the Stanley Cup Finals kick-off tomorrow night from Sunrise, Florida at 8 PM (Eastern Daylight Time) local. And if the defence and goalies have anything to say about it, it’ll be on lock down.

Main photo: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports


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