Right-sided fever pushes Edmonton Oilers deeper into playoffs

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Right-sided fever helps push the Edmonton Oilers deep into the NHL playoffs.

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For the first time in decades, the right side of the Edmonton Oilers defense was the dominant side.

The three players with the right hit – Cody Cisse, Evan Bouchard and Tyson Barry – play hardcourt hockey with equal strength, providing the two players with a key ingredient they’ve been lacking almost every year for the past three decades.

All three can move the disc well and all three play a healthy defense, something that eluded them earlier in their careers. Are these three as good as the triples on the right side of the oil in the previous big oil years. That’s not yet clear, though there is stiff competition from the likes of Charlie Hudy, Lee Vogolin and Randy Gregg in 1983-85 or Huddy, Craig Muni and Reijo Ruotsalainen, 1987-90.

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But this trio is superior to the three who were here last year, Adam Larson, Ethan Beer and Barry himself.

In the past Ceci, 28, Barrie, 30, and Bouchard, 22, have all been criticized for their defensive slips, Ceci for some inaccurate actions in Ottawa and Toronto, Barry nearly his entire career and Bouchard this year, as he was inconsistent to Very much in his defensive play.

But under the guidance of new d-man coach Dave Manson, all three have thrived in pinch-motion and defense.

Barry has minimized the bad tweaks and other bad reads that often get him into trouble.

Bouchard plays with more bite, giving stick and body more often to opponents.

For his part, Ceci has become the best player in the team even in strength, and his game is now known for his strong readings and strong execution. He’s not a great skater, shooter, passerby, defender or hitter. But he’s good at all of these things, his game now defined with almost mechanical stability, a quality that was missing from his game in his Ottawa days, 2013-19. He was a champion in his hometown there, and was drafted into the first round of Ottawa 67, but only last season in Pittsburgh was his game famous for consistently proper play.

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I was as much a fan of Adam Larson as any of the Oilers fan, and mourned as much the passing of his free agent, and worried as I was about to find Edmonton a suitable replacement. But Ceci — who signed a four-year deal for $3.5 million a year — turned out to be an improvement at Larsson. Ceci is almost healthy in defense but moves noticeably better. Larson’s defensive play is determined by his stick-shattering and physical play thunder, while Ceci accomplishes it with solid centering and reading, but still gets it done overall.

The good play of the three first-class men is seen in their first-class shots plus-minus, which the hockey cult tracks down by reviewing the video of each first-class shot for and against the Oilers.

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Playing against tough competition in every match, Ceci contributed significantly to 13 A-shot shots for equal power and a foul in only 14 against, which is an impressive percentage for any d-man, given how slim d-men tend to have offensive opportunities. They have and how much they rely on in defense, which makes them more likely to make major mistakes in the defensive hole.

Barry and Bouchard are not far behind Barry in their top-notch plus-minus shots, as they both add a lot to attacking with their top-notch talent in shooting and passing the puck.

In total, this oil defense is defined by proper basic play on his own end and top stair passing skills. Teams no longer spin and grind the Oilers to ice shavings at the front check, not because the team is full of Big Bobby Clobbers, but because these d-men are quick to shed pucks and are skilled at getting off the disc with precision passing.

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Heading into the Calgary series, my main concern outside of goalkeeping and injuries to Leon Drysittle and Darnell Norse, was whether the Oil Defense could handle Calgary’s skill and aggression in attack.

Outside of Game 1, this group did just that, with the right side up front.

It’s a welcome change in Edmonton, a decisive one, and it’s starting to give me hope that this playoff tour hasn’t reached its climax yet.

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