The Edmonton Oilers finished up the first half of the season heading into the All-Star break after earning 11 of a possible 12 points in their last six games. This coincided with the return of a few players returning or entering the lineup and playing effectively, giving the Oilers the depth they need.
Not to get lost in the shuffle, the Oilers’ second defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci has been very solid and integral to the team’s success not only over a strong stretch but also the whole season. When healthy, these two have played together more than any other pairing on the team and have contributed a lot offensively and defensively.
The coaching staff has taken notice of their strong play as both have played above their season average in ice time in five of the last six games.
Shutdown Defensive Pairing
A goaltender, no matter how good, can’t stand on his head every night. This recent stretch has seen Mikko Koskinen pick up his play again, and – not to take anything away from him – part of that can be attributed to the defencemen in front of him, including Keith and Ceci, the Oilers’ shutdown pairing.
Mathematically, the fewer shots that make it to the net, the fewer goals will go in. That’s where blocked shots and tips/deflections are key. Of course, the best shot-blocker in NHL history is also on the Oilers, but a younger defenceman like William Lagesson has stepped up and earned time. This leaves the shot-blocking to the rest of the team, and Keith and Ceci have done a great job of stepping up, even when Kris Russell, the aforementioned all-time shot-blocking leader is in the lineup.
Keith has blocked 18 shots in the last six games, not including when he gets his stick in the way to tip the puck off target. Ceci, on the other hand, has blocked 10 shots – still, a solid number as you never know which shot will find its way in.
The pairing has also been solid at keeping opposing players to the outside when they enter the zone and disrupting zone entries. Both Keith and Ceci have different ways of doing things, but they have been very effective in feeding off each other. In recent games, Ceci has been laying the body with some big hits as opponents come across the blue line with the puck. His aim is to knock the puck off a player’s stick for a change of possession and an opportunity for a quick turnaround up the ice.
Ceci had 14 hits in the last six games. In a possession game in which the Oilers are dominant if they can control the puck, this is integral to the success of the highly offensive group of forwards. Ceci’s physicality has really lessened the blow of losing Adam Larsson, and at a cheaper price, adds something more offensively as well.
Keith plays a different game that is effective all the same. He may not lay the body and make opponents think twice about carrying the puck down his wing, but he does force players to the outside and is very effective at poking the puck with his stick while driving the opponent into the boards or cutting off any passing lane through the middle (from ‘Hot as frying pan on an induction cooktop, Mikko Koskinen gets start against Ottawa Senators’ Edmonton Journal, Jan. 31, 2022). Not to be undervalued, forcing the opponent to the outside gives the goaltender a much better angle to cover the net and only allows for low-danger shots. The further out from the slot a shot is taken, the better the goaltender’s chance at saving it.
Keith & Ceci Helping Out Offensively
Though Keith and Ceci are relied on to stabilize the back-end and play well defensively, their contributions on the offense shouldn’t go unnoticed either. They have been considered the fourth and fifth-best Oilers’ defencemen offensively, but lately, they’ve been assisting and bolstering their point totals and their team in tightly contested games.
Keith has recorded five assists in the past six games, while Ceci has three. Combine that with what they’re doing without the puck, and they have been very valuable to the Oilers. Of course, pinches aren’t always the best play, but each defenceman has been pinching at the right time more often than not and allowing the team to maintain control in the offensive zone.
With the forward lines spread out and all lines efficiently cycling the puck and creating scoring chances, this has helped wear down their opponent and keep the puck close to the other team’s net. Keith and Ceci have moved the puck well this season and are either able to make the stretch pass to get the play turned around quickly or the effective short pass in a breakout (from ‘Top 10 reasons I’m still optimistic about the Edmonton Oilers this season,’ Edmonton Journal, Jan. 7, 2022).
Both Keith and Ceci may have and still are criticized for how much money they make per season, but with how well they’ve played, there’s not much to complain about when the team is winning, and they are contributing in a big way.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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