The PK: Killing Everything But Penalties

Jonathan Willis
November 21 2008 02:33PM

The Edmonton Oilers penalty kill comes out of last night’s tilt with the Red Wings a mere .7% up on the 30th-ranked New Jersey Devils, good for 27th in the league. This is a rarity in a Craig MacTavish-coached club; his team has ranked 5th, 8th and 8th in the NHL in penalty-killing percentage since the lockout. Why, then, are things so brutal?

A quick look at the penalty-killers numbers (courtesy of Behind the Net), both this year and last year, is instructive. The number used is GAON/60, which is simply the average number of goals scored for every sixty minutes of ice-time 4-on-5. Skaters are ranked by average ice-time, and only skaters averaging more than 1 minute per game are used.

This Year

Horcoff: -11.64 Brodziak: -8.25 Moreau: -11.81 Pisani: -1.79 Reddox: -7.07 Penner: -12.88

Staios: -10.32 Souray: -8.13 Strudwick: -6.05 Gilbert: -9.34 Grebeshkov: -10.97

Last Year

Reasoner: -4.49 Moreau: -5.17 Stoll: -6.92 Horcoff: -5.79 Brodziak: -4.82 Pisani: -5.24

Souray: -3.68 Staios: -4.15 Greene: -7.20 Gilbert: -4.88 Smid: -6.03 Pitkanen: -2.46 Grebeshkov: -8.21

What does it mean? A few things:

- The personnel no longer with the team (Reasoner, Stoll, Greene, Pitkanen) are probably not the reason for the decline. Greene had the worst numbers of any Oilers defenseman, and Stoll had the same distinction among the forwards. Additionally, Joni Pitkanen was the number six option among defenseman on the penalty kill. The loss of Marty Reasoner is non-trivial, but he is the only player who the Oilers are really missing short-handed.

- Fernando Pisani’s injury is bad news, if that wasn’t already obvious. Alone among the forwards, he was exceeding last year’s numbers and experiencing some success.

- Denis Grebeshkov shouldn’t be on the penalty kill, ever. (Wanye note: BAAAAAAAAAAAA)

Virtually every single veteran player (Pisani as the sole exception) has seen his numbers drop off. We could pin the blame on Horcoff, Moreau and Staios, who’ve posted the worst numbers, or we could acknowledge the fact that it is unlikely that every veteran on the team dropped off the edge of a cliff over the off-season. To me, the answer is obvious: the coaching is at fault here.

The only problem with that premise is Craig MacTavish’s track record. Why would he suddenly lose his ability to coach the penalty-kill? One possible answer is in this early-October Joanne Ireland article on Kelly Buchberger. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

Buchberger has had input in a number of areas, including the penalty kill…

It’s probably wrong to pin the blame for the lack-luster penalty-kill solely on Buchberger. However, given that he’s the only change in the coaching staff, and penalty-killing is something he could be expected to have an impact on, it’s extremely tempting.

Even if Buchberger has some of the blame, the final assignment must go back to Craig MacTavish. After all, not only does MacTavish have the final say behind the bench, but he’s the one who decides what coaches take care of which assignments. The decision not to use Andrew Cogliano (phenomenal in limited use both this season and last) in this role is an obvious call to question, although there are others, including the experimentation with both Penner and Gagner up front, the use of Grebeshkov and neglecting to use other obvious candidates like Smid or Marc-Antoine Pouliot. The silver lining here is that, if history is any indication, this team can turn it around.

- Professor Willis can be seen at Harvard University, where he was recently given tenure.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Monday Guy
November 21 2008, 02:40PM
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Well, that clears up that

... I'm going to drink beer till Wednesday

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#2 The Towel Boy
November 21 2008, 02:41PM
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...that Buchberger...never trusted him. Smalls hands and he smells like cabbage.

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#3 Wanye Gretz
November 21 2008, 03:03PM
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I used all Willis' numbers today in the order he printed them and I solved the Sudoku in the Journal!

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#4 milli
November 21 2008, 03:08PM
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i think i' gonna stay drunk till the axe falls. how on this beautiful F__king earth can we be behind the canucks??? the FRIGING CANUCKS??? Mr. Katz, please answer me that???

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#5 Jonathan Willis
November 21 2008, 03:17PM
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TB: I love it when people reference Homer. Not enough people read classic literature ;)

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#6 The Towel Boy
November 21 2008, 03:35PM
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JW: I often slip in to my smoking jacket... sip some brandy and smoke a pipe in my study while reading the Iliad and the Odyssey.

To me, that's good times.

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#7 Howitzer
November 21 2008, 05:47PM
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Well your best hockey guy is watching Dallas and Chicago when he should be in Edmonton!

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#8 Dennis
November 22 2008, 11:01AM
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- maybe I'm wrong but isn't the PK a different animal from '08 to '09 given the new rule that gives the advantaged team an automatic draw in the O zone? So, in that regard, wouldn't the formers 16 and 19 help in the regard?\

- the Oilers don't block as many shots as they used to, right? Well that may be what we're looking for.

- I doubt any team excels at killing penalties unless they're blocking shots and/or allowing less than five star opps on their kills. Garon had a gaudy PK SV PCT last year, didn't he? maybe you could take a look at the top 10 PK's from last year and compare their:

- PK SV PCT - blocked shots per game.

All that being said coaching might have something to do with it as well. Though I do remember Stoll being good at having his stick in the passing lanes and i saw 78 do that the other night in CBJ and it struck me that we're really not that good at it anymore.

Anyway, for anyone that remembers 10 almost blocking that last second shot in G5 in Det with his face, this team's a long ways away from that.

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#9 Sean
November 22 2008, 12:33PM
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Give Mr Staples kudos for the link. Our PK is brutal. In comparison, during the cup run the PK was killing an extra 1/7 penalties.

The Oilers are missing Reasoner and Stoll on the PK, Reasoner would be 3rd best on the team with a 7.96 GAON60 and Stoll has an incredible 0.00 GAON60 on the penalty kill. Its Stoll and his faceoff ability that we are missing the most.

Stoll on the other hand is struggling at the PP (1.49 GFON60) while Lubo has a solid 6.77 GFON60 despite early chemistry struggles with Souray.

While we're at it Penner has an outstanding 10.88 GF0N/60. Get that man on the PP!

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#10 Oilerdago
November 22 2008, 04:59PM
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Great point Dennis. PK is very different this year. Jonathan, it might be instructive to look at the # of blocked shots because I think that is a more instructive stat here (along w/the face-offs).

I'll bet a lot of the guys who blocked shots are not doing this nearly to the extent they did and it seems to me that could be a difference in philosophy (Buchberger).

And the face off stat is skewing things because it's in our zone after each penalty.

Time for Moreau, Staios and others to get back to basics. And it's time to run Pouliot on the PK. He showed he could do it some in 06/07, time to do it again.

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