You want the numbers? You can’t handle the numbers!

Jonathan Willis
July 22 2008 09:03PM

One of the more popular assumptions among those who follow the Oilers is that the powerplay was bad early on and that it came to life down the stretch, meaning that despite its 16.6 per cent execution rate (21st in the NHL), it could be a significantly better unit next year. How much truth is there to that idea?

Using the game logs at NHL.com, I went through and calculated the team’s powerplay performance during the four quarters of the season. Just for good measure, I’ve also included the leading goal-scorers from those stretches. The only caveat: I added the numbers myself, and they may be a touch out.

First Quarter

Powerplay efficiency: 8.5 per cent (7/82 in 20 games) Multiple goal-scorers: Horcoff (2)

The 7/82 start really put the Oilers behind the eight-ball. Shawn Horcoff was the only player to score more than one goal, and the unit as a whole was completely ineffective. It must be considered one of the main factors in a 7-12-1 start, including a 3-8-1 record against divisional rivals.

Second Quarter

Powerplay efficiency: 16.3 per cent (15/92 in 21 games) Multiple goal-scorers: Penner (5), Horcoff (2), Hemsky (2), Pisani (2), Gilbert (2)

Dustin Penner scored five of his thirteen powerplay goals in the second quarter of the season, fully one-third of the unit’s goals in that span. Fernando Pisani, a consistently underrated offensive forward, managed two goals and his return to action (along with the injury to Raffi Torres) was certainly a boost to the powerplay.

Third Quarter

Powerplay efficiency: 22.4 per cent (19/85 in 20 games) Multiple goal-scorers: Stoll (5), Penner (3), Horcoff (2), Hemsky (2)

I really don’t think that it’s a coincidence that Jarret Stoll started scoring powerplay goals once Sheldon Souray was finished for the season. An underrated and occasionally very effective powerplay point-man, Stoll’s performance was clearly superior to Souray’s with the man-advantage last season. Penner continued scoring, albeit at a reduced rate, and all of Nilsson, Cogliano, Gagner and Grebeshkov scored their first powerplay markers of the season.

Final Quarter

Powerplay efficiency: 18.8 per cent (16/85 in 21 games) Multiple goal-scorers: Penner (4), Gagner (3), Hemsky (3), Stoll (2), Pisani (2)

The injury to Shawn Horcoff had a silver lining for the powerplay over the last half of the season; while Horcoff had been an effective player, his injury allowed Sam Gagner to grow into the first unit role, and his emergence became obvious over the season’s final quarter, although Dustin Penner remained the unit’s primary triggerman.

Looking at these statistics, a few things become clear:

  1. Sam Gagner should get his chances on the first unit, starting from game one,
  2. Dustin Penner’s middling season did not extend to the powerplay, where he provides important finishing ability, especially when playing with other forwards more apt to pass, and he should maintain his status as the first option at left wing, ahead of Erik Cole, and
  3. Jarret Stoll was a legitimate point man, and Sheldon Souray needs to prove that he can be an effective option on a powerplay nowhere near as formidable as Montreal’s.

—Jonathan Willis is the owner of Copper & Blue, a blog dedicated to all things Oil, and a frequent contributor to OilersNation.com.

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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 1011011
July 22 2008, 09:14PM
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Well shoot. The numbers don't lie do they? If anything but what you ask for occurs Jon, we will storm Rexall offices!

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#2 Tony Romo
July 22 2008, 09:45PM
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But you just know that MacT won't see it that way and Gagner will be brought along slowly. It's a testament to his talent (and injuries) that he even saw the PP in the beginning. Then of course he turns out to be the hottest thing going...

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#3 TG
July 22 2008, 10:06PM
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Even better - using these numbers, the PP average of the last three quarters is ~19.17% which would've been good for second in the conference (behind Detroit)...not that that means anything next season.

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#4 Jonathan
July 22 2008, 10:18PM
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But you just know that MacT won’t see it that way and Gagner will be brought along slowly.

MacTavish, like most coaches who have longevity with one team in the NHL, has a default setting of CAUTION.

Still, he's very, very bright, and Horcoff is going to have a big load to carry at even strength and on the penalty kill, especially with no veteran options behind him. I think he might lean on Gagner on the powerplay simply because he'll be leaning on Horcoff everywhere else.

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#5 MrOiler
July 22 2008, 11:19PM
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Judging Souray on his first quarter on a new team is insufficient evidence. The sample size isn't indicative or predictive.

In fact, since the Oil went through a significant rebuild during last off-season, I think they get a "mulligan" for the first quarter. Given that, there PP unit was 19.1% during the last 3/4's of the season. That would have put them in 7th place on a annual pro-rated basis. Not too shabby.

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#6 misfit
July 22 2008, 11:21PM
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Once again, we're in complete agreement JW (this is becoming a recurring theme with us).

I've been beating the Souray is an overrated powerplay performer drum for some time now (though I realise you aren't quite going that far), as well as that Stoll's performance on the powerplay will be missed more than most people think.

I also agree that Gagner should center the top unit. Not only because of the way he and Hemsky move the puck on the powerplay, but because of how important the first shift after the powerplay is. Being able to put 26-10-34 out after the powerplay (or at the end of it) when the other team is putting their best players on the ice is a great tool for MacT.

Ditto on Penner. He's a great compliment to the top unit (LH shot to offset the two righties in 83/89, big body, shooter, etc.), and historically gets good results.

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#7 Jonathan
July 23 2008, 08:28AM
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Judging Souray on his first quarter on a new team is insufficient evidence. The sample size isn’t indicative or predictive.

While it is true that judging Souray on one-quarter of a season isn't especially fair, it's all we've seen of him in an Oilers uniform.

Souray has had three healthy seasons as a key player on the powerplay (all in Montreal), and he's scored 6, 7 and 19 goals, while Stoll has also had three years and scored 11, 6, and 8. I see no reason to believe that Sheldon Souray will be a consistently better point man than Jarret Stoll. Both are good bets to score 6-10.

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#8 Ender the Dragon
July 23 2008, 08:49AM
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"Dustin Penner . . . should maintain his status as the first option at left wing, ahead of Erik Cole"

While I am in no way detracting from Penner's success with the man advantage last year, I will point out that Cole has spent some time on the PP as well and his numbers are not so far away from Penner's. Should Penner play #1 PP? Maybe, but I'd wait to see who was hotter on that unit in camp before I made that decision. Cole might end up doing even better. Either way, it's certainly refreshing to have an option between two solid LW on that unit.

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#9 Rick
July 23 2008, 08:55AM
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"I see no reason to believe that Sheldon Souray will be a consistently better point man than Jarret Stoll. Both are good bets to score 6-10."

Does he need to be better? Too much emphasis is put on who's got the booming shot from the point but that's because for years the Oilers talent base pretty much made their PP a one trick pony.

That changed last year with the emergence of Gagner.

Based on the numbers obviously the third quarter of the season had the best results but from the "saw him good" perspective the 4th quarter had the most dynamic PP despite the drop in results (injuries may have played a part as well). The PP seemed to take a real step forward when Gagner set up on the opposite side from Hemsky to give the Oilers two legitimate cross crease passers.

The result was that the pointman became AN option where as before they played with him as THE option.

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#10 Jonathan
July 23 2008, 11:01AM
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Does he need to be better? Too much emphasis is put on who’s got the booming shot from the point but that’s because for years the Oilers talent base pretty much made their PP a one trick pony. The result was that the pointman became AN option where as before they played with him as THE option.

This is a great point, and one that I'm in agreement with. I was more addressing the notion that a healthy Souray will improve our powerplay dramatically- I really don't think that Souray is a big upgrade on Stoll.

The addition of Visnovsky and prominent roles for the kids from the get-go, on the other hand...

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