The Achilles Heel of the 2008-09 Edmonton Oilers

Jonathan Willis
March 15 2009 10:38AM

Goal against

The penalty-kill is the biggest reason that this team has underachieved to date. Consider the last ten games as an example – here are the goals for and against on special teams and at even-strength:

  • Even Strength: 27 goals for, 19 goals against (+8)
  • Special Teams: 4 goals for, 9 goals against (-5)
  • Oilers Record: 3-2-5

Despite the lousy record, this team has been very good at even strength; they score three goals for every two they give up. It’s been a very good run in that respect. Unfortunately, the Oilers can also expect to have a powerplay goal against almost every game. That’s even worse than their season average, an average that places them 28th in the league in penalty-kill efficiency. The powerplay isn’t helping much either, having scored just four goals in the last ten games. Here are the numbers on the season (discounting empty-net goals):

  • Even Strength: 129 goals for, 125 goals against (+4)
  • Special Teams: 52 goals for, 76 goals against (-24)
  • Oilers Record: 32-27-9

The powerplay is league-average. The even-strength record is slightly better than that. Where the team falls down is on the penalty kill, where they’ve averaged more than 1 powerplay goal against per game this season. This is an obvious weak spot. It has been since the start of the year.

On January 27th, I did a team review that imitated one that Doug Risebrough, G.M. of the Minnesota Wild, did for his team. Here’s an excerpt from that article:

I would suggest that the Oilers would be well-advised to make improving the penalty-kill their chief priority. The trade of Garon would seem to imply that they felt he was a big part of the problem, but even if they’re right about that, they can’t afford to stand pat.

I suggested four changes that might help turn around the penalty-kill:

  1. Trade for an elite penalty-killing forward
  2. Reduce Steve Staios’ role on the PK
  3. Make Erik Cole an integral part of the unit
  4. Re-emphasize shot-blocking

Both the second and third point were used, although not to the extent I would like. Unfortunately, the first point went unaddressed (O’Sullivan kills penalties, but if you send out Erik Cole to get him you aren’t improving the unit as a whole). The fourth point is rather difficult to measure, but most of the players on the penalty-kill are recording fewer blocks than they did back in January, so it seems to have gone by the wayside as well.

In fact, I think the greatest criticism I have of Steve Tambellini’s trade deadline is that he didn’t address the penalty-kill. He added a great young player in O’Sullivan for an unrestricted free agent, and he overpaid to try and shore up a league-average powerplay, but he did nothing to fix the thing that has cost this team games all season: the penalty-kill.

Conclusion

I was just a little baffled by the idea that the Oilers big, gaping hole going into the deadline was a top-six left-winger. All season I’ve complained, Brownlee’s complained, and Gregor’s complained about the horrible penalty-killing numbers. It is what has cost the Edmonton Oilers wins this season.

Ultimately, I’ve been very critical of Craig MacTavish this season, but I think this one rests squarely on the shoulders of Kevin Lowe (for his work over the summer) and Steve Tambellini (for his work this season). Last year, Craig MacTavish had six forwards who he regularly ran out and trusted to kill penalties. This season he has four – and the two guys who departed were not only elite penalty-killers, but two of the best faceoff men in the NHL.

Failing to address that hole, more than anything else, has led to poor results this season.

And as a side point, it would be nice if the print media (at least some of who recognized earlier in the year that the penalty-killing was the biggest issue) had spent a little more time recognizing the holes in the unit, rather than staring at the giant (~soft, lazy, unmotivated, etc.~) red herring who often plays with Horcoff and Hemsky. Unfortunately, they seem to have spent most of the last month ignoring it (by the way, if you’ve seen a trade deadline article I missed respecting this moribund PK, please point it out – I’d like to thank whoever wrote it).

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#101 Bruno
March 16 2009, 09:52AM
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@ Jay: I am going to argue that seeing that goofball Scholtz promoting whatever instantly after a good play or great save sure drains out the energy out of the building.there is no flow with the game after the whistle.. Its all the same crap, every game. Its boring! You could blame some of it on inconsistency with thier play.But if who ever is in charge of the "show" is doing a crappy job! We should be cheering to pump up the team, to give them a boost. Not only cheering when there's success. Do you have season tickets by chance?

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#102 oilersseasonticketholdersince99
March 16 2009, 10:18AM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote: Ogden Brother wrote: oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote: Ogden Brother wrote: oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote: Ogden Brother wrote: oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote: ? I blame Mactavish for who plays Lupol,Penner,Neilson,Cole, have all underperformed for him is it the players or the coach? Amazing how many people will give a free pass to the guy who’s actually on the ice.

Are you telling me Mac T is not to blame? the constant line juggling,calling players out,playing guys who have no business being here have nothing to do with the coach?

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#103 Ducey
March 16 2009, 10:36AM
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They essentially have the same people (less Marty R) as last year. The issue with the PK is not personnel. Its approach.

The whole team seems to sitback and try and keep shots to the outside in all situations. Anytime they have a lead they pretty much go into a trap. The forecheck is virtually non existent most nights. They get outshot in almost every game by a substantial margin.

As you point out this approach seems to be working at evens (although it is damn boring and hard to watch). It does not work on the PK.

Everyone is so worried about being caught out of position, they will not take any chances.

I am glad they didn't go get a PK specialist. That player soon would be moulded to follow the same plan.

They need a change in approach - pure and simple.

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#104 Ogden Brother
March 16 2009, 10:37AM
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@ oilersseasonticketholdersince99:

I'm telling you that a coach, any coach has a far smaller impact on the game then the guys actually on the ice. Lots of teams juggle lines, lots of teams call players out, lots of teams have players in the line up that have no business being here.

Mact gets his fair share of the blame (though realistically we are only 2-4 wins below where we probably should be) but on a relative scale, his share of the blame should be much lower then multiple other parties.

I believe he should be replaced in the off season so the team can get a fresh start and to go in a new direction, but to suggest that he should be fired because some fans think they know more about winning NHL hockey games is asinine to say the least.

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#105 blu
March 16 2009, 10:39AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: I would say Hemsky is better than most of those guys. I also just want to air the opinion that Jason Blake can die in a fire. I question his ability, not as a hockey player, but as a human.

As for the PK ... We rarely block shots We throw very few hits, and traded away our best hitter We have speed, but it isn't used on the PK We lack huge on teh dot

We have and have even traded away great talent. That talent is poorly used imo. Team building can be blamed to an extent as well, but first and foremost I think it's coaching.

Roloson is playing as well as anyone has any right to expect, but we have a future goal tending hole that haunts my dreams. I know I'm not the first person to mention it.

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#106 Deep Oil
March 16 2009, 10:46AM
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oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote:

Ogden Brother wrote: oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote: Ogden Brother wrote: oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote: Ogden Brother wrote: oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote: Ogden Brother wrote: oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote: ? I blame Mactavish for who plays Lupol,Penner,Neilson,Cole, have all underperformed for him is it the players or the coach? Amazing how many people will give a free pass to the guy who’s actually on the ice. Are you telling me Mac T is not to blame? the constant line juggling,calling players out,playing guys who have no business being here have nothing to do with the coach?

Broken record..... there is enough blame to share all around.... calm down...

1) Lowe - as GM created a roster problem and cap issue in future years. Also, traded away 3 picks and signed Penner to an above market contract. Called Burke a Moron for doubting him. Something about 6 cups getting in the way of his hearing..... what have you done for us in the last 8 years of pain

2) Coach - should of been let go last season - 7 coaches fired this year and some were above .500, this is just an example of new ownership playing a silent wait and see attitude - while the Dark Knight is getting his feet wet, his DOHO is getting bushwhacked for non action. Blender is not the answer - am I right wing or left wing tonight...

3) Newbie - Tambo - pass - new kid on the block - more of a sacrificial lamb - call it a "process" learning curve of the asylum.....

4) Players - no confidence to put the game away - too many case studies of "who's line is it anyway" (revert back to line item (2)

5) Trainers - have to work harder

6) Broadcasters - have to work harder

7) Fans - have to cheer louder, problem is that most fans in Canada are sober in comparison to the access of all you drink beer tickets in Tampa or PHX for $69 with game ticket. Getting a beer ar RX1 can be a 20 minute endeavor accompanued by a limited selection of pizza and perogies - I guess it is Edmonton and not LA right....

Please note that items 5 and 6 were quotes taken from a 630 ched broadcast - (BOB STAUFFER).

Listening to the post game on the Team will be a riot if the oil lay an egg on Tuesday.... Ched will have to invoke damage control.

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#107 Ogden Brother
March 16 2009, 11:41AM
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Ducey wrote:

They essentially have the same people (less Marty R) as last year. The issue with the PK is not personnel. Its approach. The whole team seems to sitback and try and keep shots to the outside in all situations. Anytime they have a lead they pretty much go into a trap. The forecheck is virtually non existent most nights. They get outshot in almost every game by a substantial margin. As you point out this approach seems to be working at evens (although it is damn boring and hard to watch). It does not work on the PK. Everyone is so worried about being caught out of position, they will not take any chances. I am glad they didn’t go get a PK specialist. That player soon would be moulded to follow the same plan. They need a change in approach - pure and simple.

Combonation of both, Reasoner/Stoll out, far more PK min for Grebs/Souray.... I can see how trouble can come out of that.

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#108 heavyd
March 16 2009, 11:42AM
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is it me, or is grebs starting to look bad. it seems he is always giving the puck away, and making bad passes.

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#109 topshelf
March 16 2009, 12:07PM
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@ heavyd: He makes more good passes than bad ones.

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#110 Colin
March 16 2009, 12:42PM
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The real issue with the Oilers is not enough articles on Oilersnation.

That would fix everything.

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#111 jeanshorts
March 16 2009, 01:01PM
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No new articles today? What the hell is this jeanshortsandbaggedmilk.com? SHEESH. Too much of grandpas medicine this weekend I guess.

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#112 Deep Oil
March 16 2009, 01:26PM
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Colin wrote:

The real issue with the Oilers is not enough articles on Oilersnation. That would fix everything.

Should I post my unabomber manifesto to pass the time ?

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#113 yo
March 16 2009, 04:12PM
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Deep Oil wrote:

Chris wrote: Rob wrote: I wonder how the season ticket renewal response has been so far this spring I renewed mine… Us season ticket holders are to blame for the quiet at RX1. In the past when the crowd was composed of more walkups, first timers, and huge fans who were just thrilled to be there; the building was louder. Now the majority of people in attendance have seen 30 games or more a year; people who are tired of paying $12 for the privledge of parking 2kms away from the door, and $4.00 for a warm Dasani with no cap, or $7.75 for a smaller beer….People who are just sick of watching a team with no heart or urgency. We are silent because it has gotten hard to cheer. I renewed my tickets, because I wait patiently for change. Sounds like a phone call to the Oilers at 780.414.4000 would be in order to voice your displeasure with the Northlands service issue to start (no shuttle from the SLIDE in -30 weather, limited food selection, and gouging for diluted beer - note: Rob says: This is a very dreary description of how Wrecksall is soaking the Oiler faithful. When you see Oiler fans in arenas in Cali, Ariz, and Fla it reveals the ingenuity of Alberta hockey fans. They pick up airfare etc and get tickets at bargain basement prices and go to these places to watch hockey players Oiler ticket buyers are helping to subsidize. You get to watch all of the great draft picks in arenas where they give a shi*. I'm going to plan a California holiday for next winter. I turned down free gold tickets for that debacle against Colorado because frankly it ain't worth the drive from Grande Prairie to get ticked off. I can do that on TV from home. I won't even buy PPV til the Oilers show their are worth $12.95.
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#114 Jay
March 16 2009, 04:46PM
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@ Bruno: No season tix for me, just have a few mini-packs with the old man, and they have been worthless this year. 1 win, 8 losses with no effort including both the buffalo and the chicago debacles. However, we used to have season seats during the lesser-talented but workmanlike squad years, and those games were a lot more fun to go to. I agree with you that schultz isn't the best guy for amping up the crowd, and perhaps the music could be different, but i would say that the team's sub-par performance this year has a lot more to do with any apparent lack of fan noise.

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#115 Jay
March 16 2009, 04:50PM
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Also, i agree that the fans should cheer to bolster the team, but only a rabid cracked out hyena could keep up an optimistic cheer when Buffalo or Chicago has you down 6-1 or more (got the pleasure of both those games thankyou mini-packs), or when the Leafs just walk all over you in your own barn (again, thanks mini-packs)

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