THINGS THAT MUST IMPROVE: POWERPLAY

Jason Gregor
October 04 2011 03:02PM

Dave Andreychuk played 1,597 games before winning the Stanley Cup - the longest streak in NHL history. Keep in mind only eight other players have ever played that many games, so it likely will never be broken. Roman Hamrlik is the active leader, 1,311 games without hosting the Cup, but he'd have to play almost three and a half more years to surpass Andreychuk.

Andreychuk wasn't a great skater, but he had soft hands and was especially good on the powerplay. He holds the NHL record for most career PP goals with 274. There are many areas the Oilers need to improve on next year, but the PP must be near the top of the list.


Goaltending and defensive zone coverage are huge as well, but the PP might be the most easy to improve. Telling Devan Dubnyk or Nikolai Khabibulin to "play better" seems simple, but it isn't that easy, just like it won't be a quick learning curve for this team to play better defensively, but the most glaring weakness on the PP can be rectified.

SHOOT THE PUCK

The Oilers had the 7th most PP opportunities in the NHL last year, 304, but they only took 362 shots. Not surprisingly the Oilers ranked 27th on the PP with 44 goals in 304 chances. Their most glaring weakness on the PP was when they were on the 5-on-3. The Oilers spent 19:23 (2nd most in the NHL) with a two-man advantage and scored ONE measly goal. Carolina had 21:25, but scored six times. Half the league scored at least five goals 5-on-3, and only Carolina had more time to work with. One goal in almost an entire period of 5-on-3 is flat out ugly.

I remember last year everyone suggesting that Vancouver was just as bad 5-on-3, because they only scored once, but they only had 7:07 of PP time. The Canucks led the league in PP goals with 72, so their 5-on-3  struggles weren't much of a factor. Unfortunately they don't track shots on 5-on-3, but close your eyes and remember how many times you tossed a pillow or remote while watching the Oilers move the puck around the perimeter without shooting, and I'm guessing they shot less on 5-on-3 than they did 5-on-4.

Shooting more won't equate to instant success, but the Oilers averaged 1.19 shots per PP, the worst in the league. Toronto was next at 1.28 with Carolina and Nashville at 1.29. Toronto was 22nd, Carolina 24th and Nashville 26th on the PP. There are exceptions of course. The Devils averaged 1.46 shots/PP, but they finished 28th.

Here is a quick look at the teams who were 19% or better and their shots/PP.

TEAM                       SHOTS/PP          PP%
Vancouver                  1.53                  24.3
San Jose                    1.99                  23.5
Anaheim                     1.62                  23.5
Chicago                      1.40                  23.1 (Their team S% on PP was 16.5, very hard to duplicate)
Detroit                         1.57                  22.3
Tampa                        1.41                  20.5
Montreal                     1.47                   19.7
Calgary                       1.36                  19.5
Buffalo                        1.57                   19.4

Calgary was very unique on the PP last year. They had the second-best PP at home, 25.6%, but were 29th on the road at 13.3%. They scored 41 goals at home and 21 on the road. In 2010, the Flames tallied 21 at home and 22 on the road, so last year was an anomaly for them. Dallas and San Jose were the only other teams to score 10+ more goals at home than on the road. On the opposite side Vancouver tallied 12 more on the road.

If the Oilers scored ten more PP goals last year they would have ranked 15th, they would have needed to score 15 more to be 10th. That isn't as easy as it seems, especially with the amount of PP chances dropping.

In 2009, eleven teams scored 70+ PP goals, and 14 teams had at least 350 chances while 14 teams were 19% or better.

In 2010, only one team had 70+ goals, while eight tallied 60+. Only five teams had 325+ chances and 10 teams were over 19%.

Last year one team had 70+ goals and seven teams tallied 60+. Ten teams had 300+ chances, with only two having more than 325, and 9 teams were 19% or better.

Powerplay opportunities have dipped the past three years, and so have PP goals. This year might be different with the new head shot enforcement, and if PP chances increase like I suspect they will, it becomes imperative that the Oilers' PP improve if they have any hope of being in the playoff hunt come March.

THE MULLET

This is where Ryan Smyth comes in. Smyth is currently tied for 39th all-time in PP goals with the likes of Jari Kurri, Darryl Sittler and Tim Kerr. The reason he is sits with such lofty company is because he has the 4th highest ratio of PP goals per total goals scored amongst players with at least 100 PP goals.

Smyth has 355 career goals and 150 have come on the PP. 42.2% of his goals have come on the man advantage.

Dave Andreychuk tallied 42.8% (274) of his 640 goals on the man advantage.

Dan Quinn had 266 career goals, and scored 46.2% (123) on the PP.

Lowetide and a few others might remember Paul Gardner. Gardner had five 30-goal seasons playing on average teams in Colorado, Toronto and Pittsburgh. He wasn't a great player, but he could score on the PP. He tallied 201 goals in 447 career games, but a whopping 105 (52.2%) came on the powerplay.

Smyth will never be considered amongst the great goal scorers, but he's one of the best PP snipers.

There is no secret to Smyth's PP success. He hunkers down in front of the net and scores the ugly goals. He is great at deflecting pucks, battles hard for every rebound, and he never backs down from an altercation in front of the goalie.

FIRING BLANKS

The Oilers' PP woes for the past five years can be traced to one stat: Shots per PP chance.

It hasn't mattered who has been on the PP or who has been on the point. This team doesn't shoot the puck enough with the man advantage.

YEAR         PP Chances          Shots               Shots per PP          PP Ranking
2007          373 (26th)            407 (28th)             1.09 (29th)              27th
2008          344 (18th)            369 (30th)             1.07 (30th)              21st
2009          354 (11th)            428 (25th)             1.20 (30th)              22nd
2010          301 (21st)            375 (30th)             1.24 (30th)              18th
2011          304 (7th)              362 (27th)             1.19 (30th)               25th

It doesn't seem to matter if they are near the top in PP opportunities or in the middle, they flat out don't shoot the puck enough. Or they don't get enough pucks through to the net.

You might be wondering if the reason they aren't shooting is because they can't win a draw. I thought of that, but there were many teams that were good in one and bad in the other.

In 2007, the Oilers were 8th in FO%, but still 29th on shots/PP. In 2008 they were 12th in the dot, but they were still last in shots/PP. Also in 2007, Atlanta was the 2nd best faceoff team, but they were 29th in shots/PP.

It doesn't hurt if you win draws of course. Detroit, Vancouver and San Jose were the three best teams in the dot last year, and they were all top-ten in shots/PP, but Florida, Boston and Phoenix were 4th, 5th and 7th in FO%, but were in the bottom ten in shots/PP.

The reality is that even when they were above average in the dot the Oilers didn't shoot the puck often enough with the man advantage.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN

It will be much easier to instruct the players to shoot the puck, rather than asking ten sophomores or rookies to play smart defensively. The Oilers will make bad decisions with the puck, they will miss assignments in the defensive zone, and they will make numerous bad reads as they learn the NHL game. However, I'd like to think that Tom Renney and his staff can at least instruct the players to shoot the puck more, or teach them to find better shooting lanes.

Most important they need to move the puck. Standing still doesn't work. Get some motion on the PP and the shooting lanes should open up.

They have a guy who excels on the PP, and they need to use that to their advantage.

Ryan Smyth has 150 PP goals, while the rest of the forwards have 133 combined.

Horcoff (33), Hemsky (32), Belanger (27), Gagner (19), Hall (8), Jones (6), Eberle (4), Paajarvi (3) and Omark (1) have lit the lamp, while Nugent-Hopkins, Lander, Petrell, Hordichuk and Eager have none. Use Smyth on the PP and get shots through from the point or any other place on the ice.

This team needs to learn how to get garbage goals, and with Smyth's return they have one of the best garbagemen in the league.

Not all shots have to be hard, or from a perfect location. Get them on net, because it might lead to a lucky bounce, deflection or rebound.

HOME OPENER AUCTION

You can watch Smyth and the boys take on the Penguins on Sunday and help out the MS Society at the same time. Tomorrow on the Jason Gregor Show between 2 and 6 p.m. we will be auctioning off a great package.

If you are from out of town, or just want to get out of the house for a few nights, this is a great package.

You will receive: TWO NIGHTS at the Courtyard Marriott Edmonton West.

Two night's lodging in a KING SUITE
1 Dinner for 2 at our AQUA Restaurant - Saturday Evening;
1 Bottle of Wine - choice of white or red included with dinner
Breakfast for 2 at our AQUA Restaurant - Sunday Morning - a la carte menu.

TWO GOLD SEATS FOR OILERS/PENS courtesy of Sunny P Tickets. You also get $40 in Oilers bucks to spend on a bevy or two.

We don't want anyone drinking and driving so Budget Car and Truck Rental will pick you up in a Ford Explorer and take you to Rexall and back to the Marriott after the game.

I want to thank The Marriott West, Sunny P Tickets and Budget for donating the prizes and helping out the MS Society.

We will start the bidding tomorrow at 2 p.m. You can call 1.780.426.8326 or email your bids to gregor@theteam1260.com If you send an email include your name and phone number.
 

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#51 Dog Train
October 04 2011, 07:23PM
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Smyth needs to be a fixture on the PP. We have tons of skill and it will be tempting to throw them all out there at once. But that talent is wasted if the goalie gets to see every shot.

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#52 BArmstrong
October 04 2011, 07:25PM
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Yup - Hemsky is painful to watch on the PP. When Omark, Gagner, or Eberle have the puck, they THREATEN. Hemsky waits. Moving the puck quickly, and making quick moves with the puck, opens up lanes. Hemsky just waits, convinces himself that he can make that pass, and then turns the puck over.

I'll take more Omark and RNH on the half wall please - RNH has looked great on the PP in pre-season. Let's hope that continues.

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#53 BArmstrong
October 04 2011, 07:30PM
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Dog Train wrote:

Smyth needs to be a fixture on the PP. We have tons of skill and it will be tempting to throw them all out there at once. But that talent is wasted if the goalie gets to see every shot.

No question Smyth makes this PP much better - but heck, a 48-year-old Dave Andreychuk would too.

Remember when JS Giguere's wheels feel off 5 or 6 years ago - that was awesome.

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#55 Marcus@
October 04 2011, 07:56PM
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My dad will give you 5000 Jason.

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#56 Greg Stink | ESPN
October 04 2011, 09:32PM
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I'm glad to see an article that mentions what might have to go right for the Oilers to be in the playoff hunt. At least we can talk about the possibility. If the powerplay improves and Ryan Smyth chips in, that alone would win many games this season.

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#58 David S
October 04 2011, 10:32PM
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Wanyes bastard child wrote:

I don't like his tone, think we can get him banned?

Travis is a good guy, although he seems a bit edgy these days. Maybe he hasn't been drinking enough since he got married.

As far as Hemsky goes, like I said, great player but something hasn't been clicking for him. I have to admit he hasn't played a real game in what seems like forever, so maybe he'll sharpen up soon. We're pretty much screwed if he doesn't bounce back.

*If you're reading this Mrs. Dakin, please let Travis go out to the bar with Cory more often.

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#59 ubermiguel
October 04 2011, 10:42PM
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dawgbone wrote:

If we're being honest, Eberle and Hall weren't so hot on the PP last year either. Mind you that's to be expected for rookies (which is why I wouldn't count on Hopkins to turn it around much).

The one thing Smyth brings is that he's very good at going from the front of the net as a screen to getting to loose pucks low in the zone. He has a really good ability to box defenders out.

Not saying they're the be all end all, I just remember being happy when Eberle was on th PP because he'd actually move with and without the puck. It was such a relief.

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#60 Lowetide
October 04 2011, 11:07PM
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Definitely remember Gardner. Couldn't skate well and never checked much but he was money around the net.

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#61 Douche Nietzsche
October 04 2011, 11:43PM
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@Jason Gregor

What is making you question his desire for the PP?

I thought this was about the Oilers PP benefiting or getting better, not about Hemskys desire for PP time, and/or him benefiting from it.

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#62 shau_co
October 05 2011, 07:48AM
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Most people are focussing on the forwards and I agree with Gregor's comment regarding establishing a point shot being the biggest issue with the current PP.

I think the forwards are more than capable right now (and that is basically what Matt Schneider said on Gregor's show yesterday), but the big question will be with our defense. Hopefully Whitney, Barker and Petry can establish something.

I am also all for trying one of our forwards on the point like some other teams do. Pajaarvi and Hall seem like two of the best options to me. Both have decent shots and are fast enough to get back if need be. Plus, I believe they have both had some experience either playing defense (Pajaarvi) or the point on the PP (Hall).

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#63 madjam
October 05 2011, 10:14AM
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Until we get bonafide stars with numbers to match we will continue to have our forwards run at by opposition and get penalties rather than the opposition getting them . Our youth have to put up a lot bigger numbers if we hope to have them treated and more protected like other bigger stars on other teams ! 40-70 point men are not your superstars , and we have none for all intensive purposes as yet . Kinder officiating should develop if we have the type of stars that come with big numbers .

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