The Achilles Heel of the 2008-09 Edmonton Oilers

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).

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    @ volfman:
    A question: Do you honestly believe TSN when they tell you that Michael Ryder and Jason Blake are better players than Ales Hemsky?

    You're right that those lists tend to be dubious at best, TSN for whatever the reason tends to miss the boat more than you would like to expect. Their Power Rankings formula being the worstof teh examples.

    That said, Hemsky was expected to take the next step this year and beyond that he was poised to do that after his nice run around the all-star break and yet he once again settled back to what he has shown in past years.

    Looking at his age you have to think the book hasn't been written on him yet but at the same time when you look at the number of years he has in the league you have to consider that he simply will never be the star we all expected he would be.

    I hope the Oilers aren't making a mistake in pegging him as the catalyst in their formula in an attempt to make a winning team.

  • Hippy

    buffalo farmer wrote:

    PKs are succesful when the players on the ice outwork the pp. You have to have more heart and desire for the puck, and when you have tuned the coach out the pk is going to stink.

    But our top PK guys (in order: Staios, Souray, Horcoff, Brodziak, Moreau) are the guys on this team who seem to have the highest compete level and the best work ethic.

    That's one of the big problems I have with people who say that work ethic/intensity are the problems with this team: the PK's been the biggest problem, and all of the really key guys on it excel in those areas.

  • Hippy

    @ Dennis:

    I'm still convinced s few more hugs in your formative years could have gone a long way.

    As for the PK, this problem will undoubtedly be what the Print media focuses on when the Oil fail to make the playoffs or get ripped to shreds in the first round. Bang on Willis.

    Robin, Do you think some of these issues arent talked about ad-nauseum, like Penner has been, because the Print medium is all but collapsing and at the mercy of the sports clubs? I mean the Oilers are breaking their own news on their websites and they control the information and the focus of their reports. Are the MSM guys afraid of being taken further out of the loop because they pointed out that embarassing zit on the forehead?

  • Hippy

    PKs are succesful when the players on the ice outwork the pp. You have to have more heart and desire for the puck, and when you have tuned the coach out the pk is going to stink.

    Toronto sports network rankings are a joke, they would have to stay up to late to properly rate western con. players!

  • Hippy

    Robin Brownlee wrote:

    The failure to address address a PK that’s been awful since pre-season is stunning.
    No matter how you assess the game, be it by crunching numbers, looking on from the press box or a bit of both, it’s been as glaring as a big red zit between the eyes at the junior prom.

    Which is why the three of us have been complaining about it all season. I really don't understand why it wasn't addressed at the deadline – to bring in some help probably wouldn't have cost any more than Ales Kotalik did.

  • Hippy

    @ volfman:

    Also listed under Jason Blake, Michael Ryder and Bobby Ryan: Thomas Vanek. Which tells me that list really doesn't reflect the realities of the NHL, which isn't surprising because:

    A) Scott Cullen made that list using only statistics.
    B) Scott Cullen has no clue about how to use statistics competently (case in point – apparently Sam Gagner is the softest player in the entire NHL, the list you reference)

    Read some of Scott Cullen's work and compare it to what you find in the blogosphere. He has no clue how to use the numbers – he doesn't even recognize which ones are important.

  • Hippy

    I know we won't go back to the days of Gator and Ulanov and their legendary pain thresholds but somewhere along the way, the Oilers lost their way when it comes to blocking shots.

    I wonder if it's the org deciding internally that the risk of having guys injured in the act isn't worth the reward of them cutting down on shots against for the netminders?

  • Hippy

    It is time this organization re evaluates itself,top to bottom at seasons end,changes need to be made in management,coaching,scouting and some players need new addresses,beieng on the outside looking in and finishing 8,9,10 the past 9 years is not good enough when will someone get some balls and do something or are we destined to watch these reruns season after season?

  • Hippy

    volfman wrote:

    Just a few thought’s about our beloved superstar aleee….sh Hamski. Tsn ranks him 30th among winger’s. winger’s not forwards. names above him on that list include. Louie Eriksson, D Sedin, Jason Blake, Bobby Ryan “yes kevin BOBBY RYAN”, David Booth, Mike Ryder, Devin Setoguchi, and Ryan Clowe. Ya I guess he’s our best player but I think he’s way overrated by oiler fans for two reasons. #1 Two or three times over the course of the season it comes to the point where he’s faded away enough for other teams to stop keying in on him. And when that happens he goes on a 4 or 5 game tear, and everybody suddenly thinks he’s a star. Teams key in on him and he’s back to his usual soft self. And #2 despite that he’s still our best player. I want to see macktish fired as much as the next guy. (due to his inability to coach any kind of system other than givver bullet’s boy’s) But if your best player is your most inconsistant player, and one your softer players, can we really expect better? FMTY, “Fire Mac T Yesterday”
    FPTB, “Fire Pathetic team builder”
    Football season now only 75 days away, whew.

    Sure he's only tied for 3rd in PPG amoungst RW, sure he's only tied for 3rd for PPG amoungst all wingers in the Western confernce…. but ya, 30th in the league makes sense.

  • Hippy

    The failure to address address a PK that's been awful since pre-season is stunning.
    No matter how you assess the game, be it by crunching numbers, looking on from the press box or a bit of both, it's been as glaring as a big red zit between the eyes at the junior prom.

  • Hippy

    Just a few thought’s about our beloved superstar aleee….sh Hamski. Tsn ranks him 30th among winger’s. winger’s not forwards. names above him on that list include. Louie Eriksson, D Sedin, Jason Blake, Bobby Ryan “yes kevin BOBBY RYAN”, David Booth, Mike Ryder, Devin Setoguchi, and Ryan Clowe. Ya I guess he’s our best player but I think he’s way overrated by oiler fans for two reasons. #1 Two or three times over the course of the season it comes to the point where he’s faded away enough for other teams to stop keying in on him. And when that happens he goes on a 4 or 5 game tear, and everybody suddenly thinks he’s a star. Teams key in on him and he’s back to his usual soft self. And #2 despite that he’s still our best player. I want to see macktish fired as much as the next guy. (due to his inability to coach any kind of system other than givver bullet’s boy’s) But if your best player is your most inconsistant player, and one your softer players, can we really expect better? FMTY, “Fire Mac T Yesterday”
    FPTB, “Fire Pathetic team builder”

    Football season now only 75 days away, whew.

  • Hippy

    10-18-34 are PK incumbents. 51's been used there all year because he's the right-handed draw guy. 19's done a decent job killing penalties in the past. 78 did a good job there in '07 but it's forgotten about. And, yes, I like 78 but look up his PK stats at behindthenet.ca if you don't believe me:)

    Also, I complained about it at the time but 89 was actually effective on the PK earlier this year.

    So, there you go, we have seven guys who can or have killed penalties. So, why don't we go old school Oilers and use three sets of forwards and then we'll have the manpower to be able to press the issue and pressure down-ice? That was the way we used to do it. And we also use to block shots.

    But now we sit back and allow a shooting gallery and get killed every mucking game. The only time we ever looked decent was when Cole was on the case and was actually piling up shorthanded chances.

  • Hippy

    This is an interesting year for the PK. They upgraded the PP with Visnovsky in the off season, but did nothing to improve the PK. In fact, with the rule change having to start every penalty kill in their own end, they are getting killed on the dot. If we had a dollar for every time MacT complained about this in an interview, we could …ummm … afford two beers at Rexall … lol

    Anyways, the PK is hurting the team, but I think that may be largely as a result of not having a go to faceoff guy.