While the Oilers have been getting by alright in the offence department, averaging 2.83 goals per game (13th in the NHL), their first unit power play has been all but invisible over the season’s opening stanza.
It’s an outage that is almost inexplicable, given the success experienced by the power play’s second unit. Shawn Horcoff and the trio of rotating rookies on that grouping have been phenomenal, and the gap between those players and the first unit of Hemsky, Penner and Gagner is obvious when we look at their on-ice scoring rates in 5-on-4 situations:
Put another way, those numbers mean that on any given shift the second unit power play has been six times as likely to score a goal as the first unit power play.
That anemic performance has also been evident in the stats lines of those three forwards. Based solely on even-strength scoring, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky are on pace for career seasons, while Dustin Penner is in last season’s range. But because of their power play point totals – Hemsky has three, while Gagner and Penner have only a single point each – Hemsky and Gagner aren’t on a career-best pace and the knives are starting to come out for Penner.
A shakeup is one option that Tom Renney has at his disposal. It’s been suggested that Gagner and Hemsky have overly similar skill-sets; Renney could swap Gagner for Horcoff or move Penner to centre and swap Gagner to the second unit for one of the kids (or add Brule to the rotation, etc.). He’ll need to make a move at some point, although the top trio have had success as a group before in brief stints together and I wonder if this is just one of those slumps that they’ll eventually get through.
In any case, something needs to happen and soon. Hemsky’s power play unit the last few years has averaged roughly one goal every 10 minutes in 5-on-4 situations; roughly four times the efficiency of his current group and a lot closer to acceptable numbers for an NHL first unit. The first unit’s ineptitude has already cost the Oilers the ability to take advantage of a hot start from the second unit (or looking at in reverse, the second unit’s hot start has kept the Oilers PP at a respectable 16th in the NHL) and eventually that second unit is going to cool down.
Tonight might represent a good opportunity for the Oilers first unit to break out; Carolina’s PK is ranked 22nd in the NHL.