When it comes to scoring on the power play, two teams in the NHL are doing it like no others. Those two teams met last night in Nashville – both the Predators and the Oilers make the most of the shots they take on the power play, with Nashville scoring on 16.4% of its power play shots, and the Oilers scoring on 16.2% of theirs. No other team in the league is over 15%. With such lethal shooting, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Predators ranks first in the NHL with 21.6% power play efficiency, or that the Oilers are third overall at 21.4%.
Is shooting percentage a reliable foundation for a successful power play? Can teams, through strategic choices and superior talent, consistently take higher percentage shots? The answer to that question is important, since it will tell us whether Nashville and Edmonton should be able to sustain their excellent power plays, or if instead they’ll come crashing down.
Before I answer, I should point out that all of the above data is from 5-on-4 situations (in other words, what we’re seeing isn’t a result of a given team getting more 5-on-3 opportunities) and comes from behindthenet.ca.
Now, to answer the above question, I looked at all the teams over the last three seasons to have a shooting percentage of 15.0% or higher in 5-on-4 situations. There were six clubs in total – roughly two clubs per year manage the feat. Then I looked at how they managed the year after. Here’s what I found:
|2008-09 San Jose||15.0||13.1||-12.67%|
The league-average shooting percentage on the power play over the last three seasons is 12.3%. In other words, these teams on average went from being the most successful shooters in the league one year to being perfectly middle of the pack the year after. The lone exception – the 2008-09 to 2009-10 Washington Capitals – had two good seasons by this count and then finished 27th in the NHL.
In other words, it’s quite difficult to attribute these awesome shooting percentages to skill and tactics, since they don’t seem to be sustainable. Some years, pucks go in on the power play. Some years, they don’t.
The Oilers have made progress in other areas – they’re 23rd overall in terms of shots/60 in 5-on-4 situations after three consecutive seasons of being dead-last in the NHL, and that does represent (modest) improvement. But if I had to bet, I’d bet against them being nearly this efficient on the power play next season.