The Edmonton Oilers have been much better on the penalty kill this season than they have been in virtually forever. After years of being a punch line while down a man, they currently sit 19th in the NHL in terms of killing penalties. While 19th out of 30 is hardly the stuff people typically put on resumes, it does represent a step up.
Unfortunately, of late the penalty kill has started sliding. Just before Christmas, the Oilers were killing off 83.5% of penalties they took. Today, that number sits at just 81.6%. Is the magic gone?
In a word, no.
Ryan Batty at Copper and Blue took a long look at the penalty kill back in January, so we can use his numbers, compare them to full-season totals, and figure out what’s going on. All numbers come in 4-on-5 situations and are courtesy of Batty or Behind the Net.
|Segment||4v5 GA||4v5 SA||4v5 TOI||4v5 SA/60||4v5 SV%|
|First 49 games||31||260||307.5||50.7||88.08%|
|Last 24 games||12||74||100.9||44.0||83.78%|
What do those numbers mean?
Firstly, looking at time on ice we can see that the Oilers have spent less time on the penalty kill. Bruce McCurdy looked at this and saw a sharp drop off in penalties called both for and against the Oilers and league-wide.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Oilers recent difficulties are entirely save percentage driven. It’s not a result of the Oilers penalty-killers allowing the team to get barraged by shots. This is a good thing – save percentage fluctuates up and down in the short-term, and this is probably a temporary lapse. The fact that the team is still preventing shots at a better rate than they have the last few years is huge.
The Oilers’ PK save percentage this season as a whole is 87.1%, just slightly below league average (87.8%). In two of the last three seasons, the team’s save percentage in 4-on-5 situations has been in the 87.5% range, so this should be considered business as usual and something that can be counted on going forward.
The Oilers shots against totals the last few years have ranged between 55-60 shots against over an average hour shorthanded. This year, the team is sitting at around 49 shots again per hour 4-on-5; that’s a big improvement and the biggest reason that their penalty kill has improved overall.
In short: unlike the power play, these improvements are worth banking on for next season.
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