How not to kill a penalty

There were a lot of really nice goals in last night’s game. On the positive side, Nail Yakupov’s first NHL goal was a perfect finish to some very bright passing; Justin Schultz also scored with a wicked shot. On the negative side, the Oilers’ defence and penalty kill were cut to ribbons in all sorts of interesting ways.

For my money, no single goal was more illustrative of the night it was than the Patrick Marleau goal that made the hockey game a 4-1 affair.

The Oilers start the kill reasonably well. The Sharks have gained centre, but the Oilers have Petry (2), Belanger (20), and Petrell (37) forming a solid line and Ladislav Smid (5) is well-positioned to backstop them.

This is where the mistakes start. Joe Thornton (19 for San Jose) has the puck and Petrell has oddly decided that it’s more important for him to help his two teammates defend the middle than it is to prevent Dan Boyle (22 for San Jose) from gaining the Oilers zone. Notice also Joe Pavelski (8 for San Jose) lurking on that same side – Petrell’s puck-watching basically cedes the zone and that entire side of the ice to San Jose.

Just to make extra sure they gain the zone unopposed, Boyle moves in tight to Petrell. Thornton passes to Pavelski, who will gain the line with speed. San Jose has gained the zone without any trouble thanks to a total absence of Oilers on that side.

Pavelski has the puck at the bottom of the screen, the Sharks have four guys in the zone, and Petrell’s scrambling to get back over to that side. Also worth noting is the fact that there’s a gap between Jeff Petry and Eric Belanger, and that those two players are moving sideways, while Patrick Marleau (12 for San Jose) is making for that gap at high speed.

The strange thing here is that the ratio of defenders to attackers in this shot is 4:2 in favour of the Oilers, but neither Sharks attacker is in any danger. Petrell and Smid are containing Pavelski – limiting his pass options – but he has time and space. Petry seems to have realized that he should be getting back to the net but Marleau has a step on him and worse is on the inside; with Marleau’s speed that’s an impossible combination to beat.

Pavelski finds a way to beat Smid with the pass, and Marleau is all alone in front; the Oilers deserve a goal against at this point.

But they’re spared! Marleau tips the puck just wide of the net and into the far corner. Petry’s now the closest guy to the puck, and all four Oilers are close to where they want to be to defend now that the puck is in the zone.

But the puck zips around and Joe Thornton pinches in to stop it. Still, the Oilers have more or less recovered; Smid’s in front of the net, Petry’s pressuring Thornton and Belanger and Petrell are in decent spots to handle any Sharks attackers coming in from the blue line.

Thornton rips the puck past Petry and back to Marleau; Ladislav Smid moves to engage immediately.

Smid isn’t gentle, but Marleau had the better position and ultimately skates away with the puck. He skates to the corner with it.

Marleau passes to Boyle at the point. There are two Sharks in front of the net, being watched by Petry and Smid, so Boyle has two passing options – he can send it to the other point or back to Marleau coming out of the corner.

Boyle passes to Marleau.

Marleau cycles back toward the point and suddenly has a bunch of options. Logan Couture (39 for San Jose) has left the net and now sits squarely in the middle of the Oilers’ box with nobody close to him – Jeff Petry had been covering him near the net, but has decided to stay near the crease. Smid, meanwhile, has left Joe Thornton alone in the corner to put pressure on the puck carrier – but Smid’s stick can only cover one of the two lanes. Dan Boyle in the high slot has two guys on him – Petrell blocking the pass and Belanger blocking his route to the net.

Unsurprisingly, Marleau chooses Couture in the centre of the box. Couture has space but Jeff Petry is in good position to prevent him from getting to the net.

With the route to the net blocked, Couture passes the puck off to Thornton. Thornton now has three plausible passing options – Couture is closest, Boyle is in a good spot on the far side but has multiple Oilers in that passing lane, while Marleau is in the high slot with Lennart Petrell nearby.

Thornton hesitates for just a moment, and then passes in front of Marleau in the low slot. Now everything rests on Petrell; Petry has come low to challenge Thornton, Smid has cut to the net to block off Couture, and Belanger has stuck to Boyle.

Marleau, who knows what’s coming, moves toward the pass at full speed; Petrell takes a moment to react and that moment makes him irrelevant. Belanger is still blocking out Boyle, which is all he can do at this point – if Dubnyk makes the initial save, keeping Boyle at bay is going to be a big concern. Smid abandons Couture at the side of the net to try and get in Marleau’s shooting lane, while Petry is unable to do much of anything because he’s still close to Thornton.

Marleau scores.

It’s a long sequence, with a plethora of mistakes. Eric Belanger doesn’t seem to make any major ones, but he’s also called on to do less as the puck spends very little time in his area of coverage. Ladislav Smid fails to block a pass to Marleau in the slot, and then loses a puck battle to Marleau behind the net – small and understandable mistakes. On the initial Marleau chance, Jeff Petry is too slow to get back to the net – he needs to make a beeline back to his defensive position after the Sharks gain the zone, but he doesn’t and Marleau gets a great opportunity.

The real goat on this particular penalty kill is Lennart Petrell. Petrell’s weird decision to cut to the middle rather than hold his side of the line gave the Sharks an easy zone entry. Once in the defensive zone, Petrell just doesn’t defend; the most glaring example being on the eventual goal where he seemingly has no idea that Patrick Marleau is right behind him and picking up speed, but he also spends most of the time prior to that moment chasing the play – the puck keeps rotating through his zone of the ice and he keeps going to where it just was.

The point here isn’t really to pick on Petrell, who (rightfully) earned plaudits for his work on the PK last year. I chose this goal because it did a good job of demonstrating the kind of things the Oilers were doing on the penalty kill last night. The Sharks have a collection of great talent that executed well, but too many of the goals against were a direct result of unforced errors by the Oilers.

Twice on the night the Oilers faced 2-on-2 situations at their own blue line and played them terribly – on both occasions, the Oilers ended up with two guys on one Shark, with the other Shark free to do whatever he wanted. Even the Marc-Edouard Vlasic goal was less a result of Ryan Whitney’s poor speed than it was his decision to pivot and see what was happening rather than skating hard after the puck; he was beat on the ensuing foot race because he then had to turn back around and by that time Tommy Wingels was past him.

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  • B S

    There was all kinds of awful on the PK and even strength defensively last night. We looked a timbits hockey team chasing around after the little black thingy all night…

    On a positive note, arena deal! That makes moving on from last night much easier.

  • BK

    Smid had no need to fight for the puck behind then net on a PK either – stay in position. BUT Lots of little errors as you say that I think will go as they get more in tune.

    AGAIN, I really enjoy the breakdowns JW. Thanks!

  • BK

    The anthem singer was just plain terrible. Hope to never have to hear her again – hurt the ears too many times. Is there no one in Edmonton that can actually sing them? I miss Paul!

  • Thanks to everyone for the kind comments; since this seems to be going well I’ll keep doing it after each Oilers game.

    One comment – somebody earlier compared this to doing play-by-play, and well I appreciate the thought this is also much easier. I have lots of time to sit back after the game and go through these plays in slow motion and really track what’s happening; a TV play-by-play guy doesn’t have the same luxury.

    Anyway, thanks again everyone, and as always thanks for coming by the site.

  • Awesome post, Jon. Seems like a few of us had similar ideas today, but this was a spectacular sequence of brutality and a great subject for an extended analysis.

    Special mention for Petrell who screwed up the zone entry by drifting into the middle and not protecting his lane, and then screwed up on the goal by protecting his lane and not drifting into the middle. By the time Marleau was shooting Petrell was literally covering nobody, as Boyle left the point and skated by him seconds earlier, then Marleau circled around him and into the slot to take the pass. All the while Petrell was fixated on the puck, or when he did take a glance around, didn’t do anything about it.

    Horrible PKing by the whole works of them, though.