The truth about the Oilers 5 vs. 5 play

With no training camp it looks to me that NHL teams are still disorganized in areas. Two areas that look out of sync for most of them are areas the Oilers are having success, the penalty kill and off the rush.

Discipline within the penalty kill is required to kill penalties. Skating in straight lines, having good sticks and good communication are just some essential elements needed to kill them off.

As you watch NHL hockey take a look at how players are swinging while killing penalties in zone instead of stopping and going straight back to position. This is a killer which the Oilers are taking advantage of. It opens up passing lanes for just a second to make a pass for a back door shot. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if the killers had their sticks in lanes which for the most part they don’t.

It isn’t often you see goals scored off the rush. Teams are just too strong at reading and reacting to the rush. Recognizing that it is a three vs. two or even-man rush early makes a big difference to stopping it. Right now it seems that teams are not quite at that place yet. How many times have we seen two players go to the same offensive player on the rush? That results in an odd man rush for someone else to cover up. This shouldn’t happen as often when players have had a full training camp or are in midseason form.

So far this season scoring even-strength goals has not been easy for the Oilers. They have one of the lowest totals in the league. With the power play firing on all cylinders it has not become a huge issue but at some point the PP will slow down or go through a cold streak. What happens then? Sooner or later they will need goal production during even strength play.

If they don’t find a way to score goals even strength than the losses could start to pile up. So what should they do?

Ralph Kreuger needs to get his forwards to focus on these three tasks.

1. Chip the puck in at the blueline.

Watching players fly through the neutral zone with the puck on their stick is fun to watch. Sometimes they are able to carry it right into the offensive. More often than not they run into a defencemen getting support from his partner and his center. This is when a player must chip the puck in behind the ‘D’, not to give it away but to go and get it again out of a dangerous area.

How many times have we seen the Oilers break out nicely, get speed on the attack through the middle zone, only to have the puck knocked off their stick? This always results in a quick counter attack, usually with an odd man rush.

Think back to this goal, the first goal of the game against last Saturday in Calgary.

Coaches get very frustrated with turnovers at the offensive blueline. So many chances against are a result of this giveaway. If you don’t get the puck into the offensive zone you will not score goals. The Oilers need to chip it in more often to have more offensive zone playing time.

2. Longer sustained offensive zone pressure shifts.

Cycling as a line well was something I always thought was impressive and important for teams to do. The ability to hold onto the puck in the offensive zone for thirty or forty seconds really contributes to the momentum of a game. It wears down the defensive players on the ice. It puts that whole team on their heels.

The Oilers love to try and score off the rush, which is great but hard to do. After that initial rush, they need more sustained pressure. Pressuring the defenceman to get the puck back and more pinching from the Oilers’ blue-liners are two things they need. It is very hard to make plays under pressure and to get the puck out as a forward if the offensive ‘D’ are pinching.

If they can do more of that they will get the chance to cycle and make plays in the offensive zone. If they don’t, the game can become an endless series of neutral zone regroups. That won’t create any pressure.

3. Take the puck to the net and stay there.

At times it almost seems like the Oilers are two different types of teams. When they are on the power play they attack the net. They take shots and then stay around the net to battle for loose pucks and rebounds.

Five on five I don’t see this as much. When they do cycle the puck and then take a shot they are more often than not on the outside of the play looking in. They need to fight for the inside position. Yes, that can hurt. No one likes to get slashed or hit but that is the price that must be paid to score goals at even strength. There are few beautiful goals scored at any time but especially at even strength.

Turn on your TV tonight and watch the highlights. How many tic-tac-toe goals will you see? How many dog piles in front will you see? Shots from the blue line with lots of traffic in front and then someone bangs home a rebound? There will be very few tic-tac-toe and lots of the rest.

The Oilers need to get gritty, dirty and yes, bloody if they want to start scoring at even strength!

We are all starting to realize how valuable a player like Ryan Jones is to this team. He provides that grease factor the Oilers need right now. Has he ever scored a goal from more than five feet from the blue paint? He can move up and down the lines as required and whack home the garbage.

Scoring at even strength is required for success. It is clear that the Oilers have a good PP but more is required. So Ralph, I know you read this… tell the boys these three things and you will have success! Chip the pucks in, cycle the puck and take the puck to the net!

An eye for an eye?

My first coach when I turned pro was a guy named Jimmy Roberts. He played for years in the NHL and was a coach for a long time after he finished playing. One night we were playing and a dirty player on the other team hurt one of our players with a hit from behind. I can’t remember the players name right now but I can remember what Jimmy said to us in the room later.

We all tried to get back at this player by hitting or getting him to fight but nothing worked. After the game, Jimmy sat us all down and said, “What that idiot did on the other team was stupid; we all know that. We couldn’t get him back tonight but trust me, somebody will at some point. You live by the sword, you die by the sword."

I will never forget that.

Patrick Kaleta is one of the dirtiest players in the NHL. He hits late and hits high. Tuesday night Mike Brown from the Leafs hit him hard and Kaleta was injured on the play. Check it out.

Call me a sick bastard but I had no issue with him getting hurt. He has hurt lots of guys. I actually caught myself chuckling!!! I don’t like to see players stay down but not this time, didn’t bother me for a second!

As soon as I saw the hit all I could think about was Jimmy saying "You live by the sword, you die by the sword."

I love it!!!

  • The Goalie 1976


    I’m not sure this team is built with enough size for the ‘chip and chase’ game. That seems like more of a plan for a team like the Doug Weight Oilers, who were a lunch pail team. IMO they need to play to their strenghts, which is skill and puck possesion.

    100% agree with driving to the net. Detriot is a skill possesion team, and they drive the net hard too. I just don’t see this team being able to win enough of those ‘chip recovery battles.’

    • Rob...

      Maybe not, but this team is built with the speed to chip and chase; and if a team wants to hold them up from getting to the loose puck, we’ll take the resulting power play.

      EDIT: BTW, do teams lower the quality of their ice when playing a team that’s either faster or much better at passing? It seems like a good strategy, and I have no idea if it’s ‘illegal’.

      • The Goalie 1976

        I think I’ve been watching too many Oiler games where we did’nt have enough skill to do anything but dump/chase and outwork the other teams. Now we finally have the skill in abundance, and the only time I want to see the puck not their possesion, is when they shoot it on net.

        I can see a 2-pronged approach where the Harti/PVR line does the chip/chase and draws some penalties, and the top 2 line run a puck possesion system.

    • Jason Strudwick

      It is impossible to carry the puck in every rush. Good teams identify when they can and when they need to chip it in and go get it. No matter how skilled a group is they need to understand that.

      • The Goalie 1976

        I think I have too many bad memories of Hemsky chipping it past Regher, only to have him destroy Hemmer with a hit and injure him.

        I worry that this team (right now) as teenagers will get injured. The Oilers, for whatever reason, don’t seem like the most durable bunch.

      • Hemmertime

        Have you read the article on NHLNumbers by the PHI fan that shows pretty conclusively that its better to regroup rather than dump it in (For the Flyers at least)? I’d love to see more data on that, but in your opinion you still believe its a good idea for high skill lines to dump it in? I think thats asking for trouble, going into the corners vs some BIG D men for a less % chance of puck retrieval than just regrouping. Plenty of opportunity for injuries.

        • Jason Strudwick

          I haven’t seen that article. I believe it is better to chip the puck past a dman trying to stand you up at the blueline instead of turning it over.

    • Banger

      there have been a few time where Hall and Yak in particular were very successful at the chip and chase. They are very good skaters and hard to knock off the puck. They have good success at this, i would like to see it more often. You dont need to be big to play chip and chase. You need speed, and the will to get in there. The oilers have that if they get their heads into that mind set. They dont need to do it every play but if they mix it up they are going to keep the defense honest. Right now its way to easy for the D to just take away the one man effort.

  • northof51

    Also have no issue with a guy like Kaleta getting hurt. Karma’s a b!+#%.

    Miller must be wondering though why Weber would come to Kaleta’s defence after the Sabres complacency towards Lucic last year…

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!


    Re “an eye for an eye”, I’m not proud of it either, but have to agree completely. There are a few others out there who I would shed no tears for: Bertuzzi, just for the Moore incident alone; Burrows, for running Roy (AHL hopeful)from behind from his own blueline in an exhibition game; Kronwall, for his constant skates-just-barely-leaving-the-ice-to-avoid-penalty hits; half the Canucks (diving) team, and a few others.

    I’d have put Avery at the top of the list, but I’m disappointed to see he retired without getting his just desserts. Perhaps karma will catch up to him in some other way.

    Any thoughts about other ways to address this type of player? Drop the instigator penalty? New rules? Better refs?

    A big part of me is drawn towards the “let the players police it” old school attitude, but then someone brings up some of the horror shows from bygone days (eg. Maki & Green) and I’m not so sure. Thoughts?

    • Phixieus666

      Avery retired because nobody was willing to sign him. So rather than keep playing in the minors and change his game he just quit. Typical of a player with no class. Maybe he’ll get in a car accident. See now why couldn’t Raffi hit someone like Avery instead of Hossa. In fairness to Raffi if he didn’t leave his feet it would have been a clean hit.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    Stride, read some Eric T. It confirms pretty much that you don’t want your skill players chipping and chasing. They’re still working on system play and that ice lastnight was horrible. workings a I agree that the flames game was all about getting stopped at their blue line.

    Smyth’s line did nothing but dump. I’ll argue that line four over handles too much and should dump more, but let the skill guys handle the puck instead of turning them into lunch pail guys.

    • The Goalie 1976

      I agree. Lines 1/2 are possesion, and lines 3/4 are dump/chase. It gives you a nice balanced attack, that can be deployed differently from game to game.

      If one isnt working, then try the other.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Absolutely agree 100%, and have been saying the same repeatedly over time. I would add to #1 that, with the Oilers speed, dumping will draw penalties. Dumping leads to the cycle, and that’s when successful teams capitalize on the net presence. The net presence is what I see as the team’s biggest offensive issue. Although we have some gifted shooters, most goals are scored off tips, rebounds and screens, and we have to have guys going hard to the net. What I have not developed any conclusion about is if this is where size comes in. Do you think a line of small talented forwards can be taught to go hard to the net or do we have to change some of the DNA of our forward group?

  • Phixieus666

    why can’t players figure out that if you stand with your back to the play 3 feet from the boards that it is going to hurt when you get hit .on another note,the nhl should get out of phoenix,next year,and go somewhere where hockey is popular.

  • Quicksilver ballet


    Must be easy to find fault covering a club on the heals of 3 first overalls in a row. How long till the focus becomes the Oilers lack of offense while shorthanded?

    Shootin fish in a barrel journalism…..

    Why doesn’t someone grab the ball and go with it on Taylor Halls lack of progress during his 2+ seasons. #4 in our program, must be the kaboose as far as the Oilers fab 4 are concerned?

    • Jason Strudwick

      Ouch. Someone is grumpy today. Must be tired from making cool and witty handles all night!

      In your opinion why are the oilers not scoring at even strength? You seem to think it is all on Hall.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        The Oilers are a works in progress, a moving target if you will. The last 3 (and perhaps this current season) should be erased from our mammery gland.

        What are your thoughts on Captain Snowypants Jason, do you feel he hasn’t progressed as quickly as Eberle,Yakupov etc?

        Taylor blows a wheel and the play often dies. Yak,Eberle and Hopkins all appear to be more stable puck carriers, no?

        On a personal note Jason. The choice in clothing in Oilcountry is Carhartt, not Lulu Lemon. Why the resistance to conform?

        • Jason Strudwick

          To be honest I am not in favor of playing teenagers in the NHL. Why the rush? The are often not physically ready for the league. Tough call for a gm to make to say the number one pic in the draft is going back to junior.

          What is carhart?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’d like Hemsky to dump the puck in and let Nail go get it on occasion. Nail with his speed and his tenacious fore-check and agility should be able to come up with the puck here and there. However Hemsky is happy with the dipsidoodle at the blue, holding onto the puck to long and not being able set up his line-mates. Gagner’s like Horcoff before has learned what to do, evidenced by him ringing it off the crossbar last night. Nail seems lost with Hemsky right now. If they ever figure it out, that line could be dynamic.

  • Release the Hounds

    Dump and chase is a great strategy if you had officials that showed any respect to the Oilers team. How many times last year did we see Omark working his butt off behind the net, controlling the puck while being slashed, held, tripped, cross-checked, punched and pretty much being mugged until he finally went down and lost the puck. Very seldom was there ever a penalty called.

    This year, it is Hartikainen doing a damn good job controlling the puck in the o-zone whilst being hacked at, tripped, etc. without earning a PP. Yet, Smid can look at an opponent the wrong way and end up with 2 min.

    Until such time as the young Oilers get the respect of the refs, (once Mick McGeough is no longer Supervisor of Officiating for Oiler games) we will continue to need to beat the opposition and the officials to win a game. And now that the league has see a potent Oilers PP, we will most likely see fewer and fewer PP opportunities.
    *End of rant

  • It would be nice if more talented players became journalists so we could get an opinion next to one that advocates a strategy applicable to 4th line grinders who have no puck carrying skills. Not that it is completely an invlalid opinion, but it is just not the solution. 5v5 scoring is low for the Oilers due to a low shooting percentage. We are still getting an ample amount of chances, so it seems you are focusing on a small sample size which is very dangerous.

    When we have been successful at carrying the puck in without giving up possession, to advocate dumping it in just seems terrible to me. Can we please have an article next from Louie Debrusk on how fighting wins hockey games.

    • Zipdot

      I’ll step in for Struds here.

      Rob Brown, who I think qualifies for the goalscorer’s view to which you allude, said the same thing as Struds is saying about dumping the puck in rather than turning it over at the offensive blue line.

      And considering that many NHL coaches have never even played the game, I don’t see why someone has to be a goalscorer to be qualified to comment. NHL player works well enough for me, but maybe you were just looking for a cheap shot?

    • Jason Strudwick

      I am talking about a three step approach to getting more even strength goals. The first is chipping it by the dman and the second is more offensive zone time. The third and I suppose I should have mentioned the most important is going to the net for rebounds.

      Are all goals only scored off the first shot? Maybe they are when you play video games but not in the real live NHL. Rebounds and tipped pucks are the way most are scored. It requires second effort and more battle.

      Just for goggles why don’t you tell me where the Oilers ranked last year for five on five scoring?

      I will check back to find out.

      • A-Mc

        Fair enough, however when you carry the puck into the zone, you still score goals through tipped pucks and rebounds. We’re speaking of zone entries here. Carrying the puck into the zone, and developing a cycle are not mutually exclusive.

        Sorry that you are being sidetracked here and are not following my line. I am only really questioning you on point #1. Your other points basically aren’t strategy on a level more than skate faster, play harder, more pressure, etc.

        As for Oilers 5v5 last season, yeah it was terrible. In my opinion, it would have been even more terrible if we employed more of a dump and chase when we have players perfectly capable of gaining the zone with possession. Don’t know what your point is by bringing it up.

  • Zipdot

    Like I said, it’s not like his opinion is completely invalid, as there are times to just dump it in. I think they are few and far between and not the solution.

    I am probably more disturbed that he brings up the issue of 5v5 play in a short sample size of 6 games. If we’re getting terribly outchanced, then yeah, maybe a trend is forming. The author did not bring up that case a all. He saw few even strength goals scored, and immediately saw a problem where there wasn’t one. Oilers have been snakebitten with a low shooting % which should regress to the mean. It annoys me along the same line when people say they need to shake up lines after they dont score in 3 or 4 games.

    Sometimes there is no problem, it is simply variance.

    • Jason Strudwick

      You mentioned in this little analysis that I was getting my opinion from a small sample size of 6 games. By your own admission you agree that they were poor at even strength last year as well. Do you think I am not aware of that? I guess in your expert opinion you shouldn’t carry trends from one year to another even though the team itself changed very little. In my opinion you should.

      I couldn’t disagree with you more about chipping pucks and offensive zone puck possession time time not be linked. That makes no sense. If you don’t get the puck in, instead turn it over, how do you get cycles going and put pucks to the net?

      I am done wasting my time with this discussion. I guess we will have to agree to disagree. (even though I know I am right)

      Take it easy

      • Zipdot

        I fail to see how anyone can disagree with Struds’ thesis: there is a time for dumping the puck and good teams/players are good at recognizing when to dump and when not to dump. And the current Oilers are not dumping enough over the first games of the season.

        It is clear to me.

        Having said that, I do sort of cringe to think back a few years to the captain Moreau days when it seemed that all we would do was chip and chase. Carries are nicer to look at.

        Got to strike a balance, I guess. But if you have a choice between (1) turning the puck over at the blue line or (2) giving the boys a chance to keep possession AND get the puck to the net by chipping, then who could possible argue against this?

        My advice: trust in Struds!

        • A-Mc

          That is not the argument though. The choice is not between turning it over and dumping it in. It is between the success rate of dumping it in and regaining posession, and carrying it in and maintaining posession.

          When you carry it in, it isn’t a turnover every time, just like when you dump it in, it isn’t that you don’t regain posession every time.

          I just can’t see this Oilers team being that great along the boards next to Hall or Harti. So I don’t see how more of dumping the puck in would result in more success?

          I guess you could also counter that a dump in is is less likely to result in odd man rushes against than a turnover at the blue line.

          Not that there is an exact right asnwer, but if you don’t bring up the relevent points, your argument is weak.

  • striatic

    Strudwick is right.

    there are games where you need to chip and chase, especially if the D is collapsing effectively as Calgary did against Edmonton.

    you need the players to do it, which is why you don’t dress Hordichuk instead of Hartikainen.

    chip and chase in the modern NHL requires SKILL. speed especially.

    if you do it with enough speed you will start drawing interference calls and then your PP can go to work.

    skill teams can benefit from chip and chase. it isn’t something that you should only do if you don’t have skill.

  • A-Mc

    While the chip and chase point is valid I think you need to elaborate a bit more on that idea and expand it to offensive zone entries. The turn overs at the blueline kill 5v5 production and many of our failed PP attempts falter because of an inability to gain entry into the offensive zone. A lot of the time a simple dump in is a vast improvement over a neutral zone turn over.

    I would also like to see a bit more change in the lines occasionally throughout the games. I think the occasional topline shift for guys like Jones and Hartikainen could help to add a bit more energy and would help to make a chip and chase gameplan more viable. I think those line mix ups would benefit the Oilers in the other direction as well. Harti/PVR have been showing great ability to control the puck offensively but passing the puck to Belanger in the slot is pretty much the same as a turnover. Why not toss out RNH or Gagner as the third man on line four occasionally? You save your best faceman for a faceoff and get an extra shift or halfshift in for one of your more skilled guys. Normally the third man on the fourth line is just floating in the high slot and back checking and not burning all their energy in the corners.

    Just some thoughts from an uniformed dumbass.

  • O.C.

    Yeah, agree to disagree.

    Of course they were poor at even strength last year. I never argued that case at all, it is fact.

    What I hear from you is making an argument attributing poor 5v5 results on merely not dumping the puck into the zone. Obviously I don’t believe this is your entire argument, however you are presenting it as such.

    However you bring up that we turn the puck over everytime when trying to carry it into the zone, which is not the case.

    I’m just curious if you have any information on when we dump the puck in, how often we regain possession, create a scoring chance, or draw a penalty. That is the real question here, on whether dumping it in results in a net benefit over attempting to carry the puck in. (Because I don’t have the stats myself, but just basing it on teams not dumping it in every time, there is some advantage to carrying the puck in, and not giving up possession)