The Oilers powerplay started the season at almost the exact same success rate as last season — 17 of 82 (20.7%) in the first 25 games — but they’ve struggled mightily during the last 35 games, scoring 18 goals on 123 chances (14.6%.)

What has changed? Is it coaching or is it the players?

I’d say it is a combination of both, but I caught up with former NHLer Garry Gallery to get his thoughts on what makes a powerplay successful. Galley played on six different teams, but he was always a regular fixture on the PP — some very good, some that struggled.

Galley shared some excellent insight about being too predictable, the need for players to ad-lib and the role of the two players who act as D-men on the PP.

How much success of the powerplay is coaching and how much is it up to the
players to ad-lib or just execute plays?

Garry Galley: It sounds like a bit of a cop out, but it’s a bit of a mixture due to the fact that penalty killing is reliant
on systems and hard work.

There’s a system to penalty killing, where
to be because you’ve got to cover larger portion of the ice, you try to over
block the shooting lanes, keep the pucks to poor shooting angles. So there is a
bit of a method to the madness of penalty killing and you’ve got to have guys
that are willing to be stops and starts guys, guys who like to block shots,
guys that are dogged types of players that will fight for loose pucks at a
split second and understand how to do that. And those guys are really important
to a team.

Powerplay guys have to be able to ad-lib.
They have to be able to take what the penalty killers give them, especially if
they give them a bit on the run where the seams can open up, where you can look
for certain seams.

If a team habitually looks for the same
seams all of the time, and I think that’s what eventually caught up to the
Montreal Canadiens because their power play was so good at the start of the
year. In December, I think it was ranked third, but it has been dreadful in the
New Year and lately I think that that is one of the reasons why they are not
scoring a lot of goals is because they started to get predictable. That is the
one thing that a power play can’t do.

So yes it needs some coaching, it needs to
get a systematic start to things, a base product and then you’ve got to get the
right players on it that can ad-lib and pick the available plays that are open
to give you best chance to get a good quality scoring chance and hopefully you
can accumulate enough points on it to help you win hockey games, because a
power play can do that for you.

You talked about the systematic stuff from a coach as the base, is zone entry the base of that?

Galley: I think that the one area where you
can have a systematic approach is coming up the ice. Your breakout so to speak,
how you enter the zone and what basically that will look like. I coach a minor
bantam team and I give the kids the same kind of philosophy; we are going to
break the puck out in these situations. These five guys are going to go through
this systematic pattern, scheme, schematic and this is what we are going to do.
The centreman is going to swing; I want the defenceman to post for our blue
line, I want my right winger to start at the red line backup, cuddle along the
far blue line, I want my left winger to slash through. Here’s my five guys,
here’s the design of my schematic breakout, here are the options that will be
available to you as the defenceman who steps out from behind the net. OK, hit
the post guy, hit the centre. Post guy to the slashing left winger. All of the
players have to understand the options that are available to them.

When you know your options from where you
are, then you have to act like a quarterback when he drops back in the pocket.
He doesn’t just have one play, he has four plays and he has to systematically
go through them quickly and then pick the right one. And that’s what the
breakout is all about, pick the right one.

A lot of teams right now are going to
drive hard to the line because teams line up and then drop it back and that
late guy, that guy who comes in and that’s usually a guy who’s good at cutting
through traffic and whatever with the puck. So that’s an option too, but it’s a
little more schematic.

Once you get into the zone there’s a
starting place to start up in, and you call them quiet zones to get the penalty
killers to stop, which allows you to get some control of the puck and then the
rotations come off of that.

There’s still a matter of making the
choices, the right choices, and picking the open plays and that comes to
patience, it comes to players who are able to hang onto the puck a bit longer,
good puck handling skills, and guys who have the ability to get open and understand
that they can’t stand still.

The powerplay has to be a moving product.

Maybe one guy in front of the net for
screening because goaltenders are so good now. They are usually the best
penalty killers on the ice. So you have to get into his vision, and the other
four guys have got to find a way to move around and find open seams and it’s
hard to do because the penalty killers watch extensive video sessions on how to
counter your power play.

Garry, you were on the backend on a lot of successful powerplays. What’s the key ingredient a successful defenceman has to have to be able
to run a powerplay?

Galley: You know, I started out in college, I was on a powerplay with Dave
Ellett and it was a real successful PP at Bowling Green.

I moved on and I’ve been on powerplays
with Rob Blake and Ray Bourque and guys along that nature, and I really think
that it’s imperative that both of your defencemen can shoot the puck. They need
to have fairly good shots because what the shot does, or if you are using a
forward and a defenceman, whatever the combination of the guys at your back end
is, is they have to be feared from the blue line.

If the shooter is not feared from the blue
line, often times penalty killers will leave them alone, they won’t acknowledge
them, or if he’s wired to pass too often, then they know that he’s not going to
shoot. So it’s important that you have a guy back there who is wired to shoot
puck. You look at Ray Bourque and Rob Blake and Dave Ellett and all of those guys
that I played with; they were wired to shoot the puck. So my job as their
partner was to have a decent enough shot that if it was there I had to take it
because you’ve got to make sure that the opponent knows that you will shoot. And
then once you have that established try to get as many shots into their
pinwheel as you can and let them hammer away.

You’ve got to get traffic in front and the
other key for a D-man is the selection process.

Are you playing an umbrella where you have
one straight shooter in the middle of the ice and four guys operating off to
the sides and down low? Are you playing an overload with your centremen on the
half-wall, two D on the backside, down low winger, guy in front, or are you
playing a 1-3-1 where you have one guy in front, one guy in the middle at the
blue line and three guys lined through the slot where you are looking for those
tick- tack-toe one timers all over the ice and into those shooting areas?

So it depends on the system, but one D-man
has to be a wired shooter and that’s the guy that everyone focuses on, but if
they take him away, the other guys have got to have the ability to understand
that that plays gone, they are leaning towards taking the shot away. Let’s go
down low now, let’s hit a guy down low, let’s attack the net but there has to
be an attack the net.

This is where the player’s adlib skills
come in. You can’t really coach it.

Too many power plays get into trouble when
they start to become happy on the perimeter and their end zone time looks extremely
sexy; they spent the whole two minutes in the zone. Well that’s great. If I’m a
penalty killer you can spend five minutes in the zone. If you don’t get any
good quality scoring chances, it’s not really a good looking power play. So
it’s not the sexiness of the puck movement and the perimeter play, it’s when
the power player makes his decision it goes from a perimeter to an attack mode,
and when they attack do they get it into the quality areas? You’re looking to
get good quality chances. It’s not necessarily goals, you want to get good
quality chances and feel good about the power play when you finish it so that
your team feels something positive about it.

***The biggest weakness on the Oilers PP is that they don’t have one guy who teams fear. J.Schultz will never possess that type of shot, but he can be like Galley and be an excellent secondary option. The Oilers need to find a D-man who has a heavy shot standing still, not just a one-timer. They are hard to find, but until they find one I think PK guys will be able to cheat down low because they aren’t afraid of Schultz’s point shot.***

If you go to the 1-3-1, which the Oilers have done recently, what is the best way to attack the PK?

Galley: The high slot guy would be best.
When you took at the 1-3-1 it’s like you’re looking at a plus sign right? So
you’ve got your guy in front, your guy in the slot, your guy at the point all
in a straight line and then from the top of the circle, right through the
middle you’re going to re-use that guy in the slot with your two half-wall
guys. So you’re creating a plus sign, and that is creating minor triangles all
over the ice. You’ve got a triangle from your point man to your half-wall to
your slot shot. You’ve got a triangle between your point man to your half-wall
to your front net guy and all of these triangles hopefully set up opportunity
to make a quick passes and catch the penalty killers not able to cover all of
those guys in a shooting position. If they stay too low, to cover the guys in
front, then you have that high slot guy. If they cover the front net slot guy,
now you have your point guy.

So it’s about the forcing the penalty
killers to make choices. Where do they want to lean, where do they want their
stick positions in, and then choosing the appropriate one.

And again, you can go back to the most
basic of powerplays, the Calgary
days with Gary Suter and Al MacInnis where they just had two great shooters.
They worked the puck to one of them and they were so talented, and it is a
talent getting the puck from the blue line through to the net. It is even more
of a talent now because back when those guys were shooting there was only a
handful of guys who blocked shots in the whole league. Now it has to be a part
of your repertoire, you have to be in the shooting lanes all of the time,
everybody blocks shots.

So it’s a real talent to be able to take
the puck from the point and move it that six inches, that foot, that foot and a
half, two feet, whatever distance you need to laterally move the puck until a
lane opens where you can get the puck into a good shooting area. Again, they’re
all good strategies to use, but boy those penalty killers have really improved
and the coaching now is so good that it really makes powerplays tough to get
to that 20% mark.. If you can get a powerplay to 20-22%,
that’s absolutely excellent.

The anomaly is when you see Washington at almost 30%
or whatever, that’s just crazy stuff where they have some guys with
unbelievable chemistry. Look at guys like [Mike] Ribeiro last year and [Niklas]
Backstrom this year, who are great passers. They have a shooter in [Alex] Ovechkin, they have a shooter [Mike] Green,
they have a lot of nice little pieces in the one-timer positions and when it
all clicks together it can do some damage.

Gregor:  You talked about the one timer and
Ovechkin is obviously the best in the league right now. Oiler fans look at Nail
Yakupov and see his one timer and wonder why it isn’t used more. Is it up to the player to learn how to find the
holes, or should the powerplay focus on getting him the puck more?

Galley: They player needs to learn to find the
quiet spots on the ice…players like Brett Hull were great at losing
himself. He would come into a zone and then he would back out and then come
into another spot. When you got guys like Adam Oates and Craig Janney, those
guys are wired passers. They have great peripheral vision; they have great
senses of where their players are and especially a particular player. [Cam] Neely and Janney in Boston, and now Backstrom and Ovechkin are very,
very good at it.

When you look at those kinds of things,
those are special attributes between two players, and they can find each other,
they know where to go and the passer has to have another option to be able to
use and be willing to use that other option if need be.

But getting set up for a one timer and then
being able to score with it, is solely on the player. I was told this a long
time ago, that these guys that score like this — and of course I wasn’t one of
the them — was that when I was going to receive a pass or I was going to one
time a puck, I had to take a look at where I’m putting it.

These guys with the great one-timers, they don’t have to look.

They have a sense of the net in their minds. They know where it is on the ice,
they know where the puck is going. So when they onetime it, when they shoot it,
they know where that 4×6 place is and they know where their puck is going so
there is no need to look. They position themselves like a field goal kicker. He
backs up, he takes four steps back, he takes two steps sideways and when that
ball gets snapped, he’s taking the same pattern in and he’s kicking it. That is
very similar to the one timer. Body chemistry, everything, but when they shoot
it, they know where it’s going. They may overshoot the net the odd time, I mean
it’s (one-timer) an extremely difficult thing to do, especially if the pass is
firm. But guys like [Steven] Stamkos and Ovechkin, man, they are good at it.

Any young player like Yakupov will need to master the art of finding the open
space, but it also isn’t just about having a good one-timer, the best scorers
have an accurate one-timer.


I thought Galley did a great job of explaining how the PP should work, but also recognizing that the PKs are better today than ever. I’ll be watching how the Oilers attack on the 1-3-1 once they are set up. Using small triangles and quick passes to get the box to open up is likely the best strategy for the Oilers because they don’t possess a threat from the point.


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  • For the past few weeks I wrote the Eskimos and Patrick Watkins would be a good match, and today the Eskimos signed the best free agent cornerback in the league. It was a natural fit, with him playing Jones’ defence in Toronto the past two seasons. Watkins will allow the Esks to play more man-to-man coverage.
  • I highly doubt the four lines that Mike Babcock starts with against Norway tomorrow will be the ones he uses in the playoff rounds. I think we will see many changes, including John Tavares working his way up the lineup. I also think Jamie Benn will have an excellent tournament.


  • derrickhands

    Biggest problem the Oilers have is they do not have that big respectable shot from the point. The one that scares the crap out off opposing goalies and shot blockers.

    • derrickhands

      I actually think they do have a few guys that can really wire it from the point. Petry and Belov namely, but that doesn’t seem to be the main tactic used, maybe because our pp doesn’t have a big net presence.

      Having said that I cringe back to the days when our entire PP was pass it to Souray for the bomb. It took teams like 8 games to realize that before they started to just wait for the Souray pass.

      Gregor – perhaps this is a question for Willis – do you notice or have any stats that might back up the theory that our power play is worse against bigger teams? My thought is that Western teams, especially those in the Pacific division are able to break up our cycle simply because they can push our team off the puck easier. Any merit to this or am I just spinning my wheels?

      • Jason Gregor

        Belov refused to shoot the puck. Petry also hesitant to use his shot, and takes too long to get it away. Having a shot is one thing, using it properly is more important.

        Oilers were 20% against west-only teams last year.

        They are 17 for 91 (18.6) against East this year.
        And are 18 of 116 (15.5) against the West.

        They are 4 for 45 against SJ, Van, Ana, LA and Pho…The first four teams are all in top-14 (8.8%) of PK, but the Oilers have struggled against them, so maybe it is being pushed off the puck, or maybe the system. Worth looking at.

      • derrickhands

        Petry rarely uses it and Belov cannot hit the broadside of a barn, let alone play defense. Marincin doesn’t have a bad one, but not the hard heavy one like Klefbom’s. OKC Barons PP isn’t the best either and they play the same scheme of PP as the Oilers.

        • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

          Clapper or not, at least we have J Schultz and his deadly wrister. I am happy he’s picked up his play of late and I hope he can finish the season with some good offensive totals to build on for next year. It would be great to have a 15 – 20 goals a year defenseman on our roster and I think Schultz could get there someday. It’s a shame he doesn’t have the luxury of playing with a top pairing vet.

          On a somewhat similar note, did you see Karlsons two goals today? Wow.

    • toprightcorner

      I am less concerned about how hard they shoot and prefer to have someone who can get the shot to the net. Most goals scored from the point are tips not defenseman beating the goalie. Lindstrom was the best at just getting a more accurate wristshot passed the high guy and rack up assists. He never had a rocket, just gave his guys a chance to deflect it.

      I hard shot off the defenders shins create the breakaways that go in the back of our own net.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Any players can just shoot the puck to the net, it does not need to be hard. The problem is all Oilers players don’t shoot the puck. The point to score is shoot at the net, weird bounces, deflections, rebounds. That’s how you score goals passing around and looking for a perfect shot is not the answer. I play goalie for fun, goalies can’t stop all the shots. The problem Dubnyk was bad this year is he’s not mentally prepared and allowed too many easy goals, also because the team allowed too many shots against.

  • Spydyr

    Nice to know following a successful system on the PP can lead to an eventual unsuccessful one. It sounds like everyone in the league has to constantly be trying to keep the PP fresh in order to keep other teams off guard. Otherwise I suppose someone would have come up with one system that worked all the time.

    On another note, did anyone watch the Sweden Czech game today. That second period was crazy! Even without Hendrick that Swedish team is insane, anyone on their team can score.

    I think for Canada to win, they’ll have to do so by using their depth to light up the third and fourth lines of other squads. Maybe that’s why Tavaras is on our fourth line. “Okay kid, this is as easy as it gets in this tournament, go out there and score.”

    At any rate Olympic hockey is tremendous. I’m actually a little sad the NHL doesn’t play on the big ice as it’s so open and the transition game is so fast.

  • fasteddy

    I can’t pretend to be some expert, but ive played enough hockey to make this comment; powerplays are most successful when you work as hard or harder than the penalty killers. I feel like our guys stand around and try for pretty plays, rather than fighting hard to retrieve rebounds and pucks that go into the corners.

    • derrickhands

      Your attempts to look smart only make you look stupid. If you paid attention you’d know Gregor has talked about Watkins for the past two weeks coming to Edmonton, before anyone else reported it.

      Also, we all notice how gutless you are to take cheap shots by remaining nameless. People like you are a joke. It would be great if the Nation just banned you from commenting. You never add anything productive to the conversation.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    We should hire this Galley…….and do it quickly.

    I remember the days when we had Eric Brewer on the PP……..the guy had no slap shot but would wrist the puck to the net. He always seemed to find the lane and there were always chances as a result, usually from the slot.

    We now have a PP unit ( usually four or five forwards) that is obsessed with trying to pass the puck into the net. All we need to do to fix this is find a defenceman with a shoot first mentality.

    In defense of Belov……I believe that he was instructed to not fire the puck but to move it to the half boards. When you look at the PP is fairly obvious that whom ever came up with the current strategy is in love with our forwards.

    • Spydyr

      I agree that something is a bit fishy. His scouting report had him with one of the better shots form the point in the KHL; he then comes here and doesn’t use that point shot? Something seems a bit off. Especially considering his only goal this year was a beauty blast from the point.

      Maybe after that they’ll give him a bit more free reign to clap it. It kind of seems the guys with big point shots (Weber, P.K., Chara, Karlson) are also the guys quaterbacking the power play. I don’t think they’ve given Belov enough leash to do this yet.

      I do agree with Derrickhands however that Klefbomb does have a heavy shot. Principe must be dying in anticipation for all the “drop the Klefbomb” puns to be made.

      • Zarny

        What’s fishy?

        He’s a rookie. Pretty much every rookie is tentative. To top it off, he’s in a foreign country, doesn’t speak the language and is on the ice with players way better than he is.

        Not really surprising he’s dishing the puck off and afraid to shoot. When he feels he belongs in the league you’ll probably see more of the game he played in the KHL.

  • Tikkanese

    Trade with the Habs for that Magnus Nygren kid. He had a 104.6 mph slapshot yesterday in the AHL skills contest. In fact, all three of his shots were over 100 mph. By all reports that I’ve seen, he sounds very close to being NHL ready now.

    I also wouldn’t mind getting Tokarski from them as well. He might be ready to push a Scrivens in a 1A, 1B role. He just hasn’t had a shot in the NHL yet.

  • DSF

    you don’t put enough shots on goal and just pass the puck back n forth and then Puck goes beyond the Pkayer on the blue line and you start over again and lose the Puck and be hit short handed. That simple is that. More Shots is the answer and use the rebounds better.

  • DSF

    Long, but interesting interview and overview by
    Gary Galley. Should forward this write up to Eakins, might learn something.

    However, I think Galley summed it up in his first response, pointing out that ” systems and hardwork are required… might be the reason the Oilers are struggling.

  • Zarny

    Good interview. Always great to get the perspective of a player.

    Hopefully the Eakins haters note that systems are simply the base framework. Success depends on the player’s ability to ad-lib and execute.

    None of the systems Eakins uses are unique or special. Quite the opposite. Lots of teams have success using those systems. The Oilers simply don’t have the personnel to execute consistently.

  • Spydyr

    You know what makes for a good powerplay? A net presence, not passing it around the perimeter looking for a pretty play. Get traffic in front of the net and hammer away.It is not rocket science.

    Without Smyth on the ice and in all honesty at this point in his career he should not be getting powerplay minutes.The Oilers have zero net presence.Hence the powerplay is weak.

    • Weird thing is it’s basically the same PP units as last year minus Horcoff and we were killing it in 2013. KILLING IT I SAY!

      That tells me the difference is in how Eakins is applying his resources. That and the fact a healthy Sam Gagner is far more important to the PP than we might think.

      • Spydyr

        IMO it is not so much a personal issue, although Horcoff did plant himself in front of the net on the last years power play as it is a tactical issue. Using the umbrella approach with only on defenceman at the point cuts down on the number of point shots. Having no net presence allows the goalie to see the shots. Most NHL goalies, will stop a high percentage of shots they see clearly.

        Put a big guy in front of the net, tell him to engage a defencman if possible. That creates traffic in front of the net and opens space for the other players.Shoot from the point and have the other forwards collapse to the net for tips and rebounds.

  • Spydyr

    You have to set up the power play for your best shooters.

    Washington overloads the right side while having Ovy on the left side.
    The defense has to cover the overload which allows Ovy to get his shot through .

    The oilers have overloaded the right side while still having their best shooters Hall an Yakupov on that side.This allows defenders to get in lanes and intercept passes .

    Go figure whether oiler coaches can correct this.

  • I propose that from now on the Oilers buy out any defenseman who doesn’t win the Norris trophy by the age of 22. If they can’t, obviously they are worthless and deserve to be ridiculed on teh internets by old persnickety arm chair GMs everywhere.

  • DSF

    Your power play starts with your QUARTERBACK!!! The Lead big shot defenseman. PERIOD!!!


    1 ROCK’em SOCK’em masher in front of the net causing havoc.

    1 Floater across the middle.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    This is what you get when you hire an AHL caliber coach to run an actual NHL powerplay. Eakins can’t blame Yakupov for that when he’s seated on the bench, or in the pressbox. There’s no excuse for having one of the best shots in this league sitting on the bench.

    It’s obvious Dallas has no clue as to how to handle players of his skillset. He appears not at all capable of taking that next step to the NHL as a coach. Take your AHL blueprint/powerplay and shove it Dallas.

  • Spydyr

    You all just have me wondering………..if Karlsson was playing for Edmonton, just how good would he be?

    Would Eakins get out of him what he is currently delivering? Could he chop water?