Last season the Oilers took a step backwards on the power play. Their success rate dropped three percent, going from twenty to seventeen. The team ranked just twenty-first in the NHL at the end of the year.
There were three areas that were trouble zones for the mighty Oil.
1. Point Shots
Strong power plays start from the blue line. A d-man that can shoot from the point sets up the low plays. The four penalty killers must respect the D’s shot. They can’t stay down low; it spreads the killers out. A good power play point man has an effective shot. It would be nice if it was a bomb like Souray’s but one that gets through can be just as effective.
Mobility by the D on the point is important. He can’t always count on the forwards or his partner to set him up just in the right place for an open lane. Sometimes it just takes a quick step along the blue line one way or the other to create the lane needed. Getting the shot to the net is a real skill and much harder than it looks. Defending D often will “front” the forwards in front of the net to block the shot before they can tip it.
2. Entering the zone
The Oilers were dangerous coming in the zone when they had the superiority in numbers last year. They created chances and scored off the rush on the power play, and that’s all very positive. They ran into issues when the killing squad did a good job up the ice and didn’t lose any players by getting beat by a pass, falling down, etc.
What to do when there are four defenders across the blue line standing you up? Two choices: turn back or chip it in. Turning back can work, but it burns a lot of energy — and time — going back and forth up and down the ice. Everyone has to come back to their own blue line, get organized with speed and then attack once again.
As a killer I liked when teams did this. It was a break in the action for us. The attacking team was also using a smaller area to try and create a two-on-one somewhere on the ice. Instead of having the space from their goal line to our blue line the area was now just the neutral zone. That meant a much smaller chance of something going wrong for the defenders. The passing lanes are also much smaller.
When confronted with this type of situation the Oilers need to have close support and chip the puck to an open area for their linemate to skate into with speed. It is very hard to defend when a guy just chips it off the wall past you and the centre comes flying in to pick it up.
You can’t do this every time because as a power play unit you don’t want to become predictable. Knowing where your speed is coming from, a hard rim or cross ice dump will allow you to retrieve the puck and get into your PP set up. It is all about on ice awareness and knowing what your teammates are doing.
Last year I thought the in zone set up was stagnant. There was not enough movement. I think a lot of this has to do with my first point, the lack of point shots. The forwards would try to create plays down low but the defenders were over aggressive not fearing a point shot. With this group of forwards movement should be a priority. It is much harder to defend.
This year getting the power play back into the top half of the league should be a priority. Scoring on the power play is one way that players get their confidence going. I think Pouliot and Purcell give the Oilers two more options to run through the power play.
The question is: how will the groups look?
Let’s sort the players available based on where they like to set up.
Net front – Perron, Pouliot (Gordon, Hendricks)
These two are the obvious choices for in front of the net. You need a guy in front that can make life hard on the goalies, bang home rebounds and pop out into the slot. When they pop out into the slot they change the look of the pp and are an option to take a pass from below the goal line.
Half Wall – Nuge, Purcell (Eberle)
Both of these guys like to have the puck on their sticks. They can control the tempo and create plays from this spot. I like that one is a lefty the other a righty; it gives Eakins the option to set up on both sides of the zone. Nuge sets up to the left of the goalie on the hash marks, Purcell to the right. This makes both guys a threat to shoot from there, and makes the D respect the shot. The can move the puck low, high, shoot or make a pass to the slot. They can’t do that if they are on the other side. Can’t shoot from there on your back hand.
On the point – Schultz, Nikitin, Petry
This group needs to get a shoot-first attitude this year. If each of the guys can get at least a hundred and fifty shots it will create a big improvement to the power play’s bottom line. At times they will think they are being selfish but it is not the case. They will actually be doing their forwards a favour. It will open up the action for the forward to create and find room down low.
Below the goal line – Hall, Eberle
These two are very creative and dangerous players. At times it is easy enough to say just get them the puck and let them work their magic. Hall can drive the net hard on a down low pass from Nuge on the half wall. He can also make a nice pass on the way to the net if he is getting blocked. Eberle is slippery in tight spaces, and has good vision on the way to the net for a pass or a shot. Basically, give them the puck with any kind of space and time down low, then get open.
Wildcard – Yak
Yak is the guy that I am really unsure of. At times I am optimistic about this young player, at others I am not so sure. Where does he fit in on the power play? This will be the hardest part of the puzzle for Eakins and company. I don’t see him in front of the net. I don’t see him on the half wall. He doesn’t take the spot of Hall or Eberle. Where does that leave him?
He has great offensive skills so you need to find him a place on the power play. I guess that leaves him on the point but this makes me uncomfortable. The Oilers gave up thirteen shorthanded goals last season. Does putting him in that spot reduce that number (not that they were all on him last year)?
It is up to Yak to play himself into the power play conversation. As on right now I have him on the outside looking in.
My units look like this to start the season.
- No. 1 Net Front – Perron
- No. 1 Side Wall – Nuge
- No. 1 Goal Line – Hall
- No. 1 Blue Line – Schultz/Petry
- No. 2 Net Front – Pouliot
- No. 2 Side Wall – Purcell
- No. 2 Goal Line – Eberle
- No. 2 Blue Line – Schultz/Nikitin
The Nuge unit sets to the goalie’s left side. Everyone is on their one timer side, a threat to shoot. Perron pops out from the net to be a one timer option for Hall down low. Both D can shoot from their one-timer sides.
The Purcell group sets up to the right on the goalie. Same thing here, everyone is a one timer threat to shoot, including Pouliot from the front of the net. Nikitin is getting fed pizzas by Schultz for big one timers from the point.
I really like these two groups. If I am Eakins I go with the group that is rolling that night. Both are dangerous so defending teams can’t match up.
I think I am really close to what we will see opening night. Maybe I should have become a PP coach.