Point of Attack

One of the biggest elements missing from Edmonton’s Power Play has been Offense from the blueline. It’s not necessarily an inability to move the puck up the ice, but rather an inability to generate shots from the point. 

It is frustrating to watch some of the team’s “offensively minded” defensemen opt to pass instead of shoot to a fault. We joke often about Justin Schultz making his 1st slapshot of the season whenever he makes one, but the best humour is laced with truth. Those jokes ring true and unfortunately for young Jultz the stats back them up. 

The kid doesn’t shoot nearly enough.

This is a pretty big problem, as it turns out, because it’s not as if the forwards are accepting all those sweet passes and turning them into shooting gold. Additionally, the Oilers have relied very heavily on Justin Schultz on the PP this year and the last. He is the QB of the first unit 5v4 Power Play for the team. It’s a unit that also includes 2 former 1st Overall picks and an NHL All-Star in Jordan Eberle. That job should be nothing but sugar-time but they cant seem to get anything done and it is one of the (many) reasons why the Oilers have struggled.

In terms of generating chances they have improved as a team, but that hasn’t translated into nearly enough actual offense. One possible reason is that the Oilers simply don’t employ a shooting threat from the point when Justin Schultz is out there. The team effectively puts out 4 shooters and 1 guy to pass them the puck. Jultz’ role at the top of the formation rarely involves more than moving the puck from left to right or vice-versa. When he does shoot, good things happen. Sadly, there has been no Pavlovian reaction to that stimuli and he continues to be a pass first  player.

The fact is, that with two players who are likely better passers in RNH and Taylor Hall, the 1st unit doesn’t actually need another passer back there. Justin Schultz’ contribution to the dynamic of the Power Play is indeed very questionable from that perspective. He is not a shooter, there are better passers already out there, and he isn’t the defensively responsible player on the unit either. 

He still has passing ability, but perhaps his contributions would be greater to the overall success of the 2nd unit. 

Is he really that bad, though, or am I maybe being too hard on Schultz? I’ve been accused of that before.

Well, Justin Schultz has played a lot of 5v4 minutes this year, 111 of them to be exact. There are only 34 defensemen in the NHL who have played at least 100 minutes 5v4 this season and Justin Schultz is dead last in Points/60. There has not been a less effective player getting that kind of ice time on the point this year in the entire NHL. He has only three points on the 5v4 so far despite all those minutes with the team’s best players. 

It isn’t working.

broken

Being “Pass-First” is really just a polite way of saying “Wouldn’t shoot the puck if life depended on it” and Schultz is most definitely “Pass-First”. Of those 34 PP Defensemen, Schultz is ranked 31st in Shots/60 with just 8.63 per 60 minutes. In total he has 16 shots on the 5v4 PP. Compare that total with league leaders from the Defense like Karlsson (51) or Ekman-Larsson (47) and it’s a laughable total. Having 24 would at least put him in the middle of his peer group. Unfortunately, his per 60 number this year is actually an improvement over his shot rate last year (7.64/60).

One thing we can see is that with Schultz on the ice the Oilers are shooting just 5.94% on the PP. Again, out of the 34 Defenseman with his kind of usage that is dead last. Now that is low, unreasonably low in fact. We should see that number climb as things normalize over the course of the year, but even last year Schultz’ on-ice Sh% was 29th of 36 Defensemen who played at least 200 minutes 5v4 at 10.93%. The percentage this year might be insanely low, but this is still two years running where Justin Schultz is clearly in the bottom 1/3 of his peer group.

The on-ice shooting percentage should in theory be important for a pass-first player like Schultz because presumably he is giving up the option to shoot himself so that others are in better positions to score. We can see that both this year and last the team is not exactly receiving the benefits from all those passes. The only thing that seems to be happening is that nobody is shooting from up high.

SOLUTIONS?

The power play is interesting because it can give players the opportunity to showcase their skills in more open space and with better control of the puck. That’s why there are tweeners like Brad Hunt who can have a place on an NHL power play, even if it might only be for a short time. Having a huge shot, being unafraid to stand in front of the net, having great hands in tight — these are all traits players might possess all the time but only get to display with regularity on the PP.

It’s important to note that these skills are indeed always present. They don’t magically show up when the other team is down a man. It’s just possible that due to other flaws in the player or circumstances of his usage that they simply aren’t able to use them as much or as effectively as they could on the PP.

When the Oilers look for shooting options on the PP (since they don’t have an obvious answer) they can opt for someone, a la Hunt, who can’t really play against NHL competition but has a blast or they can opt for a player who might shoot more often but who isn’t thought of as an offensive player.

Nikita Nikitin plays a significant number of minutes for them and indeed has a canon for a shot. His injuries have prevented him from playing and presumably from being more effective, but in the past he has posted very good shooting rates with the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, he has notably been on the decline and his ability to contribute is questionable.

The Oilers do have a player who is 15th in the NHL for Even Strength Shots by a defenseman with at least 500 minutes played (60 shots). In terms of Shots/60 he is 23rd in the NHL in that same group. His individual Fenwick is 10th in the NHL for Defensemen. Jeff Petry could be a potential solution on the PP.

While he isn’t known for his booming shot, what he does well is direct shots on net and that’s what the Oilers need. They have all the passing ability they could ask for on the 1st Unit as it is. They need someone who can get their shot away. We also know that Petry has good zone entry talent and can be a defensively responsible player too. 

By now the club has to know where they stand in contract talks with Petry and if it’s doubtful he signs then now would be a great time to give him a PP push to boost his value even further before the trade deadline.

What have they got to lose, really?

All numbers courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com

  • Bennyboy

    Could lose McEichel.
    That would kinda suck.

    At least if we got #1 or #2 pick
    We would have lots of trading ammo to fill out the rest of the roster. As much as it pains me, this season would be 100% wasted without a super pick.
    However your post makes perfect sense in order to have better results.

  • Bennyboy

    Maybe we could get Gretzky to call Schultz and give him his most famous quote?

    If this still does not work…….I say trade him for a bag of magic beans. I counted ffour plays where he clearly had a shot to take with traffic up front, and the goof ball passes!

    At this stage I never want to see him one the PP again, less on 5 on 5, and no time on the PK………..where does that leave him?

  • Bennyboy

    I think Jultz doesn’t shoot as much anymore because he’s learned that his limp little wristers don’t work in the NHL. We can get rid of him anytime now

  • ubermiguel

    Nelson should be good for this kid, he seemed to do ok in OKC. I’d rather Schultz use his nice wrist shot than try a slap shot. He can get it off more quickly, hopefully before the defender can get position to block it. Just get it to the net, let the forward in front of the net (there’d better be one there) do the rest.

  • I’d be fine with Jultz in the press box and 6 solid dman. Play Brad Hunt as your 6th dman if you like, or 12th forward and you would be further ahead.

    I don’t hate Justin, its that he is probably the 6th best defender this team has. His first pass is average, his offensive instincts in the offensive zone are great, but it will never translate when he is good for a goal against a game. The constant disaster in his own zone.

    I think the fans have accepted that he is not what we thought, and management has to accept that and they need to find a return. I think of him in the same light as Michael Del Zotto or Tom Poti. You see glimpses of glory in the midst of tire fire.

  • bradleypi

    To this day I can’t figure out oilersnations love affair with Petry. Guy has been the defacto “number one” defenseman for the oilers for the past few years. Team is a perennial last place team every year. It’s time to end this experiment with him and let him move on to somewhere he doesn’t have to be “the guy”. He’s a third pairing dman that can fill in the top two pairs when injuries hit.
    But yet here I am reading ANOTHER article about how petry should be the quarterback on the pp. He has a grand total of 8 points this year and in all honesty does not hit the net as much as the blogger suggests. Watch the game tomorrow night and tell me I’m wrong. He has had his chance in Edmonton to be the guy, he hasn’t gotten it done. Time to turn the page

    • He is the team’s best Defenseman. Even if he’s best served as #4 on a playoff team it doesn’t change the fact that he’s Edmonton’s best. And you’ll have to take up Petry’s shot totals with the official scorers of the NHL. His numbers are what they are.

      • bradleypi

        I completely understand what you and gord are saying. The fact of the matter is that just cause he’s Edmonton’s “best” dman doesn’t make him a good dman. He’s ultra soft, can’t clear the front of the net, doesn’t put up points especially on the power play and makes AT LEAST one play a game that makes you shake your head. if mact can sign him to a nice short 2 year deal in the 2-3mill dollar range I’d be all for it but if not try to get what you can at the deadline for him. Hopefully mact can work a miracle like he did with perron. Those 1st round picks are gonna be like gold leading up to and at the draft

        • Serious Gord

          Petrys gone. No way he signs.

          I am ambivalent towards Petry. I think the oil have misused him on the ice and disrespected him in negotiations.

          Meanwhile Shultz has been overhyped and pampered and not been held accountable for his weak play.

    • Serious Gord

      The issue with Petry vis a vis the oil isn’t petry’s fault.

      It is the oils.

      They are asking him to be a 1/2 defenseman when on any competitive team he’s a four/five. He simply can’t hold up under a top line forecheck level of pressure. Thus he fails more than a better player would.

      He will be gone in a month or so unless Mact is stupid and then be a UFA in the summer and hopefully he and his agent can find a new team that will play him in a role where he belongs.

    • YFC Prez

      “Man I wish we had a rock solid 3/4 defenseman who can move the puck like Petry can”

      —Random Oiler fan year 2016

      When will Oiler fans just see a player for what he is and accept them at that. Petry is a good defenseman. He’s just not a 1/2 but he is being asked to be one.

      That’s on the GM and management staff who put the team together, not Petry.

  • Serious Gord

    Laughably bad defenseman. Shultz has no shot. And everyone knows it and this opponents pressure him and he has to pass it. A vicious circle. Unless he can train himf to have a better slapshot he will be out of the league with in a couple of years. As it stands now if MacT keeps him MACT is a bigger failure than shultz is.

  • bradleypi

    Justin Norris is not close in being NHL ready. His high mark is AHL and no higher. You cannot be a NHL defenseman on the PP without a howitzer from the back end. He has no desire to play physical in your own end. Justin is predictable back there and it is sad we have wasted this much time with him being the QB on the PP with no accountability. He is a big part of why we are a 30th place team. We need to move on.

  • Lofty

    My favorite nurse moment was when Russia scored the 2nd goal on the power play… he came through and cleared the front of the net while everyone else was fishing for the puck.

  • Kevwan

    It’s more about his shot selection. Praised early in his career for his ability to get pucks through,this year – he’s telegraphing bigtime when he does make the decision to shoot.

  • Salty

    Remember when the Oilers were courting Schultz? It was because he could pass and he had an excellent shot from the point that was great for tip-ins and rebounds? “Don’t believe the hype!”

  • You can’t win Lowe! You’re a hated man wether you’re pathetic team becomes less embarassing or not! You’re an insult to the league, to the city and to pro sports as a whole! Do us all a favour and fu(k off

  • S cottV

    Without a pp skilled – 100 mile an hour threat up top, opposition pk will overplay down low.

    So – the strength of the power play is being covered off because there is no fear from the top.

    It’s not only fear from the direct scoring and or rebound potential of a heavy slapper up top, but also fear of having to block too many heavy slippers, by giving up too much time and space on point coverage.

    If a guy has a cannon up top, a pk defender is going to cheat towards him, partly out of survival.

    Nobody is afraid of Shultz’s shot, so they cheat low and gum everything up around the net.

  • Stank on it

    You’ll all see, when Justin Schultz figures it out he’ll be Norris Trophy caliber, best D in the league as far as I’m concerned. When all the other so-called “good defensemen” are getting older, he’ll be hittin his stride, still in his prime, rappin’ sharp like a needle in your eye.

  • bradleypi

    Petry was loaded down like a government pack mule and whipped in the eyes by this team since the day Whitney’s feet/ankles went bad..

    unlike many others, he survived

    now he’s coming up on 280ish games, maturing as a player, soon he will be free of this hell, let loose into green fields to run free, his pack mule days behind him

  • KP

    Nelson should take a page out of Clockwork Orange and force Jultz to watch the 20 second insane puck battle that Nurse had in the Gold metal game on a continuous loop for a week straight.