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.
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.
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