GDB 49.0: Paging the Powerplay

GameDay

When I look at every aspect of the Edmonton Oilers, I see the powerplay as being the most disappointing area through 48 games. The Oilers should be better than 24th in the NHL on the man advantage. They have enough skill to be in the top-15, and it is an area that must improve in the final 34 games.

I realize they don’t have a dominant point shot, but that is only one aspect of the man advantage and when you analyze their PP it is far from the only issue.

Losing faceoffs and having to retreat 200 feet has hurt them, and lately I’ve noticed they seem to have too many players entering the zone in the wrong position.

When the Oilers enter the zone Leon Draisailt should always try to enter on the right side. You want Draisaitl setting up on the rights side half wall because he is a left shot. If he enters on the left side and sets up on that side the PP is not starting in their best position to succeed.

On Tuesday night in Tampa Bay I noticed on two separate zone entries that four of the five players were entering on the wrong side from where they would normally set up. I recognize you won’t be able to enter the zone perfectly every time, but entering in the wrong side puts your PP at a disadvantage right away.

It might seem like a small thing, but I believe it hinders the PP. I have spent a lot of time watching the Washington Capitals powerplay recently and that was one of the things I picked up. Alex Oveckin almost always enters on the left side so he can set up on his off-wing, while Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeni Kuznetzov enter on the right side, and one of them sets up on the half wall.

The other big difference between both powerplays is the amount of movement they have. The Capitals’ players are much more stationary. They don’t move around very much, while the Oilers have been sliding around.

Adam Oates designed the Capitals powerplay and even though he isn’t there the team still uses the same formation.

“A lot of coaches talk about movement. I believe in puck movement, but not player movement,” Oates told me on Tuesday. The Capitals abide by this motto. They move the puck quickly and they do move around a bit, but for many stretches you will see Ovechkin stand in the same spot waiting for the puck. This is not because he is lazy. It is the system they run and it has been successful for a long time.

In 2012/2013 the Capitals were 17th on the PP at 16.7%. Oates was hired as head coach the next season and the Capitals finished first on the PP at 26.8%. They were second the following year, first last season and are once again first overall. Oates put in a system, the players became familiar with it and the team still uses the same model.

That is the advantage the Capitals have over the Oilers. They are so comfortable with the system, every aspect of it, that it is almost second nature for them. The Oilers have only had Jay Woodcroft and Todd McLellan for 48 games. I believe continuity plays a major factor on the PP, especially when your key players are on it year after year.

Woodcroft had that in San Jose, and it is likely why the Sharks were always a good PP team.

I don’t expect the Oilers to be first or even top-five on the PP, but their combination of skill and a coaching staff with previous PP success means they should be better than 24th overall.

The Oilers are 23 of 139 (16.5%) this season. If they had four more goals they likely could have four more points and be right on the brink of the playoffs. Four more goals could have resulted in one more win and two OT appearances.

Four more goals would make them 27 of 139 and a very respectable 19.4%, which would rank 11th in the NHL. I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect this group to have produced four more goals on the man advantage.

Here is how they have ranked on the PP over the past four seasons:

2012: 2nd overall. 54 of 262 for 20.6%

2013: 9th at 33 of 169 for 19.5%

2014: 20th at 45 of 271 for 16.6%

2015: 18th at 41 of 232 for 17.7%

They have had more success in the past, which is why I believe the PP is the area they have underachieved the most at this year.

You also shouldn’t just blame Justin Schultz’s presence (and his lack of a heavy shot) on the PP as the reason for the struggles. When the Oilers were 9th in 2013 he had the most PP TOI and was tied for the team lead in PP points with 15.

It is possible to have a successful PP without a booming shot.

The players and Woodcroft need to improve the PP, and I believe one small tweak should be encouraging the players to enter the zone on the side they want to set up on. It puts them in position quicker and allows them to maximize the advantage of having an extra skater on the ice.

LINEUPS…

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McLellan switched up the lines again at practice this morning. Rob Klinkhammer, who was recalled yesterday, will start the game with Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle. Matt Hendricks moves back to the wing beside Anton Lander and Nail Yakupov. I’m sure we could see Yakupov and Klinkhammer switch spots at some point, and it is very likely that McLellan mixes lines and plays the players he feels are playing the best.

Oilers lineup courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com

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Stars lineup courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com

QUICK HITS…

  • Anders Nilsson has allowed 29 goals in his last seven games dating back to December 9th. He has only stopped 173 of 202 shots for an ugly .856 sv%. Meanwhile, Cam Talbot has started 13 games since December 14th allowing 25 goals  and stopping 384 of 409 shots for a .939 sv%.

    They have played behind the same team, yet Nilsson’s sv% is .073 lower. That is a massive difference and because of it I don’t see Nilsson playing very much the rest of the season. Talbot will start tonight and Saturday versus Nashville and when the Oilers return from their 10-day All Star break they will have 32 games remaining.

    The play 14 games in February, 15 in March and three in April. They have three back-to-back sets on February 6th/7th in Montreal and Brooklyn, February 25th/26th in Los Angeles and Anaheim, and March 3rd/4th in Philadelphia and Columbus. Unless Talbot’s play falls of a cliff, the only likely games to play Nilsson would be during those back-to-back sets.

    But there are two other options. McLellan could play Talbot both games. Talbot was the Rangers starter for two months last year when Henrik Lundqvist was injured, and on three different occasions he played both ends of BTB games. He went 2-0-1 in those games and his sv% in the first games was a combined .927%, but his SV% improved to .934% on the second night.

    The other option is they could switch Nilsson with AHL starter Laurent Brossoit for the weekend. The Oilers could send Nilsson down on February 3rd and recall Brossoit and let him start in Montreal, meanwhile Nilsson could play two games that weekend for Bakersfield. This works because Nilsson does not require waivers.

    It would be even easier to make that switch in late February while the Oilers are in California playing the Kings and Ducks, because Bakersfield is so close the travel would be very easy. It would give Brossoit a few NHL games, but also give Nilsson an opportunity to fine-tune his game against AHL shooters.

    I wouldn’t switch Nilsson for Brossoit now, because Talbot is playing great. it makes little sense to have Brossoit sit on the bench every second night in the NHL instead of playing regularly in Bakersfield, but I would strongly consider switching them out for a weekend to give them both a look in a different league.

  • Andrew Ference will undergo hip surgery and is done for the season. This could impact the Oilers’ salary cap next year. If Ference isn’t healthy by the June buyout period, the Oilers can’t buy him out. It is something to monitor.
  • Mark Letestu’s path to the NHL is very rare. He is excited and nervous about his upcoming special night where they will honour his hockey achievements.
  • The Oilers’ PP is 4 for 35 over the last 16 games. They haven’t scored a PP goal in 13 of those 16 games. It needs to get going. 

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From Defending Big D

On paper the Stars have been strong at home of late, winning nine of their last eleven. The reality is that they’ve played at home twice in the last twenty days and lost the last one to the Minnesota Wild in a stagnant affair. They’ve scored two goals in their last two home games. Total.

Their challenge tonight comes in the form of the Edmonton Oilers, whose fortunes have been comparatively better of late. Edmonton has recorded points in four of their last five games, including an impressive road win at Florida against Jaromir Jagr and his streaking gang.

Still, winning on the road is a rarity for this bunch, and they’ve just one in their last nine outings away from Rexall. Tuesday they suffered a 6-4 loss in Tampa in which they went 0-for-4 on the power play.

TONIGHT….

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GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Stars have struggled in 2016. They have lost seven of eight including their last four. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are in a mini slump with four and three points respectively in January. Oilers and Stars go to OT and the Stars win 3-2.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Benn and Seguin combine for a first period goal.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Matt Hendricks scores his first goal since December 2nd and his first career goal versus the Dallas Stars.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

THE NATION SKI TRIP

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This is going to be the event of the year and we’re inviting you and all of your scandalous buddies to join us. If I was to make a recommendation I would suggest that you don’t wait to buy your tickets. This event will sell quickly, and procrastination will do nothing but leave you missing out on a hell of a party.

Tickets are available here.