The Edmonton Oilers really weren’t that good on the power play in 2015-16. This should not have been a total surprise to fans of the team, as the club has often not been good on the power play in recent years, but the struggles on the man advantage were a sore point all year.
What worked, and what didn’t work, on the man advantage this season?
I’ve taken the liberty of dividing the Oilers’ season into four quarters in light of general manager Peter Chiarelli’s arguments Sunday that the club had improved over the course of the year:
- Games 1-20: 13-for-66, 0 shorthanded goals against (19.7% efficiency/19.7% adj. efficiency)
- Games 21-41: 7-for-57, 2 shorthanded goals against (12.3% efficiency/8.8% adj. efficiency)
- Games 42-61: 12-for-57, 2 shorthanded goals against (21.1% efficiency/17.5% adj. efficiency)
- Games 61-82: 11-for-57, 2 shorthanded goals against (19.3% efficiency/15.8% adj. efficiency)
“Efficiency” is raw effectiveness; adjusted efficiency is the same but docks the team one goal for each shorthanded marker against. Edmonton started the year well, crumpled after losing Connor McDavid and then rallied in the back half of the season.
Over the season as a whole the Oilers ranked 16th in the league by Corsi/hour, 18th by shots/hour and 21st by goals per hour. They were basically average at taking shots, just a touch worse than average at getting them through and just a touch worse than that at scoring on the ones that made it to the goalie.
The chart above shows some selected statistics for individual Oilers. For each player, I’ve shown which way he shoots, how much ice-time he got this year and how many points/hour he scored this year and over the last four years. The last three columns are a little different: team shots per hour with the player on the ice, his total number of shots per hour, and his total number of high-danger scoring chances per hour. A “—” indicates the player didn’t have much opportunity on the power play this year for Edmonton.
I’ll be using that as a reference point, but we’ll look at these players one by one.
Let’s start with the five players on this list whose primary role on the power play is in front of the net: Lauri Korpikoski, Benoit Pouliot, Anton Lander, Patrick Maroon and Zack Kassian.
We can dismiss three names off the bat. The coaching staff couldn’t make Lander work offensively at evens or on the power play this year; I doubt we’ll see him again in any kind of offensive role if at all in Edmonton. Anyone who thinks size is all that matters for the role—or even the decisive factor—should look at Maroon and Kassian, who have been sub-Lander on the power play over their respective careers.
Pouliot had a reasonably good year in the role. Net-front guys typically don’t pile up the points compared to other positions and Pouliot had strong scoring totals in the role, particularly for being on the Oilers. Also worth noting: virtually every shot he took met the war-on-ice definition of a “high-danger chance.” In my view he’s a good second unit option and passable on the first unit in this defined role.
I’m going to say a lot of mean things about Korpikoski later in this series, but not here. Of the qualities he brings as an NHL player, his work within 10 feet of the net probably ranks as the No. 1 reason to keep him on a major-league roster, and that’s a skillset which translates well to the powerplay. Five of his six goals in 2014-15 came in just over an hour of work on the man advantage. It’s a shame he wasn’t used more in a power play specialist role in 2015-16. There’s a sample size caveat (he’s generally been a power play part-timer) but the results are impressive.
Neither of Edmonton’s remaining regular power play defencemen—Andrej Sekera and Oscar Klefbom—was anything to write home about. Sekera, to his credit, shoots the puck (nobody on the list put more shots on net, which may help explain why Edmonton wasn’t great at converting shots to goals this year) but his scoring number over the past four seasons is about average for a second unit power play defenceman. Klefbom’s sample isn’t as big, so he might be better, but he comes in at the same range. The conventional view that the Oilers could use an offensive specialist on the blue line fits with the numbers here.
We should also give some consideration to handedness, which matters on the power play. It’s nice to have multiple right-shooting triggermen for a left-shooting playmaker like Connor McDavid or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; it allows for multiple one-time options. Instead of having two or three righties per passer (a luxury few if any teams have) Edmonton has two for both of its power play units: Jordan Eberle and Mark Letestu.
Letestu is arguably better in the role. Despite being a second unit man this year and for most of his career, he scores at virtually an identical rate to Eberle, and generates the same number of high-danger chances on fewer actual shots. Both players have value on the power play, though, and decent numbers on the year.
That leaves a list of five left-handed forwards to round out the power play crew. We’ll take them in reverse order.
Leon Draisaitl was absolutely wretched on the power play this year. He played mostly first unit minutes and when he was out there he didn’t really shoot, didn’t really pick up points and the power play as a whole didn’t get shots either.
Nail Yakupov had better scoring rates but was arguably even worse. He wasn’t a dangerous shooter and the power play as a whole fell to just 40 shots per hour when he was on the ice.
Taylor Hall got a lot of shots away, but didn’t fire too many dangerous ones and had a tough year. He’s historically not an especially good power play scorer in Edmonton, which is probably due to a combination of individual and team faults. Worth noting: He had one goal and three points on the power play over the season’s final 50 games after putting up three goals and eight points in the first 32 contests of the year. That fall-off is beyond the scope of this piece but is probably worth circling back to at some point.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a pretty good playmaker and since arriving in Edmonton has been the heart of the Oilers’ power play. He’s a good left-shooting playmaker who has consistently been the team’s most productive scorer on the man advantage. His only problem is that he’s now competing for the same job on the power play as Connor McDavid.
Finally, the best for last. McDavid is a wizard. Don’t believe me? When he’s on the ice, Edmonton’s power play fires 63 shots per hour. When he isn’t on the ice, Edmonton’s power play fires 45 shots per hour. That’s insane. His scoring number is frankly off the charts and virtually every shot he takes meets the war-on-ice definition of high-danger scoring chance.
First, a general rule: It’s important to judge players on specific situational contributions, rather than on overall impressions of talent. Some guys score on the power play, other guys score at evens; the skills required are subtly different in each case and being good or bad in one discipline does not necessarily mean being good or bad in the other. In the Oilers case, Hall’s 5-on-5 brilliance doesn’t always translate, while bit players like Korpikoski and Letestu are fully deserving of man advantage minutes.
Finally, some TL;DR specific observations:
- There is a need for an offensive defenceman at the point, as both Sekera and Klefbom appear better-suited to second-unit work.
- More right-handed shots would make the job of the coaching staff easier. Letestu has been excellent both this year and over his career and the coaches should absolutely keep using him in the role; Eberle’s good too though perhaps not the ideal triggerman for McDavid.
- If Korpikoski stays, he should absolutely be used in a net-front role. Pouliot’s good at the job too, while behemoths Maroon and Kassian have historically been poor options.
- At times, the power play clicked with four left shooters working on one side of the ice and a single right shot as a back door option. Among left-shooting possibilities, Nugent-Hopkins has been good, Hall’s been okay historically but slumped badly over the course of the year, and neither Draisaitl nor Yakupov was at all effective on the man advantage. The latter two either need to be utilized differently or dumped from the unit.
- McDavid is insanely good at this and elevates the entire unit he plays on. He’s such a difference-maker, in fact, that if he can handle it the coaches should probably run him for a full two minutes whenever possible.