I don’t want to sound too alarmist, but everybody involved with the Oilers power play should be exiled to Romania where they will live in relative obscurity until eventually history has forgotten them. I’m not naming names – Jay Woodcroft – but the person in charge of this debacle needs to figure this thing out fast.
The Oilers are currently 4/29 on the power play this season. That’s a 13.8% efficiency, which ranks them 20th in the NHL. Unfortunately, since the Oilers beat the Flames down in two straight games where Calgary did not look ready to compete, the power play has gone 1/19 for 5.3%. It goes without saying, but I will anyway, that this is just not good enough.
My problem with Woodcroft’s brutal power play is that I can’t tell for the life of me if there’s a plan at all. I mean, it’s basically McJesus Take The Wheel out there. They can’t break out of their own zone, they set up in position before gaining possession, and the threat from the point is not going to be respected until someone from this defensive top six steps up.
These struggles are going to cost the Oilers games and are an invitation to other clubs to take liberties on their star players. If you aren’t making teams pay when you have the man-advantage then it’s pretty difficult to win. It’s a 3-2 league and getting three 5v5 goals per game is a lot to expect on a nightly basis.
What we saw against the Leafs, and have seen many times this season already, is that referees will not call every infraction against Connor McDavid. He won’t draw five penalties a game even though the rulebook called to NHL standards probably dictate that he should. His speed is so unprecedented that defenders just have to hold on. Kadri was draped all over McDavid for 12 seconds in OT and there’s probably a holding call there, but refs aren’t going to call it.
If the Oilers aren’t going to punish teams by scoring on the power plays when the refs DO call those penalties, then it just empowers the opposition to keep obstructing McDavid. It’s as simple as that. There is no number of Milan Lucic’s you can add to the team that will deter clubs from crossing the line with McDavid more than a lethal power play.
What’s most frustrating is that the Oilers with McDavid, Eberle, Lucic, Nugent-Hopkins, and Draisaitl should have more than enough ability up front to run a highly successful power play. Of course, they still lack that player on the blueline who can keep penalty killers honest. Or, at least, the players they’ve tried haven’t been able to get that job done.
The only two defenders with significant time on the PP this season have been Klefbom and Sekera. They’ve averaged more than two minutes per game on the man-advantage, while nobody else has more than 19 seconds per game. Given how brutal the Oiler attack has been on the PP, this is one area where some experimentation might pay dividends.
The first player I would be interested in seeing on the PP who hasn’t spent much time there is Darnell Nurse. So far he’s averaging just five seconds per game on the power play. That’s essentially what it looks like to be thrown over the boards expecting time to run out right away. He’s the highest scoring Oiler defender after one month, and the only one to have actually scored a goal.
One of the things I’ve liked most about Nurse early on has been his ability to skate the puck out of his own zone and move the puck up to the forwards. WheatNOil over at The OilersRig is tracking things like zone exits, zone defense, and puck retrievals. Nurse has been quite good at getting the puck out of his zone with his feet and turning that into controlled zone entries for the Oilers. It’s a skillset that the Oiler power play could use. Darnell Nurse also happens to lead the (regular) Oiler blueline in Corsi For percentage with 50.9% this season. If there’s a knock on those numbers it seems as though McDavid is driving them a lot (64.5% with him, 46.0% without him), but that’s not really a major concern on the power play. Honestly, if there’s evidence that he and McDavid perform well together then I’ll take it as a positive for the purpose of putting together a five man PP unit.
Ultimately, what they’ve been trying just hasn’t been working. This club needs to get better on the power play. The coaching staff has a significant impact on special teams. Woodcroft and McLellan need to get this ship turned around. Put the lines in the MacBlender, get new faces on the point. Just do something.