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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – What’s changed with the Oilers’ penalty kill?

With another round of practice retirement in the books, we’re all back at work looking for ways to kill time until we can go home again. As always, the Mailbag is here to not only help you get to quitting time a little bit faster but to also teach you a little something. Free, time-wasting learning? Gotta like that. As always, I need questions and if there’s something you’d like to ask, email it to me at baggedmilk@oilersnation.com or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk. Have a good week, everyone.

Mar 1, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Ethan Bear (74) tries to block a shot by Nashville Predators forward Colton Sissons (10) during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

1) Brady asks – I know it’s still early but what have been your thoughts about Ethan Bear’s first few NHL games?

Jason Gregor:

He hasn’t looked out of place. His ability to hit players in stride on long outlet passes is very impressive, but I want to caution those who think he should be a lock in the opening night roster next year. It is okay to have him keep developing in the AHL. The only way he plays here is if he can put up big PP numbers, and then you can play him at EV in the third pair. But he has to crush it on the PP or I play him first pair minutes in every situation in the AHL. His defensive zone play is the area he needs to improve the most.

Robin Brownlee:

Poised with the puck and has good instincts. As you’d expect, needs to work on defensive positioning and to resist the urge to chase the play rather than let it come to him. Darnell Nurse was a good example of that in his first couple of seasons and that’s out of his game, for the most part, now.

Matt Henderson:

I’m a big fan of what he brings offensively. He isn’t afraid of the puck, even in the early days of his NHL career. I think he makes a solid first pass and he isn’t just hammering bombs from the point, he’s trying to find players. I’m excited about his future.

Cam Lewis:

He’s shown excellent confidence with the puck in the offensive zone. He handles it around the blueline like, well, not a rookie, and might honestly already be their best point catalyst right now on the power play. That said, his defensive game has been somewhat of a yard sale, but that’s something you expect from not only an NHL rookie but a first-year professional.

Chris the Intern:

I think he has a lot of work to do but for a rookie, I think he’s made a very good impression. He’s actually been the top guy of the power play and loves to shoot the puck. A little bit sloppy in his own end but for the circumstance of the season I’m happy he’s getting ice time and I’m happy with how he’s performed.

Baggedmilk:

I think he keeps getting better and better and it’s great to see. I still hope the Oilers take their time with him because he looks like he could be a player. The organization needs to give the guy the time he needs to polish his game a little bit more rather than throwing him to the fire like they’ve done so many times before.

Nov 28, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) celebrates his overtime goal against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

2) Alex asks – Love seeing RNH and McDavid together and it seems like they are building some excellent chemistry. What do you think of this pair so far and do you believe that they will be kept together?

Jason Gregor:

No issues with them. I expect they will start finishing off more of the quality chances they have created. I’d keep them together for the remainder of the season.

Robin Brownlee:

They’re fine together. They’re both smart players who can read off each other in rush and cycle situations. I think they should play together moving forward but I can’t say if that will happen.

Matt Henderson:

I think that pair will stay together for a while. I mean, at least until Chia trades Nuge for Cody Ceci and a third round pick in 2078. RNH is a really smart player with good hands and the legs to keep up with McDavid. Until McLellan inevitably goes back to McDavid & Draisaitl, playing Nuge at the wing keeps the talent level of the first line high enough to overcome Aberg, Caggiula, or Rattie as the third wheel.

Cam Lewis:

It’s great to see but it’s much, much more important what happens on the second and third lines than what happens on the McDavid line. A corpse could score goals playing with McDavid and you only need to stack his line when you’re down in the third period. Otherwise, it’s best to spread the love around. Maybe the pair we need to try is Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins then the Oilers can have a potent depth attack.

Chris the Intern:

Todd better not be tempting us with the McNuge line and separate them next year! We’ve been calling for Nuge and Connor to be playing together for a long long time and it has finally happened. I couldn’t be more happy with the result. The two seem to have great chemistry and always find each other on the ice. The fact that they scored a goal in the very first seconds of being on the same line proves that greatness is to come!

Baggedmilk:

They’re magic. I mean, who would have ever predicted that two of the smartest players on the team would work well together? Oh, everyone thought that? Cool. The results are pretty much what I expected and I hope that they’re never split up ever again.

Feb 22, 2017; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers center Vincent Trocheck (21) checked by Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brandon Davidson (88) as goalie Cam Talbot (33) looks for the puck is in the third period at BB&T Center. The Oilers won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

3) Brandon asks – The Oilers’ penalty kill has improved over the last month or so and I’d like to know what the panel sees that they’re doing differently?

Jason Gregor:

They have changed personnel up front, and the forwards aren’t allowing the cross seam passes nearly as often. I also find they are attacking the puck carrier more, and they have abandoned that terrible “I” formation with the two forwards in a straight line. In the past 16 games (prior to Tampa), Edmonton was 91.2%, killing off 43 of 47. In those 16 games Draisaitl and Strome have become the second and third most used forwards. In the first 54 games they were eighth and ninth overall among forwards in SH TOI. Adding those two has helped immensely.

Robin Brownlee:

Check Cam Talbot’s save percentage on the PK over the same period. I think it starts there. Not getting beaten by passes through the box nearly as much either.

Matt Henderson:

I don’t see the letter “L” when they try to kill penalties. Probably that.

Cam Lewis:

They’re moving around a lot more and playing more aggressively. Maybe they did some soul searching as to why their power play was so bad and watched how all the other teams in the league were buzzing around and doing well on the penalty kill.

Chris the Intern:

Did they get rid of the horizontal line strategy? I think they got rid of the horizontal line strategy. I’d like to also think the team has loosened up a little bit without the pressure of having to make the playoffs.

Baggedmilk:

One thing I’ve noticed is that they’ve gone back to the box formation more so than that weird ‘T’ thing they were trying for a while. Also, and most importantly, Cam Talbot is making the saves they need him to make.

Sep 18, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left wing Drake Caggiula (91) against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Edmonton Oilers won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

4) Don asks – Every year the NHL lines up to sign free agents from the NCAA,  but it seems like any signings from USports is out of the ordinary and as a long shot non-drafted free agent.   The Golden Bears had another great year,  but chances of any of their players making it to the NHL is slim. My question is – “Is NCAA hockey that much better than USports and if it is,  how do we improve University Hockey in Canada?”

Jason Gregor:

It isn’t better, but most USports players who graduate are 24 years of age or older. Many of the NCAA players are 21 or 22 and scouts feel they have more room to grow. The NCAA players are often smaller players, who were later developers, while the Usport players were elite in the WHL, then came to the USports and scouts watched them in junior and I wonder if they already scouted them and don’t think they are growing much as players. I think NHL teams undervalue Usports and many of these NCAA free agents get opportunities that USports elite players don’t receive.

Robin Brownlee:

I don’t know that NHL teams line up to sign free agents. As for U.S. schools, there’s a lot more of them and a lot more players feeding those programs than in Canada. At the very top end, I think the best Canadian programs match up very well, but there’s no way this country can compete in terms of depth and numbers of the really good programs.

Matt Henderson:

The Canadian University system has plenty of talent, but for NHL teams, how many of those players are seen as having had their chance in pro-style hockey? The University of Alberta has plenty of players who were scorers in the WHL. The NCAA’s players (barring strange circumstances) weren’t in the CHL and have developed through a different system.

Cam Lewis:

It’s about age and high-quality talent. There are generally deeper and stronger teams in the CIS but they’re filled with guys in their mid-20s. These are also players who spent their maximum amount of time in the CHL so they’d been passed over many times. In the NCAA, while you don’t have the volume of good mid-20s depth, you have more star players coming out of a program at the age of 22 who ultimately played the long game.

Chris the Intern:

I know for a fact that NCAA is THAT much better than Usports, however, I can’t really answer why. I know the CIS is a bad league compared to the NCAA, and I can only assume it’s because of financial reasons. A lot of young Canadian prospects do take the WHL route though so that would probably have an effect on the amount of highly skilled players in the states.

Baggedmilk:

I assume math has a big part in it? There are a lot of NCAA schools and a lot of players that go in and out of those programs. I also think that we usually hear a lot about the highly touted guys and those are the ones that stick in our minds. The real answer is that I have no idea.

Oct 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Winnipeg Jets won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

5) Riley asks – Do you think there should be more urgency for the Oilers defence to push pucks up the ice immediately after turnovers? There seems to be a lot of “D to D” passes, reverses, or back passes from the forwards, which allows the other team to set-up at their blue line and forces the Oilers into “Dumping and Chasing” with a non-effective fore-check lately.

Jason Gregor:

I have discussed this all year. Early on Larsson and Klefbom went side-to-side far too often. I agree it needs to happen and it is another reason why I would switch out D coach Jim Johnson. That is on the D coach in my books. I’d be working on it regularly in practice. Of course sometimes you have to go D to D, but the Oilers don’t transition the puck up the ice nearly as quickly as they should.

Robin Brownlee:

Depends on the play and where the turnovers occur. Also depends how deep into a shift a turnover occurs — you can’t immediately go to the attack if your forwards are gassed at the end of a shift.

Matt Henderson:

That’s a personnel problem. Some defensemen don’t have the skills to make those plays. It’s a problem but not one that I think the players can change with an attitude adjustment. I think a healthy Klefbom and Sekera next year will make a huge difference.

Cam Lewis:

I think it’s more about having a healthy Klefbom and Sekera given that this wasn’t really an issue in 2016-17.

Chris the Intern:

Absolutely. One thing I don’t think we do well enough is quick puck moving through the neutral zone. There are a lot of cross-ice passes that get intercepted half the time and it makes a really easy game for our opponents.

Baggedmilk:

I get why the d-men move it back and forth to wait for something to set up. The Oilers have been guilty of flying the zone early this year and I think that’s adding even more pressure on the defencemen to make a play. Sending it back and forth just buys them time. Point being that they need a forward option to pass to and they’re not getting it quickly.

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  • 24% body fat

    No caguLLia Lucic or Letestu! Perfect Matt!

    Caggulia is probably the worst player in the league. Rattie, Slep, Aberg, Khaira, JP, Yamo, Kassian, all better than him. No room next year for this scrub.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Part of the resurgance of the PK is directly correlated with:

    1) Caggulia and Letestu being replaced by Strome and Khaira

    2) Talbot finding his form.

    • crabman

      I think having Pakarinen as a more regular on the 4th line and pk has helped quite a bit too. He averages the 4th most pk minutes/game with 1:29/g. And has the 2nd lowest short hand GA/60 out of the 9 forwards that average 0:56 minutes/game on the pk. He is fast forchecks hard and pressures the puck carrier on the pk. I hope they find a place for him as the 12th forward and pk regular next year.

  • camdog

    It didn’t take the Oilers coaching staff long to change their penalty kill formation after Kevin Bieska publicly mocked the “L” formation -something to the effect that it hasn’t worked in over a decade in the NHL. It has to be embarrassing when the entire league is mocking your penalty kill formation.

      • camdog

        In the NHL, players interviews are usually pretty tame, they don’t say much and are respectful of the other team. Generally the only time you’ll hear a player comment on the other teams coaching decisions is if they are running up the score or playing goon hockey. You don’t ever hear a player on another team questioning the coaching on another team.

  • Some early rumours from Forensic audit 2.0
    Glen Anderson is being brought back as a Speed skills coach
    Jari Kurri is being brought back as a Sniper skills coach and translator for poolparty
    Messier has current endorsement deals that need to end but once available will be brought back as elbow to the head skills coach.
    Grant Fuhr as goalie skills coach is a longshot but he is available.

  • Heschultzhescores

    They got aggressive, that simple. Too bad it took them 3/4 of a season to realize you can’t sit in a box anymore. All the coaching staff still need to go. They make blunder after blunder!

  • ubermiguel

    If Nuge gets traded for magic beans my fandom for this team will be irreparably damaged. And yes, I lived through the Gretzky trade, and the 90s where we could never afford to keep our good players.

  • Disappointed

    Interesting answers on the D to D question. Gregow wants the coach fired, Henderson thinks its the personnel, Brownlee gives a politician type answer, but I am with Baggy and think the wingers fly the zone too soon, especially early on in the season.

  • russ99a

    Nuge – McDavid aren’t getting good enough results on the scoreboard, and Nuge should be utilized against the toughs, like Tampa’s first line that walked all over us yesterday.