There’s a long list of areas that the Oilers need to improve next season if they want to compete for a playoff spot and a successful powerplay is close to the top of that list.
When you’re a team that can throw Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on your top unit, and still have Ryan Nugent-Hopkins laying around to run the second unit, there is really no excuse to not a have a top ten powerplay.
That didn’t happen last year as the Oilers finished dead last in powerplay percentage at just 14.8%, scoring 7 fewer goals than the 30th place Anaheim Ducks. They were also dead last in powerplay opportunities, which is just criminal when you consider that they have Connor McDavid on their team. I’m not going to focus on that because it still makes me mad.
After looking through the numbers, I found that their problem wasn’t generating shots or shot attempts. They actually ranked 12th in Corsi For/60 and 14th in Shots/60. There’s room for improvement, but they did a decent job directing pucks towards the net.
I also found that the Oilers were dead last in shooting percentage at just 9.14% while the league average was 12.93. If the Oilers would have had just an average shooting percentage, with the same amount of shots generated, they would have ended up with 44 goals. That number would have bumped them from 31st to 23rd. That’s a big jump and likely would have helped them win more than a few extra games.
With those numbers being considered, everyone can agree the Oilers need more than just some shooting luck to bring their powerplay back to an elite level like it was in 2016-17 when it finished 5th in the league and scored 56 times.
Here are three ways that I think the Oilers powerplay can get back to its former self.
I already explained that the Oilers never really had a problem shooting the puck, the problem is a matter of where they were shooting the puck from. Just over 50% of their actual shot attempts were considered scoring chances. That’s simply not going to cut it.
When Connor McDavid is walking off the half wall, it shouldn’t be all on him to seam a pass to a stationary teammate. If the group in front of him stays in motion it forces the oppositions penalty killers to move as well, which will open up more lanes for whoever has the puck.
The team was static and their offensive zone attack didn’t have much urgency. If that changes, they’ll create more high danger scoring chances.
This is more or less me calling out Milan Lucic, but whether it was him or Patrick Maroon last year, they simply didn’t do a good enough job making life difficult for both the opposition’s goaltender and their defensemen.
I don’t have access to any video to go back and review the 356 minutes that the Oilers spent on the powerplay but I remember seeing it enough to make it a point. I would see Lucic perfectly positioned in front of the net and then as a shot was being taken, he would pivot off to the side to try and deflect it rather than stay in front as a screen. Even if he gets a piece of the puck, the goalie is usually in a good enough position to just swallow it up.
I already explained above that the Oilers problem wasn’t the number of shots they were getting, but the quality of those shots. If the team is going to be taking shots from the blueline or top of the circles, there needs to be better traffic in front and that falls of Milan Lucic, or whoever is tasked with going to the front of the net on the team’s powerplay units.
While I’m at it, I’ll also add that I would love to see Jujhar Khaira get a crack on the top powerplay unit. His hands are decent and allow him to finish off chances in tight. He might be motivated if he gets a legit chance and I think his effectiveness there could surprise some people.
HELP FROM THE BLUELINE
This is especially aimed at the teams top unit, which became far too predictable last year. McDavid would either dish it down low to Leon Draisaitl or walk off the half wall and try to find a backdoor option.
Teams could swarm McDavid with their PK coverage because there weren’t a lot of other threats. There are a few options to step forward on the Oilers blueline. Oscar Klefbom could return back to his 2016/17 form, Andrej Sekera could shake his reputation as the “shin-pad assassin” (s/o to Jason Gregor), or one of Ethan Bear or Evan Bouchard could take MASSIVE leaps forward.
I’ll say it’s most likely that Oscar Klefbom returns to the same player we saw two seasons ago when his offensive numbers were some of the best in the NHL.
The most important thing he has to do is establish a strong point shot. If Klefbom is unleashing hard, effective shots from the point it will force the opposition to respect him a little more and create more room for Connor McDavid.
All three of the points I made are all kind of connected. The team needs to do a better job of creating quality scoring chances, they’ll get more scoring chances if they diversify their attack and those high danger shots will find the back of the net more often if they can create more chaos in front of the opposition’s goalie.
The new coaching staff will definitely give this teams powerplay a fresh look, and a little bit of better puck luck will help increase their numbers as well.
This team has the potential to create an elite powerplay and having things come together with the man advantage will go a long way in propelling them to a playoff finish.