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Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Fixing the Power Play

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.

SHOT QUALITY

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.

MORE TRAFFIC

Nov 24, 2017; Buffalo, NY, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Milan Lucic (27) against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Buffalo beats Edmonton 3 to 1. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

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

Dec 29, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Oscar Klefbom (77) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

  • Sammy27

    With the skill and creativity we have on this squad we should have arguably one of the top power plays in the league. Part player adjustment part coaching, please make it happen.

        • That's My Point

          I’m putting the bad start to the season on playing Yamamoto for 9 games.
          How many did the Oilers win??
          Couldn’t recover once they were in the hole.
          Minimoto should go back to the AHL or trade him, IMO a draft pick that shouldn’t have happened.

          • toprightcorner

            So you will put the blame on one 18 year old for the bad start to last years season but you think another 18 year old will be the saviour of the PP?? I think you need to tighten your screws a bit my friend

          • That's My Point

            Bouchard is 6″ taller and 50 lbs heavier and “the MOST NHL ready” from the scouts at the NHL draft this year.
            Yama, too small and not so much ready, if he ever will be.
            YUUUGE difference!!!

      • Bills Bills

        If the Oilers have learned anything, it should be that Bouchard belongs with the Knights who truly know how to develop players. Their track record is great and they are going to have a stacked team with Bouchard, Boqvist and Tkachuk. He needs to go back to junior.

          • Bills Bills

            London has a great track record and potentially a mem cup caliber team. The smart play is that all of these teenagers are back in the OHL and dominating. Honing their skills and preparing to be solid contributors to their NHL teams.

  • Natejax97

    I would like to see the power play ran off from the left side of the ice…being that Draisaitl and Klefbom are left hand shooters. Run Mcdavid off the left half wall instead of the right and set up one timers and cross seams to those 2 guys on their off wings. This changes when we have a right handed pivot and backdoor one timer guy…but if we have to dance with the one we brought, then move the setup over.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    Didn’t we have one of the best PP’s the season before? Let’s call it “the play-off year” for all intents & purposes.
    Weren’t the Oiler’s (for most of the season) 10th in total points, in the NHL standings?
    I think we have to ask ourselves what happened all of a sudden…? To my eye, these changes came so quick.
    How do you become one of the fastest teams, with the best PP, holding down 10th overall & just missing the conference finals (by a bad call in game 7). To,… the worst PK in league history, the worst PP in the NHL & fighting to make the 80 point mark on the year? How do we go from being one of the fastest teams in the league to one of the slowest. How does Lucic score 33 points before Xmas to 8 after?
    I think that these sudden changes are reflective of a stubborn coaching staff, trying to change what might be working (or whatever). I have to believe that the coaching changes alone will make this team as instantly beeter, as it instantly sucked last year… (see what I did their Baggedmilk?)…
    I anticipate great things this season. I’m excited….

    • OriginalPouzar

      Such a common misconception.

      While it was very bad (and close to historically bad at times), the PK was not historically bad for the season. It didn’t even finish last in the league, coming in at 25th after being the top PK in the league from February 1 through the end of the year.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        It was worst in league history at one point last year, I want to say about 1/2 way through…
        Listen, my glass is half full, but it was shocking to go from “the play-off season” & be around 10th in the standings,… to start the year like the Oilers did last season. That was enough, they better get a better start this year. I believe the Coaches will help with that?

        • OriginalPouzar

          Drake and Letestu were replaced by Strome and Khaira and McLellan took over running the PK from Jimmy Johnson and reverted to a more traditional box style of penalty killing. I can’t say exactly why the PK was better but can just provide the facts.

    • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

      1. It was 5th best in 2016-17
      2. It was bad calls in Games 4 and 5
      3. Lucic I chalk up to his pregnant wife. Not putting the blame on her, but when you’re wife is expecting it weighs down on you.

      Otherwise agree with everything else

  • Firstly, they can’t be so static with the man advantage. Too often, last year, they just kinda stood around and waited for Connor to make a play rather than moving around and giving him options. Adding a little movement would go a long way.

    • OriginalPouzar

      That is where Viverios comes in and is likely to be a massive addition to the team. He is already breaking down PP film and is known for innovative structure and motion on the PP.

  • 18% body fat

    get caggulia of special teams, than they will be back in the top 3rd. how does a medicore player get top pp minutes when he is a 5th left handed shot, as opposed to strome or JP who are right handed and know for having a good shot.

    • OriginalPouzar

      Caggulia is not good on the PP and even worse on the PK.

      Caggulia has the potential to forge a career as a 4th line energy player but he needs to develop a better defensive game in order to do so. Also, in a perfect world, you want that type of player to kill penalties – Drake is terrible on the PK.

      The PK became the tops in the league (from February 1 on) once McLellan took over and Caggulia and Letestu were essentially replaced with Khaira and Strome.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Caggs works hard,… not to take anything away from Strome or JP, or anyone else for that matter. I don’t disagree with you,… But it seemed that Todd awarded hard work over logic at several points since he has been here?
      I’m not saying I know better, just???

  • OriginalPouzar

    I don’t think a discussion on the Oilers PP for this coming season can be honestly had without mentioning Manny Viverios and his potential effect on the PP.

    He is known as a very good offensive mind and last year he led Swift Current to the best powerplay in the WHL clicking at smidgen under 30%.

    From accounts Viverios is already breaking down film and working on power play strategy and he is know of innovative PP techniques and player and puck movement on the PP.

    I do think that both Yawney and Viverios have the potential to be massive additions to this team.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Well said. I think getting the coaching additions that we did = getting a top tier forward, at least. If not more…
      I’m excited that the Oilers players will be coached to their potential now… We’ve all seen flashes of it, but now it’ll shine, I’m convinced.

  • Chris Prongers Rake

    I thought I heard, possibly between periods from a western GM, that if Connor would shoot more on the power play, the pp would be better, you’re thinking “Well Duh…!” but I think there is validation to that statement. He is such a pass first guy, if he would walk of the boards, and fire, pucks would go in. Maybe also use him like Washington uses Ovie from the off wing, with Draisaitl feeding him, something that gives teams different looks. Also, just get pucks through, create traffic and bang in ugly goals because it doesn’t matter how, just how many because with the talent they do have they shouldn’t be last.

  • Stack Pad Save

    This might be unpopular, but I think they should run the PP through Nugent-Hopkins and use McDavid as the finisher on the opposite side, with Draisaitl down low.

    Have Klefbom on the point and who ever in front of the net.

    I think Nuge works best as the set up and this allows Connor to slide around and find open ice and keeps Draistle in a great position for some garbage goals, backdoormtaps and work the puck behind the net.

  • KrushG

    The key seems to be distracting the Goalie. Usually, it seems to be done with a big player standing in front. I remember Glen Anderson being excellent at skating in front of the goalie as shots were being fired at the net. He distracted the goalie. If a player or two converged on the net when a shot was being fired, I would think it would be difficult for the defensemen to defend against and the Goalie would be distracted. I can see Khaira or Kassian or even Yamamoto being good at this.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    My biggest pet peeve with the powerplay last year was there seemed to be this effort by TM and the guys to stick players into positions on the PP that they had trouble in and leaving them there along with the seemingly weird mantra of this power play runs like this and we will not deviate from it when it isnt working. Like moving driasaitl to the off side than where he had most of his success and then the no one standing in front of the net where it just allowed the goalie to see everything. I couldn’t fathom some of the steadfastness to do thing with the PP that were not working and staying with it.like why? If it isn’t working half way into the season, then it’s damn time to change it.

    The PK was also baffling, having on guy up front skating all over hell chasing around the puck carrier was an abysmal failure, but yet the oil stuck with it which was a head scratcher. The other thing I found odd is that the oil was hardly ever pressure the puck carrier, there seemed to be this lets sit way back deep and see what the other team will do for the full two minutes. Countless times I was wondering why the oilers coaching staff seemed unwilling to go back to the very basic of the penalty kill when their PK clearly wasnt working and the same with the use of PK personnel and not changing out guys that just were not getting it done. It drove me crazy watching it, I cant even recall how many curse words I used last season watching the PK and pp stick with the same formula over and over and over again when it wasn’t working. The thing that worries me is that it is the assistants running those two groups, but yet it seemed like TM either had no say in changes to it or it was TM who was the brain trust of those systems and would not change it. We dont know who was really calling the shots but the fact that it never really got changed till the season was almost over was troubling to see.

    I sure hope the Oilers can do better on both the PK and PP fronts this year.

  • wiseguy

    A power play needs more than just elite forwards like the Oilers have. Everyone keeps saying they’re shocked that it was the worst with McDavid and Drai on it. A pp needs more than 2 great players. I’m more shocked at the Ducks being 2nd worst with Rakell, Getzlaf, Perry and Henrique up front and Lindholm, Manson and Fowler on the blue line. Clearly a pp is more than the sum of the parts.

  • OilCan2

    I fully expect the D to come up big for the power play. Kelfbom looks healthy and hopefully the same can be said for Sekera. Nurse and Larsson both have growth potential for offence. Bouchard could be a very efficient howitzer from the right on PP2. The new PP coach will also have an interesting group of talent on PP2. For example Aberg or Yamamoto or Khiara or Marody could click in with some goals. I also like the idea of Connor on the Left Half Wall.

  • Ted

    Let us also understand that we had the fewest powerplay opportunities. That’s due to the lack of aggression with the puck, allowing for a zebra to actually make the call. With more determination will come calls and more chances. I have all the Faith in Manny to create a new look PP to threaten on both units. BOOM

  • The one glaring stat you totally missed was that the Oilers were on the powerplay FAR less than any other team–meaning they drew the least amount of penalties. If there is more PP time, along with your aforementioned AND pace of play as Gulutzan describes, then there should be improvement in goals scored, games won, and player confidence (see Milan Lucic).

    Increasing the pace and quickness (see Vegas) begets more drawn penalties.
    More powerplay time begets more goals.
    More goals begets more wins.
    More wins begets more confidence.