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The Leftorium: Oilers PP

My son is left-hand dominant. No one in my immediate family is left handed, so who knows how it came to be, but when I noticed he was left-handed I immediately thought of the Leftorium. That was the name of Ned Flanders’ store on The Simpsons.

I never thought much about the challenges left-handed people face when trying to use simple things like scissors until I watched that episode. The Simpsons was always more than just a cartoon. In 1991, the episode “When Flanders Failed” highlighted the need for stores with left-handed accessories. There are big and sometimes small subtle differences being a lefty or a righty in the real world.

The interesting part is that in hockey most players who shoot left are right-hand dominant, mainly because your dominant hand holds the top of the stick. Watch any young child pick up a stick. They will almost always hold the knob with their dominant hand. Of course, not every right-hand dominant player shoots left, but the majority do.

The Edmonton Oilers’ three best forwards shoot left, and don’t be surprised to see Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all on the first unit power play this year. Oscar Klefbom will be the point man, so that leaves one spot open — the net front presence.

And the players best suited to play there also shoot left. Milan Lucic had success there with the Oilers in 2017, Drake Caggiula was very productive in that spot, albeit in limited minutes last season, and I’d guess one of them will start there.

I’m sure some of you are reading this and thinking a lack of a right-handed shot will limit the possibilities. Of course you’d like a right shot on the PP, but it isn’t a must, especially when McDavid is running the PP.

Everything is going to go through him. As it should. He and Draisaitl are two of the most skilled players in the NHL. Draisaitl is one of the top-five forwards on his backhand in the league. Those two are going to run the PP, and McDavid can easily set up on the left wall and create plays. If you believe you need a one-timer option, then McDavid on the left boards will open up Draisaitl for a one-timer on the right side.

Draisaitl likes to shoot from the right dot. We saw it a lot late in the season. He missed the net, narrowly, on some sharp angle shots, and scored on a few others, but he showed the ability to connect on his one-timers regularly, which is the key. But the truth is on the PP, the one-timer is just one option.

Nugent-Hopkins has very good vision, and a sneaky good snapshot. McDavid has spoke openly about how he wants to shoot more. We saw him shoot more at EV in the second half of last season, and I fully expect you will see him shoot more on the PP this year.

It is also important to mention that having only one right-handed shot on the PP won’t guarantee one-timer success from McDavid when he is set up on the left hashmarks.

THIS SEASON…

There are many reasons I expect the Oilers to load up on lefties on the first PP unit.

  • Their three best forwards shoot left. Put your best players together and your odds of PP success will increase.
  • Manny Viveiros is very good at setting up a successful powerplay system. Ultimately it is up to the players, but Viveiros excels at PP formations.
  • You don’t need a “bomb” from the point. High volume shots from the blueline don’t equate to PP success nowadays. Last season Klefbom had 51 shots. In 2017 he had 31. His shot/60 in 2017 was 9.01, but it was 16.81 last year. He shot way more and the PP success plummeted. He has a hard enough shot, and can one-time when needed, that teams will respect his shot, but the Oilers PP needs to get back to having more shots from the four forwards on the ice.
  • Look at shot rates of McDavid, Draisaitl, Lucic and Letestu from 2017 to 2018. McDavid and Letestu’s shot rate was the same, but Lucic and Draisaitl dropped significantly. In 2017, Lucic’s shot/60 on the PP was 13.09, Draisaitl was 13.08. Last season Lucic dipped to 7.89 and Draisaitl was 11.3. The Oilers went away from shots closer to the goal and had Klefbom fire away at almost twice the rate. Remember, he had 31 shots in 82 games in 2017, and had 51 PP shots in only 66 games last season.

The other factor is the 2014/2015 Detroit Red Wings. The Wings’ PP scored 70 goals that season, the most of any team since 2012. Their PP was 23.8%, second best in the NHL, behind the Washington Capitals. They ran five lefties on their first unit, and mainly five lefties on their second unit as well. When they switched guys from the first to the second unit, it was lefty for lefty.

Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Gustav Nyqvist, Nicklas Kronwall and Johan Franzen. Franzen was in front of the net, Kronwall on the point, while Datsyuk and Zetterberg controlled the puck. When Franzen was injured, Justin Abdelkader took his spot, and then Tomas Tatar slotted in when Datsyuk missed 20 games.

The PP TOI illustrated how much their top guys played. Kronwall (257 minutes), Zetterberg (248), Nyqvist (246), Tatar (204), Abdelkader (199) and Datsyuk (180). Riley Sheahan played 189, and also got some time in the first unit.

Running five lefties can be very successful, when the players are good. McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH are all very good on the PP. Klefbom is just as good as Kronwall, and Lucic/Caggiula should be there to create chaos in front of the goal and be good on puck retrievals.

WRAP UP…

The Oilers were excellent at PP zone entries last year and I see no reason that will change with McDavid, RNH or Draisaitl carrying the puck into the zone. Their problem was far too often they were one and done on the PP. They didn’t get nearly as many second chances as they did in 2017.

At times they were too stubborn and believed individuals had to stick in one spot. They don’t have a weapon like Alex Ovechkin who everyone in the NHL knows will set up somewhere on the left side waiting for a one-timer. He is a rare exception. The Oilers PP has to be fluid with a lot of movement. McDavid doesn’t always have to be on the left hashmarks, or Draisaitl on the right dot.

The Oilers have the talent to have a top PP in the NHL, and I expect Viveiros to load up his first unit by adding RNH and then challenging his best players to be creative, flexible in their positioning and be sure they are outworking the penalty kill. We know McDavid and Draisaitl have excellent chemistry together, and I believe RNH and McDavid will benefit on the PP because they are playing together 5×5.

Edmonton had the fifth best PP in 2017 at 22.9%, and their goal should be around 23% again this season. They have the skill, and I like the idea of loading up your top unit with your best players.

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  • Etown

    The Soviet Central Red Army and Moscow Dynamo of the late 70′ and early 80’s never had a right handed shooter on their entire teams. They were both dominant teams back then. Having a right shot to go with all the lefties is overrated.

  • 18% body fat

    Cadullia is a 4th line replacement player. No need for him as a 5th lefty on the pp. There are much much better options that are right and left handed.

  • I’ll maintain that when the top line skates up the ice 5v5, their formation is more like:
    Rattie (RH) – Draisaitl (LH) – McDavid (LH)

    McDangle loves to zoom down the right side as he can use his back to protect the puck more.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      The first I ever heard the importance of RH vs LH shots was from Howie Meeker when I was a kid.
      At that point, no coach or commentator ever mentioned it… Until the 80’s, I remember Bob Johnson (RIP) the Flames coach, was adamant in having the RH/LH shots in the correct places in the offensive zone…
      It’d be interesting to see the mix of RH/LH shots on the Bob Johnson Flames, as he was a stickler for that?

  • CMG30

    I would take issue with the assertion that Klefs shot from the point was sufficient last season. It wasn’t. You could tell that the nagging shoulder injury that eventually cut into his season was affecting both his accuracy and speed of shot. As a result it was not respected by opposing teams.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    I heard it mentioned years ago that “the majority of North American born players are left handed shots & European born players right handed. Not sure if that still holds true? I do remember hearing that though.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Left handedness is a y-linked genetic trait associated with the b-108 gene path, in other words it is a trait inherited directly from the paternal chromatid. Did the Watkins man pay a visit a while back? Jason, sorry to say, you need to have a paternity test.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    I found the Oilers PP last season did not have a one timer threat. The biggest option to create chances 5 on 4 is the ability to find an open man, that can rip a One T. NHL goalies are so big these days, it is almost the only way to beat them laterally.
    I am not opposed to handedness, but the one timer is a must! Once a few one timer threats are available, it opens up the back door seams and cross crease passes, and also creates quality chances off rebounds and/or tips.

    I would love to see 97 walk off the half wall and use the RNH quick release for some shots on goal as well, to keep the other team honest. Today, nobody respects 97 to shoot on the PP (because he rarely does) and cheats on the cross ice pass, and stymies his bread and butter.

      • OilerForLife

        If he proves he play a complete game, sure. Realistically, that may take some time at this level. He will be an NHL D man, but how good may depend on the way his development is handled.