It is clear from my seat that the Oilers management’s handling of assets during the past many seasons is reason number one, two, three (and four and five…) why the Oilers have not been able to ice a competitive team.
Do not confuse that with what I’m about to write. Management has done a terrible job. From the GM to pro scouts to player personnel. Anyone in the organization who was involved in some of the horrific trades of the past four years is guilty, even by association, with the Reinhart, Hall, Eberle, Strome and Caggiula deals. Pretending otherwise is foolish.
But there is one area of the Oilers on-ice play that must improve next season, and right now their best players are the ones struggling in this facet of the game.
The Edmonton Oilers penalty kill has been a disaster for three seasons. Even when they made the playoffs in 2017 the PK struggled.
Over the past 234 games, the Oilers have the second worst PK in the NHL at 77.5%. They had a good first 20 game in 2016/2017, but since December 1st, 2016 (210 games) their PK is dead last at 76.3%.
In those three years, the Oilers have been shorthanded 681 times, 20th most in the NHL. Taking too many penalties isn’t their issue. Allowing too many PP goals is the problem.
Despite being on the PK less often that most teams, Edmonton has allowed the sixth most PP goals — a whopping 153.
Compare that to the Colorado Avalanche who have allowed the most. The Avs have allowed 164 goals, but they’ve been shorthanded 786 times. Colorado has allowed only 11 more goals than the Oilers despite being on the PK 105 more times.
They haven’t found a way to consistently kill off penalties.
One of their major weaknesses is the ability to get the puck out of the zone when they have possession. Last night was a perfect example. Edmonton is leading 2-1 late in the first period. Oscar Klefbom has the puck in the corner, but he doesn’t get it out. The Devils keep it in and seconds later they tie it with only 19 seconds remaining in the period. Momentum shifts to the New Jersey Devils and they dominate the second period and then win the game.
Klefbom isn’t the only culprit. Far from it, but the reality is the Oilers top players are the ones who have killed the most penalties the past three seasons. They’ve had two different head coaches and two different defence coaches. I don’t believe this is a lack of coaching.
They haven’t been consistent enough. They will go four or five games without giving up a PP goal, but then they will allow two or more. It seems to snowball and they can’t recover.
“I don’t think it is a lack of consistency,” said Ken Hitchcock when I asked him about it.
“Since I’ve been here it is the same issues. We don’t win the faceoff and we don’t clear to kill time on the clock. We don’t get the puck 200 feet. When we are killing as much as we are in the zone, Jason, you are going to get burnt. You look at the opportunities with 55 seconds left. That is the sixth time that has happened this year, where we’ve had, at the end of the period, a chance to kill a penalty off and we never got the puck out four times. We never got it down the ice four times and we paid for it again. That has been typical of what’s gone on. When we’ve been good we’ve done it, and when we haven’t we’ve paid an awful price for it. Tonight we paid for it big time.
“That goal was a momentum changer. It hurt us a lot. We had done a lot of good things (up until then), and then got burnt big time on that.”
I would argue when Hitchcock says when they are good they get it out, and when they aren’t in hurts them. I see that as inconsistency in the small details to win games. It has been a problem for three years. If the Oilers clear the zone, the Devils wouldn’t have had time, most likely, to regroup and score. The Oilers aren’t deep enough to overcome giving teams more chances.
It has to change moving forward, and the change and increased commitment to clear has to come from the Oilers big-minute eaters. They are the ones who have played the most on the PK the past three seasons. Obviously the goaltending needs to be better as well. They are key on the PK, but they can’t improve faceoffs or clears.
You can’t blame just one of the players below. They are all equally accountable.
Player PK-TOI GA
Kris Russell 436:31 66
Adam Larsson 421:33 55
Darnell Nurse 387:00 54
Oscar Klefbom 374:12 50
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 359:48 55
Mark Letestu 282:12 44
Zack Kassian 282:08 37
Andrej Sekera 220:48 23
Leon Draisaitl 193:22 28
Connor McDavid 188:43 25
Jujhar Khaira 171:46 17
Matt Benning 153:02 24
Kyle Brodziak 115:18 15
Sekera has the best GA/60 rate among the defenders, while Khaira has the best among the forwards. I will need to look over every goal to dig deeper on who erred. Some times the penalty killers do nothing wrong, the opposing PP just takes advantage of having an extra skater, but as Hitchcock alluded to, the inability for this team to get pucks out when they have a chance has crushed them.
It must improve next season and it has to come from within. Winning more faceoffs will help.
Nugent-Hopkins is 37.4% on the PK (116-194).
McDavid is 39.7% with a 29-44 ratio.
Brodziak is 45.6% at 52-62
Draisaitl is a respectable 49.5% at 111-113.
To be fair to McDavid he only played 33 min on PK, so when I mention best players much of it is focused on the defenders and RNH, who plays the most minutes among forwards.
Draisaitl has the 20th best FO% on the PK over the past three years among players taking at least 200 faceoffs. Very few players are even at 50%, which makes sense considering you have one less skater on the ice.
Faceoffs aren’t just on the centreman of course. The other three need to be involved in puck battles as well. But RNH needs to be closer to at least 45% on the draws when down a man.
Yes, the group can make better reads at times, but improving their faceoffs and their clearing attempts will go a long way for them to become respectable. Their PK doesn’t have to be the best, but they need to hover around the league average next season.
Three years is more than enough of a sample size to prove there are areas that need to improve. Yes, goaltending is one as well, your goalie has to be great, but ensuring you get the puck out of the zone has to become a top priority for this group.
I don’t see the new GM re-vamping his entire D corps or his penalty killing forwards, so the onus will be on the Oilers main players to challenge one another to be better on the PK.