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Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers and Their Penalty Kill

Last season, the Oilers’ special teams were the best we’ve seen in a long time. Their powerplay got a lot of attention, and rightfully, so considering it was one of the most productive units the NHL has seen since 1980. On the flip side, after years of having a below-average penalty kill, they took some major strides forward and it was a big reason why they had such a strong regular season.

The Oilers penalty kill finished second in the NHL this past season, which is remarkable considering in the five seasons before that, they finished 28th, 18th, 17th, 25th, and 30th. The jump they made in year one under Dave Tippett was impressive, but is it sustainable? Can they find a way to keep their PK in the top ten next season?

To start, let’s look back at why they were successful last season. Personally, I believe that Dave Tippett and his staff deserve a good chunk of the credit. I think that coaching is a big part of a successful penalty kill. Next to that, I would say goaltending is almost as important. It doesn’t matter how good you are on the penalty kill, you’re bound to give up some quality chances and having good goaltending can make your PK look better than it is at times.

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On the PK, Mikko Koskinen had a GAA of 5.91 and a SV% of .901 while Mike Smith had a 4.50 GAA and a .918 SV%. They both were in net for just over 170 minutes of shorthanded time. Out of goaltenders that were in net for at least 100 shorthanded minutes, Smith was tied for the best SV% in the NHL while Koskinen was tied for sixth. Smith was 3rd in GAA and Koskinen was 11th. (all numbers via Natural Stat-Trick)

Their goaltending was excellent and it’s a big reason why their PK was one of the best in the league. But this also brings up a little bit of a chicken & the egg debate. Is their goaltending good because their coaches designed a strong system and the players in front of them executed well? Or did the strong goaltending make a good system look great?

The correct answer is likely that they’re all true. You need the right mix of coaching, players, and goaltending. The Oilers had that last season.

They had four forwards consistently kill penalties. Riley Sheahan, Josh Archibald, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jujhar Khaira were the only forwards who played 100 minutes on the penalty kill last season. Leon Draisaitl was fifth on the team with 69 minutes.

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Riley Sheahan led the team in shorthanded time on ice and he’s likely not going to be back with the team next season. That’s a big loss and the player they brought in to replace him in the lineup, Kyle Turris, is not known for his penalty-killing abilities. He only played 40 shorthanded minutes last season and has only played over 100 once.

Having Turris be a good penalty killer next season will be very important in my opinion. I’m not totally against having star players kill penalties, but I don’t think it’s a great idea. If Turris can’t be relied on to kill penalties, then that will likely mean that Leon Draisaitl will need to step into that role. He already plays a tonne at even-strength and on the powerplay and having him kill penalties as well would not be ideal.

Honestly, if they could even find another forward not named Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who can become a regular on the PK, then I think that would be great.

On the blueline, they relied most heavily on Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear last season. I expect that will continue this season when you consider that the defenseman who was third in shorthanded TOI, Oscar Klefbom, is out for the season and the player they brought in to replace him, Tyson Barrie, usually doesn’t kill penalties.

They will probably use Kris Russell and Adam Larsson as regulars next season and that will give them four really good defensemen to regularly use on the PK.

This coming season will really show us how good the system that Dave Tippett and his staff put in place is. The defence should be solid but the forward group lost a key member of their penalty kill group and the goaltending always scares me.

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I don’t think that they’ll come top three again, but if they can have a penalty kill that finishes in the top ten, I think that will be proof that the system they have is a damn good one and last season wasn’t just a fluke or the product of good goaltending.

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