Powerplays, high-event play, and playoff hockey

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
1 year ago
The Oilers are winning a lot of hockey games right now and for the most part they’ve been doing it in wildly entertaining fashion.
So far in the month of March, the Oilers are 8-2-0. Edmonton, Los Angeles, and Vegas are the only teams who have accumulated 16 points so far this month. In that span, the Oilers have averaged 4.70 goals for per game and 3.50 goals against for a total of 8.20 goals per game. That’s incredibly high. 
Dallas and Columbus are the only two teams in the same ballpark as the Oilers when it comes to total goals and the Stars numbers got a big boost by scoring ten goals themselves in a game against the Sabres.
So yes, the Oilers are winning but is the style in which they’re playing is concerning to some. They’re allowing a lot of shots, giving up a lot of chances, and in general playing very high-event hockey. Even the duo of Evan Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm have been giving up a lot of chances recently.
That might not be something that works come playoff time unless Stuart Skinner routinely stands on his head.
So are the Oilers capable of dialling it in ahead of the playoffs? Or can they just keep playing this fire wagon style of hockey come mid-April and find success?
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. To start, I want to talk about a few narratives that get thrown around this time of year.
The first is that there are fewer powerplays in the playoffs compared to the regular season. This is usually used to discount a team, like the Oilers, that has an elite powerplay. This is also a myth.
Last season, the Oilers averaged 2.87 powerplay opportunities per game. That number went up to 3.13 during their run to the Western Conference finals. That’s not just an Oilers trend either. 15 of the 16 teams that appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season averaged north of 3.0 powerplay opportunities per game. In the regular season, only 11 of 32 teams had more than 3.0 powerplays per game. 
There are no less powerplay opportunities in the playoffs, it’s actually the opposite and suggesting that the Oilers can’t ride a red-hot powerplay in the playoffs is false. Teams have done it in the past. The Oilers scored 13 powerplay goals in 16 playoff games, so 0.81 per game. In the 21-22 regular season, they had 0.74. So far this season, they’re at 1.07.
I do understand the argument that there are more infractions in the playoffs as things tighten up and that could hurt the Oilers 5v5 production, but that’s a whole different conversation, although that didn’t really hurt the Oilers during last years playoff run.
The one thing that is a concern for me is their defensive play. 
This goal from the game vs San Jose is a prime example of them not being focused enough in their own zone. There was a clear chance for two Oilers to stop on the puck and make sure they had possession. Instead, they were all too focused on being the first ones up in the rush and the puck quickly wound up in the back of their net. That could be the difference between a win and a loss in a playoff game.
They’re currently allowing 31.9 shots per game on the season as a whole and things haven’t been moving in a great direction recently either. Since March 1st, that number is 32.7. They’re in the bottom third of the league when it comes to giving up shots. They need to get better at preventing chances in the playoffs.
The concern with the Oilers will never be around scoring goals. Their high-end skill is unmatched in the Western Conference and their depth looks a lot better than it did last season. They will need to prevent way less chances against if they want to go on a deep run and they have 11 games to figure out what adjustments they need to make in order for that to happen.

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