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G54 Game Notes: Oilers penalty kill struggles cannot continue against the Wild

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Photo credit:© Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 month ago
The recent lulls in the second period are a concern for the Edmonton Oilers, but that hasn’t been their biggest weakness. Their penalty kill, which was elite for 33 games prior to the bye week and All-Star break, has become a major concern and it needs fixing ASAP.
—  In Kris Knoblauch’s first 32 games, the PK was 89.3%. Mark Stuart made some tweaks to personnel and the style, and it worked very well. It allowed only 11 goals on 103 kills. However, since returning from the break the PK has been dreadful. It allowed 11 PP goals in the last eight games on 24 kills for an ugly 54.3% kill rate. The penalty kill allowed 11 goals in 33 games (if we include the Vegas game after the break), but has suddenly allowed 11 goals in the last seven. It is a major issue.
— The scary part for the Oilers is they haven’t taken many penalties since the break, but the PK is still killing them. In five games, they were shorthanded twice. They allowed five goals in those games and the only time they didn’t allow a goal was killing off both Vegas powerplays. In games v. Dallas and Detroit, they only took three minors each game, but allowed two PP goals in each. The only game they were undisciplined was against St. Louis, where they were on the PK eight times, and that was statistically their best game because they were 75% on the PK, allowing two goals on eight chances.
— The Oilers have scored the most goals 5×5 since the break with 23 in eight games. When you average 2.875 goals/game at 5×5, you should win more than half your games. Edmonton’s 5×5 production has been great. At even strength, they’ve allowed 17 goals, which ranks 21st since the break, but consider the minutes played at 5×5 and on the PK, and you’ll see why the PK has to be the main area of focus.
— Edmonton allowed 17 goals in 400 minutes of 5×5 play, which equates to 2.55 GA/60. The Oilers have allowed 11 goals in 36 minutes of PK time for an average of 18.23 G/60. Of course, your GA/60 will always be higher on the PK, but not to that extent. In Knoblauch’s first 32 games, the Oilers limited the opposition to 2.06 GA/60 at 5×5 (fourth best in the NHL) and allowed 3.72 GA/60 on the PK (best in the NHL). I didn’t expect the PK to run at 89.3% all season (only three teams are above 84% all year), and none higher than 86.7%, but the recent drop is concerning.
— The challenge for Stuart is there is no easy fix. It isn’t like the players simply forgot how to penalty kill, but the PK is out of sync and now lacking in confidence. When they go over the boards they are thinking “Let’s not get scored on,” compared to when things are rolling and players jump over thinking “We will kill this off.”
— I asked coach Knoblauch what he sees as the main issues:
“It has been a lot of things,” said Knoblauch. “It has been our forecheck being caught up ice at times, but mostly it is in the defensive zone and where our sticks are. When we went into the break, our team play, our 5×5 play and winning 16 in a row, I do think the break was good for the team. We needed the break, but the one thing that really affected us was the details of the penalty kill, where our sticks should be, where our positioning should be, and right now I see so many of our sticks in the high lane instead of the low lane. The defenceman stepping out, and being a little too passive, rather than stepping out another two or three feet and getting in the shooting lane, which allows the shot.
“All the goals (against) have been very dissimilar. There hasn’t been a pattern, there hasn’t been a routine, we need to get better in all the little details.”
— Knoblauch astutely pointed out the shots against. They are giving up way too many. They allowed 135 shots in 177 minutes in his first 32 games, but they’ve allowed 47 shots in 36 minutes since. They’ve gone from allowing 48 shots/60 to allowing 77/60 since the break. If you give the opposing team’s best players more shooting opportunities, especially from good scoring areas, this is the result. When the PK was humming, it allowed 54.1 scoring chances/60 and 18.5 high danger chances/60. Over the past eight games it’s allowed 69.6 SC/60 and 31.5 HD chances/60. Being passive is often a sign of a lack of confidence, and the Oilers will need a few solid PKs to try and rebuild their swagger.
— Connor McDavid extended his home point streak to 20 games. He can tie his career-best tonight of 21 games, which he set last season. Last year he tallied 16-23-39 in 21 games, and this year he already has 12-36-48 through 20 games. He’s on an absolute tear on home ice with 13 multi-point games over that span. Has he passed up a few good shooting opportunities, yes, but he also has 84 shots in 20 games, for an average of 4.2 shots/game. He has 65 shots in 24 road game over the same time frame, and I think it is fair to be more concerned about his lack of shots on the road (2.70/game) in that span, than on home ice.
— The out-of-town scoreboard couldn’t have worked out any better for the Oilers last night. Vancouver, Vegas, Los Angeles and Dallas lost, while Colorado lost in overtime.
A victory tonight will move the Oilers into second place in the Pacific. They will tie Vegas with 70 points but have three games in hand. It would also move them 10 back of Vancouver with five extra games remaining. Catching teams in the Central is also important, if the Oilers make it to the third round. There is lots on the line down the stretch.
— Minnesota had the exact opposite night to the Oilers. St. Louis, Nashville, Calgary and Seattle all won in the race for the final wildcard spot.
Those five teams are within four points. We know Calgary will be a seller in the two next two weeks, and I won’t be surprised if St. Louis, Seattle and Nashville move out some pieces. It seems less likely the Wild will move Marc-Andre Fleury, but I wonder if GM Bill Guerin, who is historically aggressive, will make a small addition to bolster his club’s chances of making the playoffs.
— The Wild are 5-1-1 in their last seven games overall, and 5-1 in their last six road games. Their top line has crushed it since the All-Star break. Kirill Kaprisov has 5-9-14 in seven games, while Joel Eriksson-Ek scored 7-6-13 and Matt Boldy tallied 4-7-11. They’ve combined for 16 goals, while the rest of the team has 12. The Wild have 28 goals in their last seven games.
— Their powerplay is clicking at 30% with 10 goals on 30 opportunities. The Oilers’ penalty kill is 50% in their last seven games. Trying to get the PK back on track tonight won’t be easy.

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