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Special Teams Are Killing The Oilers

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Photo credit:© Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
8 months ago
If you predicted this you should run out and buy a lottery ticket right away. Hell, I’ll give you $100 to pick my numbers.
The Edmonton Oilers started the season 16-5. They had the best points% in the NHL on December 1st, but since then they’ve hit the skids and are in danger of ruining a great start.
The Oilers weren’t a great team, despite their dominant record, and they had some flaws, but most of the concern surrounded their 5×5 play. We all knew their power play wasn’t going to keep scoring at a 35.7% rate, but no one wrote or claimed their PP would be 23rd (18.3%) in the NHL over the next 36 games and their penalty kill would struggle even more, dropping from third in the first 21 games (87.7%) down to 32nd over the past 36 games at an ugly 68.8%.
Their recent play on special teams has derailed their season.
The PP went from 35.7% to 18.3%.
The PK dropped from 87.7% to 68.8%.
Their special teams were a combined 123.4% in the first 21 games, and only 87.1% since. No NHL team has had that drastic of a dip and it is the main reason the Oilers are losing.
It isn’t their 5×5 play that is killing them.
In the first 21 games they scored 2.19 goals/game at 5×5 and allowed 2.28. Not great, but they were -0.09.
Over the past 36 games they have scored 1.91 goals/game and allowed 2.00. They are still -0.09.
They have scored fewer goals, but also allowed fewer at 5×5. So any talk about their 5×5 play, which was the main concern of many through 21 games, being the main issue is misguided. In fact in the 13 games since Jay Woodcroft arrived the Oilers have the fourth best 5×5 GA/game at 1.53. Only Boston (1.23), the Rangers (1.44) and Dallas (1.45) have been stingier. Edmonton has outscored teams 27-20 at 5×5 under Woodcroft. He’s been able to fix the 5×5 play, but the special teams have remained awful.
In his 13 games the PK is 72.9% and the PP is 17.8. Not close to good enough.
The struggles of the past 36 games fall squarely on the shoulders of the special teams. Of course you’d like them to outscore opponents at 5×5, but being -3 at 5×5 (69GF-72GA) is not awful enough that the team should have only won 14 of 36 games.
Dallas was 69-70 at 5×5 since December first, but they are 21-13-1.
Toronto has been 91-89 at 5×5, but they went 19-10-3.
The New York Rangers are 65-62 at 5×5, but went 22-11-2.
Why? Because their special teams aren’t hot garbage.
Toronto’s PP was 33.3% and their PK was 81.7%. A total of 115%.
The Rangers’ PP clicked at 28.1% and their PK was 84.5%. Total of 112.6.
Dallas’ PP was 22.1 and their PK was 78.1% for a total of 100.2%.
No doubt you’d like the Oilers to score more 5×5. But their goal differential in the first 21 games is exactly the same as the last 36. That is who they are, but their PP and PK shouldn’t be this dreadful.
In 2020 and 2021 the Oilers played 127 games. Their PP was 28.6%, best in the NHL, and their penalty kill was 83.6% for a combined total of 112.2. Add in the first 21 games this season and that is 148 games and Edmonton was dominant on both special teams, ranking first and third, and they had the best combined total in the entire NHL.
Over that span the Oilers’ PP was 29.7% and the PK was 84.2% for a ridiculous total of 113.9. Here is a list of the top-15 teams combined special teams % over that same span.
Edmonton 113.9%
Boston 109%
Carolina 108%
Tampa 105.3%
Washington 104.5%
St. Louis 103.4%
Calgary 102.7%
Colorado 102.5%
Dallas 102.3%
Pittsburgh 101.9%
NYR 101.5%
Toronto 101.3%
Florida, Vegas and San Jose 100.2%
Detroit is the worst at 90.1%.
Detroit played 151 games in that span and their combined special teams percentage was 90.1%.
The Oilers are running at 87.1% since December 2nd. It is awful. AWFUL.
The power play looks completely out of sorts. Over the past few months, how many times have we seen Leon Draisaitl, one of the best passers in the NHL, button hook to the right boards, and try a back hand pass to the D-man or into the slot that gets intercepted or knocked down? I’ve seen it more in the past two months than we did in the previous 148 games. It isn’t close.
Last night the Oilers’ power play lost them the game. Not only did they go 0-for-4, but the Flames penalty killers had more chances than the Oilers power play. Errant passes, forced passes and no urgency. That was the worst the power play has looked in years. The Oilers mustered a measly three shots in eight minutes. The second unit had no shots in 2:43. And the Flames had two shots on goal, and that doesn’t include Tyler Toffoli’s breakaway where he hit the side of the net after trying to deke out Mikko Koskinen.
If the Oilers are going to salvage the season then their special teams better wake the eff up. You can’t sugar coat it.

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HISTORICALLY BAD…

It is embarrassing to be as bad as they’ve been for 36 games. It isn’t a full season, but for 63% of this year their special teams are on pace with some of the worst special teams we’ve seen.
Last year the Anaheim Ducks had the worst PP% in NHL history at 8.9%. But their combined special teams was still 88.8% — higher than the Oilers’ past 36 games.
Since the NHL began tracking special teams in 1978, here are the worst combined special teams of all-time.
1978 Washington Capitals were 83.9%. They finished second last in the standings.
2014 Florida Panthers finished at 86%. They finished second last.
1983 Detroit Red Wings posted a 86.4%. They finished fourth last.
1978 Minnesota North Stars finished at 86.5%. They were last in the standings.
1995 Anaheim Ducks finished at 87.1%. They finished third last.
So five teams in NHL history have had a combined PP as equally inept as the Oilers have been over the past 36 games. That is not company the Oilers should be in, especially when you consider for their previous 148 games they had the NHL’s best combined special teams.
Some have asked if the power play struggles are due to the absence of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I don’t think so. First off, he doesn’t have a power play goal all season. Second, here is a breakdown of the PP since December 2nd.
December 2nd to 31st (10GP) PP was 20.7% going 6-for-29 with RNH.
January 1st to 24th (6GP) PP was 25% going 3-for-12 without RNH.
Jan 25th to Feb 26th (15 GP) PP went  19.7% going 8-for-42 with RNH.
Feb 27th to now (5GP) PP is 9.5% going 2-for-21 without RNH.
So in the 25 games with RNH the PP was 19.7% (14-for-71) and in the 11 games without him it has been 15.1% (5-for-33). So slightly lower, but in the 25 games with him the PP was still under 20%.
I think you could make a better argument that the penalty kill misses him.
December 2nd to 31st (10GP) PK was 69% allowing nine goals on 29 kills with RNH.
January 1st to 24th (6GP) PK was 52.6% allowing 9-on-19 kills without RNH.
Jan 25th to Feb 26th (15 GP) PK went 75.5% allowing 12-on-49 kills with RNH.
Feb 27th to now (5GP) PK is 66.7% allowing 5-on-15 kills without RNH.
In the 25 games with him it was 73% and in the 11 games without him it went 58.8%. So yes, it was better, but even with him in the lineup the combined special teams is still only 92.7%. A stark contrast from the previous 148 games.
The coaching staff and the players on the power play and special teams need to realize the importance of improving their special teams. If they don’t they will likely miss the playoffs.

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