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The Oilers in Seven: Part Three — This Is A New Coach Bounce?

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Photo credit:Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
2 months ago
Segment three of the seven game reviews was the first full segment under new head coach, Kris Knoblauch. While many, including myself, didn’t think a coaching change was necessary, Kris Knoblauch was a good hire.
While his first full seven-game segment may be best characterized as “regression to the mean”, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t part of the solution. As we will see below, there have been changes, they were real and they have been mostly spectacular. Why mostly? Well, that pesky goaltending still caused some issues.
STATRATE G1-7 + LEAGUE RANKRATE G8-14 + LEAGUE RANK RATE G15-21 + LEAGUE RANK SEASON TOTALS
RECORD, PTS%1-5-1, .214% — 31st3-4, .429% — T-10th4-3, .571% – T-10th8-12-1, .409% – T – 28th
GF-GA17-30, 36.17% — 30th22-22, 50% — 16th31-27, 53% – 7th39-50, 42.9% — 28th
5v5 GF-GA10-18, 35.71% —28th13-14, 47.1% — 21st17-18, 48.6% – 19th23-32, 41.8% — 28th
5v5 xGF%54.58 — 8th59.6% — 2nd55.1% – 6th57.1% — 1st
POWER PLAY7-for-27, 25.9% — 8th6-for-22, 27.3% — 9th7-for-28, 25.0% – 8th21-for-79, 26.6% — 5th
PENALTY KILL20-for-27, 74.1% — 24th18-for-26, 69.2% — 27th28-for-31, 90.3% – 7th68-for-87, 78.2% — 20th
SV%.861% —31st.885% — 18th.886% – 29th.891% — 32nd
5v5 SV%.886% — 29th.907% — 16th.872% – 29th.892% — 32nd
As the data from the third segment illustrate, the Oilers mainly improved in each category from the prior segment. Most notably, the penalty took a massive leap forward. In terms of what may be different on the penalty kill, it mostly appears to be a less reactive four-man unit. Watch the motion of this group and how it works together to move as one unit in a disciplined way — no overreaction without an emergency. The forwards work nicely in tandem to cover the middle slot. D are being aggressive on pucks that can be challenged, but reverting to posts when control is full.  Really nice stuff here.

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The tight coordination is helping the penalty kill in two different ways. First, it takes away the easy royal road passes that lead to difficult cross-crease saves for the goaltender. Watch here for a really good example. The Capitals badly want to run the puck into 43 who either can one-time it or kick it quickly to the point for the pass over to Ovechkin for the one-timer. You can see their players desperately trying to force it there. The Oilers maintain nice discipline and the puck never gets into the seams.

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The second part is it simply doesn’t allow much space for shots to get through. There has been some thought (me included) that the Oilers penalty kill was less keen on blocking shots. There is no question it is an incredibly courageous act to perform. One of the most courageous in hockey, perhaps, second only to fighting. However, in the NHL, it is a requirement for a successful penalty kill. Watch here how a composed, disciplined penalty kill can influence shots.

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This substantive improvement in the penalty, in turn, led to a much better goal for percentage. The Oilers finished 7th with a 53% goal share in all situations. The 5v5 play took a modest step forward regarding goal share and held strong on the expected goals.
Now, that does not mean there weren’t some hiccups. Again, despite getting on a modest roll, the Oilers had a setback against the Vegas Golden Knights. Two third-period 5v5 goals against the Golden Knights cost the Oilers one standings point against a division foe. Each goal highlighted some of the problems that have plagued the team this year.
On the third goal, the Oilers were really their own worst enemies. They start with a perfect defensive set-up with no danger in the middle. Then, for some reason, they all start to gravitate to the puck. Both Gagner and Erne lose their positions and their awareness of who they are checking. Finally, Stuart Skinner needs to make a save here for certain.

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The fourth goal against is just a whopper of errors. First, Ryan McLeod has a limited pressure opportunity to move the puck out of the zone. He fails to scan properly to make an informed decision. Next, Warren Foegele makes a play that he does all the time, seemingly unnoticed by most Oiler fans. He loses a blueline battle. Now, the chaos begins. The puck reverses to the weak side. On a 6v5, the defending team must pressure the puck with one player. Your keys for pressure are when the player has his back turned or when he struggles with control of the puck. Desharnais needs to jump this play early. Then Foegele needs to hold the low, middle slot. That is the danger spot. Finally, McLeod needs to mark his man to the net. He knows he is coming there at some point. Desharnais doesn’t pressure which allows a play to be made. Foegele rotates up which McLeod reads and he rotates up as well. Now, there is a perfect lane to the player on the back door. Tie game. These plays are the ones that need to be cleaned up against good NHL teams. There was little reason for this goal to occur.

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The other part of the Oilers game in this segment that continues to be challenged is goaltending. The numbers above are simply not going to permit playoff success. The Oilers appear to be tightening up modestly on the high-quality scoring chances again. It will be imperative for the goaltending tandem to do their share to continue team improvement. Without this piece, the playoffs will be a very lofty goal.
So, what does this segment mean? Well, it was a step forward. Again, I believe firing Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson shocked this team. That was a shock that hit an already fragile team very hard. The fact the team managed to win more than they lost in this segment is an accomplishment. Now I have seen others who wondered why there was no “new coach bounce”. I believe the coaching staff was well-regarded in the room and their dismissal was truly a surprise. The good news is that in the last few games of this segment, the team was starting to get over this turn of events. That will need to continue, and do so in a quick way. While the playoffs are closer than I would anticipated given the poor start, there is little room for error in the quest to make the playoffs.
That’s it for the third in the seven-game segments for the Edmonton Oilers. See you at the end of segment four.

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