Of all the issues that have hampered the Edmonton Oilers in recent years, perhaps the most perplexing has been their continued struggles on the penalty kill. Over the better part of the past three seasons, they have been among the league’s worst when shorthanded. Ken Holland is banking on that trend not continuing in 2019-20, thanks in part to the additions of wingers Josh Archibald and Markus Granlund.
On their own, the two will not fix what has hampered the Oilers but adding a pair of actual penalty killers will certainly help. Instead of simply throwing the likes Zack Kassian, Jujhar Khaira, Drake Caggiula into feature roles and hoping for the best, both Archibald and Granlund have extensive experience in said role.
Square Peg vs Round Hole
Though the expectation will be for both to reach the double-digit mark in goals and play a sound two-way game at even strength, the area in which they can have the greatest impact is when Edmonton will be down a man. If the pair can come in and help anchor the club’s two penalty kill units, this group should have a shot at turning this thing around.
Make no mistake, as a collective unit, the Oilers four-man units need to be better and their goaltenders have to make the occasional timely stop. With that said, opposing teams have routinely thrown cross-ice passes for fun through the heart of both Todd McClellan and Ken Hitchcock’s set-ups over the past three seasons and it has made life extremely difficult on their netminders.
Can some of that come down to tactics and approach? It most certainly could and you can bet one of the items atop Dave Tippett’s to-do-list will be to reduce goals against and it will start on the man advantage. However, the fact we have watched similar issues under what was two/three different coaching staffs suggests it’s not solely on deployment but rather the personnel at their disposal.
Can Dave Tippett Be the Difference?
Mix in a few new wrinkles from the head coach with an upgrade to the roster and chances are we should see signs of improvement on the penalty kill in 2019-20. And in order for that to have a chance of coming to fruition, getting off to a fast start will be imperative. Results tend to leak onto the positive side of the ledger when confidence is high and getting out of the gates quickly is exactly what this group will need come October.
Hence, why the cross our fingers and hope for the best approach can no longer be the Oilers go-to move on the penalty kill. By bringing in Archibald and Granlund, it is clear that Holland recognized a gap on the roster and went about addressing it in a cost-effective and fairly efficient manner. Both were signed to reasonable one-year deals and history suggests, if the ask is kept reasonable, the payoff will be there.
Now, the new general manager has yet to address the Oilers inability to win face-offs on the penalty kill and their lack of success in the dot will continue to impact the group’s effectiveness, if not addressed. Holland still has plenty of time to go out and address those shortcomings prior to the start of camp, if he so chooses, but there has been no indication that is what he will do.
No matter how we look at it, in order for the Edmonton Oilers to have a genuine shot at getting back to the Stanly Cup Playoffs next spring, their penalty kill is going to have to show a marked improvement. It won’t be easy but by giving Dave Tippett a pair of serviceable pieces in Josh Archibald and Markus Granlund to work with, at the very least, he won’t be going into this exercise with both his hands tied behind his back.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.