3 Ways to Fix the Oilers Power Play

In the month of December, the Edmonton Oilers have only scored three power play goals on 33 attempts: two times versus the Colorado Avalanche and once against the mighty Winnipeg Jets. As it stands, their power play percentage stands at a woeful 9.1% and if it continues to plod away like this, the Oilers will drop out of the playoff race.

We lost the game in the second period, we didn’t lose it in the third period and we lost it on special teams on the power play. – Head coach Ken Hitchcock.

A lot has been written on what’s wrong with the Oilers’ power play but here are three ways that it can be improved.

Solution #1: Add More Right Shots

There are too many left-handed shooters on the Oilers’ first unit power play. Since their first power play unit runs through Connor McDavid, it makes it very easy to defend against. The opposition’s penalty killers can easily map the flow of play. As a result, the puck usually stays on the outside and the opposition’s defenders don’t have to do a lot of work.

Hitchcock has Alex Chiasson working the front of the net, but with another right-handed shooter on the left-wall and/or the point, it would make the power play infinitely less predictable. Remember all of the success the Oilers had with 4th line center Mark Letestu playing on the left-wall back in 2016-17?

Let’s say they took Nugent-Hopkins off and replaced him with a player who has a reputation for shooting the puck a bit more, maybe someone who can one-time the puck like Jesse Puljujarvi or Ty Rattie for example. If the other players on the ice could successfully pass them the puck for a one-timer, it would force the penalty killers to spread out a bit more. Another plus is it would open up the option for the fake one-time shot and pass back to the point man for a real one-timer.

Watch Patrik Laine, his feet are always moving in anticipation of a one-timer. It’s not a great example of having a lot of right-handed players on the power play but it does display the value of having that one-time option on the left side:

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Solution #2: Get Moving

If you’ve watched an Oilers power play, you know it’s quite boring unless McDavid has caught the other team’s defensemen flat-footed on a zone entry. If they can breach the other team’s defense and get set-up in the offensive zone, they pass it around the perimeter in an attempt to get the other team to open up and rarely does the opposition fall for it. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Hitchcock had this to say about his team’s movement on the power play,

We don’t have enough movement on the flanks. We’ll get that changed. We are standing still outside the dots and trying to make plays instead of in attack mode. We are not playing near enough downhill. The major thing for me is our movement across the top is too slow, both with our feet and our puck movement and it allows teams to recover. We are in the zone a lot, but not much is going on when we are there.

The Oilers have to not only move the puck faster once they’re sorted and have possession, but they also have to move their bodies more. When we watch McDavid move around the offensive zone with the puck, it causes confusion amongst the defenders because they don’t know where he’s going pass it.

The following highlight is a good example to illustrate what I mean:

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As McDavid moves along the blue line, he draws a defender leaving Leon Draisaitl open for a one-time bomb. It also draws the focus of all the other skaters on the ice to the rebound, not McDavid, and he deposits it into the Pittsburgh Penguins’ net with ease.

Another way to get the other team’s penalty killers moving is to have a point man who can walk the line better. Oscar Klefbom is okay but the Oilers’ other defenders (Matt Benning, Jason Garrison, Darnell Nurse) being used on the man-advantage aren’t. However, Caleb Jones walks the blue line nicely. He will get a chance in the upcoming games to showcase that ability.

If you’re not sure what walking the line is, it’s when a defenseman skates backwards or laterally along the blue line with puck possession in the other team’s zone in an attempt to change the angle for a shot or a pass.

Solution #3: Shoot First and Clean Up the Garbage Later

Edmonton spends too much time dilly-dallying looking for the open passing lane. What they need to do is, as soon as they are positioned well, get a shot off right away and crash the net. I feel that when one of their players gets the puck, they spend too much time surveying the situation. I don’t mind getting set up and comfortable but that should be done right off the bat. After that, a pass should be met with one touch for control and then a shot.

The Oilers don’t keep their opponents guessing enough.

When Ryan Smyth played for the Oilers, he scored a lot of goals simply by hanging around the blue paint. Of course, back then, it was a bit more dangerous to do that. The defenders were quite liberal with how they doled out the Sherwood Sandwiches. In today’s game, the defensemen tend to worry about keeping the shape of their penalty-killing formation. You don’t have to be a behemoth or a tough hockey player to have an impact from the blue paint area. You can be a smaller player like Caggiula or the Montreal Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher. That area was Chris Kunitz’s office when he was with the Penguins and he’s never been one of the bigger players in the league.

Ryan Smyth - Edmonton Oilers
Smyth succeeded where Bonsignore did not. (bridgetds/Flickr)

Hockey games are won 5-on-5, not with the man advantage. That said, games can be lost if a team doesn’t take advantage of the opportunities given to them by their opponents. The Oilers need all the help they can get if they’re going to make the playoffs this season.