Oilers’ Dominant Penalty Kill Flying Under the Radar

Wayne Gretzky calls it better than in his era. Opposing coaches say the only way to stop it is to not take penalties.

The Edmonton Oilers’ power play has been the talk of the NHL, and rightly so. Edmonton is 21-for-53 with the man advantage, to rank first in power-play goals per game (1.24, 0.38 more than the next closest team) and power-play percentage (39.6 percent, 10.7 percent ahead of second place).

What’s not received as much attention is the other half of Edmonton’s dominance on special teams that has propelled the Oilers on their 13-4-0 start to the 2021-22 season.

Oilers Perfect on the Penalty Kill Against Chicago

After going 3-for-3 in a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Place on Saturday (Nov. 20), Edmonton’s penalty kill inched up to 88.9 percent, the second-best rate in the league, just behind the Pittsburgh Penguins who are at 89.1 percent.

“When you’re a team that’s trying to improve your goals against, (penalty killing) is a critical element of it,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said in his availability with media following Saturday’s win.

“We’ve given up more than we’d like five-on-five, but if you were leaking five-on-five and you’re leaking on your penalty kill, then you’d have problems,” Tippett continued. “Our penalty kill has been solid all year. There are some shots being taken, but not very many in the good areas. There’s some outside stuff that our goaltenders know where they’re going to come from…”

Oilers Lead League in Net Penalty Kill

With a rate of 94.1 percent, the Oilers rank first in the NHL for net penalty-kill percentage, which takes into account the number of shorthanded goals a penalty kill scores. On Saturday against the Blackhawks, Edmonton’s penalty kill actually produced more goals (two, courtesy of Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto) than its power play (one, scored by Tyson Barrie). The Oilers now have three shorthanded goals on the season, which is tied for second most in the NHL.

However, Edmonton’s penalty kill is not one that goes goal-hunting at the expense of keeping the opposition at bay. The Oilers are yet to concede more than one power-play goal in a game, and went six consecutive games, from Oct. 19 to Nov. 1, without being scored on while playing shorthanded. The Oilers’ penalty kill pièce de resistance came in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday (Nov. 8), in which Edmonton had a season-high five kills.

Related Link: Skinner Makes Statement in Oilers’ Shootout Win Over Jets

Winnipeg went on a four-minute power play spanning the end of regulation and overtime, with 3:18 of 4-on-3 in overtime, but couldn’t put the puck behind goalie Stuart Skinner as the Oilers held firm.

Oilers Have Depth on Penalty Kill

A key factor in Edmonton’s penalty kill is the number of Oilers capable of playing in shorthanded situations, allowing Tippett to distribute penalty-kill minutes throughout his lineup and avoid overtaxing his first unit.

Evan Bouchard. Edmonton Oilers
Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Eight Oilers are being deployed between 34.4 percent and 54.8 percent of the team’s shorthanded time per game. Only defencemen Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard have been on the ice for more than 50 percent of Edmonton’s shorthanded time per game, and just two others, fellow blueliners Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith, are over 40 percent. This depth will prove crucial for the Oilers, as they are without Nurse, who is averaging over three minutes shorthanded ice time, for 2-3 weeks because of a broken finger that the blueliner sustained against Winnipeg on Thursday.

Oilers are Proven Penalty Killers

While the Oilers had the NHL’s top power play each of the previous two seasons, Edmonton’s penalty kill is not necessarily an over-night sensation. The Oilers were ninth in the NHL last season with an 82.5 percent penalty-kill percentage and had a rate of 84.4 percent to rank second in 2019-20.

This season, with an incredible power play and penalty kill that’s almost as good, Edmonton’s combined special teams percentage is near 130 percent, which would be the best total in NHL history.

There is still a long way to go, of course, and Edmonton will be tested in its very next game, on the road on Tuesday (Nov. 23) against the Dallas Stars, who have the fifth-best power play in the NHL, with a 26.7 percent success rate.

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