Oilers’ Penalty Kill & Defence Pulling Team Under

The Edmonton Oilers are 7-6-0 and rank fourth in the Pacific Division. They’ve already had a five-game win streak, but are now on a three-game losing streak. The team has been inconsistent, but three things have remained constant. The first two the Oilers are anchored by have been their penalty kill and defensive play. The other is a positive, their offence.

Oilers’ Penalty Kill Losing Games

The Oilers have consistently had one of the best power plays in the league, but one of the worst penalty kills. They are second in the NHL with a power-play success rate of 31.3 percent, but after allowing four goals on five power plays against the Washington Capitals on Monday, the penalty kill has sunk to 30th in the league at 67.9 percent.

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The only way it appears like the Oilers can win special teams battles is if they get a bunch of power plays and capitalize since their penalty kill is only hurting them. They have allowed a power-play goal against in 11 of their 13 games and scored a power-play goal in nine games. The Oilers have had the special-teams advantage in some games, but not often, and they haven’t taken advantage of it either.

Against the Dallas Stars, the Oilers had twice as many power-play opportunities and scored half of the goals. The blame for losing special teams against can be put on both, but the penalty kill has to be better than 33 percent. Against the Nashville Predators, the Oilers had six power plays and the Predators had two. Each team scored two goals. The fault in that game can only be placed on the penalty kill in this instance, failing to kill either penalty while the power play executed at 33 percent. Finally, in Edmonton’s first game this season vs the St. Louis Blues, each team had only one power play, but the Blues scored and the Oilers didn’t. The Blues won 2-0 with an empty-net goal.

Only twice did the Oilers flat-out win special-teams battles, and that was thanks to their power play. In the first game of the season, the Oilers went 3/4 on the power play, while killing off seven of eight penalties. Against the Chicago Blackhawks, the whistle was blown every minute for a penalty and the Blackhawks went 2/10, while the Oilers were 3/7. In these games, the opponent wasn’t very strong, and the penalty kill was successful. But the power play gave the Oilers momentum.

Connor McDavid Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and Evander Kane of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The key to the penalty is pressure. When the penalty kill unit can move their feet and put pressure on the players and the puck, it makes players on the power play think and act faster. It gives the opponent less time to set up and make the perfect play.

The Stars executed tons of pressure on the Oilers and it resulted in the Oilers going one-for-six on the power play and losing. Edmonton is not only allowing plenty of good shots through, but they are failing to pick up men in front of the net for rebounds. Though the goaltender should always be counted on for the first save, the defence must help out after that. The team needs to be a little more disciplined and take fewer penalties, It would also help to get some calls their way, something that didn’t happen in the game against the Capitals, and start to shut teams down (from “Player grades: Bad penalties, worse penalty kill sink Oilers yet again,” Edmonton Journal, Nov. 8, 2022). They can be as offensive as they like on the penalty kill, but the Oilers will always be outscored when down a man.

Oilers’ Defensive Play Must Improve

Defensive play isn’t just about the defence. The forwards must also help in order for a defensive system to work. A lot of heat has been thrown Jack Campbell‘s way for the number of goals he’s allowed, but not all of them have been his fault.

Jack Campbell Edmonton Oilers
Jack Campbell, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Since the Oilers are a very offensive team, a defenceman can get caught out of position, allowing for an odd-man rush. The defenceman who’s back is forced to either make a great defensive play or there’s likely a goal against. More than that, the Oilers’ coverage in the defensive zone has been horrible. Not every good chance turns into a goal, but opponents are getting far too many. The defencemen must take a chunk of the blame since they’re in charge of defending two of the three forwards. The centerman or the third forward down low must stay with the remaining forward, but someone always seems to get lost and get open for a great scoring opportunity; and more times than should happen, players are getting their own rebounds.

Edmonton has also suffered from costly turnovers in the neutral or defensive zone. There have been a couple of obvious examples of bad turnovers that have led directly to goals this season. Dylan Holloway made a rookie mistake in the first game of the season that led to a goal, but most recently, Warren Foegele, as the last man back, turned the puck over against the Capitals in the team’s last game. This can’t happen at all, especially not from depth players.

Oilers Can’t Be Losing This Many Games with Offence on Fire

Last season, the Oilers started off very hot, and a huge reason for that was their offence. They have scored at least three goals in 10 of their 13 games this season, so they’re off to a great start once again. Scoring was never going to be a concern, not even on the power play. The Oilers rank third in the league, averaging 3.85 goals per game; however, they also rank 24th in the league in goals-against per game (3.62).

This is the best forward group the team has seen in years, the best in the Connor McDavid era. The top-six is the best in the NHL, while their depth is fast and creates chances. Over the past few games, head coach Jay Woodcroft has shuffled his lines, but that’s to account for the poor defensive play. Bob Stauffer said it best:

I have no doubt the Oilers’ offence will continue to be their driving force, but the team needs to help their goaltenders out on the penalty kill and in the defensive zone overall. They are losing games they shouldn’t be and must focus on correcting these lapses in judgment and mistakes that are costing them games.

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