Oilers: 3 Personnel Changes to Fix the Power Play

The Edmonton Oilers have one of the best power plays in the league this season, but it has gone very cold and needs to be switched up. It’s interesting to watch how easily Dave Tippett will switch up his even-strength lines, but it takes an awful lot to make changes to the power play that has struggled more.

The Oilers are three-for-17 on the power play in their past seven games since the turnaround happened and the losing streak was snapped. That’s just over 17 percent. They were even worse on that losing streak, going one-for-11. A huge part of their game early in the season that got them to first in the NHL at the start of December was how effectively the power play was clicking. This led the charge while the five-on-five play struggled.

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Now that the lines are more spread out and the Oilers are getting more contributions throughout the lineup at even strength, it would really put them over the top to be able to score even 25 percent of the time on the power play. If they continue to struggle, this can shift the momentum right out of every power play and even allow unnecessary shorthanded goals against like we saw in the game vs the Vegas Golden Knights.

This brings us to a problem I’ve noticed. The power play has been the same, players and system alike. There’s no issue with how the puck is brought into the offensive zone, as the Oilers still do that efficiently. But as for how the players move, their role, and effectiveness, something needs to change.

Too much have we seen the regular lines be shuffled during a game, but something finally clicked to force Tippett’s hand in taking Tyson Barrie and Jesse Puljujarvi off the top power-play unit. We will cover three personnel changes the Oilers could make and stick with to try to get them out of this cold streak and allow them to be a feared power-play team once again.

Evander Kane or Zach Hyman in Net Front Role

The change occurred when Zach Hyman started to miss some games and Evander Kane wasn’t even a part of the Oilers yet. Puljujarvi got the call and was utilized in a net-front role on the Oilers’ first power play. He wasn’t able to get his stick on pucks or hammer home pucks, but he used his big body to screen the goalie.

The problem being he is very cold, recording two assists in his last 12 games. If the Oilers want to get their top unit going, they need a player who’s gotten the luck or been able to finish recently. Sometimes all it takes is one goal and the players can get their confidence back.

That brings us to the two best options to replace Puljujarvi in the net-front role. Hyman started the year on the first power play and has three goals, the same as Puljujarvi. Their personal success is actually very similar, but Hyman is more relentless with digging for pucks and staying in the dirty areas. So while the power play struggles with Puljujarvi on it in an important role in cutting off the goaltender’s vision, the overall success of the power play was much better to begin the year with Hyman in that spot (from ‘OILERS NOTES: Puljujarvi has been around net but pucks not finding ways in,’ Edmonton Sun, 2/1/22).

At the very least, switch things up and see if they improve. Now onto the other option, Kane. He has recorded 47 career power-play goals and 44 power-play assists. He most notably scored 14 goals on the power play in 2019-20. Kane is a shooter who has also showcased his ability to tip the puck in his short time with Edmonton, scoring his first goal in that fashion.

Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

He too is a big body that is hard to move. With more experience in the league and a known goal scorer, Kane can get to the right places and find the back of the net. He is a seven-time 20-goal scorer and two-time 30-goal scorer, having reached at least 20 goals six seasons in a row. It will take a bit of time to get back up to speed, but he is quickly getting there and the Oilers could use a boost. He has exclusively played with Connor McDavid until part-way through the game vs the Golden Knights, so the chemistry is starting to form.

Bouchard Replaces Barrie on the Point

It’s very clear after the poor showing Barrie exhibited against the Golden Knights that there needs to be a change on the point on the first power-play unit. He has missed some games over the Oilers’ most recent win streak and Evan Bouchard got the call. It’s well known that spot on the power play will be his sooner than later, and with the mistakes and ineffectiveness of Barrie, the change should come now.

Two clear advantages that Bouchard has over Barrie is his shot, most notably Bouchard’s slap shot, and the ability to get pucks through to the net. Vegas scored a shorthanded goal to extend their lead at a point where the momentum was in favour of the Oilers off of Barrie hitting a shin pad that led to a breakaway. Barrie also second-guessed a decision to put pressure on a Golden Knights player that cost them another goal against.

Tyson Barrie Edmonton Oilers
Tyson Barrie, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

With the mistakes and lapses on the power play and two good options to replace Barrie on the top power play in Bouchard or even Darnell Nurse, his time in Edmonton is limited and he will have to be a salary-cap sacrifice sooner rather than later at this rate. Yes, Bouchard is young and still adjusting to the NHL in a large role, but he’s proven to be a better option and a fresh face on the struggling power play.

Shuffle Second Unit

The Oilers’ second power-play unit may be the least used in the league given the top unit has McDavid and Leon Draisaitl who don’t tire easily and thrive with puck possession in the offensive zone. But if a group has struggled long enough, get a new look in there and some new faces. I’m not suggesting the second unit should get more playing time or start any power play, but there will be times when nothing is going for that unit and the second group comes on for 45 seconds.

One of the biggest issues I’ve found is the players that Tippett puts out there on the second unit. There are three untouchables on the first power-play unit: McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins while the other two have and will be switched around. That leaves Barrie, Bouchard, or Nurse to fill the defensive spot while Puljujarvi, Hyman, or Kane takes the net front role. Two of those players get the final two spots on the first unit, while the other four should be slotted in on the second, as it would still be a good unit, better than a number of teams.

The final spot should go to Ryan McLeod since he’s a centreman and the other forward options are all wingers. This would leave players like Kailer Yamamoto, Warren Foegele, and Duncan Keith as next-up options.

There is no good reason why Zack Kassian is given time on the second unit, especially with how he hasn’t been engaged and has failed to produce. There’s no reason to have him out there when he looks down at the puck too much and doesn’t have as much skill as many of the Oilers forwards. If he is to be used in a puck retrieval role, the unit would already have Hyman who is more than capable if he’s out there. If he was used in a net-front role, Puljujarvi has done that well enough to warrant the first unit’s time, but hasn’t got any of the bounces and is on a cold streak. Hyman and Kane, as I mentioned above, are also better net-front options than Kassian.

Zack Kassian Edmonton Oilers
Zack Kassian, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The coaching staff needs to quickly figure out that the same things haven’t worked for a while and it’s time to switch things up in the right areas. I did see Bouchard and Kane out there on the first power play after Barrie made some mistakes and the unit failed to convert early, but that has to stick for a while and not just a mid-game adjustment.

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