It has been a while since we’ve seen the Edmonton Oilers‘ power play do some damage in a game, and what a perfect time to come alive in the Battle of Alberta. As we all know, the Oilers have been on a downward spiral and finding ways to lose. This is largely in part to the special teams really suffering.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman have missed games, so the blame can’t solely be placed on the new faces stepping in and trying to fill those roles. In the win over the Calgary Flames, the Oilers had three players that we normally wouldn’t see on the first power-play unit all out there on the man advantage with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Evan Bouchard was the latest addition to the top unit for their past game because Tyson Barrie, who’s normally on the point, was unavailable. The other two, Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto, have been on the top unit longer due to Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman’s statuses.
Nugent-Hopkins was recently placed on long-term injured reserve and Hyman’s health has always been a question with how he plays the game. With Barrie one of the most likely candidates to move before his contract is up, we could see any or all of Bouchard, Puljujarvi, and Yamamoto promoted in a more permanent role on the power play going forward. This is what makes their comfortability and adjustment to the top unit so vital.
Oilers’ Power Play Finally Coming to Life
The Oilers’ power play was one of the aspects of their game suffering over their seven-game losing streak, going one for 11. Whether it’s their opponents being disciplined when they play the Oilers, the players not doing enough to draw penalties, or the referees not calling enough penalties in the game, only 11 power plays in a seven-game stretch isn’t enough to get the unit going, especially when they had zero power plays in one game and only one in three others.
Now the third game in a row where the Oilers have had three power plays in a game, the new faces can finally get the time together in game action to work out the kinks and find success. That’s exactly what they did, scoring two power-play goals in a span of 4:06 in the second period against the Flames to tie the game. This shifted the momentum into the Oilers’ favour and allowed them to then take the lead and eventually win the game. But failing to execute on one or both of those power plays at a vital time in the game could’ve deflated the team and not given them the ability to climb back in the game.
Breakdown of Bouchard, Puljujarvi, & Yamamoto on the Power Play
It has been well noted at this point that whenever Bouchard’s ice time and role are increased, he elevates his game. Of course, nobody can have a great game every night, but for the most part, he is more engaged and steps up. He played over 24 minutes in the game vs the Flames and scored two goals, both of the Oilers’ power-play goals (“Player grades: “Bouch bombs” awaken slumbering Oilers powerplay, ignite comeback win over Flames”, Edmonton Journal, Jan. 23, 2022).
This game saw Bouchard slotted in the top-four on defence rather than buried on the third pairing. If you follow the Oilers, you know and can observe how Dave Tippett utilizes his bottom lines, forward and defence. Bouchard has been caught in that system of playing a lot less and being put in a position to fail rather than succeed. A 22-year-old defenceman who looks to be one of the faces of the blue line for a long time doesn’t need to be buried but given the opportunity to play his game how he knows how and provide the Oilers with a player outperforming his contract.
The development and the quick progression of Bouchard at the NHL level has put the idea in the minds of many that Barrie looks to be expendable and the Oilers will be forced to trade him before his deal is over. He was signed to a three-year deal, mostly because of the offensive value he provides at even strength and specifically on the power play. This was supposed to cover the time it would take Bouchard to develop and become an impactful player, but that has been fast-tracked.
Bouchard has been able to produce more than Barrie without much time at all on the power play. Give Bouchard a real shot on the man advantage and look at what you get, two goals on the first two power plays. Both shots were from the point and his ability to get shots through has been talked about, as well as his booming slap shot when he takes it. If the power play is at full strength, there are already three left-handed players on it. It wouldn’t mess around with where the players on the top unit put the puck, as it is an easier transition to go from a righty in Barrie to a righty in Bouchard. Even upon the return of Barrie, the Oilers should keep running with Bouchard and get him transitioned full-time into that role on the first power-play unit.
Puljujarvi has replaced Nugent-Hopkins on the power play but has been playing in the net-front role where Hyman plays. This has been an adjustment because Hyman and Nugent-Hopkins haven’t missed all of the same games and Puljujarvi is the first man in to replace either one of them on the power play (“Lowetide: Forget the Connor McDavid bump, Jesse Puljujarvi is the real deal after all”, The Athletic, Jan 12, 2022).
When Hyman is in the lineup, we’ve seen Puljujarvi man the left side where Nugent-Hopkins plays, hanging out at the opponent’s blue line to assist with zone entries. It’s almost always smooth with Nugent-Hopkins and either McDavid or Draisaitl, but they have played together and done that play for years now compared to Puljujarvi being thrown into that role. He has a good shot and as a right-handed player, would have a better angle on the left side for potential one-timers, but his size and strength are best utilized in a net-front role.
That is what we saw from him against the Flames. On both Bouchard goals, Puljujarvi was standing in front of the net screening a big Jacob Markstrom. Puljujarvi is 6’4 and over 200 lbs, a big frame to get in the way of the goalie’s vision, and difficult to move. His strength and reach also allow him to win puck battles over the defender and get his stick on rebounds. Though he didn’t assist on either of the power-play goals on the scoresheet, if he wasn’t in perfect position in front of the net, Markstrom would have been able to see the shots. Puljujarvi has found his home on the power play, and once Hyman returns, which will be sooner than Nugent-Hopkins, Tippett should continue to utilize Puljujarvi in that net-front position.
The smallest body on the power play and the Oilers, Yamamoto has been used on the top unit in a different fashion. Instead of slotting in on the left side of the ice in the offensive zone, he has been in the high slot, creating an initial screen and causing interference with the high man defending.
On both power-play goals by Bouchard from the point, Yamamoto was in the high slot causing more traffic from the direction the puck is coming from as well as an option with his stick always on the ice for a possible deflection if someone wants to throw a hard pass at his stick. When McDavid and Draisaitl work the wall and get in close to the net, Yamamoto moves in and creates that second outlet in front of the net, bringing in more bodies for possible bank shots, confusion, and for the point to open up.
It’s a different look than what the Oilers and their stars have grown accustomed to, but with the success found in the last game, it’s something the newly added players are getting more comfortable with and McDavid and Draisaitl are now adjusting to. With the Oilers’ power play starting the night out lower than first place in the NHL, they worked themselves right back above 30 percent with that effort and are once again quickly on top of the league. A big part of their offence comes from the power play, so they will need it to continue firing and succeeding with or without the regulars.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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