The Edmonton Oilers’ fast start to the 2021-22 season can be attributed to a lot of factors, but many point to a power play operating at close to 50 percent efficiency as the key to their early-season success. The question is, can Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and company keep up this pace? And what will happen if the Oilers make the playoffs and the referees put away their whistles like they often do during the postseason?
It might be unrealistic to think that a team can maintain a 40 to 50 percent power play rate throughout an 82 game season, but you can’t count out this year’s version of the Oilers. Not only is the first unit power play operating at high efficiency right now, but the second unit has been chipping in with some timely goals and keeping the overall PP percentage high.
When you have a pool of highly skilled offensive-minded players such as McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, Tyson Barrie, Evan Bouchard and the “Bison King” Jesse Puljujärvi to choose from, expectations are high. This season’s version of the Oilers’ first and second power-play units could rival the best power plays in NHL history, which includes the powerhouse 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens, who achieved a 31.9 percent rate while on their way to winning the Stanley Cup that season.
McDavid Drew Zero Penalties Last Postseason
The NHL is the only North American professional sports league that seems to have a different set of rules for the post-season than the regular season. Why is that? Last playoffs, the Winnipeg Jets shut down the Oilers‘ power play on their way to a four-game sweep. If you are a Jets fan, you thought your team neutralized the Oilers through strong team play, quickness and toughness. If you’re an Oilers fan, you wondered aloud what the Oilers, especially McDavid, had to do to draw more penalties.
The fact is McDavid didn’t draw one penalty in 121 shifts in the series against the Jets. And the season before that in the series against the Chicago Blackhawks, McDavid drew one penalty in four games (From: “Tychkowski: ‘McDavid says enforcing the NHL’s rules might actually be worth a try.’ Edmonton Sun, 9/15/21).
Before the start of the season, McDavid opened up about the challenges he faces and those of the referees. If you’re an Oilers fan, you have to hope that someone was listening and this will translate into some changes when it comes to how the games are called. However, if it’s business as usual in the playoffs, do the Oilers have a realistic chance of advancing deep into the playoffs without a potent power play?
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
It seems as though the Oilers learned some tough lessons from last season’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Jets. They seem more focused and even hungrier to make some noise in 2021-22. They’ve added grit, experience and character, and general manager Ken Holland might not be done tinkering with the team. Talk doesn’t seem to be going away about trading for a goaltender. You have to believe that as the playoffs draw closer, the team will be preparing itself for the postseason with the expectation that there will be less power-play time than the regular season.
Whether the Oilers are able to score more at five-on-five remains to be seen. But maybe the referees and the league will remember McDavid’s early-season press conference, and he might draw a few more penalties than he did in last season’s playoffs. You have to think he’d draw at least one more than he did against the Jets last postseason. Or maybe not.
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.