It seems like the Oilers power play allows more goals than it scores.
The team is on pace to give up 16 short handed goals this season. This would fall short of the record 22, last accomplished by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1995-1996 season. The Oilers have given up eight already, one more than the entirety of last year’s lockout-shortened season. Eight short-handed goals leads the NHL, likely not a statistic the team is proud of. Despite continuous practice drills, the power play just isn’t improving. They’ve tried varying structures, from five forwards to Andrew Ference on the point, with little to no success. The team drills the power play in practices, but it seems to be getting worse instead of better. Even with a man advantage, the Oilers just seem to be outnumbered out there. For every shot and every pass made by the Oilers, the team on the penalty kill is there to counter it. The defenders simply line up at the blue-line, forcing the Oilers players to the outside and destroying their power play structure. What little structure they do manage to maintain musters too few shots to seem like much of a threat.
Down 5-2 to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night, Dallas Eakins pulled Ilya Bryzgalov to give the Oilers a 6-on-3 power play with about eight minutes left in the third. With almost a minute of a three-man advantage, the Oilers failed to record a single shot on goal. Even with double the number of players on the ice, the Oilers couldn’t score.
Last season, the Oilers had a respectable power play. They scored 20.1% of the time, finding themselves eighth in the league at the end of the season. This season they have fallen all the way to nineteenth in the NHL, only capitalizing on 17.1% of their man advantages. Even in their worst struggles in the rebuild, the team has had a solid power play. Now, with some of the most talented players in the league, they are struggling more than ever.
Eakins has been criticized for keeping players like Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz off the power play, but is it really that much of a punishment? When the power play is struggling this much to produce, maybe keeping these players on the bench is a blessing in disguise. Yakupov doesn’t need his NHL-worst plus/minus rate dropping further due to a defensive gaff and a short handed goal and Schultz doesn’t need his struggling defensive play challenged by a short-handed breakaway.
It has been suggested that maybe the best solution is for the Oilers to avoid the power play altogether. If the power play is the issue, maybe preventing them is the solution. And while it is nearly impossible to prevent the other team from taking any penalties, it would be blissfully simple for an Oilers player to take a tripping penalty, nullifying the power play and entertaining the crowd with a little four-on-four action. It’s no secret that the Oilers’ skill players like Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shine with a bit more open ice. This might not fix their power play woes, but it would at least prevent any more short handed goals.
I have gained experience writing for the sports section of The Gateway, the campus newspaper for the University of Alberta and blogging for puckrant.com. I am completing my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, with aspirations to try my hand at sports writing for a career.