The Edmonton Oilers powerplay has been subject to much criticism as of late due to their poor performance recently and poor numbers over the course of the year. Currently, the Oilers are 27th on the PP with a 16.2% success rate on the year and after a spike in powerplay success when Connor McDavid returned from injury, the Oilers have since had an 8.3% success rate over the last month (15 games played). Todd McLellan’s San Jose Sharks had the league’s 2nd best powerplay over the prior 5 seasons at 20.4%. So with this track record, why is the Oilers poweplay struggling so mightily?
Recently the top PP unit has consisted of a loaded unit with Draisaitl, Hall, Eberle, McDavid and Sekera. They generally have played a 1-3-1 umbrella arrangement. This units problem has been over passing puck around the top of the umbrella since none of the players at the top of the setup have a hard shot or the ability to get a quality shot through to the net. So other teams have been often defending the players down low, allowing the Oilers to pass the puck from the blueline to either half wall. One defender has constantly been in shooting lanes, knowing the Oilers top players have had a tendency to look for a perfect play. This then gets the Oilers players to try to force a pass down into tight coverage, which is generally easy to clear for the opponents’ PK.
The second unit has consisted of a lesser unit of Letestu, Korpikoski, Maroon, Clendening/Oesterle, Yakupov/Nugent-Hopkins. I have not gotten to watch a lot of this unit, but the drop off in skill before RNH came back from injury was obvious. However, they worked a lot harder to win battles on pucks and then when set up would move the puck around and funnel it to the net, which is what Todd McLellan preached earlier in the year. Get lots of shots on net and cause some chaos down low to create scoring chances. However, the lack of skill on this line is their downfall. They don’t have the same speed as the top unit to get to pucks quicker, and don’t have the same skill to make a good pass well being pressured.
Most of the problems with the Oilers powerplay have been due to a lack of execution, and that is definitely on the players, they need to perform what the coach has been pushing on them. However, the makeup of the units has me confused. I respect Todd McLellan a lot as a coach and believe he has done a good job this year, but I can’t wrap my head around having all the skill players on one line, and all the grittier players with some skill on the other. In a way it’s indicative of the Oilers team, in that they have too much of the same thing on both units. The top powerplay has no net front presence, they try to pass the puck into the net, so why not have Maroon or Korpikoski down low to lean on some defenders and create traffic in front? Only one player can touch the puck at a time, and usually McDavid is the one running the top unit, so why not let Draisaitl use his sublime passing skills to run the second unit? Another thing that hurts the PP is that the Oilers lack skilled right handed players, with Eberle being the only one left, last year the Oilers had more success on the PP when right handed players played on the left half boards or in the slot as they usually run the PP from the right half boards. It’s pretty simple that having players playing on their strong side helps.
For the rest of the season I’d like to see a mix up of personnel on the units. These are the lines I’d run:
Unit 1: McDavid, Eberle, Maroon, Korpikoski (Hall), Sekera
Unit 2: Draisaitl, RNH, Kassian, Pakarinen, Clendening/Oesterle
The top PP unit can still run the umbrella format with Eberle, Sekera and McDavid along the top, but having Maroon and Korpikoski down low and in the slot creates lots of traffic and allows for the puck to shift down low and get driven to the crease, and if the puck goes into the corner after being put on net from up top, I’d rather have two grittier players being in those battles for loose pucks.
The second PP unit now has lots of skill running it, and it can be run from the right side with Draisaitl and RNH rotating between the half wall and goal line and now they have three right handed options to feed, with Clendening at the point, Kassian in front of the net and Pakarinen in the slot giving another low one timer option.
Hall could easily replace Korpikoski or Pakarinen on either line, but Korpikoski has the 2nd most Pts/60 5v4 this year behind Connor McDavid so as long as he’s finding way to help on the PP I wouldn’t take him off. Also Hall’s greatest asset is his speed and his 5v5 play. When the PP ends, I definitely would rather see a fresh Taylor Hall out there taking a shift on another line to help sustain or create momentum in the Oilers favor than having a weaker line going straight up against some of the better players on the other team.
Todd McLellan has recently preached about the Oilers having to play a different way since they have tried to play the same way for years with no success. Well the same is starting to apply to this powerplay, insanity is repeating the same thing over and over while expecting a different result and this Oilers powerplay has been insanely bad as of late. Whatever the Oilers powerplay lines actually end up being, its time for a shakeup.
*Edit: As I wrote this the Oilers came out with the following lines:
Unit 1: McDavid, Hall, Letestu, Draisaitl, Sekera
Unit 2: RNH, Eberle, Maroon, Yakupov, Oesterle
The Oilers scored a goal on their first powerplay with Oesterle feeding Yakupov up high on the right half wall and his shot bounced loose to Maroon, who passed it to an open RNH in the slot for an easy goal. Already a mix of skill and size/grit is paying off early.
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