I was recently engaged in a conversation about penalty kills with the fellows who run Pension Plan Puppets. They too, cheer for a team dead set on playing the Diamond penalty kill to unimpressive results. The failures of the Oilers on the penalty kill have been discussed at length in the Oilogosphere, but haven't been of enough import to garner mention in the Edmonton dailies. Of course, since the dailies can't pin the faults of the penalty kill on Tom Gilbert and Dustin Penner, it's unlikely they'll ever mention the shortcomings of Tom Renney or Nikolai Khabibulin.
Below is a list of the worst penalty kills in the league since the lockout including this season.
|Toronto Maple Leafs||2009-2010||74.65|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||2008-2009||74.68|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||2010-2011||76.27|
To say the Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled while short-handed in recent years is an understatement. Two of those seasons, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 were played under Ron Wilson's Diamond penalty kill. One thing is for certain - the learning curve on the Diamond is steep. The Leafs have been running it for over a year and remain at the bottom of the rankings. Oiler fans expecting a turnaround in the penalty kill this year may be in for a long wait.
But how much better would things be this season if the Oilers ran the traditional box and played at last year's 27th-best penalty kill rates? Thus far, the Oilers are killing penalties at a 67.57% clip. Last season, the Oilers ended with a penalty kill rate of 78.03%. Using last year's box rates, the Oilers would have, to this point, only given up 16 goals, rather than 24 while short-handed, a net of 8 goals. Should this pace continue throughout the year, the Oilers will give up 109 power play goals. Last year, with the 27th-ranked penalty kill, they gave up 67 power play goals.
Luckily, this pace will not continue. A sizable portion of the Oilers' issues while short-handed were attributable to Khabibulin, one of the worst short-handed goalies in the league. Devan Dubnyk will improve the penalty kill by virtue of not being Khabibulin.
How much would Dubnyk have helped over the first 18 games of the season? Thus far, his short-handed save percentage has been .886, compared to Khabibulin's terrible .750, 59th of 65 goaltenders in the league and 30th out of 30 starters. The post-lockout average short-handed save percentage is .868, but Khabibulin's terrible number has dragged Edmonton's number down to .791. Giving the Oilers an average save percentage eliminates 8 goals while short-handed. Of course, switching to the box and using Dubnyk instead of Khabibulin isn't going to save 16 goals as suggested above, but we can demonstrate those moves will save between 8 and 16 goals, or somewhere between 1 and 2.5 wins.
If the goal for the season is to allow everyone a long, slow education on the Diamond penalty kill, Dubnyk is the better choice to at least give the Oilers a fighting chance while short-handed. If the goal for the season is to remain somewhat competitive, it's better to drop Renney's Diamond for something more traditional and use the summer and the 2010 camp to make an another attempt at implementing Renney's Diamond. To give the boys a fighting chance, putting Devan Dubnyk in a box would be the best bet.