For those wondering, part 2 of cycling the puck is still in progress. Basement (insert your favourite blogger joke), renovations have managed to eat away most of my free time over the past month and sap what little free time I have that didn’t involve watching the Oilers (not even my wife’s dirtiest look will convince me to stop watching them).
In order to help break up the posts about the WJHC and how badly the Wild may or may not suck, I want to take a quick look at the Oilers ability (or lack thereof) to win face-offs on the power play. As it stands right now, Shawn Horcoff is currently sitting at a 47.5% success rate while the Oilers are on the PP, and that’s well below what the 55% you’d expect.
Part of winning a face-off is the ability of the centre which includes strength, speed, savvy and other "s" words that sound endearing. The other part of winning a face-off is the ability of your teammates to win puck battles. One of the reasons you expect your face-off percentage to increase while on the PP is that you out number your opposition and therefore have more players to engage and win a puck battle.
Due to the fact TV producers have decided that face-offs are less important than random shots of the crowd while they try and promote tickets versus a team no one wants to watch, I hadn’t really noticed what was happening on the Oilers PP face-offs (specifically the ones with the 1st PP unit).
Generally, your typical face-off alignment while on the PP is as follows:
The opposition PK is strongest where the PKF and RD are positioned. It is up to the PP LW to cut in front of the F and down in behind the opposition C. At the same time, the PP RW wants to cut behind his C and look for the puck there. The reason why you do this that if the puck goes to the boards, the RW has enough time to provide pressure and the RD is can block the clearing lane. You have a better chance regaining the puck that way than you do if the puck goes to where the PKers are the strongest.
The Oilers follow this alignment. Nugent-Hopkins is the LW off the draw, Hall is the RW.
When the puck gets dropped, Nugent-Hopkins starts heading behind Horcoff as the puck goes right to the PKF for the Wild. It’s an easy poke to the defenseman who then clears the zone.
Enough has been made about how little face-offs actually contribute to offense, but you are still better off winning the face-off than losing it, especially in a situation where you have a man advantage. This first unit needs to be much better at winning possession off the face-off than they have been and it starts with using the numbers advantage to attack the loose puck and get into PK’s strong area much faster.