The Oilers' power play has been interesting to watch this year. It's stumbling along at a middle of the pack 17.1% (good for 19th) success rate, which is well below what it was last year. However, according to extra skater, their shots/60 are much improved from last year. At times, it seems like the Oilers are gaining good control of the zone and moving the puck around well, but despite good puck movement, it seems like the Oilers power play fails to get the penalty killers moving and open the up shooting lanes through the middle of the ice, which is something other power plays are able to do against the Oil. Are other teams simply playing a more effective PK system than the Oilers? I think not. It looks to me like there are three adjustments the Oilers could make to create better scoring chances from the middle of the ice on the power play.
Keys to the San Jose Sharks' Power Play
When the Oilers played the Sharks the other night, I made sure to pay close attention to the vaunted Sharks powerplay to see if I could identify anything the Sharks PP does that the Oilers could emulate using the players they have. Let's have a look at video of a couple shark power play goals from this year. Click the link to watch the video of each goal.
On this goal, Pavelski walks the blueline to draw the Flames' defender towards him, which creates space for Marleau to unleash his elite shot from the area that same defender is supposed to be covering. Pavelski skates with the puck to create open ice for Marleau.
Here, Boyle and Pavelski slide along the blueline to start the high defender moving. Then, when Boyle passes to Pavelski, Pavelski is moving towards the net, which forces the d-man to move to Pavelski since he seems to be the primary threat. The defender is already having trouble trying to choose which way to go, and get moving in that direction when Pavelski quickly moves it back to Boyle, who hammers it home. Once again, Pavelski and Boyle open the shooting lanes by moving around the zone, instead of staying stationary.
1. Move the Feet AND the Puck!
My point is this: it seems like San Jose has such an effective power play because their players move the puck quickly AND move themselves around the attacking zone. This makes it much harder for the defenders to anticipate passes and cover shooting lanes at the same time.
Now the Oilers, to my eye, actually move the puck around the zone rather well. However, they seem find their spot in the zone where the coach tells them to stand and they don't stray far from that spot. They rarely have more than one player moving to gain a positional advantage at any given time. If they could start to add some motion into their PP setup, and occasionally send a cutter through the middle of the PK box, I think they would find that the passing and shooting lanes would open up for them.
2. Move Aggressively Towards the Net Until Defended
They second tweak that the Oilers could make to improve the PP is for the player with the puck to skate towards the net more frequently. I've noticed that a lot of PK's will hang back away from their man and not bother pressuring the puck carrier (TSN had a wonderful graphic of it the other night). Teams can do this because the Oilers don't frequently try to skate to the middle of the ice and shoot on their power plays. In every sport, whether it's soccer, hockey, basketball, or whatever, players are generally coached to carry the puck/ball towards the goal until a defender comes to challenge them. If the defender doesn't challenge or gets to you late, you should have a good shot. If you force him to defend you aggressively, then you should have a teammate open to pass to. It's a pretty basic concept, and one our strong attackers should be able to execute.
3. Shoot From the Point
Lastly, the Oilers defensemen need to start firing some pucks from the point. As much as I've disliked Larsen's play thus far, he is a welcome addition on the power play because he always looks to shoot first. The opposing PK actually has to send a man to challenge him. When any of the other power play d-men get it at the point, the opposition players are just sagging back towards their net and trying to stop passes because they know there is no dangerous shot coming. It essentially allows the 4 PKers to cover 4 of the power play attackers with no fear of the 5th man (the skater with the puck) shooting.
The best part about these changes? They can be made by each individual player without altering their power play system at all. If each player could make these small adjustments, I believe the power play would likely generate more opportunities and create more space in the offensive zone on the power play.