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Replacing Horcoff On The Oilers' Power Play

<strong>Dustin Penner might need to add to his already significant responsibilities.  </strong>Photo by: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images Sport <a href="" target="new">via Getty Images</a>
Dustin Penner might need to add to his already significant responsibilities. Photo by: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

"Possession is nine-tenths of the law."
--English Common Law

The fans have spoken.  Shawn Horcoff cannot spend even a second on the power play in 2010-2011 or the Oilers will suffer dire consequences.  I'm not sure what those consequences will be, but make no mistake, they will be dire.  The power play will flourish under the direction of the nameless, faceless replacement, and it will likely involve Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi.

All kidding aside, one of the common conversations amongst Oiler fans this summer has been the removal of Shawn Horcoff from the power play.  Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall are consistently mentioned as replacements on the first power play unit, but the fans overlook one major point: power plays are about possession, and a significant part of gaining possession is winning faceoffs.

Using a concept developed by Vic Ferrari of Irreverent Oiler Fans, Gabriel Desjardins of Behind The Net Hockey conducted a study on shot rates immediately after a defensive zone faceoff.  What he discovered was pretty amazing:

However, when you lose a faceoff in your own end, opponent shots on goal go up so quickly that it’s as though you gave the other team a 10-15 second power-play. For several seconds, the rate of shots allowed is as high as it is on a 5-on-3. The prospect of this level of defensive disadvantage, particularly late in a one-goal game, must give coaches nightmares.

Though this study and the accompanying graph was derived from the standpoint of the team taking the defensive zone faceoff, it's easy to see the offensive side of the shots rates in that graph.  The prevalence of shots immediately after an offensive zone faceoff win is markedly higher. Though this is a study of even strength faceoffs, we can assume (and I'm sure that Gabe will be along to prove it eventually) that the impact is even more pronounced during power play situations.  For that reason, it's imperative that any replacement for Shawn Horcoff on the Edmonton power play have the ability to win a faceoff, something that not many Oilers can do.

Over the last two seasons, the Oilers have ranked 24th and 30th in team faceoff percentage, at 47.9% and 46.4%, respectively.

Year Team FO % NHL Rank
2009-10 46.4% 30th
2008-09 47.9% 24th


Over that same time, the Oilers' significant power play centers have gone 515W - 493L for 51.1% on faceoffs during a power play.  The individual percentages are listed below:

Ryan Potulny  64 40 31 56.3%
Shawn Horcoff  157 248 197 55.7%
Dustin Penner  160 87 72 54.7%
Andrew Cogliano 164 38 50 43.2%
Sam Gagner  144 102 143 41.6%


Ryan Potulny is long gone and Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner still haven't figured out that whole pesky faceoff thing, even with a man advantage.  In the "newcomer" category, Colin Fraser isn't going to see any time on the power play, and Taylor Hall is eighteen and teenagers don't win faceoffs.

So there you have it.  The Oilers have one option to replace Horcoff on the power play - Dustin Penner.  If Tom Renney looks to the crowd and agrees that Horcoff should not be spared, his only choice can be Penner.  The Oilers need the puck to score goals on the power play, and Penner is the only "center" with power play skills that gives the Oilers a consistent chance in the circle.