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Checking in on the Oilers Penalty Kill

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The Oilers penalty kill is clicking right now. Is it sustainable?

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, I took a look at the Oilers powerplay to see if their goal production with the man advantage was sustainable, or if there were other issues at play here. My key takeaway from that review was that with their current rate of shot production, which ranks well below the league average, their goal scoring is likely to dry up. What was also interesting to me was that when the right-handed players were on the ice, the club did much better generating shots. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of them on the team, which is something the team has not yet addressed.

I figured now would also be a good time to check in on the Oilers penalty kill, which ranks 4th in the league with 90.2% efficiency, and allowing 3.54 goals per hour, which has them 4th best in the league. But if we look at the total unblocked shots against, the team ranks well below average, sitting at 79.7 shots per hour, which is the 8th highest in the league. A big reason why the Oilers are doing so well shorthanded has been the stellar play of goaltender Cam Talbot, who has started all but one of the games. The team's save percentage shorthanded sits at 93.55%, third best in the league. Talbot himself is posting a 94.92 save percentage, second in the league among goalies who have played at least 50 minutes on the penalty kill this season. Coming into the season, Talbot has posted a 90.52% save percentage shorthanded over the course of 113 games split between Edmonton and New York, so it's likely his current numbers will eventually regress to his average. Worth mentioning here that the 90.52% ranks him second among all goalies over the previous three seasons who have played at least 500 minutes on the penalty kill. 

Top 10 Goaltenders - Penalty Kill - 2013/14 to 2015/16

Player Team(s) GP TOI Sv%
SEMYON VARLAMOV COL 177 865.93 90.61
CAM TALBOT EDM/NYR 113 604.14 90.52
BEN BISHOP T.B 186 1025.45 90.5
MARC-ANDRE FLEURY PIT 186 987.26 90.45
BRIAN ELLIOTT STL 119 612.17 90.32
CORY SCHNEIDER N.J 172 984.21 90.22
FREDERIK ANDERSEN ANA 125 671.76 89.96
CAREY PRICE MTL 137 780.5 89.58
MICHAL NEUVIRTH PHI/BUF/NYI/WSH 79 510.84 89.39
JAROSLAV HALAK NYI/STL/WSH 147 720.89 89.32

That's all well and good and we can hope that Talbot maintains his performance. But the team would also be better off limiting those shots against in the first place. Below is the list of forwards and defencemen, ranked by ice time, who have played at least 10 minutes on the penalty kill this season. Included is the player's ice time and the rate of shot attempts against that happen when they're on the ice as well their shot attempts relative to their teammates. I've also included the 'relative to teammates' number to give a sense of how their teammates do with and without them. In this case, a negative number is a good thing.

Forwards - Penalty Kill

Player Name TOI FA/60 FA/60 Relative to Teammates
LETESTU, MARK 35:43 92.39 11.07
LANDER, ANTON 27:53 86.07 2.5
NUGENT-HOPKINS, RYAN 22:12 78.38 3.59
POULIOT, BENOIT 18:36 74.19 -2.49
MCDAVID, CONNOR 12:49 65.54 -7.14
KASSIAN, ZACK 10:44 39.13 -38.74

Letestu and Lander, the fourth line, depth forwards are leading the way in ice time here, with Hendricks and Pakarinen out with injuries. RNH has also been a regular here, which makes sense as his defensive game has been getting better. Based on the shots against, Pouliot and McDavid have been very good in terms of driving the rate of shots against down when they're on the ice. Kassian, in limited minutes, appears to have been effective as well before he got injured.

Defence - Penalty Kill

Player Name TOI FA/60 FA/60 Relative to Teammates
RUSSELL, KRIS 26:23 84.14 8.43
SEKERA, ANDREJ 25:25 66.10 -11.37
NURSE, DARNELL 24:15 106.39 25.49
LARSSON, ADAM 19:27 77.12 3.34
GRYBA, ERIC 19:04 69.23 -18.76
KLEFBOM, OSCAR 18:34 67.86 -9.10

Here we see the Oilers second pairing of Russell and Sekera getting a bulk of the ice time with Nurse not too far behind. I'm a little surprised that Larsson hasn't been the time-on-ice leader here considering his history as a shut-down type in New Jersey and some of the verbal about his defensive game. At this point, the defencemen who are able to impact the number of shots against in a good way are Gryba, Sekera and Klefbom. What's very surprising here is how the shots against shoot up when Nurse is on the penalty kill.

Worth mentioning here that at 5v5, Nurse is also posting the highest rate of unblocked shot attempts against among the Oilers regular defencemen. His overall share of those shot attempts (FF%) does rank him in the middle of the pack as the team generates a decent amount of shots with him on the ice. But considering he's been playing fewer minutes than last season, and does not play against the top pairings, I was expecting these numbers to be better.

Oilers Defence - 5v5

Player Name GP TOI FF60 FA60 FF% iFenwick/60
NURSE, DARNELL 13 197:07 41.09 43.53 48.60 8.22
SEKERA, ANDREJ 13 207:45 36.68 41.30 47.00 5.78
RUSSELL, KRIS 11 192:40 36.75 41.11 47.20 5.29
LARSSON, ADAM 13 223:58 43.60 39.49 52.50 3.85
GRYBA, ERIC 9 135:22 35.46 38.12 48.20 4.88
KLEFBOM, OSCAR 13 223:20 42.18 36.27 53.80 8.06

Takeaways

The Oilers will definitely need to improve their penalty kill and reduce the amount of shots against to ensure long-term success. Goaltending has been masking their issues, and we can fully expect Talbot's numbers to eventually come back down to earth. What may also be hidden by their current 90.2% penalty kill is the fact that one of their prized defensive prospects isn't doing so well right now, and should be addressed. One thing that might be worth looking into is taking Nurse off of the penalty kill, and actually plugging him into the powerplay, where he has yet to play a single minute this season. The team does well generating unblocked shot attempts when he's on the ice at 5v5, with Nurse actually leading the defencemen when it comes to the rate of individual shot attempts (iFenwick/60). This does not address the handedness issue I touched on recently. But it could help the team in an area they're struggling with and also puts a developing prospect in a situation to succeed

Data sources: Corsica HockeyHockey Analysis