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Checking in on the Oilers Powerplay

The Oilers powerplay is looking good right now, but is it sustainable?

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

After some early season struggles, the Oilers look to have improved their powerplay efficiency as the club currently ranks 9th overall at 89.5%. Worth noting that their shooting percentage with the man advantage is hovering around  14.8%, which is just slightly above the league average of 12.7%.

This is all well and good until you dig in a little deeper and examine their rate of shot generation. For powerplay analysis, I prefer using Fenwick For/60, or the unblocked shot attempts per hour (FF/60), for a couple of reasons. Assistant coach Jay Woodcroft, who manages the team powerplay,  emphasized last season, and again this past week, the importance of shots getting through and to break down the opposing team's penalty kills by sustaining pressure (Source: Inside Sports, 630 CHED). Fenwick For/60 has also been shown to be a good predictor of future success with the man-advantage (Source: Objective NHL), with the majority of successful powerplay teams being able to maintain their rate of unblocked shot attempts through a season.

The Oilers currently rank 22nd in the league when it comes to FF/60 on the powerplay. Their 65.5 unblocked shot attempts per hour is below the league average of 73.2, and well behind Washington and Los Angeles who are generating more than 90 shot attempts per hour with the man advantage.

Below is a table that lists out the Oilers forwards who have been getting regular ice time on the powerplay (minimum of 10 minutes this season), along with the team rate of unblocked shot attempts per hour when they're on the ice (FF/60). I've also included the 'relative to team' number to give a sense of how their teammates do with and without them, along with each individual forwards rate of shot attempts (i.e., rate of shots they generate individually), to get a sense of which player is actually getting the puck through. (Source: Hockey Analysis)

Player TOI FF/60 FF/60 Relative to teammates iFenwick/60
MCDAVID, CONNOR 37:28 60.85 -2.41 4.80
EBERLE, JORDAN 36:49 61.93 -1.06 14.67
LUCIC, MILAN 36:45 60.41 -2.94 14.69
DRAISAITL, LEON 34:44 65.64 1.69 19.00
NUGENT-HOPKINS, RYAN 27:27 74.32 4.61 13.11
MAROON, PATRICK 26:29 77.03 5.06 18.12
POULIOT, BENOIT 25:13 73.76 1.48 14.28
PULJUJARVI, JESSE 15:42 84.08 14.9 30.57
LETESTU, MARK 12:28 71.24 4.50 4.75

What's interesting here is how the Oilers top line of McDavid, Lucic and Eberle, are getting the most ice time on the powerplay, yet are posting some low numbers when it comes to the rate of unblocked shot attempts. It's puzzling that the Oilers actually generate more shots without McDavid, and do quite well with some of the other, more secondary players. In his limited minutes, rookie Jesse Puljujarvi looks like a shooting machine, while Draisaitl and Maroon are posting good numbers themselves.

Sort that table above by the iFenwick/60, and young McDavid is last among the regular forwards, meaning he's not taking nearly enough shots on the powerplay. Knowing how good of a shot he has, you would think the powerplay would be drawn up to get more shots from him. The other issue here is that opposing teams are spending more effort covering him to limit his time and space, which would also impact his success rate when it comes to generating shots.

What I also found interesting was that Milan Lucic isn't too far off from his career numbers here when it comes to generating shots on the powerplay. In Los Angeles last season, and especially in Boston the year prior, Lucic was not exactly pushing the needle when it came to generating shots. I do expect his numbers to improve as an Oiler as long as he's with McDavid, but I would not expect Lucic to be any sort of driver on the ice.

What's also been a glaring issue for the Oilers since last season has been the lack of right shooting options on the powerplay. Distributing the puck and setting up a shot is much more efficient when teams have a balance of left and right shooters.  Among the nine forwards listed above, only three are right-handed shooters: Eberle, who gets plenty of ice time, and Puljujarvi and Letestu, who rank 8th and 9th among nine forwards when it comes to ice time. Based on the relative-to-team metric, the Oilers do better at generating shots when Puljujarvi or Letestu are on the ice. It may not be a bad idea to give these two more ice time to get more right handed passing options and distribute the puck more efficiently to get shots off. Worth noting that Letestu was very good last season for the Oilers on the powerplay, as the club performed better when he was on the ice.

With Klefbom and Sekera, two left handed shots, being the two most common defencemen on the powerplay, and the club always going with four forwards, it's even more imperative that the club have more right handed options up front. The team chose to proceed without a right handed, offensive option from the blue line and failed to address their right wing depth when plenty of options were available. It would be a shame if the club continued to play well at even-strength and start getting let down by a powerplay unit that has firepower, but not enough options to distribute the puck and set up shots.