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Exploring the Oilers' Powerplay Issues

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Taking a look at the 2015/16 powerplay and what the deficiencies might be.

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers powerplay has received extensive criticism this season as the club sits 19th in the league with a 17.5% success rate. The expectations were high as Todd McLellan and Jay Woodcroft ran very good powerplays in San Jose, even finishing in the top three in the league a few times. At the start of the season, Woodcroft discussed some of the concepts the coaching staff were going to instill and what would make them successful.

Everything for us comes off of the shot so we want to encourage our team to shoot the puck and we have clear retrieval points of how to get the puck back once the shot is taken. Teams in the NHL are very good on the kill, they bring a lot of pressure and so it's very important that everyone is on the same page, but again, no set plays. We have principle and structure rather than set plays. (Source: OilersNation)

We know from past research that the generation rate of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick For/60) is a good predictor of powerplay success (Source: Objective NHL). Unfortunately, this aspect of the game has been an issue all season for the Oilers as they don't generate enough shot attempts on the powerplay, and often have their shots blocked. While premier powerplay teams like the Capitals, Ducks and Bruins also lead the league in Fenwick For per 60 (FF/60), the Oilers rank 19th (at 62.04) with little progress since October. Below is their 10-game rolling average of FF/60 on the powerplay this season (Source: Corsica Hockey).

So really, we shouldn't be surprised that the Oilers have been poor on the powerplay. But when we dig into the individual player performances, we start finding some interesting stuff.

Below is a sortable table of the Oiler forwards who have spent at least 50 minutes on the powerplay this season. Included are the players' point totals, along with the rate at which the team generates unblocked shot attempts when they're on the ice. I've also included the "relative-to-team" number for unblocked shot attempts/60,  to show the difference between the overall team stat and the individuals stat. The individual FF/60 (iFF/60) captures the rate at which shot attempts came from the players stick.

Player GP TOI G A P P/60 FF/60 Rel.FF/60 iFF/60
CONNOR MCDAVID 36 103.45 2 8 10 5.80 76.56 22.65 10.44
MARK LETESTU 73 149.72 2 7 9 3.61 75.74 25.74 16.43
BENOIT POULIOT 55 132.37 4 4 8 3.63 73.43 20.54 17.68
JORDAN EBERLE 60 152.19 6 3 9 3.55 68.99 15.66 13.80
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS 49 135.06 4 7 11 4.89 65.30 6.13 10.22
TAYLOR HALL 73 203.72 4 6 10 2.95 61.26 2.36 14.14
TEDDY PURCELL 64 161.49 2 3 5 1.86 58.70 -3.20 11.15
LEON DRAISAITL 63 158.63 4 4 8 3.03 58.63 -5.18 9.83
ANTON LANDER 58 56.85 0 0 0 0.00 56.99 -1.26 7.39
LAURI KORPIKOSKI 62 57.15 2 2 4 4.20 54.59 -0.67 10.50
NAIL YAKUPOV 51 94.11 1 4 5 3.19 50.37 -12.59 10.20

When sorted by the FF/60 relative to team metric, we have McDavid, Letestu and Pouliot at the top. And very surprisingly, we see Taylor Hall at 6th with a paltry +2.36. I say paltry because this is far from what he has posted in the past. We know Hall is a shot generation machine historically on the powerplay, with the club faring much, much better when he's on the ice.

Season GP TOI G A P P/60 FF/60 Rel.FF/60 iFF/60
2010/11 65 169.23 7 3 10 3.55 53.54 -1.0 13.83
2011/12 61 178.26 11 8 19 6.40 63.61 4.54 18.18
2012/13 45 136.36 4 9 13 5.72 56.32 10.89 10.56
2013/14 75 220.99 6 10 16 4.34 69.78 24.98 18.19
2014/15 53 127.15 2 3 5 2.36 74.56 25.11 21.71
2015/16 73 203.72 4 6 10 2.95 61.26 2.36 14.14

Point production wise, he's better than last season, which was definitely an off-year for him. But the rate at which the team generates shot attempts when he's on the ice has dropped significantly. Hall can still generate individual unblocked shot attempts, and is third on the team behind Letestu and Pouliot this season. But the 2015/16 numbers are definitely a drop for Hall as he typically leads the Oilers in on-ice shot attempts, with the team doing significantly better when he's on the ice.

What we can also do thanks to Corsica Hockey is see the line combinations that are working well when it comes to generating unblocked shot attempts on the powerplay. Below is a table of the combinations who have played at least 30 minutes together, along with their FF/60, and sorted by their relative-to-team numbers.

Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 TOI FF/60 Rel.FF/60
JORDAN.EBERLE CONNOR.MCDAVID BENOIT.POULIOT 38.38 89.11 44.68
JORDAN.EBERLE MARK.LETESTU CONNOR.MCDAVID 34.95 90.99 44.20
JORDAN.EBERLE MARK.LETESTU BENOIT.POULIOT 63.55 80.25 29.90
MARK.LETESTU CONNOR.MCDAVID BENOIT.POULIOT 52.64 83.21 24.88
JORDAN.EBERLE TEDDY.PURCELL TAYLOR.HALL 35.01 61.70 10.39
RYAN.NUGENT-HOPKINS TEDDY.PURCELL TAYLOR.HALL 70.78 66.97 6.15
MARK.LETESTU NAIL.YAKUPOV BENOIT.POULIOT 37.67 66.90 5.34
JORDAN.EBERLE LEON.DRAISAITL TAYLOR.HALL 33.21 46.97 -3.33
LEON.DRAISAITL TEDDY.PURCELL TAYLOR.HALL 105.2 54.75 -11.31
LEON.DRAISAITL RYAN.NUGENT-HOPKINS TAYLOR.HALL 35.88 53.51 -12.83
LEON.DRAISAITL RYAN.NUGENT-HOPKINS TEDDY.PURCELL 34.33 54.18 -15.96

Here we see Hall playing a ton of minutes with guys like Draisaitl, Purcell, RNH and Eberle, yet not producing at a level that we expect from him when it comes to shot attempts. Benoit Pouliot shows well here, as he's been producing shot attempts within a variety of line combinations. And we can start to appreciate why Letestu, despite having only two primary assists at even-strength this season, continues getting plenty of powerplay time.

One more angle to look at Hall's generation of shot attempts is through WOWY ("with or without you") numbers. Since FF/60 isn't readily available for WOWY, I've displayed Hall's Corsi For/60 on the powerplay with different teammates.

Key thing to read from here are the red dots, which show how each teammate does without Hall on the ice with them. Hall does okay when it comes to shot attempts with most teammates, but players like McDavid, Eberle and Sekera do better without him on the ice with them. I don't think this is a slight on the player. But there might be something that those three do on the ice under McLellan's system that doesn't work for Hall's style of play.

Thoughts

Injuries have obviously been a factor for the Oilers, but the deficiencies on the powerplay have been disappointing nonetheless considering the success McLellan and Woodcroft have had in the past. What's also become apparent is the lack of unblocked shot attempts, and the role Taylor Hall has played this season. What's odd is that Hall is an elite winger, has a history of being an absolute driver for the team at even-strength, can produce shots and points, yet has seen his contributions to the team success on the powerplay drop this season.

My hunch is that there's something about McLellan's powerplay system that might not be working specifically for Hall. Considering how poor the powerplay has been, it'd be worth exploring all options, including player personnel, zone entry tactics and how the team sets up for shots.

All data and graphs were from Corsica Hockey.