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The Oilers’ special teams are going to be fine

NHL: Preseason-Edmonton Oilers at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest issues for the Oilers this early in the season has been their special teams. And it was a big focus for the team at practice on Friday.

When stories like this come out, it's worth digging into a little further for a couple of reasons. Since the focus is on goals, both scoring them on the powerplay and preventing them on penalty kill, we're dealing with all sorts of luck. Goals are influenced by so many factors, we have to be able to dig into the shot metrics to know if the special teams success is sustainable or not.

It's also good to know what the underlying numbers are like and which player's are driving or dragging the team in the hopes that the team makes intelligent decisions going forward. For example, Mark Letestu has a history of success on the powerplay, but you wouldn't think it considering he's been mostly a bottom-six type player. Initially, the Oilers didn't even give him a chance on the powerplay, even healthy scratching him for a stretch of games early last season. Today, he's a key part of the powerplay and a big reason why they're able to generate so many shots.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Chicago Blackhawks Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

First, a look at the Oilers powerplay.

The club currently rank 24th in the league in goals per hour on the powerplay with 4.81. That's well below league average, and also below where they were at last season when they generated 7.78 goals per hour (6th in the league and 1st in the western conference). Here's the thing though: this season the Oilers rank 7th in the league when it comes to generating unblocked shot attempts per hour sitting at 82.97.

Season GP Goals For/60 Fenwick For/60 Shooting%
2016/17 82 7.78 75.92 14.36%
2017/18 9 4.81 82.97 8.33%

It's early in the season, but that's an incredible number and increases the chances that the Oilers have success on the powerplay. Keep in mind too that Draisaitl, who was outstanding last season on the powerplay leading the team in points (25) and primary assists (11), has missed a few games. With him back on the first unit, the Oilers rate of goals per hour should gradually improve.

As a quick check, I looked into what percentage of the shot attempts were coming from the defencemen. I noticed a few plays over the last week or so where the defencemen were getting more point shots. My concern with that is those point shots tend to have a lower probability of going in. But looking at the numbers, the team is still getting about 25% of the shot attempts from the blue line, which is consistent with what they did last season.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Next, the penalty kill.

The club was dreadful when shorthanded against the Stars on Thursday night. Three goals against and some really poor decision making by the skaters, so it's going to get some attention.

This season, the Oilers rank 30th in the league when it comes to goals against per hour with 10.40, only ahead of the Panthers. The good news however is that the team is doing a pretty decent job suppressing shots over the first nine games, ranking 7th in the league with 71.87 unblocked shot attempts against per hour. It's easy to point to all of the glaring mistakes from the last game, but there are some encouraging numbers that the team can hopefully build on. The players that stand out right now are Larsson, Nurse and Nugent-Hopkins, with the rate of shots against dropping when they have been on the ice.

I'd hate to see the coaching staff start to tinker with the roster too much at this point, and move out the players who have actually been effective. And I'd especially hate to see management spend assets to improve the penalty kill, or do something drastic like sign Chris Kelly. Honestly, this team focuses so much on goal-stats that it wouldn't surprise me if they do end up hitting the panic button.

The other issue which might not get much attention is the Oilers goaltending, which ranks 30th with an 81.03% save percentage on the penalty kill - only ahead of the lowly Coyotes. Now Talbot was a big reason why the Oilers had success on the penalty kill last season. The club would allow a ton of shots, but were pretty much bailed out by him on a regular basis. Talbot himself has an excellent career save percentage on the penalty kill (88.58% over 194 games) so I wouldn't expect the Oilers PK numbers to stay where they are.

The Oilers powerplay and penalty aren't getting results right now, but there's some encouraging underlying numbers that the team should be happy with. The processes that they have in place to generate shots and suppress shots are working for them, and shouldn’t be disregarded because the end-results haven’t been quite there yet. With Draisaitl back from his injury, the powerplay should gradually improve. And if the Oilers stay the course and continue suppressing shots, and if Talbot can get back to his career levels, I fully expect their penalty kill results to improve as well.

Data: Natural Stat Trick