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The Oilers Powerplay Could Be the Difference Against San Jose

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

In their season series against the Sharks this season, the Oilers won three of the five games, going 3-1-1, outscoring them 16-13. Worth noting that at even-strength, the goals were even at eleven apiece, with the Sharks posting the better Corsi For%. Where the Oilers excelled at was on special teams, as they scored three powerplay markers and one shorthanded.

The key now will be for the Oilers to continue scoring on the powerplay in the post-season when games get tighter and even-strength scoring opportunities could slide.

The Oilers powerplay finished fifth in the league, and first in the western conference, when it came to goals for per 60 with 8.34. Their rate of unblocked shot attempts was consistently above league average with 72.31 per hour, which ranked 8th overall and indicates that not only was the powerplay effective, but the results are sustainable.

The scoring rate took a bit of a dip this season, but because the shot rates were consistently good, it was expected that it would eventually improve. The main drivers of the powerplay were Connor McDavid and Mark Letestu as the team generated over 80 Fenwicks per hour with either of them on the ice. Lucic (25), Draisaitl (25) and McDavid (23) were the top three scorers on the powerplay, with Klefbom leading defencemen with 14.

Related: Letestu to the Rescue II - The Copper & Blue (2016, December 13)

This type of output doesn’t bode well for the Sharks, who finished the season allowing the 5th highest rate of shots against shorthanded with 71.19, well above the league average. The 5.70 goals against per hour ranked the Sharks 14th in the league, but this was largely due to their goaltending, which finished with an 88.44% save percentage on the penalty kill, and was typically in the top 10 league wide.

What we see below is that their rate of shots against were consistently high shorthanded, with their rate of goals against hovering around 6.0 and at one point getting closer to 8.0. It’ll be interesting to see if their goaltending can continue bailing the penalty killers out, considering that Martin Jones’ oveall work load this season was very similar to Cam Talbot’s.

What’s worth noting here is that the Sharks posted very similar penalty kill numbers in the 2015/16 regular season, allowing a high rate of shots and an average rate of goals. And it continued in their post-season run as they went from 67.73 Fenwicks against per hour in the regular season to 79.13 in the playoffs. It’s no guarantee that the high rate of shots against on the penalty kill will continue against the Oilers, but there’s evidence to suggest that it likely won’t get better.

Here’s a quick summary of the penalty kill and powerplay stats for both teams, including the league averages for the goal and shot metrics.

Powerplay 2016/17 Goals For/60 Fenwick For/60
Oilers 7.35 (6th) 72.31 (8th)
San Jose 4.65 (26th) 67.81 (14th)
League Average 5.95 66.45

Penalty Kill 2016/17 Goals Against/60 Fenwick Against/60
Oilers 5.85 (16th) 67.88 (15th)
San Jose 5.70 (14th) 71.19 (26th)
League Average 5.98 66.71

The good news for the Oilers is that while it may seem like the referees let more infractions slide in the playoffs, a similar rate of penalties are called compared to the regular season. Here’s what Garret Hohl from Hockey Graphs found in April of 2015.

In the regular season (for 5v5), these teams were called for 3.16 penalties per game and 4.09 penalties per sixty minutes. In the playoffs, the teams were called for 3.31 penalties per game and 4.16 penalties per sixty minutes (again, all for 5v5).

I do believe that referees let more go in the playoffs. However, my guess would be that this fact causes teams to try and get away with more. The two opposite impacts then counter each other, and create a similar number of infractions. (Source: Hockey Graphs)

What the Sharks have been good at is not taking penalties, finishing the regular season with one of the lowest rates in the league, and a penalty differential of +14. Against the Oilers, however, they took more penalties than they drew (-2) over the course of their regular season series (Source: Hockey Reference).

If the Oilers plan on getting out of the first round, it’ll be important to take advantage of every scoring opportunity, especially on the powerplay. They have the ability to generate shots and scoring chances with the man-advantage, and against a team like the Sharks who have struggled shorthanded, they’ll need to continue this rate of output.

Data: Corsica Hockey