With the Edmonton Oilers even-strength (5v5) performance being so poor this season - ranking 29th in the league in terms of goal-share with 44.69% (-19 goal differential) and often getting out-shot and out-chanced - it’s become even more critical that the Oilers generate as much offence as possible on the powerplay. It’s a game-state the Oilers should excel within given the high-end talent on the roster and the success the group - including McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Klefbom - have had in previous seasons.
The good news is that the Oilers currently rank near the top of the league with the man-advantage, second only to the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring 10.69 goals per hour - a metric that also captures how efficient teams are at scoring in a time-pressured situation. Since it’s a competitive results-driven league, it’s also important to dig behind the outputs and determine if the results are in fact sustainable and try to uncover any areas that might need attention from the coaching staff and management.
The first thing to note about the Oilers powerplay is that it’s allowed seven short-handed goals - the most in the league and the highest rate of goals against per hour with 1.92. That doesn’t drive down their overall results on the powerplay significantly as they would still rank third in the league if we factor in goals against. But not allowing those goals would have them at an even overall goal-differential today and likely a little higher up in the Pacific division standings. Worth noting that the Oilers don’t allow a lot of chances against, but when they have, their goaltending has been poor.
The second issue is that the Oilers are heavily reliant on their top powerplay unit, which isn’t surprising considering (a) their top end talent, (b) the amount of time the Oilers have typically trailed in games this season and (c) the lack of depth options on the roster. In fact, the Oilers for the second year in a row are near the top of league when it comes to the proportion of powerplay ice time the top unit is deployed. The league average proportion of ice time for top powerplay units is typically around 65% over the last three seasons. The Oilers currently deploy their top unit 81.0% - second in the league only behind the Washington Capitals.
Note: To determine the top powerplay units proportion of ice-time and their results, I took the forward with the most ice-time on each team and used them as a proxy for the first powerplay unit and divided their ice time with the team’s total powerplay time. The second powerplay units ice time and results were determined by subtracting the ice-team leaders TOI and results from the team totals. Data can be found in the Appendix.
It’s worth noting that a team like Tampa Bay who have historically been excellent with the man-advantage and are competing with the Oilers for the top powerplay have enough depth to ice two productive powerplay units this season. The first unit, using Kucherov as a proxy, is deployed for 66% of the total powerplay time - much closer to league average rates - and has generated 11.22 goals per hour (a total of 25 goals), well above the league average of 7.93 goals per hour. And while Kucherov and his group take a much needed break and to stay fresh for even-strength play, the second unit scores at a similar rate, generating 11.32 goals per hour; a total of 13 goals. That’s very impressive considering that second powerplay units on average generate 5.51 goals per hour. Both Lightning units are also above average relative to similar deployment groups when it comes to creating chances with the man-advantage, with the top powerplay unit generating 89.74 unblocked shot attempts per hour and the second unit generating 78.42 per hour. On average, top powerplay units generate 80.34 unblocked shot attempts per hour and second powerplay units generate 56.78 per hour. Put another way - the Lightning’s second powerplay unit generates more unblocked shot attempts per hour than half of the league’s top powerplay units.
Note: for special teams analysis, I include unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) to assess a team’s ability to score or prevent goals against. Blocking shots and keeping pucks to the outside is a big part of killing penalties, so Fenwick gives us a sense of how well the skaters are doing their jobs and helping out their goaltenders.
The Oilers on the other hand don’t have enough depth to regularly deploy two powerplay units, as the bottom six forwards are predominantly penalty-killing specialists - a major focus for Oilers management this past off-season. In the limited minutes that McDavid hasn’t been on the ice for the powerplay, the Oilers have scored only one goal - a rate of 1.43 per hour - and generated 31.81 unblocked shot attempts per hour - both of which ranks last among all second powerplay units. What the Oilers roster is missing are depth players, individuals on the third and fourth lines at even-strength, that can play powerplay minutes and contribute, similar to the Lightning have available in Maroon, Killorn and Gourde and what the Oilers had in Letestu a few years ago.
As long as the Oilers second powerplay unit can’t even generate league-average rates of shots and chances, the pressure will remain on McDavid and the top group to continue producing. So far they’ve been excellent, generating 86.95 unblocked shot attempts per hour and 12.86 goals per hour - both of which rank highly among top powerplay units.
But since the Oilers management group ignored the results and findings from last year’s powerplay - one in which the top unit played close to 80% of the total time and the second unit was one of the worst in terms of goal-scoring - the pressure will remain on the likes of McDavid and Draisaitl to continue playing league-leading minutes and producing. Hopefully the Oilers recognize that their depth forward group isn’t just for penalty killing and begin finding cheap, reliable options for the second powerplay unit. It’s going to require critical analysis of their powerplay and looking past the results, something that’s historically been ignored by Oilers management when the overall results have been fine.
Data: Natural Stat Trick
Appendix A: NHL powerplay units, 2019/20 (As of January 5, 2020)