With the Edmonton Oilers currently struggling to break even at even-strength (5v5) this season, they desperately need their special teams to keep them afloat and competitive in a fairly mediocre Pacific division. And while the Oilers powerplay continues to dominate and remain one of the best in the league, the penalty kill is struggling mightily allowing one of the highest rates of goals against in the league, completely nullifying everything that their high-octane powerplay has produced.
Over the first 25 games of the season, the Oilers penalty kill has allowed 26 cumulative goals against (3 GF, 29 GA) - a rate of 12.60 goals against per hour, which is fourth highest in the league. One of the main drivers for their poor results is the team’s defensive play, as the club struggles defending the blue line for zone entries and keeping chances outside the high danger scoring areas. And this is reflected in the team’s rate of unblocked shot attempts against (a proxy for scoring chances), which is ninth highest in the league (82.98 per hour) and the rate of shots on goal against which is sixth highest (61.69 per hour).
The team’s defensive play is an issue that’s carried over from last season when they were posting similar numbers, but were being bailed out by the goaltending which posted the 10th best save percentage in the league (87.53%). This year, they’re not getting the same rate of saves on the penalty kill as the current Campbell-Skinner tandem has thus far posted a combined save percentage of 79.58% - which ranks 29th in the league. Campbell is especially struggling on a high-event penalty kill, something that was somewhat expected considering his previous team in Toronto allowed some of the lowest rate of shots against when shorthanded. Among 42 goalies who have played at least 45 minutes on the penalty kill this season, Campbell ranks 39th with a 78.90% save percentage and a -4.73 goals saved above average. Skinner isn’t faring much better, as he ranks 36th in the same pool of goalies with a 80.30% save percentage and 37th when it comes to goals saved above average with -3.21.
These results are especially frustrating when you consider the fact that everything the Oilers powerplay has done for the team has been completely offset by the defensive play and goaltending on the penalty kill. Consider the talent on the powerplay, the cost of these players, the practice time, and the chemistry that’s been developed for them to be one of the best units in the league. It’s all been washed away by a penalty kill that surrenders so many shots, chances and goals against - and preventing the powerplay from being an actual asset. Especially at a time when the Oilers are struggling at even-strength, posting a negative goal differential and below-average shot-share numbers, the Oilers can’t afford deficiencies of this scale.
The Pacific division is wide-open at this point with six of the eight teams currently posting negative goal differentials (in all situations). Fixing the penalty kill, either through tactical or deployment adjustments, has to be a top priority for the coaching staff if they intend on locking down one of the top three playoff spots.
Data: Natural Stat Trick