December 4, 2011
Oilers PP fails them
By Derek Van Diest, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers know the power-play opportunities they squander now could come back to bite them later.
In Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames, the Oilers failed to score on six power-plays, five of which came in succession.
It not only cost the Oilers the game, but also an opportunity to keep pace with the rest of the top teams in the Western Conference. The goal at the moment is to stay with the lead pack as teams start pulling away in the standings.
They’ll get another opportunity when the Carolina Hurricanes come to town Wednesday.
“This is the time of the year when you need to push yourself one way and that’s up,” said winger Ryan Jones. “We’ve always said going into this year that if you’re playing meaningful games come the last 20 games of the year, we think we have the guys in this locker-room to push ourselves into the playoffs.
“Then, that’s a whole new season, everybody knows that once you’re in there, it’s a whole new ball game and that’s what this team is shooting for.”
In order to stay with the lead group, it’s important for the Oilers to beat teams below them in the standings.
On Saturday they had the Calgary Flames on the ropes early, but allowed the visitors to climb back into the game. The Oilers were then unable to regain control as the Flames were parading to the penalty box.
“Our power play wasn’t going that well, we tried to change a little bit of our system,” said captain Shawn Horcoff. “They pressured us pretty hard and we tried to change a couple of things and we had a couple of opportunities. We just have to go back to keeping it simple, getting traffic in front, getting pucks to the net, we didn’t do that enough against (Miikka) Kiprusoff.”
Conversely, the Flames were able to score on two of their three power-play opportunities. They were timely goals, too, as the first came when they were down 2-0 on a roughing penalty to Andy Sutton.
The second allowed them to take the lead midway through the third period as Ryan Smyth took a needless roughing penalty running into Kiprusoff after the whistle.
“If you look at it, special teams are probably the most important thing in the game,” said centre Sam Gagner, who scored his first goal of the season in the first period. “If you find a way to be a plus in the special teams battle, you’re going to win more games than you’re going to lose.
“(Saturday) they pressured us pretty well and we weren’t able to bounce back. I thought we had one good power play at the end of the second and we were able to establish some chances and get our battle level up. Other than that, our intensity wasn’t quite where it needed to be and it cost us the game.”
One of the biggest problems with the Oilers power play Saturday was the lack of puck movement that usually makes it so effective.
With a number of skilled players — especially on the first unit — the Oilers like to pass the puck around the zone in order to create open lanes.
They weren’t able to do that against the Flames who won a lot of battles for possession along the boards.
“We knew they were going to pressure us a lot coming in, and we knew what we needed to do to get away from that,” said Gagner. “It seemed like we were worried too much about it coming in that we stopped focusing on the things that make us successful on the power play and that’s winning battles and moving pucks from there. If we were able to do that, chances are with their aggressiveness, we would have been able to create more.”
Heading into Saturday, the Oilers had one of the top power-play units in the NHL, converting on 21.6% of their opportunities — fourth best in the league.
They are missing a key component in Taylor Hall, who is out with a shoulder injury. The Flames also tried to take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of the equation by pressuring him every time he got the puck.
“They pressed Nuge on the half wall real hard which was to be expected,” said head coach Tom Renney. “Eventually we started generating some things, but I don’t think we moved the puck quick enough, change the point of attack quick enough to force them to open up and give us some lanes. And then just getting pucks to the net with some traffic, is something that we didn’t do.”