EDMONTON - Statistically, it doesn’t add up.
If it were presented to university physicists, they would conclude it’s not possible for the second-worst team in the NHL to have the league’s best power play.
The two are supposed to be directly correlated.
“Our PK has been pretty good all year … I think it’s weird. it doesn’t make much sense,” said Edmonton Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff. “If you look at years past, teams with good power plays and good penalty killing usually have a better record.
“It tells us something, that our five-on-five play needs to improve.”
The Oilers have gone through plenty of growing pains this year. They were supposed to be inconsistent as young teams consistently are.
But right from the start of the season, their power play has been at or near the top of the league.
Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers are converting a league-best 22% of their opportunities.
“It’s funny, but you look at Montreal’s penalty kill, which is at the top of the heap, and they sit where they do,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “I haven’t seen that before. It’s unique and it sort of speaks to our skill level, our ability to move pucks and make some things happen offensively. At the same time, it might speak volumes on some other areas of our game that we need to improve on.”
Naturally, a big reason for the success of the Oilers power play this season is the personnel on it.
Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have played a big part in its success. Half of Hall’s 24 goals this season have come on the power play. Eberle has nine power-play goals.
Yet, it’s not just the trio who are getting the job done. Both units have been effective this year with Horcoff, Sam Gagner, and Ryan Smyth combining for 14 power-play goals this season.
“I think everybody is really comfortable in their roles out there,” said Horcoff, who collected a power-play marker in a 5-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Thursday. “There’s no questioning who does what. We try to keep it simple. We’re aggressive as we can be in the zone, trying to create as many turnovers as we can and really try to create some traffic in front and get pucks there. From that, we’re able to create a little bit of chaos and we’ve been able to score some goals that way.”
Knowing what he would have available to him this season, Renney tweaked the Oilers system on the power play this summer, putting just one person on the point, while having three across the zone and one in front of the net.
It’s a system that has suited the Oilers well.
“The coaching staff is setting out a good game plan to execute and guys are doing the right things, whether it’s on the half-wall or getting shots through,” said Smyth, who has four power-play markers this year. “Sometimes you get back to the basics. But we move the puck very well, those young kids have done an excellent job, with Nuge holding it on the half wall, drawing guys to him,. It just creates that much more when you have guys like him, with great vision.”
The Oilers power play has been so good this year that the team has developed an air of cockiness about it. And this is a team that has very little to be cocky about this year.
Against the Canadiens, one could sense when the Oilers went on the man advantage for the first time in the contest, they wanted to prove the top power-play unit in the league could score on the top penalty-killing team.
“Our power play has got confidence, there’s no doubt about that. And what I like about it, is that it has a couple of different looks to it,” Renney said. “But we can’t just rely on it, especially when you seem to get minimal opportunities on the power play. But it’s something that you have to be ready for, and work on, and take great pride in both sides of those specialty teams.”
Notes … Ben Eager has come down with a virus and did not make the trip to Denver. The Oilers are keeping the winger away from the rest of the team as to not spread the virus around.