Like Derek Zona and Lowetide, I’ve been fascinated by the atrocity that is the Oilers
PP (I’m used to it being the PP that is an atrocity) PK this season. Like them, I suspect that the diamond has something to do with it. I’m not enough of a hockey technician that I know the benefits and drawbacks of playing like this versus doing something else but it has felt to me like other teams have had open lanes to make passes all year long. It’s obviously not as important as whether or not you’re getting your show run by the other team but I can’t help but feel that giving the other team open pass after open pass, along with clear lanes to shoot the puck, impaired only by the presence of a man or two in front of the net, is something that ought to concern the operators of the local hockey concern and, perhaps, those who chronicle their exploits.
I mean, I appreciate Dan Barnes’ thoughts about Twitter as much as the next guy but it strikes me as a little ironic that he takes swipes at the narcissism inherent in Twitter when he’s filling his column with his opinion about Twitter rather than doing some investigation into why the Oilers’ PK is such a disaster.
I don’t mean to pick on Barnes but my expectations are higher for him, if only because he doesn’t crank out blog posts like this:
I wrote last night that Wayne Gretzky and Glenn Anderson had the Oilers record for two fastest goals in a regular-season game, way back on Jan. 20, 1982 against St. Louis when they popped two in eight seconds. I was wrong and so is the Oilers’ media guide. I could blame it on old age or the lateness of the night when I wrote the blog after the Oilers beat the Blackhawks 2-1 Sunday, but my mind shouldn’t be so addled that I forgot last year’s quick strikes by Ales Hemsky and Sheldon Souray on Nov. 23, 2009. They scored two in seven seconds against IPhoenix goalie llya Bryzgalov in a 4-0 Oilers win.
Fred Felcher pointed out the mistake on an nhlbymatty tweet. Good on her.
Now, if there’s a woman named Fred Felcher on Twitter who follows the Oilers, then god love her but I’ve got some doubts about the truthiness of that name/gender mix.
By the numbers, Edmonton’s PK can only be described as horrific. They’re the worst team in the NHL in 5v4 SA/60 at 65.8 SA/60. They’re the worst team in the NHL in 5v4 SV% at .789. The 5v4 GA/60 is an astounding 13.9 GA/60 – the next worst team is at 9.4 GA/60. They’re actually allowing fewer shots when they go to 5v3 if you can believe it, albeit in only 2.4 minutes of ice time.
Since starting the season a perfect 9/9 on the PK in their first two games, they’ve gone 35/57, a 61.4% penalty kill rate. They’re currently at 66.7% overall on the penalty kill. If they kill their next 17 penalties in a row, they will bump into 29th. Last year’s Oilers went 78% on the PK and finished 26th. Their worst 13 game stretch was a 75.5% run. The 2008-09 Oilers were slightly worse at 77.5% and 27th; the worst that it got for them was a 13 game stretch in which they killed only 70.4% of penalties. While that sounds vaguely close to this current stretch, it’s actually a difference of 5 goals, which is a lot. I can’t think of another time when the Oilers have had anything like this going on on the PK.
I went through the Oilers PK goals against on NHL.com and snapped pictures that show what was happening when their goals went in this year. It is, I think, instructive, in that it kind of illustrates what’s going on, although I’m generally hesitant to do something like this, because I suspect every team looks bad when goals are getting scored against them on the PK. We’re also missing one goal because the NHL has put up a video of Iginla getting stopped by Khabibulin in place of a goal. In any event, here’s the horror, in all of it’s glory
Ryan Whitney’s a brave man. I get less hung up on the 4v3 goals – there are going to be holes in that situation. That was a bullet from Kovalchuk though; brave of Whitney to stand in front of it.
As Lowetide mentions, the diamond may well be a good PK. I’m baffled by what’s going on here though. What in the name of God is Smid supposed to accomplish being where he is? Is Smid at fault here, or is this a flaw in the system? Going through the goals against, one of the things that stands out is the extent to which the Oilers are ending up with two guys against one down low. Tendenby is waving his stick for the pass here because there’s nothing that can be done if the puck comes to him.
I don’t know that there’s much to take from this. It’s just one of those things that happens sometimes. Four guys down low and the puck ends up on Franzen’s stick.
This might not really be the fault of the diamond, as Penner and Hemsky went for a 50/50 puck and missed, leaving Penner out of position and the cross-ice pass available. I’m struck by how good Sutter’s options were though. If he goes down low to the man in the corner (not visible) and the guy in front of the net pulls up and boxes out the defenceman, there’s another good scoring chance available here that the Oilers would have been hard pressed to do something about. As it stands, Corvo put the puck through Dubnyk on the cross-ice pass.
Speaking of the cross-ice pass…Corvo again. Eberle is sort of between a rock and a hard place here. As I explained in my PK post on this game, I understood why he made the decision he made – Cole had scored off the same play earlier and he couldn’t see Corvo, who slid back up a little bit for the one timer. This kind of illustrates what I don’t like about this set-up though. You’ve got Fraser taking away a pass to a less dangerous spot on the ice, at the cost of leaving Eberle to defend two guys in at least one and possibly two more dangerous spots on the ice, depending on what you make of the one timer off the cross zone pass versus the one timer from much higher up with less movement required of the goalie (and fewer holes to open as he does so.)
Erik Cole scored here and this goal might explain, in part, Eberle’s decision to go after Cole on the goal discussed immediately above. Again though, I’m not sure what the Oilers PK is doing here. Hemsky is taking away nothing because of the movement by Corvo. The defenceman who isn’t Gilbert (can’t make out his number) is in the way of a shot but at the cost of a pass to Cole in a better shooting position.
This might be my favourite Oilers PPGA of the season. I’ve mentioned it an earlier post but Vandermeer’s work simply cannot be overstated. Knocked off balance by Dan Cleary (!) he lumbers around the net and wanders towards Fillpula. It looks like the Oilers are trying to rotate against the movement of the puck here – Horcoff is heading out towards Lidstrom in the first picture, who has the option of a shot at a defenceless and screened Khabibulin or a pass over to a wide open option. He chose the latter and the puck was quickly in the back of the net.
Part of me wonders if Horcoff screwed up in not moving to the top of the diamond more quickly here but if he does, he leaves open the pass through the slot as the other forward (can’t see who it is) closes on the puck carrier on the half boards. Again, there just don’t seem to be a lot of good options.
Two Canucks, one defenceman. Torres ended up tipping this one home off of a point shot. It’s reminiscent of the goal that Tendelby scored last night as the Oilers are outmanned down low and the sides of the diamond don’t seem to serving any sort of a purpose, as the three Canucks have fanned out along the blue line. If the puck gets to someone down low, there’s going to be trouble.
I get that the whole object of the PP is to create those odd man advantages somewhere on the ice but I just cannot understand what the Oilers are trying to accomplish here. If Bieksa doesn’t see something that he likes in the front of the net, he’s got two easy outs available to him, as those guys are under no pressure while the two sides of the diamond hang out around the hash marks.
Daniel Sedin, in the centre of the diamond, tipped this one home from the high slot. As was pointed out by the Sportsnet guys, it was a carbon copy of the Cole goal a few games later.
I think that this was intended to be a diamond set up as well, although, quite frankly, your guess is as good as mine. Cogliano catches my eye on this one. Again, you’ve got Fraser (I think) higher up than him, with Cogliano kind of off-set and down. This makes it a fairly low risk play for Keith to fire it back across the ice, with Sharp able to walk into it. Which Keith and Sharp did.
Another one in the same vein of the goals with Eberle, Cole and Corvo as well as the Sedin goal. Horcoff has to make a choice between Backlund (in the slot) and Bouwmeester (on the far side). He picks Backlund and the passer picks Bouwmeester.
I really like this one too and it’s worth going to NHL.com and checking it out just to see it unfold. It’s pretty rare that you see the defending team set up a parenthesis on the PK but, when you’re watching EXCITING LAST PLACE HOCKEY, you see all sorts of crazy shit.
The Flames came into the Oilers’ zone and worked the puck to Khabibulin’s right, the side that Eberle and Whitney were on. Eberle (correctly, if I understand what they’re trying to do) went deep with the puck carrier, towards the hashmarks on that side of the ice. Whitney also roared out towards the puck carrier. This left Gilbert alone in front of the net and Horcoff really low in the zone. The puck went back to the point and Horcoff raced out in a futile attempt to get there. It was moved across to Morrison, who was alone on the open side of the parenthesis. Gilbert couldn’t really have gone earlier without leaving a Flame alone in front but he moved out as Whitney returned, in time to provide a nice screen. Goal.
Another one for the “I don’t get the point of the two side points on the diamond” file. Horcoff loses the draw and the puck goes back to the point. Whitney, I think, misreads that because he starts out by darting in behind Horcoff, giving up position to Dany Heatley.
Note again, in the second picture, how Boyle at the point has two outs if he doesn’t see a shot that he likes or if he faces some pressure from Horcoff. Neither of Gilbert or Eberle are close enough to make anything happen in terms of pressure on the recipient of a pass. As it happens, Boyle sees that Heatley has position on Whitney and shoots it, leaving Heatley to tip it past Khabibulin.
Another case with a shooter in the middle of the diamond. The pass goes through to Pavelski, who doesn’t score on the first shot but, with a single defenceman down low challenging Thornton, easily puts home the rebound. Bonus points to Kevin Weekes, who talks about the young Oilers learning here. On the ice: Horcoff (32 years old, tenth season), Gilbert (27 years old, fifth season), Smid (24 years old and fifth season). Eberle’s a twenty year old rookie, sure, but he’s also the one guy who isn’t really involved in the play.
This is an interesting one, as you can see the diamond break down on a bad rotation. In the first frame, the puck is in the corner. Whitney is one of the side points. The puck gets worked up the boards to Heatley, who throws it back to the point. As you can see from the second frame, Horcoff and Eberle shift as does Gilbert. Unfortunately, Ryan Whitney does not, leaving Dany Heatley all alone in front, whereupon bad things happen.
The pass ended up going to Latendresse here, who was off to Khabibulin’s left. This put the one defenceman down low in an impossible position and, as it so happened, Khabby didn’t come across the net quick enough as Latendresse stuffed it in.
Look at the first frame though – there’s that chance that the Canes/Canucks scored from, the shooter in the slot, available. Havlat elects not to take it but instead skates higher in the zone. Peckham does not, I don’t think, want to rotate along with him (I have no idea whether he’s supposed to or not) and, if he isn’t willing to do so, there’s an area of ice that nobody’s going to challenge Havlat in unless Horcoff comes back across. He doesn’t and Peckham is basically working as if there’s a force field preventing him from going higher. When Havlat starts to cut towards the slot, Peckham understandably comes back with him, leaving the pass to Latendresse open.
You could, I suppose, argue that Peckham, the left point on the diamond is out of position here. It’s a pick your poison kind of thing though. This leads to another point – is it expected with a diamond and rotation that the defencemen will rotate along, even if it leaves the forwards at the bottom of the diamond and the defencemen at the top? I’m genuinely not sure but it doesn’t seem to me like that would be a good thing. If Peckham had stayed tighter to Havlat here and rotated along with him, you’d be left with Eberle at the bottom of the diamond. That effectively happened here anyway but it doesn’t seem like a good outcome to me.
Why it’s two fairly open options at the top of the triangle and a two on one down that the defenceman can shoot into if he thinks that the odds are favourable! THIS SEEMS FAMILIAR.
I haven’t the first idea what’s supposed to be going on here. In the first frame, Matt Cullen has the puck at the point. He’s got Smid tangled up with Mikko Koivu directly in front of him. Ryan Jones is, for reasons unknown, in between Smid and Tom Gilbert. The puck goes across to the other point, Koivu steps around Smid towards the net and, when the rebound eventually shows up, he has time and space on Smid to knock the puck into the net. Ryan Jones has moved about six feet while all this happens and he turns and watches, while thanking whatever deity is appropriate that the GM liked him instead of the coach.
The puck has just moved across the ice in the first frame, which is why Ryan Jones is kind of out of position. You can see, again, that Antti Miettinen (the guy in the slot) – he’s the one who made the pass to Cullen – is going to be completely able to slide into the slot to take a shot if he likes. As you can see in the second frame, the diamond is set. Whitney is the guy on the far side this time and he’s got a similar problem to Eberle’s problem with Cole and Corvo – Cullen’s got two passing options while Fraser is (not really) taking away the pass to the other point. Gilbert has sold him out a bit by moving with the fellow who skated the crease when, I would think, the theory is that Jones is taking away that passing option. Whitney guesses the pass will go to Miettinen, the pass goes to Koivu and it’s a goal.
What do you expect when you have Jim Vandermeer killing penalties?
That’s it. So far.
What should we take from this? Well, going through it, my thought was that the Oilers are pursuing a relatively complex penalty killing strategy that requires a lot of movement and a lot of thought from the players who are killing penalties. It is complicated stuff and it raises a lot of questions about how players should react in certain situations. I would love to hear the coaches asked about this – I’ve got a lot of questions about what the responsibilities of a certain player at a certain moment are and it would be fascinating to hear Renney or Ralph Krueger talk about it for twenty minutes or so, explaining the basic principles of the system and why it’s better than something less complicated.
Assume, for the sake of discussion, that, properly executed, there’s value to this PK as opposed to something different. Is it worth enduring the growing pains? Looking at who the Oilers are using on the PK, you can at least say that you’ll expect them to be around for a while, I think. Six forwards are over a minute a game in terms of ice time (Horcoff, Fraser, Penner, Hemsky, Eberle and Cogliano) and I’d guess that somewhere between three and six of them will be on the team in the 2012-13 season. Out of the defencemen, Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert will undoubtedly be here for a while and Smid might be. If you think of this as an investment in terms of spending game time learning something profitable, it’s at least being invested in guys who look likely to be here for a while.
With that said, it’s been unspeakably ugly to date and there look to be a lot of guys who simply have no idea what they’re doing out there. The return on investment better be good.