• The Blood Diamond

    by Tyler Dellow • November 13, 2010 • Uncategorized • 21 Comments

    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

    NJPPG2

    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.

    NJPPG

    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.

    DET2

    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.

    CARPPG3

    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.

    CARPPG2

    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.)

    CARPPG

    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.

    DET1

    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.

    VAN2

    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.

    VAN1

    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.

    CHI2

    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.

    CHI1

    M-V-P! M-V-P!

    CGY2

    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.

    CGY1

    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.

    SJS3

    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.

    SJS2

    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.

    SJS1

    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.

    MIN1

    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.

    MIN5

    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.

    MIN4

    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.

    MIN3

    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.

    MIN2

    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.

    About Tyler Dellow

    21 Responses to The Blood Diamond

    1. lowetide
      November 13, 2010 at

      Apparently Renney used the diamond to terrific effect in NYC. Might this be an adjustment period? I have no idea, but it must be a little like trying to change your batting stance or delivery to home plate. You’ve been doing it forever in a certain way, must take some time to get used to it.

      Could that (partly explain) the incredible number of times when the Oilers are out of position?

    2. Tyler Dellow
      November 13, 2010 at

      LT –

      Yeah, I completely agree with you. If we’re trying to do something fundamentally new to everyone involved, there’s going to be a learning period. I think we are. So long as we’re investing resources in guys who are going to be here long term, that makes sense.

      With that said, there are some clear problems that keep showing up. It’d be nice to hear Renney talk about why this is happening and why it’s worth suffering through.

    3. lowetide
      November 13, 2010 at

      Tyler,

      Agree completely. There is a friggin in the riggin, but let’s make sure we see the entire machine before we decide whether the system (or the execution) are to blame.

    4. November 13, 2010 at

      I didn’t know anyone actually ran the diamond – I thought the Oilers were alone in this regard. I was going to point out that while its generally a logical fallacy, maybe the fact that no one else in the NHL does it might be an indictment of the diamond as a PK option at this level. At lower levels I could actually see it maybe being more effective, where you have more of a range in abilities and could potentially surprise people by jumping their “obvious” passing lanes for shorthanded chances the other way.

      Even still, no matter how smart the players are or how much experience they have, the rotation issues and the issue of “what are the two sides of the diamond doing” and the surrendering of the point seem to just be insurmountable issues. Even if the players were the best ever, with all that rotation and giving up the perimeter, chances will happen and guys will get loose for just long enough. If NYR really ran the diamond successfully, I’d be curious to hear from a NYR blogger about how they made it happen.

    5. Coach PB
      November 13, 2010 at

      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.

      Please tell me that’s not Peckham in front of the shooter.

      Please.

    6. Coach PB
      November 13, 2010 at

      It was Peckham.

      *sigh*

      http://imgur.com/NaXM7.jpg

      What in the world is Peckham doing up there? And Torres and Samuelsson are down low alone with Smid.

    7. November 13, 2010 at

      Dear lord, what a clusterfuck.

    8. November 14, 2010 at

      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.

      It looks in that one like Horc is taking Eberle’s man (Backlund), and should be going for Bouwmeester. Unless, of course, there’s another guy in low-Earth orbit off the screen that Eberle’s allegedly taking. (Possible, given how the rest of these goals have been constructed.)

    9. JonB
      November 14, 2010 at

      The strength of the diamond is that it’s supposed to reduce passing lanes from five (which you get from a box) to four.

      It just seems badly designed though for what really happens on a PP.

      You get elimination of those cross seam passes that result in one-timer PP goals (like Kovy scored on the 4-3) but you sacrifice pressure on the points and you are outmanned for rebounds/tips.

    10. Matt.N
      November 14, 2010 at

      ” If NYR really ran the diamond successfully, I’d be curious to hear from a NYR blogger about how they made it happen.”

      http://www.blueshirtbanter.com/2009/5/18/876786/penalty-kill-perfection-or-close

    11. Alex Hemsky
      November 14, 2010 at

      Are the Barons running a more conventional box PK? If so it kind of weakens the argument that calling Reddox up will help the PK if he first has to learn this system.

    12. Triumph
      November 14, 2010 at

      i can only speak for the NJ game, since that’s the only one i saw, but i think on the 5 on 4 goal, it’s the man out high’s responsibility to block that shot. with smid out there vaguely covering arnott, it ensures that he can’t get set up for an easy one timer or move down to the circles and get off a shot (fwiw, this was how arnott scored from the other side v. buffalo on wednesday).

      but yeah the NYR had two of the best shot blockers in the game in betts and callahan – edmonton may not have the personnel to pull this off.

    13. BRIdub
      November 14, 2010 at

      Interesting to see NYR is 23rd in PK this year with mostly the same personnel, but on closer inspection they were 7th last year so it may just be a sample size thing.

    14. Tom Benjamin
      November 14, 2010 at

      I love this type of shit, Tyler, but it is hard for me to see how it can be systemic. While I prefer the more standard box – mostly based on and the fact that it is the standard – I suspect that the diamond just creates a tradeoff. Less pressure on the point, more pressure on the guy on the half boards. After that it is execution.

      The Canucks have had a pretty good PK for years, but I would not attribute it to their work when in the box. The good PK does the good work preventing the other team from getting set up. When the Canucks have been forced into the box, the battle is mostly lost. If the opponents execute, they will find an open man. Vancouver tries to pressure the power play all over the ice and force dump-ins. Then they aggressively pursue that dump-in, only dropping into passive mode – the box – when possession has clearly been lost.

      I suspect that the problem with the atrocious Oiler PK is less the work they do once the PP is set up and more the work they don’t do in preventing the PP from setting up. I’m sure the Oilers are weak in the diamond, but I think the biggest part of the problem is likely to be how frequently the PP gets set up easily against them. In other words, the problem is less the diamond and more the amount of the PP time the Oilers spend in the diamond.

    15. Adam D
      November 14, 2010 at

      I guess for me, it comes down to the fact that the players required to execute this system are so bad (particularly in net) that I have a hard time blaming the system. It’s like asking monkeys to put on a production of Hamlet and then blaming Shakespeare for the result.

    16. lowetide
      November 14, 2010 at

      Tom Benjamin: So maybe we’re measuring the wrong thing. Maybe it should be “minutes with PP team in control in offensive end” and maybe some teams spend 50 seconds a PP in that mode while others spend 25 seconds.

      Interesting points you’ve made.

    17. November 14, 2010 at

      I suspect that the problem with the atrocious Oiler PK is less the work they do once the PP is set up and more the work they don’t do in preventing the PP from setting up. I’m sure the Oilers are weak in the diamond, but I think the biggest part of the problem is likely to be how frequently the PP gets set up easily against them. In other words, the problem is less the diamond and more the amount of the PP time the Oilers spend in the diamond.

      But part of the entire point of the diamond is that you’re basically giving up the point area because you have one man to cover 2-3 guys across the high part of the zone. An awful lot of PP’s out there are quarterbacked from the point, using elite defensemen or forwards playing the point. Out of the diamond position, its hard to pressure that point and prevent the cycle from being set up without getting out of position for a puck chipped down low or to a man coming free to the slot after his defender left him to help along the point. Even with better players in place, these gaps will still occur (I think).

    18. November 14, 2010 at

      ” If NYR really ran the diamond successfully, I’d be curious to hear from a NYR blogger about how they made it happen.”

      http://www.blueshirtbanter.com/2009/5/18/876786/penalty-kill-perfection-or-close

      That’s nice, but it doesn’t really show us how they were handling the situations that the Oilers are finding themselves in, as evidenced above. How do you pressure the point without very bad things happening in the center of the ice? How do you handle being so frequently outnumbered in the crease? How do you rotate as the PP team moves and rotates themselves?

      The traditional box surrenders the perimeter of the ice, but in limited amounts, going all the way around the top half of the zone. The diamond seems to surrender everything above the faceoff circles and potentially the front of the net too – I’m curious to see how its supposed to be played such that this is acceptable (or doesn’t happen, at least to the same severity).

    19. Tom Benjamin
      November 14, 2010 at

      But part of the entire point of the diamond is that you’re basically giving up the point area because you have one man to cover 2-3 guys across the high part of the zone.

      Yes, but you have to give up something once you are forced to play passively. Renney would probably point out that most teams QB their PP off the half boards, rather than a point.

      But I think you miss the thrust of my argument. Once the Oilers are in the diamond (or the Canucks are in their box) they are in trouble. If the PP moves the puck quickly and cleanly they will get a shot. They will do this against a diamond or a box. The defense is passive, only reacting – and chasing – the offense. Once in the diamond or the box, the PK needs a mistake, a bobble, a bad pass, or a bad read to avoid giving up a chance.

      A good PK is an aggressive PK, with a perfect kill coming when the opponents never really get set up. If the Oiler PK sucks, I’m betting its because PP opponents find it very easy to get up the ice and over the Oiler blue line with the puck. If that is the case Edmonton will give up lots of goals when they are playing the diamond not because the diamond is bad, but because they are playing the diamond so much. If they were playing the box, they would give up lots of goals because they would be playing the box too much.

    20. Tyler Dellow
      November 14, 2010 at

      There’s some attractiveness to your theory Tom and I agree with it, in part. I do think that part of a good penalty kill is preventing the opposition from getting set up. If they’re not set up, they aren’t generating shots.

      With that said, I’ve watched a lot of hockey and I just don’t recall seeing a penalty kill that looks as porous as the Oilers when they’re set up. I mean, this business where teams are 3 on 3 at the top of the zone, needing only to find a way to get a puck down low for a 2 on 1? Guys in the slot waiting to tee off? Nobody knows how to rotate properly?

      Insane.

    21. November 14, 2010 at

      The Leafs run the PK too and it’s an absolute gong show.

      We’d also love to hear one of our fair city’s gaggle of media folk ask for a bit of an explanation about how the system works and why it doesn’t do any good.

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