Optimizing the powerplay


One of the most interesting things about this Oilers season has been the powerplay (5v4). It’s a critical area for the team, as they finished dead last in 2017/18 and the team tried to address it in the summer by revamping the coaching staff. The team isn’t exactly a powerhouse at even-strength due to the lack of talent and depth (especially on the wings) – so it’s going to be important for the powerplay to consistently produce if they want to contend for a playoff spot.

The good news so far is that the team currently ranks 12th in the league when it comes to the rate of goals for per hour (GF/60) with 7.81, scoring 12 times. The fact that McDavid has nine powerplay points (5 goals, 4 assists – three of which were primary assists) should tell you all you need to know about who has been the offensive driver. Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins, who each have seven points, along with Klefbom are the go-to unit with McDavid playing around 65 of the Oilers total 92 powerplay minutes this season. The roughly 25% of the remaining powerplay time has been left for Ryan Strome and really whoever else the coaching staff feels like throwing out there.

The team as a whole isn’t doing a great job of generating unblocked shot attempts (69.67 FF/60, 19th in the league), relying more on a team shooting percentage that’s currently at 16.0%. The average team shooting percentage over the last three seasons has been 12.58, so we’ll see how long the Oilers can convert at the rate that they’re currently at.

It’s really when the first powerplay unit is on the ice that the team gets going, generating over 80 unblocked shot attempts per hour – a rate that would have them among the league’s best. And they’ve scored 10 of the teams 12 powerplay goals –  a rate of 8.84 goals per hour – which isn’t bad but really should be better considering the talent that they have.

When the second powerplay unit is deployed, it’s been dreadful – generating 39.51 unblocked shot attempts and only scoring twice (a rate of 4.94 goals per hour). It’s easy to tell why the coaching staff is giving close to 75% of the total powerplay time to the first unit.

Couple things that I think the team needs to address.

First off, the first powerplay unit is heavily relying on Nugent-Hopkins, who is also getting regular minutes on the penalty kill (4v5) and also Draisaitl, who is gradually getting more reps shorthanded. Knowing what we know about recovery time, sport science, and the importance of rest for professional athletes, I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to have your best players spending so much of their energy on both special team units. Both RNH and Draisaitl are probably young enough to handle it, but it’d probably be in the team’s best interest if the workload was distributed.

It’d really help if the coaching staff had a stronger second powerplay unit, not only to take the load off the first powerplay unit, but to also have fresher legs on the penalty kill. The team really is lacking a special teams specialist on their fourth line, similar to what they had in Letestu who at one point was really effective on the powerplay. I don’t think these commodities are hard to find; some simple research and scouting can probably uncover these.

I think a big reason why the Oilers first powerplay unit is able to consistently generate shots and chances is because they’re working the puck down low to set up the forwards. And of course it makes total sense – the talent is there up front so get the pucks to them and get shots from high probability locations. What I’ve found is that the second powerplay unit isn’t nearly as effective at getting shot from the more high danger areas – instead relying more on shot attempts form the defencemen at the point. The concept is a pretty dated one – work the puck up top, get a shot from the defenceman and look for rebounds. Unfortunately, that’s not really making the best use of your time as your chances of scoring goals are much higher when the puck is in close coming from players with scoring talent.

Using Klefbom as our proxy for the top powerplay unit, the Oilers have generated 109 shot attempts (i.e., Corsi). And of those 109 shot attempts, 18 have come from the stick of Klefbom – coming out to 16.5%. When Klefbom isn’t on the ice, the team has generated 36 shot attempts, with 15 of those coming from the stick of one of the other defencemen – a proportion of 41.7%. Ideally, the Oilers would have enough talent up front on their second powerplay unit so they’re not taking this high of a proportion of low probability shot attempts. In my mind, the team needs to fix their overall powerplay tactics and find a way to balance their first and second units.

One last thing: the drop in the rate of unblocked shot attempts from the first powerplay unit to the second powerplay unit is massive, a difference of 40.96. I took a quick look at last year’s data, comparing each team’s first and second powerplay units (using each team’s top forward in terms of ice time as a proxy) and their rate of unblocked shot attempts. On average, a team’s rate of unblocked shot attempts dropped by 18.35 when their second powerplay unit was deployed. Only one team had a drop of more than 40 unblocked shot attempts and that was the Sabres who finished 24th in the league in terms of goals for per hour.

While the team is doing alright generating goals on the powerplay, I think it’s imperative that they put a critical lens on things and find ways to sustain their success. I don’t think what they’re doing right now is sustainable, and there are significant ramifications to the team’s overall success if they don’t make adjustments.

Data: Natural Stat Trick


One thought on “Optimizing the powerplay

  1. Well Suni , I believe you need to be less stats dependant in your perspectives. Last year the PP underperformed…this is a Special Teams League right now of this there is no doubt.Yes the Oil lean on Nuges FOREHAND SHOT NOW…..and this is because McDavid is a wizard who can make the cross seam pass more often than not,,,,clearly the oilers run one shot opportunity or do a fly-by that is a genuine threat that has to be answered as a mulligan then hit Nugey with that pass,,,and this works well although the goals aren’t leading the pack , the ten bell shot ops are in fact coming regularly so the play is not really easy to stop for opponents.To top it off they COULD begin hitting the man doing the distracting fly-by BEFORE the puck gets to Nugey….using a deflection by the way….this would give McDavid a PRIME REBOUND OPPORTUNITY if he CLOSES ON NET POST-CROSS SEAM PASS…immediately closes in …..what they did is take the Lettestu deflection play and had that man fly-by to allow a pass further across to Nugey who sneaks down for it ….opponents HAVE to cover the Fly-by and this forces them to transition and this is where Manny is attacking from….to mix it up they could focus more on hitting the Fly-by man and on Connor cleaning up deflection rebounds.Actually you would have Nugey AND Connor both collapsing from the wings at nearly the same time to clean up garbage.

    I think this years PP sucks to average at best…..I think last years PP was cutting edge and had huge upside potential to win games for the club….the zone entries were sublime last season but the finish was not there…the Oilers should have simply polished up last years PP and then ran with it…instead they changed up the zone transitions and the zone entries and basically accepted a focus with much less upside.

    The general idea on a PP is to score ASAP…not to waste time making useless passes …as some believe…last years PP o-zone entry was so effective that it was unvbelievable but they did not find FINISHING PLAYS….however only a blind Monkey would miss the fact that they were CONSISTANTLY making high % solid zone entries BUT COULD NOT FINISH THEM….sooooo….in summation the so called OLDE SCHOOL method of dump and chase has been vastly outperformed by the cutting edge NHS Upspeed-Support zone entry….yes my friend what you have been watching is called an Upspeed-Support Zone entry and it has been brought to todays NHL a few years ago by Moma2s NewAge Hockey System unofficially online just like we are talking hockey here now.The general idea behind the USSZE is to use a super high speed entry and force an initial opposition defensive transition then STRIKE AT IT IMMEDIATLY OFF THE RUSH…now last couple of years the Oiler slowly began using this focus AND OTHERS HAVE SINCE FOLLOWED THEM AND DONE BETTER JOBS OF EXECUTING….however the Oilers first tastes worked very well for them as far as the entry went…they JUST COULD NOT PUT TOGETHER ANY OFFENSIVE FINISH…this cost a pretty good PP man his job…..this failure to finish on so many prime opportunities took what should have been a top-5 PP and turned it into a one dimensional basically traditional PP focus.The Oilers chose to WASTE the high % Opportunitys they were producing using the NHS Upspeed Support Zone Entry by taking it to the half-wall instead of penetrating and striking terminally to finish…this is because they have a Club philosophy of TAKING THEIR TIME ON THE PP and working it in off of the half-wall….in essence the Oilers took what they wanted from an elite NHS template and then used it to get pucks safely to thehalf-wall to manage traditionally and to overpass and burn up time………its a regressive stance considering how the NHS has so quickly evolved the rest of the League of which some Clubs are now properly executing the NHS centered PP as a HURRY-UP DYNAMIC with a QUICK TERMINAL STRIKE OFF THE FIRST DEFENSIVE TRANSITION FORCED… the idea being to score a goal ASAP….NOT TO WASTE TIME AND OPPORTUNITY TRYING TO FORCE MULTIPLE OPPOSITION TRANSITIONS and trying to look cute.

    Todays PP HAS ABANDONED THE ALL-STAR zone entry focus and now we have taken 3 steps back towards an optimal performance of average….they went backwards to an old style PP because they could not find ways to finish using a high level NHS focused PP…..they have used several core value NHS Philosophies on their PP that we don’t have time and space to discuss right now.Maybe another day.

    The Oilers intentionally use 2 different PP focuses to make it more difficult to defend them…when ironically last year they had a single setup no one could stop from cleanly entering the o-zone.They went from consistently beating the opponent using one focus to beating the opponent less time using 2 focuses….they doubled their workload for less returns than they potentially could get from last years setup…so I see no growth…they just set the bar for lower for themselves.The shot attempt and shot block differentials are due to there being 2 separate PP setups…2 very different ones…..neither one as good as last years and both combined not as full of potentials as last years…..overall a step back towards mediocre.

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