Hitchcock’s history with special teams


Out of curiosity, I wanted to know what Ken Hitchcock’s history has been on the powerplay and the penalty kill. Fact is, the Oilers are coming off a dreadful  season that was sunk in large part by their poor special teams. This season, things haven’t gone so well either. Prior to Hitchcock’s hiring, the Oilers ranked 16th in the league on the powerplay (5v4), with a goals for per hour rate of 7.72, and 25th in the league on the penalty kill (4v5), allowing 8.69 goals against per hour.

Worth noting that the penalty kill has done a good job prior to Hitchcock’s hiring at limiting shots and chances against, but their goaltending has sunk them.  The results have been poor, but I don’t think it’s because of the process they have in place. The powerplay on the other hand is average and average for good reason as they struggle to generate shots consistently. Considering how much talent they have, their current results and underlying numbers are unacceptable.

Two numbers that I rely on when looking at special teams: goals and unblocked shots.

Goals are what wins and loses you games – those are the actual results so it’s obviously important. Unblocked shots  (i.e., Fenwick – also a proxy for shot quality) is what teams are trying to generate on the powerplay and limit on the penalty kill, and it’s largely driven by coaching and the tactics they employ. Goals on the powerplay can be driven by individual talent – players go hot and cold, and we know how random goal-scoring can be sometimes. On the penalty kill,  same thing, but it’s the individual talent between the pipes that can hide a team’s deficiencies and prop up positive results. That’s why I look at shot metrics, as they  can give you some insight on whether or not the results on the powerplay or penalty kill are real.

When pulling goals and shots, I look at rate stats to gauge how efficient a team is on special teams. We know that not all teams take and draw the same number of penalties. And looking at goals and Fenwick at a per-60 rate gives us a better idea of how efficient a powerplay or penalty kill unit was.

Since we only have access to Fenwick numbers on powerplays and penalty kills from 2007 on-wards, I only looked at three of Hitchcock’s four seasons in Columbus, his full six year run in St. Louis, and his one-year stint in Dallas last season.

Powerplay (5v4)

Below are Hitchcock’s results on the powerplay since 2007.

Team Season Fenwick For/60 Goals For/60
CLB 2007/08 58.54-23rd 4.98-25th
CLB 2008/09 65.93-25th 4.63-29th
CLB 2009/10 69.76-17th 6.24-15th
STL 2011/12 75.96-6th 6.33-12th
STL 2013 73.08-4th 7.08-7th
STL 2013/14 67.54-20th 6.73-6th
STL 2014/15 76.33-7th 7.89-4th
STL 2015/16 60.11-30th 8.10-1st
STL 2016/17 69.52-24th 7.46-9th
DAL 2017/18 79.32-10th 6.99-17th


  • He had some fantastic results in St. Louis, but I suspect it was largely driven by the individual talent on his teams. As a group, the Blues didn’t always do a good job at generating unblocked shots and instead relied on above average team shooting percentages. That 2015/16 season was interesting – they were last in the league at generating shot attempts, but still managed to finish with the best powerplay in the league – thanks to a 18.59% shooting percentage, the highest rate a team has posted in a full season since 2007.
  • Hitchcock’s results on the powerplay in Columbus weren’t very good. They finisihed near the bottom of the league,  and struggled to generate a lot of offence. Prior to being fired in his fourth season there, the club had improved and was right around league average when it came to goals and shots.
  • The powerplay in Dallas appears to have been a little unlucky. They were 10th in the league at generating shots, and did well in generating chances from the high danger area. But their team shooting percentage finished in the bottom third of the league. The numbers they posted on the powerplay under Hitchcock were pretty close to the numbers they posted the year before when Lindy Ruff was behind the Stars bench.

Penalty Kill (4v5)

Below are Hitchcock’s results on the penalty kill since 2007.

Team Season Fenwick Against/60 Goals Against/60
CLB 2007/08 61.89-10th 5.47-10th
CLB 2008/09 68.18-10th 6.25-11th
CLB 2009/10 69.09-15th 6.71-22nd
STL 2011/12 60.67-5th 3.44-3rd
STL 2013 52.82-2nd 4.89-5th
STL 2013/14 61.69-3rd 4.54-2nd
STL 2014/15 63.73-2nd 5.43-8th
STL 2015/16 70.46-13th 4.58-3rd
STL 2016/17 66.47-9th 6.49-20th
DAL 2017/18 72.73-8th 6.64-13th


  • Outstanding results pretty much anywhere he goes.
  • Hitchcock regularly has his team in the top 10 when it comes to the rate of unblocked shot attempts against.
  • The year before he got to Dallas, the Stars had one of the worst penalty kills in the league, allowing the most goals per hour and were mediocre when it came to limiting shots against. It did also help Hitchcock to have Ben Bishop in net for most of the games, compared to the season prior when Ruff only had Lehtonen and Niemi.
  • For my own interest, I looked into how well Hitchcock’s clubs have done at generating shot attempts when shorthanded – just to get a sense of how aggressive his teams play. His teams have typically been below average in this regard, so I don’t expect a spike in shorthanded goals.


  • Hitchcock’s results on the penalty kill have been excellent, and they’ve been real. It’s true he’s had some very good goaltending over the years, but his teams have regularly been top five defensively limiting shots and high danger chances. Hopefully he can implement some of that in Edmonton. Wonder how Trent Yawney feels.
  • The powerplay is an area that I think Hitchcock should lean on Manny Viveiros for, as his assistant has had powerplay success in his prior coaching stints. Hitchcock hasn’t had the greatest success when it comes to generating chances, and he could get away with it in Edmonton with McDavid running things. But it’d be in the team’s best interest to have two effective units that consistently generate shots and hopefully goals.
  • One thing worth seeing after another 20 games or so is how much different Hitchcock deploys certain players and forward and defensive tandems on the powerplay and penalty kill compared to McLellan.
  • At the end of the season, it’ll be interesting to compare the Oilers results under Hitchcock with the results under McLellan. Here’s how the Oilers fared over the three full seasons with McLellan behind the bench:
2015-2018 Fenwick For/60 Goals For/60
Powerplay 74.47-14th 6.44-18th
2015-2018 Fenwick Against/60 Goals Against/60
Penalty Kill 72.34-12th 7.09-24th

Any feedback, let me know.

Data: Natural Stat Trick


2 thoughts on “Hitchcock’s history with special teams

  1. Pingback: CBC Edmonton News (TV): Recent success, expectations under Hitchcock, lack of scoring and goaltending + notes | The SuperFan

  2. Pingback: CBC Edmonton News (TV): Loss against the Leafs, trade deadline re-cap and the penalty kill | The SuperFan

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