Drivers and anchors on the penalty kill


In case you missed it, I recently dug into the Oilers recent powerplay success as well as their penalty killing failures.

Aside from seeing the powerplay shot generation and penalty kill shot suppression rates increase, oddly resembling one another, the other takeaway were the poor numbers being posted by defencemen Kris Russell when the team has been shorthanded this season. The team has allowed a team-worst 11.66 goals against per hour (GA/60) and 59.38 shots against per hour (SA/60) on the penalty kill with Russell on the ice.

Listed below are all of the Oilers defencemen who have played at least 15 minutes on the penalty kill this season, sorted by the rate of goals against per hour. Included is the time on ice (TOI), as well as the TOI%, which calculates the players proportion of the team’s total time on the penalty kill (328 minutes).

Player GP TOI TOI/GP TOI% SA/60 GA/60
Gravel 35 55.77 1.59 17.0% 53.80 5.38
Klefbom 44 83.10 1.89 25.3% 51.99 6.50
Larsson 65 137.75 2.12 42.0% 49.22 7.84
Jones 17 19.07 1.12 5.8% 47.20 9.44
Benning 53 67.45 1.27 20.6% 42.70 9.79
Nurse 65 133.20 2.05 40.6% 56.31 10.36
Garrison 17 16.87 0.99 5.1% 28.46 10.67
Russell 55 113.17 2.06 34.5% 59.38 11.66

Note that after 65 games, the Oilers are allowing 8.96 goals against per hour (29th in the league) on the penalty kill, and 51.95 shots against per hour (17th in the league). The league average rate of goals against per hour and shots against per hour this season is 7.16 and 52.0, respectively. As I wrote in my previous article, the Oilers rate of shots against has steadily increased over the course of the season, with the Oilers posting a shots against per hour rate of more than 60.0 over their last 20 games (red line in the graph below). That’s well over the league average rate and deserving of some attention.

Oilers - Special Teams - Shots per 60

Aside from Russell’s struggles, it’s worth looking into which other defencemen are impacting the team’s penalty kill numbers – both positively and negatively. To do this, I broke the season up into three segments: the first 31 games when Klefbom was in the line-up, the next 21 games with Klefbom out (and Russell only available for 10 games), and the next 13 games with Klefbom and Russell back. Losing both defencemen forced the team to change-up the powerplay and penalty kill combinations, giving us a little more insight into how the other defencemen did with more or less ice time.

2018/19 Season Games Team TOI SA/60 GA/60
Klefbom and Russell healthy 31 159.20 48.62 8.29
Klefbom injured, Russell healthy for 10 21 111.40 51.17 9.69
Klefbom  and Russell healthy again 13 57.38 62.74 9.41

Segment 1: Klefbom and Russell healthy (31 games)

In the first segment of 31 games, the Oilers did a pretty good job on the penalty kill limiting shots against (48.62 per hour, 13th in the league), but unfortunately their goaltending was one of the league’s worst, posting a team save percentage of 82.95 (24th in the league). It’s a trend that’s continued from last season when the team would go on decent stretches limiting shots and chances, but couldn’t get consistent goaltending.

Below are the Oilers defencemen who played on the penalty kill  in this first segment (sorted by TOI%), including their on-ice rate of shots against and goals against.

Player GP TOI TOI/GP TOI% SA/60 GA/60
Larsson 31 66.32 2.14 41.7% 48.86 6.33
Nurse 31 65.28 2.11 41.0% 56.06 9.19
Russell 31 65.27 2.11 41.0% 52.40 11.95
Klefbom 31 59.72 1.93 37.5% 44.21 5.02
Benning 26 30.50 1.17 19.2% 41.31 9.84
Gravel 16 20.28 1.27 12.7% 50.29 5.92
Garrison 12 10.22 0.85 6.4% 23.49 11.75

The team had the most success on the penalty kill when Klefbom was on the ice. Not only did the team have its lowest rate of goals against when he was deployed (5.02 GA/60), but the shots against were also low (44.21 SA/60). The other notable player here was Benning, who was fifth in TOI% and posted an on-ice rate of shots against of 41.31, the second lowest among defencemen. Russell and Nurse were on the other end of the spectrum with the team allowing their highest rate of shots against with them on the ice. Thankfully the play of Larsson, as well as the depth players like Gravel and Garrison, offset some of the team’s deficiencies on the penalty kill.

Segment 2: Klefbom injured, Russell healthy for 11 (21 games)

When Klefbom and Russell were injured against the Avalanche on December 11th, the team had to make adjustments to their penalty kill. Over the next 21 games, the coaching staff rightfully increased Benning’s proportion of the Oilers penalty kill ice time from 19.2% in the first segment up to 27.3%. And Gravel saw his proportion of ice time increase from 12.7% to 25.2%. Also seeing ice time in this second segment was young Caleb Jones, who played just under 20 minutes and posted respectable on-ice shot-rate numbers.

Player GP TOI TOI/GP TOI% SA/60 GA/60
Larsson 21 49.08 2.34 44.1% 41.56 7.33
Nurse 21 48.30 2.30 43.4% 52.17 13.66
Benning 18 30.38 1.69 27.3% 45.42 9.87
Gravel 14 28.07 2.00 25.2% 49.17 4.28
Russell 11 24.48 2.23 22.0% 78.42 14.7
Jones 17 19.07 1.12 17.1% 47.20 9.44
Manning 10 11.48 1.15 10.3% 62.70 10.45
Garrison 5 6.65 1.33 6.0% 36.09 9.02
Petrovic 6 5.28 0.88 4.7% 56.78 0.00

Over those 21 games, the team’s penalty kill did see their rate of shots against increase slightly from 48.62 per hour to 51.17 – but this increased rate was still right around the league average of 52.0. The actual rate of goals against remained the same due to poor goaltending, but the skaters were doing their job of limiting the shots getting on net. Key drivers for their relative success limiting shots in this second segment was the play of Benning and Gravel, both of which posted good numbers in their limited minutes over the first 31 game segment. Worth noting that Benning has a history of success on the penalty kill, dating back to the last two seasons.

What might get overlooked is the fact that even when his proportion of ice time was reduced, Russell continued to struggle on the penalty kill, with the team allowing 78.42 shots against per hour with him on the ice. Nurse’s on-ice number’s actually improved, likely due to playing half of his minutes with Benning and spending less time with Russell who was his primary partner in the first 31 games of the season. Manning and Petrovic also struggled and have since fallen down the depth chart.

Segment 3: Klefbom  and Russell healthy again (13 games)

In the recent 13 games with Klefbom back from injury, and Russell playing in every game, the Oilers penalty kill has actually been getting worse. As mentioned above, the team is allowing over 62 shots against per hour, one of the league’s worst, and it’s a little unclear as to what the exact problem might be. Below are the defencemen’s on-ice numbers over the last 13 games, sorted by TOI%.

Player GP TOI TOI/GP TOI% SA/60 GA/60
Russell 13 23.42 1.80 40.8% 58.93 7.69
Klefbom 13 23.38 1.80 40.7% 71.85 10.26
Larsson 13 22.35 1.72 38.9% 67.11 13.42
Nurse 13 19.62 1.51 34.2% 67.29 6.12
Sekera 7 8.05 1.15 14.0% 29.81 14.91
Gravel 5 7.42 1.48 12.9% 80.9 8.09
Benning 9 6.57 0.73 11.4% 36.55 9.14

Despite all of the evidence from the previous 52 games, the coaching staff increased Russell’s ice time on the penalty kill, where he leads the team in total proportion of ice time over the last 13 games. His results have improved from the previous segment, down from 78.42 shots against per hour to 58.93, but we are dealing with a small sample size and can probably expect his numbers to regress towards his career numbers. What’s also interesting is that Russell’s primary partner is Nurse again, as he’s played 19 of his 23 minutes with him. That again goes against the evidence we uncovered in over the previous 52 games when Nurse was doing much better playing alongside Benning (who along with Gravel saw his proportion of ice time drastically reduced).

The other issue has been Klefbom’s play on the penalty kill since his return and his on-ice rate of shots against. Considering how well he was playing prior to his injury (in the first 31 games), and even dating back to last season, it’s surprising to see his on-ice rate of shots against climb up to 71.85. My guess is that we’ll see his numbers regress towards his career averages over the remaining 17 games, but it’ll be worth keeping an eye on. He’s looked fine in every other situation – especially on the powerplay where the team has excelled since his return – so hopefully it’s not a lingering injury issue.

My sense is that the Oilers are fine to continue playing Klefbom on the penalty kill with Larsson, as his numbers should improve as he has had success this season. But the team should also be looking into getting Benning and Gravel more ice time, either together or have Benning with Nurse or Sekera. Benning has posted good on-ice numbers on the penalty kill all season, and it’d be in the Oilers best interest to do whatever they can to reduce the shots against considering how poor the goaltending has been.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

5 thoughts on “Drivers and anchors on the penalty kill

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