Penalty kill progress

Spent some time looking at the powerplay last week, so might as well do a check-in on the Edmonton Oilers penalty kill. Especially with trade activity set to pick up ahead of the deadline and the Oilers looking for quality depth players who will likely be promoted as penalty kill options. Canucks forward Brandon Sutter is currently being floated around as an option for Edmonton (Edmonton Journal, The Province).

The Edmonton Oilers penalty kill has allowed 16 goals over 125 minutes this season, a rate of 7.66 goals per hour which ranks 17th in the league and fourth in the North division. The league average rate of goals over the last three seasons has been 7.17, so they haven’t been getting terrible results. In fact, over the last ten games the Oilers have allowed a rate of 5.21 goals against per hour, which is right around what they finished with last season (5.15) that ranked second best in the league.

But make no mistake, the Oilers penalty kill relies heavily on its goaltending. The Oilers have allowed some of the highest rates of shots against in the league this season, second-worst only to the Canadiens in the North division. You can use any of the shot metrics – unblocked shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger chances – they currently rank bottom ten in the league. Thankfully the goaltending has improved recently on the penalty kill, playing well above league average levels. But it’s in the Oilers best interest to do a better job suppressing shots in the likely event that the goaltending comes back down to earth and the levels they were at earlier in the season.

Worth noting here that despite the reputation for defence, Dave Tippett doesn’t exactly have a long history of penalty kill success. His teams have typically allowed higher than average rates of shots and scoring chances against, but have been bailed out a few times by strong goaltending. It’s interesting to see that the rate of shots against this season aren’t too far off from where they were last season. The only difference is that the goaltending hasn’t been as strong in 2021.

SeasonGoals against/60Fenwick Against/60Shots against/60
2009/105.66 – 6th77.51 – 24th54.51 – 19th
2010/118.12 – 26th89.35 – 30th63.84 – 30th
2011/125.20 – 8th79.6 – 29th55.62 – 27th
2012/137.53 – 22nd70.24 – 20th49.63 – 19th
2013/147.73 – 27th77.97 – 22nd57.36 – 21st
2014/158.42 – 29th86.39 – 30th62.69 – 30th
2015/168.09 – 28th71.9 – 10th50.79 – 12th
2016/178.29 – 26th80.98 – 27th53.84 – 16th
2019/205.15 – 2nd76.28 – 23rd54.84 – 22nd
2020/217.66 – 17th79.44 – 23rd59.82 – 24th

The good news is that the Oilers are seeing some progress on the penalty kill this season, as their rate of shots against has gradually been declining recently. Over the last ten games, they have been allowing closer to a league average rate of shots, and that might be due to some adjustments they’ve made to player deployment.

One player who is doing well on the penalty kill is center Gaetan Hass. Since returning from injury, he’s been getting regular playing time shorthanded averaging a little over three minutes a game. He dressed in a couple games in late January (games 11 and 12) missed five more games, but has played in the last six games. In his 24 minutes of total ice-time on the penalty kill, the Oilers have allowed one goal, and have seen their rate of shots against drop down to 37.37 per hour, which is the best on-ice rate on the team among forwards and well below the team rate of 59.82. Below are the on-ice numbers for the Oilers forwards who have played at least ten minutes on the penalty kill this season.

PlayerGPTOITOI/GPFA/60SA/60GA/60On-Ice SV%
Josh Archibald2357.372.4979.4963.86.2890.16
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins2349.052.1392.9767.2811.0183.64
Jujhar Khaira1432.322.3189.1261.271.8696.97
Kailer Yamamoto2327.071.1855.4242.1211.0873.68
Gaetan Haas824.083.0154.8137.372.4993.33
Kyle Turris1824.031.3487.3864.9112.4880.77
Leon Draisaitl2314.180.6280.3854.998.4684.62
Devin Shore1113.181.20109.23100.1313.6586.36

You expect to see the shots against go up when your top penalty killers are on the ice, as they are typically facing the first powerplay units. But it’s still concerning to see the spike in scoring chances against with Nugent-Hopkins or Khaira on the ice. And you can see why Turris has been taken off the penalty kill and healthy-scratched. Not only do the rate of shots against go up with him on the ice (which aligns with his historical numbers), but he’s posted the worst on-ice rate of goals against (12.48 per hour) – something that coaching staff’s are very sensitive to. Haas really stands out here, and it’ll be interesting to see if Tippett trusts him more and more and what the on-ice shot rates are like with additional responsibility.

Below are the on-ice numbers for the defencemen who have played at least ten minutes. The Oilers are seeing an extra ten shots against per hour on the penalty kill with Russell on the ice, which is likely being masked by the stellar goaltending that he has little to do with. Hopefully Jones can emerge as an option to replace him; he’s played just under ten minutes but has been called out for being on the ice for a goal against, even though the rate of shots drops when he’s been on the ice – definitely something to monitor. And aside from Bear who might be dealing with a head injury, the rest of the group is fine, especially Nurse who has seen the most ice time and has posted on-ice rates of shots against below the team average. Curious to see if Lagesson gets more ice time as his numbers have been solid in limited minutes. The team rate of shots against are similar to Haas’ numbers with him on the ice.

PlayerGPTOITOI/GPFA/60SA/60GA/60On-Ice SV%
Darnell Nurse2366.982.9175.2458.226.2789.23
Adam Larsson2362.052.7083.1662.858.786.15
Slater Koekkoek1734.152.0191.3661.498.7885.71
Kris Russell1530.972.0685.2567.817.7588.57
Ethan Bear1121.871.9982.3268.610.9884.00
William Lagesson814.171.7746.5938.124.2488.89

Whatever the Oilers do at the trade deadline, it’s imperative that they know what they have on the team before spending assets to fill a need that might not exist. The penalty kill is showing signs of improvement, and in limited minutes there appear to be some good internal options who can help suppress shots and scoring chances against. Another reason why I think the Oilers should look within the organization is because the team’s professional scouting department doesn’t exactly have a strong track record at this point. This is the same group that thought Markus Granlund could help the penalty kill, even though his on-ice impacts were poor. And then they thought Turris could help on the penalty kill, even though his on-ice impacts were poor.

Similar to the goaltending position, the Oilers need to evaluate their evaluation process for forwards before spending any more assets on pro players. Until that happens, they’re better off doing a deeper analysis of their penalty kill, looking for internal options and having the coaching staff work with them.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz

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