Killer minutes

The Edmonton Oilers are currently entering the 2021/22 season with a weaker defence core than they had last season. And one specific area they’ll probably take a hit on is their penalty kill, unless they address their blue line prior to training camp.

The Oilers penalty kill over the last two seasons under Dave Tippett has had good results – finishing 10th in the league last season allowing 6.16 goals against per hour and second in the league the year before allowing 5.15 goals against per hour in 2019/20. A big reason for their success has been the play of the goaltenders as the Oilers, similar to any other team Tippett has coached, allowed a rate of unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances) and shots on goals against much higher than league averages.

SeasonGoals against/60Fenwick Against/60Shots against/60
2019/205.15 – 2nd76.28 – 23rd54.84 – 22nd
2020/216.16 – 10th75.98 – 25th55.67 – 24th

At this point, based on the defencemen they’ve lost and the replacements they’ve brought in, it’s likely the Oilers will allow an even higher rate of shots against next season – which really isn’t ideal considering their goaltending could potentially regress.

In the two seasons with Tippett behind the bench, ten defencemen have played at least 10 minutes on the penalty kill – a total of 624 minutes. The table below sorts the defencemen by total ice time (TOI), and includes the percentage of the team’s total ice time the player was on the ice for (TOI%) and time on ice per game (TOI/GP). I’ve also included each player’s on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts against (FA/60), shots on goals against (SA/60) and goals against (GA/60).

PlayerGPTOITOI%TOI/GPFA/60SA/60GA/60
Nurse127285.0545.7%2.2482.7260.836.31
Bear114215.0034.5%1.8981.2158.606.14
Larsson105213.4534.2%2.0371.4052.284.78
Russell90197.4831.6%2.1975.6554.696.08
Klefbom62159.6325.6%2.5781.1961.276.39
Koekkoek1834.985.6%1.9489.1960.038.58
Lagesson2734.325.5%1.2754.2036.723.50
Benning4328.784.6%0.6764.6239.610.00
Jones7622.273.6%0.2961.9837.725.39
Kulikov1010.981.8%1.1071.0238.240.00

Two of Tippett’s go-to penalty killers are gone, with Bear and Larsson having each played over 34% of the team’s total penalty kill time. Klefbom isn’t likely to return and another handful are signed to play elsewhere. That leaves only three of the ten players (Nurse, Russell and Lagesson) signed to play in Edmonton next season, meaning at least two new players will need to take on significant penalty killing minutes.

At this point it’s pretty safe to assume that these vacancies will be filled by Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith – both of whom are experienced players who have led their previous teams in penalty killing ice-time among defencemen over the last few seasons. The problem I see is that based on their history they probably won’t be able to post the same penalty kill numbers as Larsson who had been excellent for the Oilers the last two seasons.

Last season, Larsson played over 50% of the team’s total ice time on the penalty kill, ranking second behind Nurse. Without Larsson on the ice, the Oilers allowed over 82.88 unblocked shot attempts against per hour and 60.87 shots against per hour – rates that would have them worst in the league. With Larsson on the ice, the rate of unblocked shot attempts dropped to 71.31 per hour, an approximately 14% decrease, while the rate of shots against dropped to 52.11 per hour, an approximately 21% decrease. Another way to put it: the Oilers went from one of the worst teams in the league at preventing shots when Larsson wasn’t on the ice, to one of the best teams in the league when Larsson was deployed. The best part is that the rate of goals against also dropped with Larsson deployed, with the team allowing 5.49 goals against per hour with him on the ice, and 7.02 goals against without him.

In 2019/20, Larsson missed significant time due to injuries, but still had a positive impact on the penalty kill when he did play. He was fifth on the team in total penalty kill ice time and average ice time per game that season. With him on the ice, the team’s rate of unblocked shot attempts dropped from 80.59 per hour to 72.99 (a 9.4% decrease) and the rate of shots against dropped from 57.53 per hour to 54.01 (a 6.1% decrease). And again the rate of the team’s goals against saw a drop with Larsson on the ice – 3.65 goals against with Larsson on the ice and 5.82 goals against without him.

Between 2019 and 2021, among 81 defencemen who played at least 200 minutes on the penalty kill, Larsson ranked very highly among his peers in terms of shots and goals against relative to team numbers.

  • Fenwick against per hour relative to team: -12.77 (2nd)
  • Shots against per hour relative to team: – 8.03 (5th)
  • Goals against per hour relative to team: – 2.29 (5th)

Ranking much lower on the same list are two players that the team spent significant assets to bring in: Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith.

Now Ceci does have some potential considering last season in Pittsburgh he led the team in penalty kill ice time among defencemen and had a positive impact. Overall, the Penguins penalty kill posted poor results despite being one of the better teams at preventing chances. And Ceci played an important role there as the team allowed a lower rate of unblocked shot attempts against and goals against with him on the ice.

SeasonTeamGPTOITOI/GPFA/60 RelSA/60 RelGA/60 Rel
2013/14OTT4985.801.75-3.89-5.34-3.17
2014/15OTT81190.852.365.473.07-1.17
2015/16OTT75185.102.475.356.08-0.79
2016/17OTT78240.853.098.513.44-2.69
2017/18OTT82227.772.7814.5510.96-1.89
2018/19OTT71185.952.628.116.841.14
2019/20TOR55160.452.9218.9714.660.90
2020/21PIT52131.672.53-5.170.73-2.38

Having said that, that was the first time that’s happened in Ceci’s career, so I’m a little skeptical that he can have the same success. In his previous stints in Toronto and Ottawa, his team’s consistently allowed a significantly higher rate of unblocked shot attempts against and shots against with him on the ice – basically the complete opposite of what Larsson accomplished the last few seasons in Edmonton. My thought is that the reduced overall ice-time in Pittsburgh where he spent a much lower proportion of his even-strength ice time against elite competition might have helped his overall game. The problem is that based on the long-term contract he just received from management, Ceci will be expected to play higher up in the line-up, similar to what he was doing in Ottawa. So that won’t be an option in Edmonton.

Duncan Keith’s numbers are even worse and I’m honestly perplexed as to why Chicago kept giving him so many minutes on the penalty kill. In that same list of 81 defencemen who played at least 200 minutes over the last two season, Keith is near the bottom when it comes to the rate of shots and goals against relative to team numbers.

  • Fenwick against per hour relative to team: +15.62 (76th)
  • Shots against per hour relative to team: +13.12 (79th)
  • Goals against per hour relative to team: +1.30 (59th)

With Keith on the ice last season, Chicago’s penalty kill allowed an additional 14.96 unblocked shot attempts per hour and 13.50 shots against per hour. This also led to more goals against as Chicago allowed over 10.0 goals against per hour with Keith on the ice – a major jump from the 5.57 goals against per hour without Keith – absolute nightmare stuff. What’s even more alarming is that similar results occurred in the two seasons prior as well with the rate of unblocked shot attempts and shots against being much, much higher with Keith on the ice. Bottom line: with Keith killing penalties next season, expect the rate of shots against to go up.

SeasonTeamGPTOITOI/GPFA/60 RelSA/60 RelGA/60 Rel
2007/08CHI82376.304.597.746.001.86
2008/09CHI77267.523.47-4.43-2.16-0.34
2009/10CHI79247.423.131.771.69-0.45
2010/11CHI79215.322.7310.2312.77-1.17
2011/12CHI69170.802.484.732.591.87
2012/13CHI46107.002.338.6112.810.82
2013/14CHI77188.282.452.384.93-4.24
2014/15CHI78186.902.409.582.92-0.53
2015/16CHI66178.872.7112.904.942.33
2016/17CHI75194.682.609.797.471.70
2017/18CHI82199.052.43-5.001.011.12
2018/19CHI80166.372.0810.2111.471.99
2019/20CHI59171.232.9016.1412.80-1.83
2020/21CHI52140.432.7014.9613.505.01

Should note that while first penalty kill units typically see an increase in shots against per hour as they are playing against top powerplay units, the rate of shots against go up by about 5.45 per hour on average. Both Ceci and Keith’s historical on-ice rates are much higher than that in relation to their teams (often being more than 10.0 per hour), which should be a red flag for the Oilers.

Unless they’re expecting one of the youngsters like Lagesson or Bouchard to play a bigger role on the penalty kill next season, the Oilers should probably continue looking to add depth to their defence core. Specifically someone who has success playing shorthanded.

One player that the Oilers could potentially look at as a low-risk, low-cost option is 34-year old defencemen Jordie Benn who is currently an unrestricted free agent. He’s got experience having played in over 500 games and has posted some good numbers on the penalty kill – especially in his last few seasons with Vancouver and Montreal.

SeasonTeamGPTOITOI/GPFA/60 RelSA/60 RelGA/60 Rel
2012/13DAL2651.932.0011.225.413.05
2013/14DAL77134.921.75-10.67-6.133.36
2014/15DAL72132.131.84-0.721.220.07
2015/16DAL62124.152.00-5.84-2.70-2.76
2016/17DAL58145.732.51-2.899.883.25
2016/17MTL1323.271.7948.5240.9410.32
2017/18MTL77169.202.204.06-0.213.81
2018/19MTL79225.982.86-8.21-7.08-1.35
2019/20VAN44104.482.37-13.29-14.82-2.76
2020/21VAN3149.351.59-6.14-2.92-2.40
2020/21WPG83.930.49-69.52-54.38-15.14

Among 119 defencemen who have played at least 150 minutes since 2019, Benn ranks quite highly when it comes to shot metrics relative to team numbers.

  • Fenwick against per hour relative to team: -11.56 (9th)
  • Shots against per hour relative to team: -11.26 (3rd)
  • Goals against per hour relative to team: -3.14 (4th)

With key penalty killers gone, Tippett is likely to go start with the veteran defencemen the Oilers have added so far but really shouldn’t expect a whole lot from them. Both Ceci and Keith, while experienced, have posted terrible numbers on the penalty kill – something you would hope management and the coaching staff would be made aware of. The Oilers really cannot afford to give back all of the goals that the powerplay generates, making it even more critical that management addresses the weaknesses of the roster and that the coaching staff be a little more creative than they’ve previously demonstrated.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

2 thoughts on “Killer minutes

  1. The big diff is the forwards on the pp will be way way better
    Ryan adds faceoff wins. Which is huge getting the puck out on the 1st faceoff not allowing a team to set up right off
    Foegle is a pk stud and super fast
    Hyman is a faceoff stud and fast
    Add Drai on the odd big faceoff
    Nuge and the fast Archibald are both greatnpk guys except Nuge can’t win faceoffs ( says that is his #1 offseason thing to work on )

    Nurse is good on the pk
    Russell is ok
    Ceci will be just fine
    Toss a coin after that

    Goalies , well if Smith can play like last year they will be fine

  2. Pingback: Penalty kill options up front | The SuperFan

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