The last time I looked at the Oilers penalty kill, it was twenty-five games into the season, and the situation was pretty dire. They  were having all sorts of issues defensively, allowing some of the highest rates of shots and scoring chances against, resulting in the fourth highest rate of goals against in the league. What was especially troubling was that the penalty kill was basically giving back all of the goals that the Oilers powerplay had generated. Despite having the best powerplay in the league, the special teams as a whole gave the team nothing.

  • Related: Dispirit – The SuperFan (2022, December 4)

Since that point, and after I published my article (!), things appear to have turned around for the Oilers penalty kill.

When it comes to the team’s penalty kill performance, the Oilers have gradually improved at limiting unblocked shot attempts (a proxy for scoring chances) and shots on goal. In the first twenty-five games, they were allowing the ninth highest rate of unblocked shot attempts (82.98) and the sixth highest rate of shots against (61.69). In the most recent twenty five game stretch, they’ve seen their rate of unblocked shot attempts drop by 15.5% to 70.13 (tenth lowest in the league) and their rate of shots against drop by 17.6% to 50.81.

This improved performance has translated into better results, as the Oilers have allowed a significantly lower rate of goals against. In the first twenty five games of the season the Oilers allowed 26 cumulative goals (3 GF. 29 GA) – a rate of 12.60 goals against per hour, which was fourth highest in the league. In the most recent stretch of twenty five games, the Oilers have allowed 10 cumulative goals (5 GF, 15 GA) – a rate of 6.30 goals against, which ranks 13th in the league. They’ve basically cut their goals against in half.

The other factor to consider is the team’s goaltending on the penalty kill, which has also improved. After the first 25 games, the Oilers team save percentage ranked 29th in the league with 78.90%. Among 42 goalies who had played at least 45 minutes on the penalty kill, Campbell ranked 39th with a 78.90% save percentage and a -4.73 goals saved above average. Skinner wasn’t faring much better at the time, as he ranked 36th in the same pool of goalies with a 80.30% save percentage and 37th when it came to goals saved above average with -3.21.

Thankfully both netminders have improved over the course of the season, especially Campbell. Over the last twenty five games, the team save percentage has ranked 15th in the league, with 87.60%. Campbell’s save percentage of 89.50% ranks 13th among 42 goalies who have played at least 45 minutes on the penalty kill. Skinner’s numbers, while still modest, are an improvement as well and rank closer to league average levels.

The coaching staff clearly made the penalty kill a priority and made tactical adjustments, which has helped drive their overall results and kept them competitive in a tight playoff race. At the twenty-five game mark this season, the Oilers special teams had a net goal differential of -1. Since then the powerplay has continued to excel, and so to has the penalty kill, which has helped the special teams differential improve to +17. That’s worth about three wins in the standings, or six points. Had the penalty kill performance and results stayed the same as it did earlier in the season, the Oilers would likely be outside of a playoff spot.

It’ll be interesting to see how this could impact the Oilers approach at the upcoming trade deadline. There’s been plenty of speculation about management targeting defencemen, especially those that can help the Oilers in their own zone and potentially on the penalty kill. Names like Joel Edmundson and Vladislav Gavrikov were floated, among others, when the Oilers were struggling. And now that the team has gradually improved, we’re hearing the names of more offensive-style defencemen like Erik Karlsson landing in Edmonton. Could go either way at the trade deadline with this management group.

One other observation. The Oilers penalty kill percentage, the way the NHL tracks penalty kill success, currently ranks 19th in the league. But when you look at the rate of goals against per hour on the penalty kill, which factors in how much time it takes to score against the penalty kill (which is in my opinion the better metric to evaluate a penalty kill’s success), the Oilers rank 26th. I think what that tells us is that while the Oilers are okay at killing penalties, when they do allow a goal, it happens early on in their penalty kill. Which is when the first penalty kill unit is on the ice. Might be worth looking into how the first unit compares with the second unit, and how they compare league-wide.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Appendix: Ice time and on-ice numbers for the Oiler forwards


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