The Oilers rank 2nd in the NHL on the powerplay right now. They are 4/12 (33.3%) over their last 4 games. It doesn’t appear that the powerplay needs much work at the moment; but hey, we can always improve, right?
The Oilers have gone 6/37 (16.2%) with the man-advantage since October 18. 4 of those 6 goals came in the 3 games prior to the Sharks game on Tuesday. That is pretty rough!
There is one noticeable trend that has mirrored the Oilers powerplay struggles over the last month.
Oscar Klefbom started the year with 9 points in his first 7 games. He has only recorded 2 points since that time: 2 powerplay assists against the Ducks on Sunday. He has scored points in only one game since the puck dropped for the 8th game of the season. The 8th game of the season was at home vs Detroit on October 18.
I’m not saying that it’s all Klefbom’s fault that the powerplay is struggling. However, what I am saying is that the powerplay could be better with someone else manning the point on the powerplay.
The reason that I say that is because Klefbom is left-handed.
That in and of itself doesn’t prevent him from being useful on the powerplay. I base my reasoning on how the Oilers run their powerplay. You see, the Oilers powerplay runs through Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It is rare to see either of them on the left side of the ice on the powerplay. McDavid usually mans the half-wall on the right, and Draisaitl is usually in the right corner.
As long as the powerplay runs through those two on that side of the ice, then having a left-handed point man makes things more difficult. A good powerplay is one that moves the puck quickly, and Klefbom’s usage in that spot slows puck movement down.
The reason for that is because is it incredibly awkward for a lefty to make a play on his forehand without a delay when receiving a pass from the right side of the ice. It is next to impossible to one-time a puck that is moving across your body from your backhand side to your forehand side. Klefbom can’t take a one-timer with a pass coming from McDavid or Draisaitl when they are on the right side of the ice.
The same idea applies to one-touch passes. Klefbom isn’t able to execute a one-touch pass that moves the puck from the right side of the ice to the left side when he gets a pass from his right.
In order to shoot the puck or pass it to the left-hand side of the ice in that situation, Klefbom has to receive the pass and then pivot his body so that it faces the left side of the ice. Klefbom executes this move at a high level, but it is still much slower than if there were to be a righty at the point in his place.
Klefbom has a booming shot, but he can only use it when he gets a pass coming to him from his left-hand side. Nugent-Hopkins plays on that side. He is a capable passer, but the problem is that Nugent-Hopkins just doesn’t get nearly as many touches on the powerplay as McDavid and Draisaitl do on the other side of the ice.
Getting shots on net from the point on the powerplay isn’t a pretty strategy, but it is an effective one. It really needs to be a part of the arsenal for an elite powerplay. Pucks can bounce off of defenders or the goalie to create mad scramble situations in the slot or right in front of the net. There are 4 elite finishers on the Oilers powerplay that could really benefit from more point shots being attempted. The current strategy of running the powerplay from the right-hand side with a left-handed point man is really hindering the Oilers’ ability to get point shots on the powerplay.
I see two possible fixes to the problem.
The first would be to simply run the powerplay from the left side of the ice. There are currently 5 left-handed shots on the powerplay. The amount of one-timer opportunities would go up exponentially with more passes coming from the left-hand side.
The problem with doing that is if you move McDavid and Draisaitl to the left side on the powerplay, the two best goal scorers on the team are suddenly in poorer shooting positions. You could just keep the guys in their current positions, but then Nugent-Hopkins would suddenly become the primary puck handler. He’s capabale, but he’s not McDavid or Draisaitl. The puck needs to be on the sticks of the best players. Running the powerplay from the left side of the ice wouldn’t work as well for those reasons.
The other simple fix would be to get a right-handed point man on that powerplay unit. Evan Bouchard has all of the necessary skills to be that guy. He can get pucks through with a quick and deceptive wrist shot or a booming Bouch-bomb, and he is a fantastic distributor. He’s not here yet though, nor am I advocating for a call-up right now.
Jason Gregor has talked about it (although he likes Benning in that spot more than the guy I like there). Kurt Leavins has written about it. Michael Hebert has talked about it on the OilersLive podcast during the season. The Oilers do have one right-handed defenceman with the necessary skill set to be useful on the powerplay right now.
Ethan Bear needs to be on the powerplay!
He is obviously right-handed. He can get pucks through from the point with a quick wrister by changing the shooting angle with his improved edge work. He also has a hard slap shot. He can distribute the puck quite well. He has good offensive instincts.
He can receive passes from the right-hand side of the ice and either one-time it or pass it across to Nugent-Hopkins in much less time than it takes Klefbom to receive the pass and pivot his body before making the same play. Simply having Bear there instead of Klefbom would increase how quickly the Oilers could move the puck, and it would create another threat for opponents to have to be worried about.
That would create even more space for McDavid and Draisaitl, which can only lead to good things.
The problem with putting Bear there is that the first powerplay unit hardly ever comes off of the ice. Klefbom averages 3:34 of powerplay ice time per game. That is a lot of extra ice time for the rookie Bear to be taking on.
That is an obstacle, but it isn’t one that can’t be worked around. Bear’s ice time averages per game look like this according to HockeyReference.com:
Let’s just pretend that Klefbom and Bear’s average PP ice time per game would switch if Bear were placed on the top unit. Bear would be getting an extra 2:51 per game.
Bear is 4th on the team (excluding Larsson) in PK ice time. Bear doesn’t need to kill penalties. Benning is only getting 0:30 per game on the PK. I’m not sure if that’s because he can’t do it or if Bear has just been better, but I don’t see a reason why Benning couldn’t be on the PK for an extra minute or so each game. Tippett could just roll with Klefbom, Nurse, Russell, and Benning on the PK.
Remember that Adam Larsson comes back next week as well. With Larsson, Klefbom, Nurse, and Russell on the PK, Bear won’t need to be on the PK at all.
If we remove 1:45 from Bear’s ice time and give him 2:51 in powerplay ice time, he would be on the ice for an extra 1:06 each night. Powerplay minutes are MUCH easier minutes than PK minutes. It’s not as if Bear would be exerting himself all that much more by being on the top PP unit, so long as he stops killing penalties.
If ice time is the only reason that Bear isn’t getting a chance on the PK, then the coaching staff really needs to re-evaluate that rationale. If it’s about seniority and earning it, I’d counter that by saying that it’s the coaching staff’s responsibility to put the team in the best position to win every night, not to play favourites. Having the right-handed Bear on the powerplay would make the team better. There is no reason that Bear couldn’t be the point man on the top powerplay unit.
I love Klefbom as a player. I just think there’s a better option on the powerplay. It’s not as if he’s a 60-point defenceman that absolutely needs to be in that spot. The Oilers don’t have anyone like that. I’d be more comfortable rolling Klefbom out more at even strength, or reducing his total TOI so that he can be even more effective at evens, especially late in games.
The Oilers powerplay will always have the potential to get scorching hot as long as 97 and 29 are out there. The group as a whole is already awesome, but I really think that switching Klefbom out for Bear could make the Oilers the most lethal powerplay in the league.
They’re going to need the PP to be strong if they want to continue their hot start through November. They’ve got 5 more divisional games this month, and 3 more against strong Central Division teams in Colorado and Dallas. It starts tonight with a home date against the Avs.
There were a couple of changes to the line-up that I’d be remiss not to comment on. First off, Caleb Jones will draw in alongside Klefbom. Jones was up when Klefbom was hurt last year. I think these two could be a really strong pairing! Jones could have a similar effect on Klefbom that Bear has had on Nurse. Jones is more acclimatized to the North American game than Joel Persson is, and Klefbom will likely not have to compensate for his partner so much with Jones beside him. Jones can move the puck really well, so there won’t be as much pressure on Klefbom to be that guy in the pairing. I’ll be interested to see how that pairing does.
Next, Tippett has placed Josh Archibald on the 2nd line with Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal. In reality, it is always going to be a bottom 6 forward in that extra spot in the top 6. There isn’t one of them that has shown anymore offensive juice than the next guy. Archibald isn’t a top 6 player, but I don’t mind this move at all. Archibald’s speed and tenacity will be helpful to Nuge and Neal, who have largely failed to attack with any kind of speed this season.
Finally, there will be a bit of European Showtime tonight. Joakim Nygard didn’t look all that good in his return from injury on Tuesday, but hopefully having Gaetan Haas as his centre will be a better situation for him. Alex Chiasson will be with the two European speeders. That line should be able to generate some chances with their speed and their ability to work the walls.
Mackinnon vs McDavid should be an absolute blast to watch! Enjoy the game!