Sports How to fix the Edmonton Oilers woeful power play in one obvious step

18:58  13 june  2018
18:58  13 june  2018 Source:   edmontonjournal.com

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When it comes to what went wrong with the Edmonton Oilers in 2017-18, everyone knows that a big problem was the power play.

It dropped from being one of the most deadly power plays in the National Hockey League to being one of the least deadly.

But what exactly went wrong? Simply put, the coaches had the wrong players on the ice so the top unit could not muster nearly as many deadly scoring chances as it had in 2016-17.

The Oilers went with the same players and the same basic formation as the team used when it was so dangerous on the power play in 2016-17. They also went with the same basic strategy, to bomb the net with shots and bash away at rebounds.

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So what should the Oilers ’ coaching staff do to fix the power play ? How much time on an Oiler powerplay was played on the perimeter? It was embarrasing. Khaira McDavid-Draisaitl-Reider Klefbom. Next step is to play McDavid for the full PP.

This isn’t a bad strategy at all. The Oilers just had the wrong players doing the bombing and this led to a significant drop in shot quality.

The key stat here? Grade A scoring chances created by the Oilers power play. That’s where we saw a precipitous drop year to year.

In 2016-17, when Edmonton had the fifth ranked power play in the NHL and a success rate 20 per cent, they were able to create 144 Grade A scoring chances on the power play.

In 2017-18, when Edmonton had the 31st ranked power play in the NHL and a success rate of just 14.8 per cent, they could only create 119 Grade A scoring chances. They used almost all the same players, and they were actually able to get off a higher rate of scoring chance shots on net than the previous year, but those scoring chances were of lower quality overall.

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There were a number of issues (and I don’t want to suggest that NHL power plays aren’t complex systems dependent on numerous players with the right skill sets making the right reads and plays) but one issue stands out, Mark Letestu’s drop in performance.

In 2016-17, the Oilers power play took off after Letestu was promoted to the top unit and placed on the left flank where he was able to unleash deadly right-shot one-timer bombs consistently on net. His strong shooting opened up the middle of the ice for Leon Draisaitl and Milan Lucic to find time and space to shoot.

His promotion was an inspired move by the Oil’s coaches. They should get credit. Letestu should get credit. He was the bomb in 2016-17, but he was unable to replace that success in 2017-18. He struggled to get off dangerous one-timers last year. Maybe it’s because opposing penalty killers started to focus on him, giving him less space and more attention. Maybe they were able to cut down on Connor McDavid passing to him cross-seam. But it all added up to less deadly shots from Letestu, which cut down on Milan Lucic’s rebound chances and open looks at wide open nets. At the same time, Draisaitl was struggling to get off dangerous shots from the middle of the ice, and he never did find a real home for himself on the 2017-18 power play, but was shuffled from the bumper spot in the middle to the left point to the right flank (where he finally started to find his range).

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I’m not going bore you with a lot of numbers other than to note that Letestu’s number of Grade A shots on net dropped from 23 to 11 year to year, Draisaitl’s from 29 to 19, and Lucic’s from 24 to 16.

So what to do? Clearly the Oilers need to find someone capable of taking over from Letestu on the left flank, someone who can consistently get off deadly one-timer bombs from that spot.

The good news? Two years ago the Oilers used the third overall pick in the 2016 draft to select a player, Jesse Puljujarvi, with just the right skill set to man that left flank. Puljujarvi has a great one-timer shot. He’s a right shot, so he sets up naturally for one timers on the left flank. He’s also adept enough to move the puck and quick enough and strong enough to win lose pucks. He will no doubt need some work on making the right reads, but if he takes a shoot-first mentality, the rest should fall into place.

One wonders how things might have gone differently for both Puljujarvi and the Oil’s power play if in November 2017, when it was clear that Letestu had lost his power play mojo, the Oilers coaching staff had decided to go with Puljujarvi instead on the left flank.

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One hopes that the same mistake won’t be made in 2018-19, and that Puljujarvi will be given a chance to show off the power play skills that made him such a high draft pick.

Of course, all kinds of other issues need to be addressed as well. For example, it’s likely that Draisaitl works better on the right flank than McDavid, so McDavid will have to find a new home, either at the point or beside the net. It could well be that Lucic no longer has the speed and hands to find power play success, so the Oilers have to decide if they’ll go with a net front bruiser or more of a pure skill power play. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also has great power play skill, so they might want to work him into the top unit. The unit’s hustle also must be addressed.

So there’s no end of things to think about. But I hope Todd McLellan and his coaches mainly think about getting the right players on the ice, especially on the crucial left flank, which will mean giving Puljujarvi that chance.

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