That’s what he said: Todd McLellan

That’s what he said: Todd McLellan

Two years ago, the Edmonton Oilers had a top 5 powerplay.

Last season, dead last.

Through 3 weeks of this season, top 5 again, clicking at just over 30 percent. 

Oilers head coach Todd McLellan spoke about the early season success of the powerplay after Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Penguins. 

“We’ve really gone back to basics and tried to keep a unit together for a long extended period,” McLellan said. 

They have definitely done that. The top unit, which he refers to as ‘Group A’ has played 24:16 together. There is no real ‘Group B’ as nineteen variations of a second unit have seen time together and no single, five-man secondary group has played more than a minute and a half together. 

McLellan added, “There’s a lot of experts out there that don’t like five left-handed shots. We’re not letting the experts get in the way. We’re trying to do what we think is best for the team. So far that group, group A has done a good job.”

‘Group A’ has done a good job. The Oilers first unit has scored all 7 of the team’s powerplay goals and is averaging 5.8 goals per 20 minutes of powerplay time, 7th best among all units with at least 10 minutes of ice-time. 

“It doesn’t mean it will continue that way. The difference is the attack mode, they’re willing to shoot a bit more and pucks are going in where last year they weren’t,” continued McLellan.

Yes and no. It’s obvious that the Oilers powerplay won’t continue at a 30+ percent success rate. It’s early and only three power plays in history have finished a season above 30 percent. 

However, I’m skeptical the Oilers will finish the year with even an above average powerplay, let alone top five in the league. Enter the second part of McLellan’s quote, about shooting more. To normalize powerplay time, we’ll look at the Oilers production at a per-60 minute rate. Edmonton is averaging 91 shots attempts on the powerplay, per-60 minutes this season (28th). Last season, the Oilers averaged 111 shot attempts, per-60 minutes (18th). They are not shooting more. In fairness, how often you shoot is hardly what makes a powerplay effective but from a shot volume standpoint, they are near the bottom of the league. 

McLellan noted the success his team has had in transition, saying “We’ve scored more off the rush this year than we ever did last year, be it Connor or anybody carrying the puck in. I thought last year we tended to want to set up and then score, we’re more prepared to attack off the rush as well, this year.”

Well, the Oilers are attacking and scoring much more off the rush than they did a year ago but if McLellan thinks this is a sustainable way to create offense on the powerplay, he’s likely in for a rude awakening. The Oilers are averaging almost 7 rush scoring chances per-60 minutes of powerplay time, which is top 10 in the league and twice the amount they averaged last year. 

Edmonton has already scored as many powerplay goals off the rush as they had all of last season, 3. The problem is that while effective, it’s not a repeatable way to score powerplay goals. Last season, just over 7 percent of all powerplay goals were scored off the rush. The top powerplay’s in the in the league are able to generate goals at a high rate by moving the puck quickly in the attacking end and to the middle of the ice. Last season, the Maple Leafs, Penguins and Islanders averaged the most shots from the slot, per-60 minutes of powerplay time, and finished 2nd, 1st and 6th in powerplay percentage, respectively. 

The Oilers ranked 6th in shot attempts from the slot when they had a top 5 powerplay, two seasons ago. They ranked 24th last season when they had the league’s worst powerplay and this season, they’ve continued to struggle to create offense from the house. 

The process is well below average but the Oilers have still managed to score on almost 13 percent of their powerplay shot attempts. That’s the 2nd highest percentage in the league, sandwiched between the Capitals and Maple Leafs – two teams much more likely to score on a high percentage of their attempts for a couple of reasons. 1) Both units have elite shooting talent and puck movers. 2) Both teams shoot more often from high-danger areas on the ice. 

Simply, the Oilers powerplay looks a lot more like a powerplay that should be in the bottom 10 in the league as opposed to the top 10 and I won’t be surprised if it lands there before long. Much of what McLellan said about his powerplay is true, however, relying on rush chances and perimeter shots for sustained powerplay success is not likely to yield positive long-term results.