a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Thursday, 3 May 2012

05/03/12 Why The Powerplay Improved

One year after finishing 27th on the powerplay with just 14.5% efficiency, the Oilers jumped all the way to 3rd in the NHL with the extra man. So how did this happen? What players were added to the powerplay who weren't there before, and how were they used?

I looked briefly at this back in the Prediction Recaps, but this is a pretty interesting story. First, let's look at the top two powerplay units from 2010-11 based on total PP time.

1) Kurtis Foster (284:27) 14 PP points
2) Dustin Penner* (249:57) 8 PP points
2) Tom Gilbert (236:49) 10 PP points
3) Sam Gagner (200:18) 9 PP points
4) Taylor Hall (177:28) 11 PP points
5) Jordan Eberle (175:55) 11 PP points
6) Ales Hemsky (151:20) 9 PP points
7) Ryan Whitney (151:09) 7 PP points
8) Magnus Paajarvi (147:18) 9 PP points
9) Linus Omark (134:29) 8 PP points
10) Shawn Horcoff (128:03) 10 PP points

Okay, now we know who the Oilers were using the most on the powerplay that finished 27th. There are two number twos because Dustin Penner was traded part way through the season and these numbers represent his season total in both LA and Edmonton. Notably, this list includes three defenseman, which is a manner of thinking that goes back to the old Chris Pronger/Sheldon Souray days of running the powerplay. Unfortunately, Kurtis Foster is no Souray and he's certainly no Pronger. It's not all his fault though. In fact, he led this group in powerplay points. The trouble is that these players combined for just 106 points with the extra man. There is no elite finisher in the group, and Ales Hemsky was obviously not himself even when he was in the lineup. In his last healthy season (2008-09), Hemsky had 31 points on the powerplay.

Horcoff and Gagner were the primary centers used on the 2010-11 powerplay. Horcoff won 49 of 115 powerplay draws (42.6%) and Gagner won 71 of 140 (50.7%). Andrew Cogliano was also used for 75:47 on the powerplay and won (40%) of his 60 draws. The Oilers mostly struggled to get possession, and Gagner, who was the best option in the circle, didn't provide much offensively with just 9 points. As a team the Oilers won 205 of 435 faceoffs (47.1%).

Taylor Hall led the team with 8 powerplay goals, next was Penner with 6, then Foster and Horcoff with 5 each. Jordan Eberle had just 4 goals on the powerplay and Sam Gagner had 3. Other players had powerplay goals, of course, but those were the go-to threats.


1) Jordan Eberle (234:53) 20 PP points
2) Shawn Horcoff (232:14) 13 PP points
3) Ryan Smyth (203:08) 8 PP points
4) Taylor Hall (186:46) 21 PP points
5) Nugent-Hopkins (186:45) 23 PP points
6) Sam Gagner (184:52) 12 PP points
7) Tom Gilbert* (156:51) 6 PP points
7) Corey Potter (153:24) 11 PP points
8) Ales Hemsky (147:35) 9 PP points
9) Ryan Whitney (115:02) 10 PP points
10) Jeff Petry (93:26) 6 PP points

Again, there's a player on this list (Gilbert) who was traded part way through the season and these numbers represent his full season totals with both teams. He is the first defenseman to appear on the list, and his total ice time placed him 7th. This represents a massive shift in the way the powerplay ran. The young, skilled forwards were given the reigns and the man advantage was run more through the wall than by defensemen on the points. These players combined for 139 powerplay points, which is 33 more than the top powerplay unit from 2010-11. The powerplay point totals of the Big Three are intimidating, especially since all of them missed time this season.

Interestingly, Nugent-Hopkins took just 23 draws on the powerplay and won 12 of them. Shawn Horcoff, who was second in total PP time, won 114 of 227 faceoffs (50.2%), while Gagner regressed to 38 of 84 (45.2%). Ryan Smyth isn't a center but he won 28 of 46 powerplay draws (60.8%), which meant that he was proving his worth in areas other than directly in front of the net. Chipping in 8 points helped a little too. As a team the Oilers won 223 of 435 draws (51.2%). Possession helps a lot when you only have two minutes with which to work.

Once again Taylor Hall led the team in powerplay goals, this time notching 13. Eberle was next with 10, then Gagner with 6, Horcoff with 5 and Smyth with 4. Jones and Nugent-Hopkins each had three. Other players had goals but these were the key finishers. The top five goal scorers combined for 38 powerplay goals in 2011-12, compared to just 28 last season.


The Oilers changed their powerplay philosophy in 2011-12, moving away from defensemen who lacked offensive punch and toward their skilled forwards. It helped that Hall and Eberle took huge strides, and Nugent-Hopkins is an absolute whiz kid with the extra man. They were so good that they made up for another sub-par season from Ales Hemsky, who had another year with just nine powerplay points. Injuries played their part with him of course, so if he can have a bounce back year in 2012-12 there is insurance against a dropoff from the powerplay units. Also, adding Nail Yakupov will give the Oilers yet another tremendous threat.

If a new coching staff comes in, hopefully they will continue to roll with a system that is working. Assuming that the Oilers don't acquire a major defensive upgrade, there will be little choice but to carry on with something similar to the 2011-12 formations.

And that'll be just fine.

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