Enough is enough, it is more than time to pull the plug on Edmonton’s special teams. The worst home penalty kill in NHL history (and that’s not overstating things) cost the Oilers another point last night, and is on the verge of costing this team the entire season.
A year that started with so much promise looks like it is on a collision course with another non-playoff spring thanks to the special teams groups, mainly the penalty kill. How do you fix that if you are the Edmonton Oilers? Cut the head off the beast, aka fire defensive coach Jim Johnson. I’ve seen enough, after two and a half years its time to make the change. Johnson is no longer effective in his position.
Edmonton’s home penalty kill this season stands at 57.4%. That’s not a typo, the Oilers’ penalty kill at home is below 60% and will be through the first half of the season. In most organizations, that alone would be good for a coaching change when it comes to the PK. In Edmonton? Yeah, right.
Overall, Edmonton’s PK is at 72.7% on the season. That is, as many of you could probably guess, the worst mark in the entire NHL. Ouch. The sad part? This isn’t a new trend either. Edmonton’s penalty kill has been downright bad since Todd McLellan took over as head coach. Under McLellan, Johnson has been responsible for the defense and penalty kill.
In 2015-16, their first year calling the shots, the Oilers went 81.1% on the PK, good for 18th in the entire NHL. Not terrible, but below average. Last season? Edmonton’s PK was at 80.7%, slightly down overall year over year. The ironic part? The club actually jumped from 18th to 17th in the overall PK rankings thanks to some skids elsewhere in the league.
This season? As mentioned above, the bottom has completely fallen out from under this group on the PK. Edmonton’s home penalty kill is chasing some embarrassing history, and the unit overall is simply not getting the job done. For a team with some many defensive players, this rate of failure is simply unacceptable.
It’s costing the Oilers games, too. Last night is a perfect example. Edmonton outscored the Hawks 2-1 at even strength and outplayed Chicago for long stretches, but the Oilers surrendered two powerplay goals that Chicago made look easy. Those tallies were the difference in this hockey game.
That’s just one example. Countless times this season the Oilers have lost the special teams battle and it has cost them the game. Let’s say Edmonton was even average on special teams, breaking even with goals for and against. That would probably give the Oilers three or four more wins. Currently, the Oilers are six points (three games) out of a playoff spot. It makes a damn big difference.
When we look back at the Oilers in April, a team that somehow failed to make the playoffs, we’ll all be asking what went wrong. There are a lot of answers to that question, but the special teams, mainly the penalty kill, will be at the top of the list.
Sure, the club lost a few key contributors like Matt Hendricks and Benoit Pouliot, but there is simply no excuse for how bad this unit has been this season. The players look completely lost trying to kill penalties most nights. At some point, the man giving the orders needs to take responsibility for that. If players don’t grasp what they are doing, then a new gameplan must be put in place.
I don’t believe Jim Johnson is the guy to put that gameplan in. Edmonton’s penalty kill is absolutely killing them right now, and it damn well may cost them the season. It’s time to pull the chute on Johnson. His PK’s have been below average since he got here, and now they have cratered.
If Edmonton wants to start making changes, and they absolutely should, then this is the place to start. A historically bad penalty kill at home is laughable and should be unacceptable.
It’s time to change the message up, and it’s time to change the messenger in the PK room. Let’s do this before it’s too late.