The Edmonton Oilers penalty kill has been, at best, poor this season. They have surrendered at least one powerplay goal in each of the last four games, and they essentially lost the game because of it on Thursday night. The Oilers surrendered two powerplay goals in the third period, which helped push Toronto to a 4-3 victory after the Oilers evened things at 2-2 early in the final frame.
The Leafs also scored another goal mere seconds after a powerplay expired in the first period, essentially another man advantage goal. These struggles are nothing new this season.
After a 2019-20 season in which the Oilers were one of the best teams in the NHL on the penalty kill, these struggles have come as a surprise to observers of the team. One noticeable difference year-over-year? The Oilers are slower and more stationary down a player this season.
Head coach Dave Tippett wants to see that change. He wants to see more pressure and more quickness while on the kill.
“We’ve been talking about more pressure and getting quicker on it,” Tippett said earlier on Friday after practice. “There are just some things that have to get done. Penalty killing is about having a will to get the job done. There are some factors in it: One, when you get a chance to clear it, you got to clear it. On the winning goal, (Kailer) Yamamoto has a chance to clear, an easy clear and we don’t get it down. Those usually come back to bite you.
“The second one is you have it set up where you make sure you have people in lanes so if they’re going to the net, it’s not from a great angle. And you got people in the shooting lane, trying to make sure if the shot is coming through it’s coming from a certain place. We’re not as tight on that as we were last year. Not near as good at being in lanes. The winning goal last night, Caleb Jones thinks he’s in a lane but he’s not in a lane. When you get into a lane, there’s a good possibility you get hit with a puck and that hurts. But it hurts to win.”
Being better on the penalty kill is something the Oilers will need to do if they hope to turn their 3-6-0 start around. One way to help the penalty kill? Stop taking bad penalties.
In the third period alone, Adam Larsson flipped a puck out of play for a delay of game penalty. Later in the same period, while tied, Josh Archibald took a lazy hooking call that led to a Maple Leafs goal. Ethan Bear also took an ill-advised tripping call that led to a goal against.
That, as much as the killing itself, is an area of concern for Tippett.
“The third part about it is don’t take dumb penalties and then two, you need some saves,” he continued. “That’s just the reality of it. Your goaltender has to come up with some saves. That’s how you have a good penalty kill: You don’t use it as much, you pressure, you’re in lanes when you have to be and you get saves. We’re not getting enough of all of that.”
The Oilers have to hope they can stay out of the box on Saturday night against the Maple Leafs, or a 3-7-0 start will be their reality. It’s getting late early, and the penalty kill is a big damned reason why.