Sunday, March 17, 2013
Time for the Oilers to reunite the kids on the power play
Ralph Krueger's decision to separate what was formerly his top line of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has proved to be an effective tool in kick starting the Edmonton Oilers offence at even strength. Some had wondered, myself included, why the move had not been made earlier but in hindsight, that answer is obvious, no Shawn Horcoff.
Unfortunately, the loss of their captain had a major impact on this group in every area of the game, including the man advantage. While they flipped players from one unit to the other in his absence, nothing seemed to really work. Making the coach's decision to not reunite the three kids with the veteran centre and Justin Schultz, a rather puzzling one.
Edmonton currently sits seventh in the league with a 22.4% efficiency rating when they are up a man but were only successful 13.1% (8/61) of the time when their captain was on the shelf. Leaving them at a staggering 34.8%(16/46) clip in the ten games #10 has dressed this season. Small sample size but impressive nonetheless.
Much of that damage was done over the first two weeks of the season, when the setup was as follows:
Unit #1: RNH, Horcoff, Hall, Eberle, J.Schultz
Unit #2: Hemsky, Gagner, Yakupov, Hartikainen/Smyth,Whitney
Bringing us to the obvious question. Why not go back to these same groupings? It is a simple swap of Eberle for Hemsky and creates better balance on both units. Nugent-Hopkins and Hemsky playing the role of playmaker on each line, with Hall and Yakupov being the first option for a one-timer. Seems pretty obvious.
With this team's inability to consistently score at even strength, a power play goal here and there, will likely be the difference between taking home two points at the end of most nights. Their loss to the Red Wings on Friday night, being a perfect example. They played a solid forty minutes but failed to put the game out of reach with a power play goal on three separate occasions, ultimately costing them two points.
Teams feared facing the Oilers top power play unit but that is no longer the case. By spreading the so-called "wealth" it has taken away the ability of being "the" difference maker. The setup that has worked best for RNH during his time in the NHL, had Hall and Eberle as his shooting options...Not Hall and Hemsky.
For the most part, the talented Czech plays the same role on the PP as Nugent-Hopkins, making the two redundant on the same unit. Whereas the second unit is now operating without a true playmaker, despite having both Eberle and Yakupov on it, and Sam Gagner hovering around the point.
Not sure if anyone else has noticed but nearly every goal Sam has scored this season, have come within a couple of feet of the net. He is the king of the greasy goal this year and is being wasted as an option on the point. Again, the two units went through a dry spell but much of that can be attributed to not having Horcoff in the lineup.
All that aside, perhaps the most perplexing move of all, is how they have employed Hall on the man advantage. Despite having the third ranked power play during the 2011-2012 campaign, the Oilers decided to go away from their bread and butter...using Hall as the triggerman. While the former first overall pick played just 61 games last season, he was tied for fifth in the league with thirteen power play goals, just five back of Pittsburgh Penguins forward James Neal.
He followed that up with with nine goals in 24 games during the NHL lockout, which still has him sitting tenth in the American Hockey League. Shockingly enough, # 4 scored his first power play goal of the year against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 10th. While they are still a top ten power play, much of that has to do with their early season success and have scored three power play goals against the Hawks last Sunday.
Has something changed? Was the plan not to have the four horses run the power play as they did in OKC? They were as advertised over the first handful of games and than Horcoff got hurt. The problem wasn't the kids but rather the inability of Ryan Smyth or Teemu Hartikainen to step in and fill the captain's skates on the man advantage. When that did not happen, they starting pressing as a group and became far to predictable. It's that simple.
For this team to make any sort of push for a playoff spot, they are going to need their power play to come up big in crucial moments. In order to give his team their best shot at achieving just that, Ralph Krueger needs loosen the reigns and let the big boys go out and do their thing. Give them that opportunity to go out and be difference makers...especially in situations they should excel in.