According to StatMuse, there are only three teams ever in the NHL to finish a single season with a power-play percentage above 30%: the 1977-78 Canadiens, the 1977-78 Islanders and the 1978-79 Islanders.
The 2022-23 Oilers are on pace to be the fourth.
Edmonton has had a dominant power play for the last few years now. It’s not surprising considering the team has had the best duo in the league in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It’s led to the Oilers producing a top-five power-play percentage the last three consecutive seasons, including two first-place finishes.
The 2019-20 Oilers threatened to hit the 30% threshold but concluded the season at 29.5%. At the time, that was the fourth-highest mark in league history. While success on the man advantage is expected at this point, what we are seeing out of this year’s Oilers team could end up being historic.
There’s a multitude of factors that go into a good power play. The Oilers provide a dangerous blend of structure, elite talent and insane chemistry.
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The Sporting News breaks down the Oilers’ power play and what makes them so successful.
What makes the Oilers’ power play so successful?
A good power play unit typically has one go-to option. Whether that is finding someone in the middle bumper or getting it to a faceoff dot for a one-timer, a PK unit can typically cheat just a tad to take away the top option.
You can’t do that against Edmonton. Assistant coach Glen Gulutzan’s job coaching the power play is made a lot easier by having the best player in the league and arguably the best passer at his disposal. If you take your eyes off McDavid, that is leaving space for Draisaitl, and vice versa.
Let’s break down a Draisaitl power play goal during the Oilers’ game against the Islanders on Jan. 5.
You’ll notice right away how wide open Draisaitl is. The one-timer for the German at the right dot is one of the options the Oilers look for. The Islanders made it too easy on this power play by getting drawn to McDavid.
After the missed shot from Tyson Barrie at the point, the puck rims around the boards to McDavid. Zach Parise (No. 11 in white) engages with McDavid along the boards. As McDavid spins to the middle, you see Jean-Gabriel Pageau (No. 44 in white) creep over to that side.
All of a sudden, all four Islanders are on one side of the ice, leaving no one to cover Draisaitl at the other dot.
McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins exchange the puck back and forth, McDavid slides to the middle and sends a no-look pass over to an open Draisaitl for the goal.
Another one of the keys to Edmonton’s power play is its fluidity. There is constant motion not just of the puck, but the bodies as well. By keeping players moving, it makes it a lot harder for opponents to pinpoint one guy. It helps to have exceptional skaters like McDavid, who can weave in and out of a PK unit with ease.
Next, let’s take a look at a recent power play goal by Zach Hyman in the Oilers’ Jan. 7 contest against the Avalanche. Watch how McDavid is all over the ice, bringing the opponents’ attention with him.
From the moment the puck entered the offensive zone, there’s constant movement. The puck moves up high, then back down low, through the slot, across to the other side, back up to the point and so on and so forth.
With these players constantly in motion, it makes it hard on the PK units. You can see McDavid uses his legs to cut from the boards to the middle, drawing the attention of the penalty killers and leaving Draisaitl open down low.
McDavid then uses his feet to get to the other side of the ice and provide an option for Draisaitl. The focus of the PK shifts to Draisaitl, and then no one picks up McDavid coming back on the far side.
The whole purpose of this is to create a 2-on-1 or a 3-on-2 somewhere. You want to draw defenders out from near the Grade-A scoring area in order to get a mismatch in numbers. A good penalty-killing team takes away those options, but the Avalanche fail to do that here, allowing Draisaitl to pass it back to McDavid.
From there, that’s where we have our 3-on-2. Suddenly there are two Avalanche players left to defend three Oilers. By then, it’s too late for either Logan O’Connor (No. 25 in white) or Cale Makar (No. 8 in white) to pick up Hyman in front, and McDavid fed him for the easy tap-in goal.
It’s hard enough to defend McDavid and Draisaitl at even strength, and going against them on the power play is an extremely difficult task. You have to be aware of where both of them are at all times and limit the amount of over-aggression.
Oilers power play stats
Stats updated as of Jan. 24
The Oilers lead the league in power-play percentage, clicking at a 31% clip on the year.
So far, the Oilers are the only team with at least 50 goals on the man advantage this season, scoring 53. It helps when you are able to draw penalties like the Oilers do, as they have had 171 power plays, which rank third in the NHL.
Out of their 48 games this year, Edmonton has scored at least one power-play goal in 23. Ten of those 23 games have resulted in multiple goals on the man advantage, including a stretch in mid-December where the team had two power play goals in four straight games.
Can the Oilers keep up the pace they are on? Who knows, there is still a lot of hockey left in the regular season.
But the power play is keeping the season afloat in Edmonton, as the Oilers have their eyes on getting back to the Western Conference Final.