Monday, October 10, 2005


In the wake of Saturday's penalty-marinated game, and against a Ducks team that should have a fairly good powerplay once things get going (they currently sit in 20th with a 14.3 per cent success rate, but any team with Niedermayer, Federov and Sykora will probably move up as those three get used to each other), I'd say it's time to look at our penalty kill.

Now, by all accounts, the actual penalty killers themselves have been fairly solid; they were flawless against the Avs, and though Vancouver hit us up for three, we were showing the heart of a garage door, throwing ourselves in front of almost anything the 'Nucks decided to unload. And I agree: this is a team chock full of quality penalty killers (Stoll, Moreau, Reasoner, Pisani, Dvorak, Harvey, Peca and Smyth on the front end, Pronger, Staios, Smith and Ulanov, usually, on the back); that said, I think the fact we're only killing at 80 per cent so far this season is indicative of a problem, and I think I know what it is: our goddamn passive box.

The Oil have been playing what amounts to a small box for about three or four years now, getting increasingly diminished results each year. The passive box, for anyone who doesn't play EA's wonderful series of NHL games regularly, is a tight, close group centered roughly around the middle of the slot, designed to let people play the perimeter, but closing out the slot and front of the net. It's a fine strategy, in theory: most goals are scored from the areas it's designed to protect, and if you have a solid low goalie and players entirely willing to have vulcanized rubber bounce off them every 20 seconds or so, it can be fairly effective. Except, that, for the Oilers of course, it's been mostly terrible: good enough for 27th in the league last season (81.1 kill rate) and 19th the year before (82.6).

This is partly to blame, of course, on our goaltending: Salo got pretty terrible on point shots last year, as was alluded to in the comments section, and so having people unload on him regularly was like having someone throw darts at you as you stood behind Saran Wrap: you felt lucky if the flimsy piece of garbage stopped anything (I should point out that I was behind Salo for a long time, but it's pretty hard to argue for him in light of last season). Still, even assuming that gets better--which is hardly a fair assumption, given that Conklin is not someone entirely solid on point shots, and Markkanen, bless his Finnish mitt and all, was beat three straight times on blasts from the half board--the small box looks like an even worse propisiton this year. With four extra feet in offensive zone, the powerplay has even more space to work with if all you do is stand around in the slot watching them set up a boomer, and you can see the results against any team that has a couple good shots from the perimeter: Salo pots one and Naslund two (Colorado, for all their top-line offensive talent, doesn't really have anyone with an above-average perimeter shot, though they scored from the blueline, too, albeit not on the PP).

The solution, I think now and have thought forever, is something more agressive. I think the diamond would be a mistake in the current climate of the game (defenceman, so far, have proven entirely ineffective in front of the net, one of the strengths of the diamond, and you still only have one guy waving his stick as the defence pass it back and forth on the point), but a large, agressive box has looked really good every time I've seen it. The Canucks used it for the first part of the third period and utterly stymied the Oil (then, for the last part, they hung back again and got burned), and some of the traditionally effective teams in the NHL all play a more agressive style in their own end on the PK (Minnesota, Detroit and New Jersey all use an agressive style quite effectively, and have all done fairly well for themselves in the past).

I realize it's a little early to start crying foul about special teams, but I've seen us set up a shooting gallery for teams for years, with little in the way of success, and while I admire our heart, I'd prefer if our penalty killers didn't have to dive in front of pucks every time we're a man down. I don't know; what do all y'all think?


Matt said...

I enjoyed the Saran Wrap analogy.

Pleasure Motors said...

Thanks, I was rather proud of that one myself.