Oil spill: Edmonton Oilers try to fix abysmal penalty kill in a season gone awry
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers focused Wednesday on fixing a profoundly dysfunctional penalty kill unit that has come to symbolize a season confoundingly mired deep in the ditch.
"(The penalty kill) is losing us hockey games, or at least it's taking us out of hockey games," centre Mark Letestu said after practice at Rogers Place.
"The seam passes have been a problem. The shots from the top have been a problem. The stuff around the net has been a problem.
"We've got a lot of work to do."
The Oilers are dead last in the NHL on the PK with a 70.8 success rate, but it's a bizarre breakdown.
On the road, Edmonton is fifth overall, with an 85.1 per cent kill rate. But at home they are a brutal 55.6 per cent, which is more than 14 percentage points behind the 30th-ranked Philadelphia Flyers at 70.2 per cent.
The system hit rock bottom Tuesday night, when the Oilers allowed three goals on a five-minute powerplay en route to a 5-0 home loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
Edmonton's power play is no great shakes either, ranked 24th.
Head coach Todd McLellan said poor special teams play bleeds into five-on-five performance.
"Our belief system has taken a bit of a hit, certainly in the penalty kill," said McLellan.
"But you only get to pout for a little while, and then you've got to get back up and pull yourself out of the mud and get going again. That's the message I delivered early in practice today."
The Oilers are 17-20-3 and hit the halfway mark of the regular season Thursday when they host the Anaheim Ducks.
They took the Ducks to seven games in last spring's playoffs, falling just short of reaching the NHL's final four after a decade out of the post-season.
That led to great expectations this year, but they haven't been fulfilled. The Oilers stumbled out of the gate and have yet to find a winning rhythm. They've beaten strong clubs like Columbus and New Jersey, but rolled over for mediocre Philadelphia and league doormat Buffalo.
A four-game win streak before Christmas gave way to a four-game losing streak, including back-to back 5-0 shutouts at home to Winnipeg and the Kings.
The Oilers sit nine points back of a wild card spot in the Western Conference with a crush of teams ahead of them and a realistic shot of a playoff return fading fast.
Captain Connor McDavid, last year's NHL points champion, sits ninth in scoring this year. He continues to buzz the net and make things happen but has now been held off the scoresheet in three consecutive games — something that has never happened before in his young NHL career.
While players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, and Jesse Puljujarvi have picked up their games, they've been cancelled out by inconsistent play elsewhere in the ranks by players like Zack Kassian, Drake Caggiula, and Leon Draisaitl.
McLellan has been mixing and matching forward lines with abandon, searching for the right combination.
The defence — the foundation of last year's playoff team — has regressed. The top two blueliners, Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom, have had to battle through injuries. The top puck moving defenceman, Andrej Sekera, is still rounding into shape after being off for more than seven months rehabbing a blown knee.
The schedule does not promise relief.
After Anaheim, the Oilers hit the road for five games, including Western heavyweights Nashville and Vegas (yes, Vegas), followed by a week off.
Nurse said it's not over.
"We've got a lot of faith in our team and a lot of faith in the guys in this room," he said.
"Obviously the faith outside of our locker room is kind of gone. That's just the truth of the matter.
"No one really believes in us except the guys in this room and we'll need to start playing for each other. That's it."