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Blackhawks vs. Oilers head-to-head: Special teams matchup

Edmonton boasts the NHL’s best power play and an excellent penalty kill. Chicago has a decent PK performance and ... sigh.

Chicago Blackhaws v Edmonton Oilers

As we’ve mentioned a few times in the last few weeks, the Oilers were not good at five-on-five play during the 2019-20 regular season, finishing with a goal differential of minus-16. So how did they finish as the Pacific Division runner-up?

Owning special teams battle

Edmonton had the NHL’s No. 1 power play, converting at a 29.5 percent clip that was well ahead of second-place Boston’s 25.22 percent. They were equally effective on the penalty kill, finishing second in the League at 84.42 percent. The Oilers had a plus-28 goal differential on special teams, more than making up for their five-on-five deficiencies.

Chicago’s penalty kill ranked ninth at 82.1 percent while its power play was — sigh — 28th in at 15.21 percent. But those narratives are well-known around these parts.

Oilers’ power play

Edmonton’s exhibition game against the Flames on Tuesday served as a cautionary tale for the Blackhawks, as an early Calgary penalty led to a Connor McDavid power play goal, the second Oilers tally in Edmonton’s 4-1 win.

It was many of the familiar Edmonton names who saw the ice Tuesday. Until a meaningless power play late in the third period, the Oilers had 4:33 of power play time. Of that span, the aformentioned McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Oscar Klefbom skated 4:04 of that, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was around for 3:04 of it. Alex Chiasson tends to be the fifth name completing the Oilers’ first power play unit, which occupies the majority of Edmonton’s time on the man advantage — and understandably so.

Edmonton’s power play isn’t necessarily about quantity. In terms of volume of shots and attempts, they’re near the middle of the pack:

  • Corsi Events For Per 60 Minutes: 95.55 (15th)
  • Shots For Per 60: 52.46 (16th)

When it comes to quality, though, few teams did it better than the Oilers:

  • Scoring Chances Per 60: 58.77 (1st)
  • High-Danger Chances Per 60: 23.8 (5th)

The Oilers scored at a goal rate of 10.64 per 60 minutes of power play ice time, again well ahead of runner-up Boston (9.19). This is a unit that gets the puck to talented players in quality scoring positions with little time for the opposition to react. The best course of action is to avoid trips to the penalty box instead of adding any spark to this incendiary aspect.

Oilers’ penalty kill

It was a largely different group responsible for the Oilers’ PK success. The top shorthanded players by ice time were forwards Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald along with defensemen Klefbom and Darnell Nurse. The next foursome consists of Nugent-Hopkins and Jujhar Khaira at forward with Ethan Bear and Kris Russell on defense. Sheahan was a noticeable absence from Tuesday’s exhibition game, replaced by Gaetan Haas, although that appeared to be more of a precautionary measure than anything serious. Calgary’s lone goal Tuesday was on the power play, though.

Like its five-on-five defense, Edmonton’s team numbers while shorthanded wouldn’t inspire much confidence:

  • Corsi Events Against Per 60: 101.04 (22nd)
  • Shots Against Per 60: 54.84 (22nd)
  • Scoring Chances Against Per 60: 49.52 (17th)
  • Expected Goals Against Per 60: 6.87 (23rd)
  • High-Danger Chances Against Per 60: 18.11 (9th)

How does a PK unit with mediocre-at-best numbers finish second in the NHL? Goaltending.

The Oilers’ save percentage while shorthanded was a League-best .906 during the regular season. Among goalies who saw at least 50 minutes of PK time, Mike Smith was tied for the NHL lead with San Jose’s Martin Jones and former Chicago netminder Robin Lehner (.918). Edmonton’s Mikko Koskinen wasn’t far behind (.901), good for seventh (Corey Crawford is 40th at .853).

How those numbers change in the playoffs will be a key storyline to watch. Should Koskinen get the start, it’ll be his NHL postseason debut. Smith was annoyingly good in all situations during a past playoff series we shall not mention here. However, said series was nearly a decade ago. During Smith’s postseason with Calgary in 2019, his save percentage while shorthanded was .865 — ninth out of the 16 goalies from those playoffs.

Challenging Koskinen and Smith to replicate their regular season success seems like a wise strategy for the Blackhawks to employ. As for Edmonton’s power play, though, there’s no need to tempt fate: STAY OUT OF THE DAMN PENALTY BOX.

Stats from NaturalStatTrick.com and HockeyReference.com