The Oilers' penalty kill was 29th in the NHL in 2010-11 with just 77% effectiveness. Only Colorado was worse. Then, suddenly, the PK jumped to 14th in 2011-12 and spent a significant part of the season in the top ten. How did this happen?
Just like our look back at the improvement of the powerplay, in order to understand the penalty kill we need to know what players were being used on it. Here are the top eight penalty killers from 2010-11 based on total shorthanded ice time:
1) Tom Gilbert (265:00)
2) Andrew Cogliano (223:01)
3) Ladislav Smid (208:25)
4) Theo Peckham (178:46)
5) Colin Fraser (177:35)
6) Ryan Jones (171:43)
7) Liam Reddox (130:38)
8) Jim Vandermeer (128:56)
Ryan Whitney would certainly have been on this list if he had played a full season. He was averaging 2:42 of penalty kill time per game before his injury, and even though he played just 35 games he was ninth in total PK ice time. Jason Strudwick was also a key PK cog when he was in the lineup at 1:57 of shorthanded ice when he dressed. Shawn Horcoff, interestingly, averaged just 1:33 of penalty kill time per game, which was 11th on the Oilers, and when you add that to the fact that he played only 47 games he also ended up 11th in total PK time.
Faceoffs were a big problem while penalty killing for these Oilers. In total the team won 207 draws of a total of 536 (38.6%), and failing to win faceoffs is a major hurdle with every penalty kill starting in the defensive zone. Andrew Cogliano took the most shorthanded draws for the Oilers but he won just 41.4% of them. Colin Fraser won 36.1% of his shorthanded draws, and Horcoff won 39.2%.
Devan Dubnyk had a 0.889 shorthanded save percentage, which was 32nd in the league, but he only played 35 games. Nikolai Khabibulin's shorthanded save percentage was 75th out of 87 goalies at 0.815. Only four goalies who played at least 20 games had a worse number than Khabibulin; one of whom was Peter Budaj, who was a member of the 30th-ranked penalty killing Colorado Avalanche.
Here are the top eight penalty killers from this year's Oilers, ranked by total PK ice time.
1) Ladislav Smid (263:00)
2) Shawn Horcoff (215:20)
3) Tom Gilbert (214:54)
3) Nick Schultz (198:37)
4) Ryan Jones (195:00)
5) Eric Belanger (192:26)
6) Jeff Petry (181:42)
7) Ryan Smyth (176:57)
8) Theo Peckham (144:49)
Andy Sutton and Anton Lander were important parts of the penalty kill too, with 1:46 and 1:36 of PK ice time per game respectively. Sutton played 52 games and Lander played 56. Lennart Petrell also played a part with 1:07 of ice time per game on the penalty kill, but he too played just 60 games. There are two number threes because Tom Gilbert was traded part way through the year. He and his replacement (Schultz) are listed with their full season totals in shorthanded ice time with both Edmonton and Minnesota. Horcoff's importance to the PK skyrocketed this season, and it begs the question why his veteran savvy and faceoff ability weren't more utilized in 2010-11. Jeff Petry took a big step as well, moving up from 1:16 per game on the PK to 2:29. Eric Belanger replaced Cogliano and Ryan Smyth had a big role as well.
Shawn Horcoff took the lion's share of the draws shorthanded, winning 113 of 237 (47.6%). Eric Belanger won 49.2% of 189 faceoffs, while Anton Lander won 27.2% of 44. No one else took more than 12 faceoffs shorthanded. Horcoff and Belanger carried a heavy load in this department. As a team the Oilers won 226 of 503 shorthanded draws (44.9%). That's an improvement of 6.3% in total.
Amazingly, Nikolai Khabibulin's shorthanded save percentage improved to 0.899, which was 23rd in the league. Devan Dubnyk was 59th with a 0.854% mark. The turnaround from Khabibulin was massive for the PK, even though he was bad at even strength.
Shawn Horcoff was finally utilized properly as a penalty killer, Ladislav Smid emerged as a fairly dominant force, and Eric Belanger was a huge improvement over Andrew Cogliano and/or Colin Fraser. Jeff Petry helped too. Theo Peckham found himself in a reduced role, while Ryan Jones' PK contribution increased.
Cogliano and Fraser were the primary centers used on the penalty kill in 2010-11, and both were replaced by much better players in Horcoff and Belanger. Two quality penalty killing centers made a difference that cannot be overstated.
Overall the Oilers got players into their proper roles and upgraded some terrible penalty killers from 2010-11 who were over-used to say the least. The corrections were so simple that it leaves a person wondering how seriously management took the PK in 2010-11. Colin Fraser was a disappointment, but Andrew Cogliano has never really shown an aptitude and there was no reason to lean on him so heavily when Shawn Horcoff was healthy. In any case, things were rectified in 2011-12, and the Oilers still have the pieces for the penalty kill to continue to be strong.