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FEATURE: Oilers pore over the penalty kill

Club worked on their penalty kill Wednesday after going 0-for-3 against Minnesota

by Paul Gazzola /

EDMONTON, AB - There's no mystery as to what the Oilers were working on Wednesday after their 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild - a game which saw the home side own the lead on three separate occasions but fail to secure it due to three shorthanded goals against.

"There's no hiding from it, that's what cost us our game last night," said veteran Kyle Brodziak, who amassed 45 seconds of shorthanded time on ice during the game as one of Edmonton's many penalty killers. 

"We lost a bit of our aggressiveness and let them come at us."

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Edmonton's special teams shortcoming caused the club's peril. The Wild went 3-for-3 on the power play, while the Orange & Blue failed to convert on either one of their five man-advantages. The team's three-game win streak - going 9-for-12 shorthanded during the run - was snapped and their penalty kill percentage dropped to 69.4 percent, placing them 28th in the National Hockey League.

In the Oilers 5-3 win over Nashville, they relieved Zack Kassian's late roughing minor, despite allowing two Filip Forsberg man-advantage goals. A game prior, the club defused one of the scariest power-play units in the League when Alex Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals came to Alberta's Capital, limiting them to one power play opportunity. Four times in 2018-19 have the Oilers been able to keep clean sheets on the kill.

Ryan Strome, who got 58 seconds of PK time on Tuesday, echoed Brodziak's sentiment that the urgency was lacking.

"Up until last game we've had some pretty opportune kills but last night wasn't too ideal," he said. "It was a good day to tighten up on it. We want that to be a strength of our team. I think we got to be better on faceoffs, be a little more aggressive and the rest will take care of itself."

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Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan was asked about the penalty kill on Wednesday, identifying its causes.

"Let's hope it's an anomaly," McLellan said. "We won't know until we play a few more games."

The Oilers Head Coach attributes the porous penalty trouble to a number of factors. The club hasn't invoked the same discipline they maintained earlier in the month, being called on 14 minors in the past three games. They didn't reach that number until five games into the campaign.

"Just careless penalties," said McLellan. "So, that has to get fixed. Secondarily, we've got some issues in certain areas that we have to clean up. We've addressed it today and expect it to be better tomorrow."

One component of McLellan's shorthanded strategy is doling out a number of different killers on any given night, not reducing his PK deployment to two units and eight skaters. On Tuesday, six Oilers played over one minute shorthanded, while 10 skated shorthanded 40 seconds or longer. Strome asserted that tactic helps in keeping players fresh but maintained some players might kill differently than others.

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"Everyone brings different attributes," he said. "I think guys that don't have the speed or quickness of Connor or Kailer are going to have to be a little smarter, a little more in position. Some guys are good at blocking shots, some guys aren't. There's a bunch of different things but I think we have a good balance."

Oilers netminder Cam Talbot, who stopped four of seven power-play shots against versus the Wild, was critical of his performance. The keeper shouldered some of the blame, reinforcing the age-old adage that a goalie must be the team's best penalty killer but also felt there were chances to alleviate pressure that couldn't be carried out.

"We had to do a little bit better on our clears and I needed to come up with one more save to at least get us into overtime and get us a point," Talbot said. "I didn't make enough saves last night and as a group, we didn't get the job done."

Edmonton will welcome the Chicago Blackhawks to Rogers Place on Thursday, with the Hawks packing a League-worst 12.2 percent power-play conversion rate. Despite their numbers, the squad features threats from every direction.

"We know what we're doing, we've shown we can do it, it's just about execution," said Strome.

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