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Oilers Look to Sharpen Power Play

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

"It seems like when we do play well this year, our power play and penalty kill is kind of the engine that is getting us going."

That was Edmonton Oilers forward Taylor Hall's quote from pre-game prior to Sunday night's 3-2 shootout victory over Dallas. As a team, the Oilers rank 15th in the NHL with an 18.4 conversion rate on the man advantage. They'd like to be better than that, putting an emphasis on power play improvement at practice on Monday. The only players to skate were the team's two power play units and goaltender Devan Dubnyk and defenceman Philip Larsen.

"I thought it was just, we haven't had a lot of practice time on it," said Head Coach Dallas Eakins. "When you're on these road trips, it's more about rest and trying to keep guys fresh. I think it was important just to get those guys on the ice and just reset them. We ran our breakouts that we normally run with a little bit more detail on where we were going to be. Then in-zone we went right to the basics of the power play, the very basics of it and encouraged them to move the puck a little bit quicker, they were in the right spots and boy did they look good on 5-on-0."

First unit power play forward Jordan Eberle talked about today's practice and how the Oilers can improve their special teams.

"Just running routes," said Eberle. "Make sure we're all coming together. I think the biggest thing with the power play, when you get into a game is winning battles and retrievals. When we've had success, it's been off of shots and you get certain opportunities off of that. That's kind of where we've had success and you can practice as much as you want, it's just when it comes down to a game you've got to make sure your battle level is up. That's the biggest thing."

At this point in the season, the players know the systems. There are no secrets when it comes to where they should and should not be while executing a power play. It comes down to simplifying those responsibilities and then executing.

"Sometimes, it's simplifying things," said Ryan Smyth, known for his ability to create traffic in front of opposing goalies on the power play. "I think the biggest thing for us is that the entry was getting disturbed and we were working on that here. There's no secrets. Everybody knows the game plans. They video everything. The tapes are all out there. What can you do better? That's the sort of things we were (working on) today and just getting that confidence again on the power play. We had it earlier on."

Smyth ranks third all-time on the Oilers' career power play goal list with 123, he has two this season.

David Perron, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins celebrate a goal in Chicago earlier this season. The three skate on Edmonton's top power play unit. Photo by Getty Images.

A big expectation for Edmonton moving forward is more early success on the power play and less mistakes resulting in shorthanded goals against.

In their 4-2 loss to Columbus on November 29, the Oilers finished the game 1-of-7 on the power play. Their first of the night, just 20 seconds into the game, not only failed to convert but gave Columbus some scoring opportunities of their own.

Against the Stars on Sunday, the team went 0-for-6 on the man advantage. In the second period, their power play proved to be a negative with Dallas' Ryan Garbutt scoring a shorthanded goal following a turnover at the Oilers blue line and the subsequent breakaway.

The Oilers rank last in the league in shorthanded goals against, with five on the season.

"The biggest thing is, you've got to be ready," said Eberle. "Power play for me, the biggest thing is competing and winning battles. There's a lot of times where you're not going to get that perfect setup or you're not going to win that first draw to get the setup and then you've got to chip it in or dump it in and you have to win battles to get the puck back. Maybe earlier in the game we weren't ready to do that. As a (penalty kill) unit, you are. That's how it works. You're one less, you work harder. You have to make sure you are out-working the PK."

The extra work on the power play that the Oilers were able to achieve on Monday could pay dividends immediately. Three of their next four opponents, Phoenix, Calgary and Carolina, rank below 20th in the league in penalty killing.

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