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The Progress Report: Special Circumstances

by Travis Knee / Edmonton Oilers
The 2011-2012 NHL season has definitely turned out to be a challenging one for everyone involved with the Edmonton Oilers. What was a great start to the season at 9-3-2 has gone the other way in the past few months.

Since that point, the team has gone 8-22-2 and sits today with a record of 17-25-4 for 38 points on the year. This total currently places them second last in the National Hockey League, seven points up on last place Columbus.

The team has battled a barrage of injuries to key players such as Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Cam Barker, Tom Gilbert and Jordan Eberle, just to name a few. It stands to reason that a young team, one that is battling to find an identity and level of consistency at this level, would be deeply affected by such losses in manpower.

While all the above is surely the case to some degree, there are still some important improvements in this year’s squad that should be duly noted.
The three young stars have led the way on the power-play this season.

The Oilers have seen a major improvement in their special teams this season. Always an important measurement of a team’s success, special teams are largely considered a do or die statistic in today’s NHL.

Edmonton is currently sporting the leagues third ranked power play 46 games into the year. Operating at 21.2 % success rate, the Oilers power play has been one of the bright spots all year long.

“I think that the success we have enjoyed with the man-advantage is a testament to the young talent level we have in this room,” said head coach Tom Renney.

The Oilers turn around on the power play should be seen as a major progression and a real positive moving forward. Last season Edmonton would finish ranked 27th in the NHL with a 14.5 power play percentage, a far cry from this year’s effort.

When we look at the leaders on the team in terms of power play production, it’s easy to see the reason for the success. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leads the team with 18 power play points, followed closely by Taylor Hall with 16 points and Jordan Eberle with 15. As these three young stars continue to bring their games to the next level, so does the power play.

It isn’t just the power play that the Oilers have made strides in either, the penalty-kill has come along with it. Two seasons ago the Oilers ranked 26th overall with a 78% penalty-killing rate. That total would then dip down to 77% last season, 29th overall in the league.
Nugent-Hopkins still leads the Oilers in PP points despite his injury.

The Oilers have managed to get that total up by over five percent this season, currently sitting at 82.4%. This has them ranked 16th overall in penalty-killing, a marked improvement over the last two seasons.

“Special teams have been a real bright spot for us this year and that’s something we are going to have to continue to perform well at,” explained Renney.

Generally speaking, strong special teams and winning games go hand-in-hand in today’s NHL. While that may not be that case for the Oilers this year, it has to be seen as a step in the right direction and something that can be built upon going forward.

As is the case in most sports, there is always a silver lining in all situations. The Oilers have fallen on hard times as of late, but positives still exist. Having the third best power play and not winning games can only statistically go on for so long. Sooner or later the tide is going to turn if you continue to win the special teams battle, here’s hoping that tide comes real soon.

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