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Analyzing what makes the Oilers’ power play dangerous and if its sustainable

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The Oilers’ power play quickly became one of the hottest in the league this season. Through their first 10per cen games of the season, they led the league with a torrid 50 per cent efficiency. Now approaching the quarter-mark of the season through 19 games, they haven’t maintained that level, but still lead the league at 39 per cent — and they’re almost 10 per cent ahead of the next best (St. Louis Blues at 29.1 per cent).

So what’s made the Oilers’ unit so dangerous and is there any concern about their dip in power play percentage in November?

Few teams rely on their top unit like the Oilers’ have this season. Then again, with their success rate, they don’t always leave time for the second group to even have an opportunity. Their core players, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have skated in about 85 per cent of the available ice time which is among the most in the league. To round out that unit, Tyson Barrie’s the lone defender, while Zach Hyman and Jesse Puljujarvi have rotated to complete the forward group on that top unit.

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Edmonton’s usage on PP1 follows the trend, as The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn explored a few seasons ago, of teams relying on their top unit. Given how top-heavy of a team they are, it pays for the Oilers to lean on their top players in these high-leverage situations.

Based on the personnel alone — led by two of the best offensive dynamo’s in the league — it’s easy to see why they’d have success. But the Oilers have had a league-average power play before with these two leading skaters. Now, they’ve found the right blend of skill sets to compose such a high-octane unit.

As the work of Arik Parnass, now director of analytics for the Colorado Avalanche, outlined, the objectives of a power-play breakout are: bringing the puck into the offensive zone, maintaining possession, and quickly getting in formation.

That’s something this Oilers team has thrived at. They lead the league in face-off percentage in the offensive zone while on the man-advantage. While research tells us that it can take a few more seconds for a team to generate a shot attempt after a draw in the zone on the power play (versus at even strength), it may be that teams aren’t just rushing to shooting — they’re taking the extra seconds to get in formation. Edmonton, who leads the lead in percentage of power play time spent in the offensive zone, is also a top-five team in percentage of face-offs won leading to a shot-on net (and seventh in a shot attempt from the slot).

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When it comes to regroups, the Oilers don’t have that same frequency as other teams in controlled entry rate. But it appears that it’s because they don’t need to attempt to regroup as often as other teams. When they do attempt to cross the blue line, though, they’re quite efficient with a 67 per cent success rate (8th in the league).

There’s more to just breakouts on the power play — a team has to connect that play with another sequence to get their unit in formation and start firing shots, which Parnass’ work tells us is an important part of clicking at a high rate. The Oilers also do this really well; they’re third in breakout success rate that leads to offensive zone possession. And they’re often productive in that possession time; following their controlled entries, 39.2 per cent result in a shot on net after and 38.1 per cent convert to a scoring chance — both of which rank fourth in the league.

Who helps drive those controlled entries? One of the best transitional players in the world. McDavid, unsurprisingly, as the highest rate of carry-in attempts in the NHL on the man-advantage. In the defensive and neutral zone, his breakouts often start with a drop pass before he skates right up the ice with the puck on his stick. And he’s a top-five player in carry-ins with a shot on net or scoring chance to follow.

This isn’t a team that just relies on creating offence off the rush on the power play; rather, they’re one of the best at generating shots off the cycle, and that’s how they’ve scored a high percentage of their goals — showing the importance of getting in formation to scoring.

So where are their shots coming from? The Oilers shoot the puck a lot at the man-advantage, and they often make the best of those opportunities with quality chances as the heat map below depicts.

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Edmonton’s created the third-highest rate of slot shots per 60 in the league, which is where 60.8 per cent of their shots come from. And as the data points show, it’s where some of their goal scoring has as well. Neither Hyman nor Puljujarvi are the most frequent shooters on the man-advantage, but when they do shoot, it’s generally from the slot — the same goes for Nugent-Hopkin whose taken 75 per cent of his shots from that area of the ice. It’s also where McDavid and Draisaitl have shot from about 60 per cent of the time.

That’s what makes them so tough to defend; there are multiple shooting options who all can drive to the quality parts of the ice.

Shot location is just one piece of the puzzle. Pre-shot movement also helps determine the danger of a shot. Edmonton’s precise with their passes, they’re second in the league with 85.2 per cent of their attempts being successful. And no one sends more passes to the slot than the Oilers.

That passing also tees up quick one-timers, which are one of the more dangerous shots on the man-advantage. Generally, those one-timer attempts come from Draisaitl (on his off-wing) and his lethal shot, as well as defender Barrie — the former obviously having far more success converting.

Even McDavid has increased his one-timer attempts, a shot he generally hasn’t leaned on during his career. While he doesn’t attempt it nearly as often as his teammates, just having that option in his arsenal adds another threat.

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What helps is just how many players on this unit can move the puck. McDavid’s obviously one of the best puck distributors; he often sets up his teammates for those one-timers and slot shots with his quick thinking, speedy reactions, and deceptive plays. Barrie at the point also helps

facilitate play from the point with his passing. Plus, Draisaitl, who is often expected to shoot, is a skilled passer, as is Nugent-Hopkins.

The fact that any of these players can pass or shoot makes them all the more dynamic. With so many options, and capable passers, the Oilers’ power play isn’t always predictable despite developing some tendencies.

As effective as the Oilers have been, should we expect a regression — especially after their percentage slid from where it was a month ago?

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Even though the Oilers’ power play percentage has dipped by 11 per cent from their first 10 games, their efficiency is still so impressive. For context, no team, since power play percentage started being recorded, has finished with a 39 per cent efficiency. And to keep things more ‘level,’ no team has salary cap has even come close — the next best are the 2019-20 Oilers (29.5 per cent), 2018-19 Lightning (28.2 per cent), and 2012-13 Capitals (26.8 per cent).

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Just because it’s never been done doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Still, it’s going to be tough for Edmonton to sustain this level, even though they’re playing well below the surface and have elite finishing talent. Teams know to study Edmonton’s tendencies because their power play is such a threat, and that’s obviously going to challenge them as the year rolls on.

And, the Oilers are outscoring their expected goal rate of 12.3 per 60 which can be an indication that a regression could come. But there’s also their finishing talent to consider on top of that. Shooting ability isn’t always everything — this team has had an average power play before with both McDavid and Draisaitl seasons ago — but now they’re combining that elite skill and strong offensive generation below the surface.

So even if their percentage does slip from this sky high level, this Oilers’ electric power play could very well lead the league all season long, and should remain a strength.

Data via Sportlogiq





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Bowl projections: Clemson jumps into College Football Playoff as Kansas State upsets Oklahoma

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Despite a season that has already been filled with upsets, change finally comes to the College Football Playoff projection for the first time following Week 4 action. Falling 41-34 to Kansas State on Saturday night, Oklahoma has been bounced from the field of four and replaced by Clemson.

While the Sooners’ loss to the Wildcats for the third time in four seasons does not put them out of the running for the Big 12 championship, the Tigers are now far more likely to end their regular season as an undefeated conference champion out of the ACC. Clemson beat Wake Forest 51-45 Saturday afternoon and looks to only have one ranked opponent remaining on its schedule, which it gets at home (NC State next week).

Michigan beat Maryland 34-27 this week and was the first team out of the last projection; however, it still has top-15 programs Penn State at home and Ohio State on the road over the second half of the season.

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The other top-four teams held serve Saturday. Georgia was not as impressive as usual despite a 39-22 win over Kent State, Ohio State blasted Wisconsin 52-21, and Alabama routed Vanderbilt 55-3.

Check back Sunday for Jerry Palm’s complete bowl projections after Week 4.

College Football Playoff

Jan. 9

National Championship
Inglewood, Calif.

Title game Semifinal winners

Dec. 31

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Peach Bowl
Atlanta

Semifinal

(1) Georgia vs. (4) Clemson

Dec. 31

Fiesta Bowl
Glendale, Ariz.

Semifinal

(2) Ohio State vs. (3) Alabama

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Stampeders beat Lions, both teams lock up playoff spots

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VANCOUVER — The Calgary Stampeders avoided a season sweep at the hands of the B.C. Lions with a defensively impressive 25-11 win at B.C. Place on Saturday.

The win ensures the Stampeders will go to the playoffs for the 17th year in a row.

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A spectacular 54-yard catch by rookie Jalen Philpot of Delta, B.C., set up the only major score of the first half, landing the Stampeders (9-5) on B.C.’s three-yard-line for a touchdown conversion by Ka’Deem Carey.

Calgary failed on its two-point convert attempt. Peyton Logan added a 19-yard touchdown run with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter, and Dominique Rhymes caught B.C.’s lone touchdown pass from Antonio Pipkin with 29 seconds remaining. Pipkin carried the ball across the one-yard-line for a successful two-point convert.

Calgary’s field-goal kicker Rene Paredes was good on four-of-five attempts, from 39, 33, 31 and 33 yards. He added a convert for 13 total points.

For the Lions (9-4), Sean Whyte extended his CFL field-goal streak to 13 with a 34-yard kick to get his club on the scoreboard with 24 seconds left in the third quarter.

Paredes kicked wide to the right on his first field-goal attempt of the game. That came just 2:08 into the contest — the Stampeders had marched down to the B.C. 41-yard line after opening the first quarter by recovering Paredes’ 11-yard onside kick.

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One week after grabbing a 31-29 overtime win over the Stampeders at McMahon Stadium, the Lions could not find a spark to ignite their offence.

In his first home start at B.C. Place after being acquired in a trade with the Montreal Alouettes on Aug. 19, quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. was 12-for-24 in the air for 151 yards. He added 11 yards on the ground. Anthony Pipkin stepped in under centre late in the fourth quarter, going 4-for-6 for 66 yards and one touchdown throw.

Kicker Stefan Flintoft had a busy night for the Lions, punting for 417 yards.

The Lions also came out on the wrong side of the penalty tally. After last week’s thriller at McMahon Stadium included 215 yards in total penalties, B.C. was whistled for six penalties for 65 yards on Saturday. That included a critical major foul on Jordan Williams which gave Calgary good position near centre field before Philpot’s monster catch shortly before halftime.

A major foul for roughing the passer also negated an interception by T.J. Lee with just over three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter.

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As Calgary’s defence kept the Lions pinned in their own half of the field for most of the game, quarterback Jake Maier had a strong outing. He completed 27 of 33 pass attempts for 294 yards and added 14 rushing yards. The Stampeders finished with five penalties for 36 yards.

With the win, combined with losses this week by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Redblacks, Calgary clinched its 17th-consecutive CFL post-season berth on the night Dave Dickenson coached his 100th career game with the Stampeders, improving his record to 70-28-2.

After the Lions won both matchups at McMahon Stadium for the first time since 2010, the Stampeders extended a winning record at B.C. Place that stretches back to 2016.

Despite the loss, B.C. also clinched its first playoff spot since 2018.

FOOT NOTES: Stampeders’ veteran offensive lineman Derek Dennis was taken off the field on a cart late in the first quarter after suffering a leg injury …Injured B.C. wide receiver Josh Pearson led the crowd in the singing of `O Canada’ before the game … The B.C. Football Hall of Fame inducted its Class of 2022 before Saturday’s game … The Lions also held their Salute to Amateur Football … Next week, the Lions will host the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday, while the Stampeders will be back at McMahon Stadium to take on the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday.

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College football Week 4 winners, losers, overreactions: Kicking blunders plague SEC teams, Oklahoma in trouble

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There’s one phrase that makes blood run cold from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Provo, Utah: College kickers. On Saturday, the fortunes of four SEC programs were changed in an instant by two college kickers missing critical kicks in painful fashion. 

Arkansas had a manageable 42-yarder to beat Texas A&M for a second straight season. The Razorbacks out-gained the Aggies by more than 80 yards and needed just one swing of the leg to remain ranked in the top 10. Unfortunately, Cam Little’s kick improbably bounced off the top of the upright — a doink unlike any in recent college football memory. 

All Missouri needed was for All-American kicker Harrison Mevis to make a 26-yard field goal. Easy enough, right? Mevis nailed 20 of 22 field goals last season, including three from more than 50 yards. A 26-yarder is child’s play … except not against Auburn on the Plains as Mevis shanked the kick to the right and the matchup went to overtime. The game swung again after Nathaniel Peat fumbled an open touchdown at the goal line, and that was that. The Tigers are still searching for their first Power Five win. 

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Here are more winners, losers and overreactions that highlighted the Week 4 action around the country. 

Winners

Kansas QB Jalon Daniels: Start the Jalon Daniels Heisman campaign. He’s been that ridiculously good through the Jayhawks’ 4-0 start. Daniels completed 83% of his passes for 324 yards, 83 yards rushing and accounted for five touchdowns in an emphatic 35-27 win over previously undefeated Duke. The junior from Lawndale, California, has been the catalyst for a Kansas program that had not won four games in a season in 13 years. He deserves the lion’s share of the on-field credit.

Tennessee: The Vols let things get a little hairy in the last five minutes thanks to some quick Florida touchdowns, but the performance was more dominant than the 38-33 final score. This was a coming-out party for Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, who threw for 349 yards, rushed for 112 yards and had three touchdowns in a win over Florida. This was just the second Tennessee win over Florida since 2004, and gives the Volunteers a great chance to enter the AP top 10 when the polls come out on Sunday. 

Losers

Miami coach Mario Cristobal: The Hurricanes earned some early credit for beating up cupcakes, but the last two weeks have been a disaster. Miami had 27 first downs against Texas A&M, the most ever in a game without scoring a touchdown. On Saturday, a 45-31 embarrassment against Middle Tennessee sent any Miami hype train off the rails. Once-promising quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was benched after two interceptions, but rushing for fewer than 2 yards per carry and surrendering 500 yards to Middle Tennessee is nothing short of a disaster. Cristobal can’t blame talent in that kind of loss — this is coaching. 

Houston: The Cougars needed to score 10 unanswered points in the final five minutes to survive a challenge from 2-2 Rice. The Owls led for much of the game as the Coogs committed 10 penalties and turned the ball over to give Rice a chance. After the game, Houston coach Dana Holgorsen expressed frustration to the Houston Chronicle. 

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“I’m tired of yelling at them. Tired of motivating them. Tired of all that crap,” Holgorsen said. 

For a team that was thought at one point to be a serious contender for the New Year’s Six, narrowly avoiding a 1-3 start isn’t bringing many warm feelings.

Week 4 Overreactions

Oklahoma isn’t winning the Big 12: The Sooners flew up the polls after dominating an easy schedule featuring Nebraska, Kent State and UTEP. However, Kansas State to open Big 12 play was a rude awakening. The Wildcats scored more points (41) than the Sooners surrendered all season (30) thanks to a five-touchdown performance by Nebraska transfer QB Adrian Martinez. Suddenly, Brent Venables’ task in Norman feels far less turnkey than it did after eviscerating the rival Cornhuskers. Considering the depth the Big 12 showed in nonconference play, there are no easy games remaining. 

Kansas State has a tiebreaker over Oklahoma. Road trips to TCU, Iowa State and Texas Tech could be hairy. Battles with Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State remain. There’s too many speed bumps for the Sooners to make it to Arlington if this is the Oklahoma we’re getting in 2022.  

Wisconsin isn’t Wisconsin anymore: Between 2004 and 2017, Wisconsin was close to the most consistent program in college football. The Badgers went 141-45 and finished ranked in 13 of the 16 seasons, including five top-five finishes. Losing to No. 3 Ohio State was expected, but a noncompetitive 52-21 decision to fall to 2-2 suddenly brings up some existential questions. 

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The Badgers have finished ranked just once in the last five years under Paul Chryst. After the loss today, the Badgers have no ranked teams left on their schedule. It’s unlikely they can show enough to fight back into the polls. Additionally, Wisconsin has just one Rose Bowl since 2012. At one point, this was a program that could measure success by trips to Pasadena. 

Chryst went 34-7 in his first three seasons. Since 2017, he is 33-18 — a fine record but not one that satisfies the Wisconsin standard. Complicating things is the fact that Wisconsin likely has one of the most attractive coaching candidates in the nation on its staff in defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. 



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