Over the course of the season we have seen the Edmonton Oilers undergo a gradual and consistent change. From the middling start of the season, to the legitimate contender before us, the Oilers have met, if not exceeded the lofty expectations forged by a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2021–22. Both offensively and defensively the team has reached new heights.
The natural tendency is to search for an inflection point, a moment that turned the season around. Perhaps it was the promotion of Vincent Desharnais, or maybe it was some tactical fine tuning by Coach Jay Woodcroft as the Oilers locked in to peaking as the games grew tighter. Another popular turning point was a January 9 game against the Oilers first-round playoff opponent, the Los Angeles Kings, where a spirited, penalty-filled loss led to a fight between Zach Hyman and Sean Durzi.
While the game might have been a galvanising force for the Oilers season, it also represents a blueprint for how the Kings could hope to pull off the upset in the playoff series between these two teams. The Kings went 4/7 on the power play, exploiting what might be the Oilers biggest weakness, their middling penalty kill. Though the Oilers have improved marginally in this aspect, the Kings strength on the power play is not to be overlooked.
While the Oilers power play set a new all-time efficiency record at 32.4%, the Kings finished the regular season at 25.3%, good for fourth league-wide. For both teams the power play will be a point of emphasis, and with that being said we will dive into the Kings’ power play, how it operates, and what we might expect as the series looms.
Kings’ power play stats and charts
The game of hockey is fluid, and power plays are no different. Players will rotate to try to open up holes in the penalty kill, but for the most part this is how the Kings will set up with the numbers advantage.
From the point, Drew Doughty and Sean Durzi will quarterback the power play, evidenced by their power play assist totals. Though both can find shooting lanes in their own right, their primary option will be to work the puck around to the Kings primary shooting areas, the flanks. The Kings will set up a multitude of capable shooting wingers on their weak sides, ideal for increasing shooting angles and optimising the ability for one timers.
Though Kevin Fiala, a mainstay on the top unit, comes in with an injury designation the Kings have options should he miss any games. Of late, Victor Arvidsson has been elevated to Fiala’s spot on the top unit. Arvidsson is a three-time 30-goal scorer, a well established shooting threat that is second only to Doughty in power play points for the Kings.
On the right side, left shots Adrian Kempe and Arthur Kaliyev will be the foremost shooters by volume. Kempe has been one of the Kings top goal scorers since being deployed on Anze Kopitar’s wing the past few seasons and led the Kings in power play goals.
Not to be forgotten is the lesser known Kaliyev. Kaliyev is a pure scorer, leaving very little to be desired as a power play shooter, even on his strong side on the left. Despite Kaliyev’s spot deeper in the lineup at even strength, his effectiveness on the power play should not be overlooked no matter where on the ice he is able to shoot from.
In the bumper position, in the high slot, the Kings top two centres, Anze Kopitar and Philip Danault, operate as distributors. The Kings will move the puck to them to help open up passing lanes elsewhere. Kopitar has had more success in scoring goals, often collapsing to the net front to clean up loose pucks. To play the bumper position effectively one needs to process coverages quickly, a skill that both Kopitar and Danault possess.
Who can be in the net front position?
The position most in flux for the Kings power play is at the net front. Gabe Vilardi was the primary option in this spot on the top unit, but is out with injury. Vilardi is a heavy body, a requirement for net front duties, but has ability as a shooter and playmaker that allow him to play in other spots on the power play. His absence likely hinders the Kings ability to rotate to their potential, though the Kings have some interesting options in his stead.
Alex Iafallo is not the biggest name in terms of overall talent, but the forward does have the strength, poise, and hands to capitalise on opportunities in this spot. Iafallo’s high ratio of goals to assists shows us that he is limited to being a net front contributor on the power play, though it is a role he is able to fill, it does limit the Kings’ ability to rotate.
Trevor Moore isn’t the biggest, but is quite strong despite his stature. His compete level makes him an option at the net front, but he is able to make short quick passes from tight spots, allowing for some ability on rotations. Stapled to Danault’s wing, Moore is a mainstay on the second unit.
The X factor
Most intriguing is the play of Quinton Byfield as the 20 year old comes into his own. Byfield had not been a part of the Kings power play for much of the season, but his inclusion is inevitable. A top draft pick, third overall in 2020, Byfield should be a top contributor on the power play for years to come. Byfield brings a variety of skills to the table, and theoretically could play in the bumper or on the flanks, but is perhaps best suited in his spot here at the net front.
From a physical standpoint Byfield has the size and strength to thrive in the most contested ice, and has continued to develop his play at the net front. Though, Byfield brings a dimension as a playmaker that only Vilardi can hold a candle to of the net front options the Kings have. This playmaking ability might unlock some new looks for the Kings power play whenever Byfield establishes himself on the unit.
At his best at lower levels, in the AHL and OHL, or during international play, Byfield is able to slide out from the net front to the goal line beside the net, operating as a distributor from the bottom of the zone. From this position a new set of passing options will become available, even before factoring the confusion that the flipping from top to bottom might cause in the penalty kill.
One of the most effective players in this role in recent memory is Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals. While Alex Ovechkin rightly deserves a lot of credit for the Capitals power play success of the 2010s, Backstrom’s playmaking ability from the goal line was vital to taking advantage of the space that Ovechkin created in the middle of the ice. Players like T.J. Oshie, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer were successful in scoring goals from the slot as Backstrom was able to find them for one timers.
For now, Byfield has done most of his work with the second unit, but could be a new wrinkle for a Kings’ power play that is already dangerous.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire