How can the Oilers and Panthers adjust their special teams to find success? (2024)

With the clock winding down on the Florida Panthers’ power play in the third period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday, Anton Lundell skated into the offensive zone with control. He found Evan Rodrigues centered in the slot, and he re-directed a goal past Stuart Skinner to give Florida a 3-1 lead.


And with that score, Florida scored the first power-play goal of the series.

The majority of the game is be played at five-on-five, but special teams still play a key role in a game or series. Florida and Edmonton have excelled on both ends of the ice this postseason, making for an intriguing matchup of two stout penalty kills and dynamic power plays.

Special-teams situations aren’t always guaranteed in games but are worth keeping a close eye on — especially across a series. It’s a part of the game that teams can study and scout a bit deeper, because there are only so many minutes, players and strategies involved. That makes it a prime area for adjustments as a series goes deeper.

After two games of play and almost 26 minutes of special-teams action, let’s break down this matchup on both ends of the ice.

Oilers’ power play vs. Panthers’ penalty kill

Calling Edmonton’s power play dynamic may be an understatement. It’s led by two of the best in the world: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid is the most fluid part of their attack. He tends to lead regroups with his speed off the rush, and once in formation, he tends to be the player who roves around the zone most to direct play with his puck movement. Draisaitl, on the other hand, is the most voluminous shooter on the advantage, with elite finishing talent. He’s a constant threat for a one-timer, even from sharp angles that aren’t typically thought of as the most dangerous on the ice.

Then there’s the supporting cast: Evan Bouchard and his bomb of a shot from the point, Zach Hyman and his hot stick in a net-front role, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the facilitator who makes crucial little plays all over the zone to help this unit click.

Heading into the Stanley Cup Final, Edmonton was operating at 37.3 percent on the power play in the playoffs, which ranked eighth all-time in efficiency among playoff teams since that stat was first recorded in 1978. The Oilers led the league with 19 power-play goals, after beating Los Angeles, Vancouver and Dallas on their path to the Final. Edmonton doesn’t just convert on some opportunistic chances on the power play — they usually outright dominate opponents on the advantage; heading into this series, that was to the tune of 14.23 expected goals per 60, the highest of any playoff team in the “analytics era” (since the start of the 2008 postseason).

The Oilers’ power play has faced its toughest task yet this postseason in the Panthers penalty kill. Florida hass been excellent while short-handed all season — even in the first month of the season while missing a key cog on the backend in Aaron Ekblad. They finished second in the league in their shot and expected goal rates against, thanks to stout and disruptive performances from their best penalty-killers. It’s a major improvement from last year in terms of shots, scoring chances and goals against.


Gustav Forsling and Ekblad, the team’s top defense pair, which faces matchup minutes at even strength, lead the way on the backend. Nikko Mikkola and Dmitry Kulikov, who were signed as penalty-kill support, are the second unit.

Up front, Eetu Luostarinen and Kevin Stenlund usually were deployed for the first faceoff in the regular season. Aleksander Barkov technically led the second unit with more on-the-fly deployment, which tends to be the case with more offensively inclined penalty-killers. In the playoffs, there isn’t much of a gap in usage or on-the-fly deployment.

Florida’s path to this point hasn’t been easy, either. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins each can challenge a team while short-handed. And the New york Rangers’ special-teams dominance was a theme through the first two rounds. But the Panthers entered the Final allowing 6.91 expected goals per 60, which was among the best of the 16 teams in the playoff picture. Florida gave up just five goals against through three rounds, with two short-handed for.

Now, through two games, the Oilers have had 11:28 of five-on-four power-play time against the Panthers and have nothing to show for it.

Compared to the regular season and first three rounds, the Oilers are generating a lower rate of shots and quality caches against Florida. The Panthers have been successful at maintaining their positioning against Edmonton, and they spot trigger points to — at the very least — disrupt the Oilers’ ability to whip the puck around the zone as usual.

A really dangerous part of the Oilers’ attack tends to be when they regroup and rush back into the zone with control. McDavid tends to lead that charge, but Florida is concerting its efforts to break that up as much as possible — even if it means having all four killers surround him. Denying entry has been a strength of their game, and Florida haskicked it up a notch in the playoffs.

The Oilers have had a few looks through two games, some off the rush, thanks to Nugent-Hopkins and from Draisaitl’s office. The shots they’ve managed to get through Florida’s short-handed units have been stopped by Sergei Bobrovsky, who has upped his game in this series.

So now the task for Edmonton to make adjustments in order to regain a key advantage of their game. The Panthers’ approach is all about putting pressure on their opponent, and so far they’re winning the battle.

The Oilers have a known recipe for success and they shouldn’t have to make drastic changes — instead, there are just a few tweaks worth trying. As dangerous as teams are in their power-play formation, players can’t relay too much on that structure, either. The best bet is likely adding some more movement and fluidity back to the unit around the Panthers’ structure, and that must come from more than just McDavid, who tends to skate all around the zone.

Connor McDavid says the #oilers need to counter #FlaPanthers aggressive PK by abandoning some of their PP structure and letting their instincts take over during the man advantage.

"We call it road hockey. We've got to be elite at that."

— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) June 12, 2024

And there has to be more creativity in their rush game to avoid the Panthers just smothering McDavid and quickly getting back into their structure. Edmonton should expect four penalty-killers to swarm McDavid, and they use that to their advantage more.

Panthers’ power play vs. Oilers’ penalty kill

The Oilers’ power play against the Panthers’ penalty kill may be the most eye-catching matchup, thanks to their reputations and success this season, but it’s not the only special-teams battle.


The Panthers had a solid power-play attack in the regular season but had room for improvement. Florida may have generated a lot of offense — worth about 11.3 expected goals for, ranked second in the league — but didn’t convert on all of their chances, especially in the early part of the season. There was a difference of about 17 goals between expected and actual goals, with only four teams having a greater gap.

That theme has carried into the playoffs, but the Panthers still had 13 tallies heading into the Final — 11 of which came against the Bruins and Rangers, who boast strong penalty kills.

The Panthers may not have the Oilers’ personnel, but they still have a lot of skill. Matthew Tkachuk isn’t scoring as much but he is an elite playmaker. That has helped elevate Sam Reinhart’s scoring from the slot this year. Barkov is a pivotal playmaker on the right, while Carter Verhaeghe adds another shot from the left side and another option to rush back into the zone when the opponents clear the puck. And on the blue line, Brandon Montour is a solid quarterback with an effective shot.

While the Oilers heavily rely on their top guys to play approximately 88 percent of the available minutes in the playoffs, the Panthers have a slightly more balanced approach. Their second unit sees approximately 30 percent of the team’s power-play time.

Similar to how the rush is a key part of the Oilers’ strengths at even strength and on the power play, the forecheck is strong for the Panthers in both situations. When penalty-killers try to gain possession and clear the puck, Florida’s tenacious approach can help them extend zone time.

Maybe the most surprising special-teams element in this series is the Oilers’ short-handed play. All year and into the playoffs, the biggest question around Edmonton has been their stability on defense and in goal — at even strength, at least. The penalty kill has become a secret weapon for the Oilers that has helped them get this far.

Midseason adjustments helped solidify Edmonton’s short-handed approach, including handing the responsibilities to assistant coach Mark Stuart when Kris Knoblauch took over as head coach.


By season’s end, Edmonton moved up to fourth in expected goal limitation, allowing just 7.13 per 60 — only the Rangers, Panthers, and Hurricanes gave up less.

Mattias Ekholm and Vincent Desharnais are the leaned on the most on the top short-handed unit. Cody Ceci and Darnell Nurse tend to start their shifts on the fly. With Ceci being a scratch for Game 2, Brett Kulak jumped up to the second unit. Up front, Nugent-Hopkins is the team’s leading forward in short-handed situations. Ryan McLeod, Mattias Janmark and trade-deadline add Sam Carrick usually fill out the top two units.

And those skaters, backed by Skinner in goal, came up huge in the third round against the Stars. The Oilers did not allow a skilled Dallas power play to score a goal in six games. The only tally in those minutes was an Edmonton short-handed goal.

Florida had a five-on-four advantage for 7:10 of play to open the Final. Rodrigues had the lone goal in that time, but Edmonton hasn’t given up much else just yet.

The Oilers’ penalty-killers have stopped Florida from playing to their strengths and have concentrated scoring chances to the middle of the ice.

While teams like the Panthers can rely on their goaltender to be their best penalty-killer, that probably isn’t a risk the Oilers want to take. So, maintaining their structure is that much more important for Edmonton.

Plus, there’s been more emphasis on preventing cross-seam passes, which means less lateral movement for Skinner and fewer dangerous scoring chances against.

The Oilers aren’t just enduring two minutes of the Panthers power play each time they’re short-handed. The team does a good job clearing pucks out and then disrupting their entry attempts back in. And, like Florida, they can push play back down the ice to generate short-handed chances as well.

What could work in the Panthers’ favor is that the Oilers are dealing with some key injuries and lineup decisions that could impact their penalty kill. Nurse barely played in Game 2, but may play in Game 3, so Florida has to keep an eye on how well he can play his position. Then there’s the Ceci question, which may provide another opening for Florida.


Like Edmonton, Florida doesn’t need to drastically change its approach in order to find success. It’s a matter of sticking with what has worked for them so far — and their balanced approach could help them here with fresher skaters. That may allow them to pick up their aggression without worrying about who has gas left in the tank, which may help them pin Edmonton in their zone — and that could spell trouble for Skinner and the Oilers.

(Data via Evolving-Hockey, HockeyViz, and NaturalStatTrick)

(Photo of Florida Panthers after their Game 2 power-play goal: Joel Auerbach / Getty Images)

How can the Oilers and Panthers adjust their special teams to find success? (1)How can the Oilers and Panthers adjust their special teams to find success? (2)

Shayna Goldman is a staff writer for The Athletic who focuses on blending data-driven analysis and video to dive deeper into hockey. She covers fantasy hockey and national stories that affect the entire NHL. She is the co-creator of and 1/3 of the Too Many Men podcast. Her work has also appeared at Sportsnet, HockeyGraphs and McKeen’s Hockey. She has a Master of Science in sports business from New York University. Follow Shayna on Twitter @hayyyshayyy

How can the Oilers and Panthers adjust their special teams to find success? (2024)


How can the Oilers and Panthers adjust their special teams to find success? ›

The best bet is likely adding some more movement and fluidity back to the unit around the Panthers' structure, and that must come from more than just McDavid, who tends to skate all around the zone.

Who is predicted to win the Stanley Cup in 2024 in NHL? ›

Stanley Cup Odds & Favorites 2024: Favorite Panthers Two Wins From Winning First Stanley Cup. The Florida Panthers are the betting favorites over the Edmonton Oilers and are just two wins away from their first title in franchise history, according to the Stanley Cup odds from our best NHL betting sites.

Who is predicted to win the Stanley Cup? ›

The oddsmakers like Matthew Tkachuk and crew, as the Panthers are the current Stanley Cup favorites, with the Oilers right behind them.

When was the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup? ›

The last Canadian team to win a Stanley Cup was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. More than two-thirds of active NHL players were born after the Canadiens won the title.

What are the chances of the Panthers winning the Stanley Cup? ›

2024 Stanley Cup Final: What are the betting lines ahead of Game 1? Ahead of Game 1, the oddsmakers have the consensus odds for the Panthers, as a slight favorite, to win the series at -135 (Bet $130 to win $100) odds, while the Oilers currently sit at +115 (Bet $100 to win $115).

What team has the best chance to win the Stanley Cup? ›

The Panthers are the current co-favorites to win the Cup with Dallas and are also favored to beat the Rangers despite not having home-ice advantage.

Have the Florida Panthers ever won the Stanley Cup? ›

Florida Panthers
Stanley Cups0
Conference championships3 (1995–96, 2022–23, 2023–24)
Presidents' Trophy1 (2021–22)
Division championships4 (2011–12, 2015–16, 2021–22, 2023–24)
17 more rows

What are the odds of Edmonton winning the Stanley Cup? ›

Stats And Tactical Preview - Oilers-Panthers

The Edmonton Oilers are +112 (risk $100 to win $112) to hoist the Stanley Cup. The Oilers were +450 to win the Cup at the start of the second round of this year's playoffs, and +1100 at the start of the regular season.

Who keeps the Stanley Cup after winning it? ›

The winners originally kept it until a new champion was crowned, but winning teams currently get the Stanley Cup during the summer and a limited number of days during the season.

How many Stanley Cups did Gretzky win? ›

A statue, located outside Rogers Place in Edmonton, of Gretzky hoisting the Stanley Cup, which the Oilers won four times with him. Sculpted by John Weaver.

Has there ever been a Stanley Cup Final sweep? ›

Since moving to a best-of-seven format in 1939, there have been 20 sweeps in the Stanley Cup Final.

Where is the Stanley Cup 2024? ›

The Florida Panthers will visit the Edmonton Oilers for a pivotal Game 3 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Finals at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

What is the NHL playoff format for 2024? ›

This is the ninth year in which the top three teams in each division make the playoffs, along with two wild cards in each conference (for a total of eight playoff teams from each conference).

What teams have yet to win a Stanley Cup? ›

Which NHL teams have never won a Stanley Cup?
  • Buffalo Sabres. Total NHL playoff appearances: 29.
  • Vancouver Canucks. Total NHL playoff appearances: 29.
  • San Jose Sharks. Total NHL playoff appearances: 21.
  • Arizona Coyotes. Total NHL playoff appearances: 20.
  • Ottawa Senators. ...
  • Nashville Predators. ...
  • Minnesota Wild. ...
  • Florida Panthers.
12 hours ago

What are the odds of the Toronto Leafs winning the Stanley Cup? ›

The Maple Leafs opened the season at +1000, implying a probability of 9.09%. Their current +4000 hockey odds to win it all accompany a winning probability of 2.44%.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Duncan Muller

Last Updated:

Views: 5851

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (59 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Duncan Muller

Birthday: 1997-01-13

Address: Apt. 505 914 Phillip Crossroad, O'Konborough, NV 62411

Phone: +8555305800947

Job: Construction Agent

Hobby: Shopping, Table tennis, Snowboarding, Rafting, Motor sports, Homebrewing, Taxidermy

Introduction: My name is Duncan Muller, I am a enchanting, good, gentle, modern, tasty, nice, elegant person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.