Oilers must keep the faith that penalty calls will fall their way

You can make the argument that the referees have not been fair towards the Oilers so far, in how they're calling the Western Conference Final with the Stars.
Edmonton Oilers v Dallas Stars - Game One
Edmonton Oilers v Dallas Stars - Game One / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

The Edmonton Oilers are usually among the top teams on the power play. Never was this better illustrated than last season, when they set an NHL record for best efficiency since the stat started being recorded in the 1977-78 campaign, at 32.4 percent.

The Oilers continued their success with the man advantage on the ice during this regular season, ranking fourth best at 26.3 percent. They've been even better thus far during the playoffs, sitting second with a 34.9 percent efficiency as of Monday morning.

Really though, this level of productivity shouldn't be considered a surprise, when you have the likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evan Bouchard all together on the ice with more space to operate in.

The combo of Draisaitl, McDavid and Bouchard are ranked in the top three among all individual points leaders at the time of posting. This includes respective combined points of 12, 11 and eight, with Draisaitl's total similarly leading all NHL players.

Where are all the penalties?

Critics claim the Oilers rely too much on the power play to score, which seems like an unfair criticism just for being so effective. (They do more than fine when playing at even strength.) Regardless, to date they are not exactly getting the opportunities to play to this particular strength through two games in the Western Conference Final versus the Dallas Stars.

In the two games combined, the Oilers have only received three chances to go on the power play, compared to six by the Stars. The disparity was particularly glaring in game one, when Dallas were awarded five opportunities compared to just one for Edmonton.

That the one the Oilers were awarded was for the Stars having too many men on the ice, only highlights the belief that the referees were not being particularly fair/reasonable. It speaks volumes about the visitors, that they were able to come away with a 3-2 double overtime win.

During his postgame availability with the media following the 3-1 loss in game two on Saturday night, Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch was asked about the lack of penalties favouring his team. After what seemed like an eternity, he said: "I’ve heard a lot about the past-- being a spectator, not a part of the NHL, not as a coach -- in the NHL sometimes the standard gets changed a little bit. They would definitely want to make sure it’s a penalty, when, in the regular season, some things get let go.

"You know, that’s obviously unfortunate for us. We’ve got a very good power play, and we win a lot of games on the power play. It’s unfortunate for us that it’s tougher to draw penalties ... in the playoffs than it is the regular season."

Perhaps weary of how his words might be misconstrued or used again the Oilers, Knoblauch did stress that this wasn't about any favouritism again his players per se. He said: "Having said that, the standard is the same for both teams. I’m not saying it’s unfair for us, but we would like the same standard."

Oilers players not as understanding

McDavid wasn't quite as receptive in offering an explanation for the lack of penalty calls for his team, alluding to his frustration with the situation. Speaking to the media, he said: "That’s a good question. I don’t know. (Yes), that’s a good question."

Mattias Ekholm took it a step further, by actually citing an example of the referees applying different standards to the Oilers compared to the Stars. During his postgame session with the media, he said: "Great question. I have no idea. I looked at Darnell (Nurse’s) penalty today and then five minutes later, I get cross-checked right in the same spot in the paint."

You could tell Ekholm was wanting to share his real thoughts, while balancing this with trying not to go too far in his criticism. He said: "It’s hard. It’s physical. It’s playoff hockey out there. It just seems to be that we kill more than we get power plays. Whether that’s just the way it has happened or not, I don’t know. It’s not up to me to really comment on that, but obviously we need to work harder to draw more penalties."

Given the circumstances to date, the Oilers have done well to score four goals at even strength on the road against a strong opponent. Most importantly, they also claimed home-ice advantage as the series moves to Edmonton, for games three and four.

However, continuing to have so few power play opportunities is theoretically not going to be a recipe for success as this Western Conference Final continues. No matter how dangerous the Oilers are offensively in a general sense, they deserve to see more balanced calls from the referees.

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It will be interesting to see how the referees call the game on Monday night at Rogers Arena. And if they are going to continue being so loathe to call penalties and let the players decide the series, at least make it fair on both teams.

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