Looking into the potential reasons why the Oilers are better on the road than at home

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The Oilers are playing better on the road than at home this season, which is odd considering that on average over the last three seasons teams collected 60.7% of the available points (i.e., points percentage) when playing at home and 50.7% of the available points when on the road. This year, the Oilers have a 54.8% points percentage at home (21st in the league, fourth in the division) and a 57.7% points percentage on the road (10th in the league and second in the Pacific division). Below are the results for the season thus far, including their overall goal differential.

2019/20 Games Pts% NHL Rank Goal differential
Home 21 54.8% 21st -10 (67 GF, 77 GA)
Away 26 57.7% 10th +5 (75 GF, 70 GA)

When asked at his media availability on Monday about the results at home as compared to on the road, Oilers head coach Dave Tippett provided this comment:

When you play on the road you play a simple direct style. You have to be all in. At home you tend to get fancy a little bit and maybe tend to try to put on a bit of a show for your fans. But the best show you can put on for your fans is for us to win.

On the road we’re generally playing a straight, disciplined game and that’s the kind of game, when we’re at our best, we play. We have to have that type of mindset wherever we play. It doesn’t matter. (Source)

Digging into the results a little deeper we start to see Tippett’s point about playing a more disciplined game on the road. Focusing first on even-strength (5v5) play, we see there’s been a drop off in terms of how well the team does in controlling the flow of play and their share of the shot attempts and scoring chances – metrics that are largely team driven.

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Starting with goal-share, we see that the Oilers even-strength play hasn’t been good overall, posting a negative goal differential both at home and on the road. Their 43.01% goal-share at home is the second worst in the league this season, while their 47.57% goal-share on the road is ranked 15th overall.

Looking at shot-share metrics, the Oilers do see an increase when they’re on the road, as their Corsi For% (a proxy for possession) and Fenwick For% (a proxy for scoring chances) see an uptick towards league average proportions when they’re on the road. And it’s a little alarming that all of their shot-share metrics at home rank in the bottom-five league-wide. Note that the league average shot-shares at home and on the road are right around 50.0% over the last three seasons. The odd team has seen a difference of 2.00 to 2.50 percentage points between their home shot-share compared to their road shot-share, but the difference for most teams is negligible.

This indicates to me that there’s definitely a team-wide issue that the coaching staff needs to address, as the Oilers are somehow managing to generate a slightly higher rate of scoring chances per hour and preventing more against when on the road.

5v5 FF/60 FA/60 GF/60 GA/60
Home 37.74 43.74 2.24 3.28
Away 40.37 40.12 2.44 2.45

What should be getting more attention is the significant drop in the team’s save percentage when the Oilers play at home. Currently, the Oilers goaltending at even-strength ranks 26th in the league with a save percentage of 90.86%. At home, that number drops to 89.78%, ranking 30th in the league. But on the road, for whatever reason, the Oilers goaltending ranks 14th with a save percentage of 91.76%.

The penalty kill is also where the goaltenders are really costing the Oilers wins at home. On the road, the goaltending has been excellent posting a save percentage of 92.74% – the best in the league. But on the road, the save percentage ranks 22nd, with a save percentage of 85.86%. And it’s not like the Oilers penalty kill allows a lot more scoring chances against at home than on the road. In both situations, the Oilers allow close to league average rates.

Penalty Kill FA/60 GA/60 Sv%
Home 75.22 7.52 (23rd) 85.86%
Away 73.86 3.96 (1st) 92.74%

If you look at all situations, the Oilers team save percentages goes from being the 29th ranked team with 88.38% at home to being the 5th ranked team on the road with 91.61%. This is definitely an area worth looking into and assessing how the goaltenders are managing themselves on the road versus at home.

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Another thing to look into is the play of Leon Draisaitl at home versus on the road. Almost every player on the team sees a drop in their on-ice share of shots and scoring chances when the Oilers play at home, but Leon’s numbers are something else.

The Oilers tend to play a lot more without the puck when Draisaitl’s been on the ice this season, as his on-ice Corsi For% has been 45.31% – second worst among Oilers forwards, only ahead of Khaira. The team has also been out-scored 49-42 with Draisaitl on the ice, a goal-share of 46.15%.

It’s on home ice where his biggest struggles are, as the team has posted a goal-share of 41.38% with Draisailt on the ice. Goaltending is definitely a factor as noted above, but the team also controls only 41.98% of the shot-attempts and 41.73% of the scoring chances with him on the ice.

Draisaitl (5v5) CF% FF% xGF% GF% SH% SV% PDO
Home 41.98 41.73 40.7 41.38 12.15 87.63 0.998
Away 48.11 48.28 49.84 51.21 10.27 91.43 1.017

Leon’s numbers improve significantly on the road, with the team posting a Corsi For% of 48.11% and a Fenwick For% of 48.28%. What’s driving the improved shot-share proportions is the team’s inability to suppress scoring chances against when Leon is on the ice, going from 54.15 unblocked shot attempts against at home (one of the worst rates in the league among regular forwards) to 43.45 on the road.

What’s also interesting to see is the negative impact Draisaitl’s been having on McDavid both at home and on the road, as the Oilers appear to be controlling the share of scoring chances just fine when the captain is on the ice with Draisaitl.

Fenwick For% McDavid and Draisaitl McDavid without Draisaitl Neither on the ice
Home 41.45% 55.53% 47.82%
Away 48.96% 56.61% 49.89%

What’s really driving their poor on-ice shot-share numbers is their defensive play when deployed together. At home, they see a rate of 57.86 unblocked shot attempts against per hour – a significant jump from when they’re on the road posting a rate of 42.56 unblocked shot attempts against per hour.

What’s interesting is that it appears to be Draisaitl’s that’s causing the spike, as McDavid’s numbers without Draisaitl and the rest of the team without the two see similar rates of shots against whether at home or on the road.

Fenwick Against/60 McDavid and Draisaitl McDavid without Draisaitl Neither on the ice
Home 57.86 38.99 38.26
Away 42.56 34.05 39.49

There’s definitely more to the Oilers struggles at home, but starting with the team’s overall play at even-strength, the goaltending and Draisaitl’s performance would be a good start. With the playoff race getting tighter in the Pacific, it would behoove the Oilers coaching staff and potentially management to uncover as many weaknesses and try to rectify them as soon as possible.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 11 – Catherine Silverman

3000by3000 (1)This week on the podcast – Catherine Silverman (@catmsilverman) from InGoal Magazine and The Athletic!

Catherine shared her insights on the Arizona Coyotes season, how the roster has been constructed and the key drivers for their success thus far. I also got to learn about how the young core is progressing and the impact Taylor Hall has had as the club pushes for the top spot in the Pacific division. Catherine also gave her take on the Oilers goaltending situation and how best to deploy the Koskinen/Smith tandem.

Big thank you to Cat for her knowledge and insights!

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010. Jamendo.com

Boosting the powerplay

coppernblue.com.full.54273With the Edmonton Oilers even-strength (5v5) performance being so poor this season – ranking 29th in the league in terms of goal-share with 44.69% (-19 goal differential) and often getting out-shot and out-chanced – it’s become even more critical that the Oilers generate as much offence as possible on the powerplay. It’s a game-state the Oilers should excel within given the high-end talent on the roster and the success the group – including McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Klefbom – have had in previous seasons.

The good news is that the Oilers currently rank near the top of the league with the man-advantage, second only to the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring 10.69 goals per hour – a metric that also captures how efficient teams are at scoring in a time-pressured situation. Since it’s a competitive results-driven league, it’s also important to dig behind the outputs and determine if the results are in fact sustainable and try to uncover any areas that might need attention from the coaching staff and management.

The first thing to note about the Oilers powerplay is that it’s allowed seven short-handed goals – the most in the league and the highest rate of goals against per hour with 1.92. That doesn’t drive down their overall results on the powerplay significantly as they would still rank third in the league if we factor in goals against. But not allowing those goals would have them at an even overall goal-differential today and likely a little higher up in the Pacific division standings. Worth noting that the Oilers don’t allow a lot of chances against, but when they have, their goaltending has been poor.

The second issue is that the Oilers are heavily reliant on their top powerplay unit, which isn’t surprising considering (a) their top end talent, (b) the amount of time the Oilers have typically trailed in games this season and (c) the lack of depth options on the roster. In fact, the Oilers for the second year in a row are near the top of league when it comes to the proportion of powerplay ice time the top unit is deployed. The league average proportion of ice time for top powerplay units is typically around 65% over the last three seasons. The Oilers currently deploy their top unit 81.0% – second in the league only behind the Washington Capitals.

Note: To determine the top powerplay units proportion of ice-time and their results, I took the forward with the most ice-time on each team and used them as a proxy for the first powerplay unit and divided their ice time with the team’s total powerplay time. The second powerplay units ice time and results were determined by subtracting the ice-team leaders TOI and results from the team totals. Data can be found in the Appendix.

It’s worth noting that a team like Tampa Bay who have historically been excellent with the man-advantage and are competing with the Oilers for the top powerplay have enough depth to ice two productive powerplay units this season. The first unit, using Kucherov as a proxy, is deployed for 66% of the total powerplay time – much closer to league average rates – and has generated 11.22 goals per hour (a total of 25 goals), well above the league average of 7.93 goals per hour. And while Kucherov and his group take a much needed break and to stay fresh for even-strength play, the second unit scores at a similar rate, generating 11.32 goals per hour; a total of 13 goals. That’s very impressive considering that second powerplay units on average generate 5.51 goals per hour. Both Lightning units are also above average relative to similar deployment groups when it comes to creating chances with the man-advantage, with the top powerplay unit generating 89.74 unblocked shot attempts per hour and the second unit generating 78.42 per hour. On average, top powerplay units generate 80.34 unblocked shot attempts per hour and second powerplay units generate 56.78 per hour. Put another way – the Lightning’s second powerplay unit generates more unblocked shot attempts per hour than half of the league’s top powerplay units.

Note: for special teams analysis, I include unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) to assess a team’s ability to score or prevent goals against. Blocking shots and keeping pucks to the outside is a big part of killing penalties, so Fenwick gives us a sense of how well the skaters are doing their jobs and helping out their goaltenders.

The Oilers on the other hand don’t have enough depth to regularly deploy two powerplay units, as the bottom six forwards are predominantly penalty-killing specialists – a major focus for Oilers management this past off-season. In the limited minutes that McDavid hasn’t been on the ice for the powerplay, the Oilers have scored only one goal – a rate of 1.43 per hour – and generated 31.81 unblocked shot attempts per hour – both of which ranks last among all second powerplay units. What the Oilers roster is missing are depth players, individuals on the third and fourth lines at even-strength, that can play powerplay minutes and contribute, similar to the Lightning have available in Maroon, Killorn and Gourde and what the Oilers had in Letestu a few years ago.

As long as the Oilers second powerplay unit can’t even generate league-average rates of shots and chances, the pressure will remain on McDavid and the top group to continue producing. So far they’ve been excellent, generating 86.95 unblocked shot attempts per hour and 12.86 goals per hour – both of which rank highly among top powerplay units.

But since the Oilers management group ignored the results and findings from last year’s powerplay – one in which the top unit played close to 80% of the total time and the second unit was one of the worst in terms of goal-scoring – the pressure will remain on the likes of McDavid and Draisaitl to continue playing league-leading minutes and producing. Hopefully the Oilers recognize that their depth forward group isn’t just for penalty killing and begin finding cheap, reliable options for the second powerplay unit. It’s going to require critical analysis of their powerplay and looking past the results, something that’s historically been ignored by Oilers management when the overall results have been fine.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Appendix A: NHL powerplay units, 2019/20 (As of January 5, 2020)

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Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Chasing the game

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The Oilers have been dreadful at even-strength (5v5) this season, now sitting 29th in the league with a goal-share of 43.75% – a -22 goal differential, scoring 77 goals and allowing 99. About 80% of the game is played in this state, so it’s critical that the Oilers start out-scoring their opponents more regularly if they intend on competing for a playoff spot.

One of the Oilers biggest issues is their inability to create offensive opportunities, as they currently rank 28th in the league when it comes to generating shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances) and shots on goal. What’s worth noting is that defensively, they’ve been hovering around league average rates having done a decent job suppressing shot attempts and chances against. Unfortunately their goaltending has not been good, posting a team save percentage of 90.54% – good for 29th in the league.

So while we can expect that the Oilers rate of goals against to improve if the goaltending gets back to league average levels, we can’t have as much confidence in the offensive side of things as the team consistently spends more time defending and playing in their own zone.

What’s especially troubling is the Oilers lack of offence when they’re trailing in a game –  a game state when most teams start controlling the flow of play more, taking chances as teams with the lead get into more of a defensive shell. The Oilers have posted a goal-share of 44.44% when trailing in games, good for 29th in the league and only one of eight teams with a goal-share below 50%. They rank 21st in terms of goals per hour with 2.39 and 28th in terms of goals against per hour with 2.98. And their underling numbers aren’t that much better either.

Note that for this analysis I’ll be looking at unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) as the Oilers appear to be less of a shot-quantity/volume-shooting team and more of a shot-quality team under Tippett.

Below is a breakdown of the Oilers share of unblocked shot attempts when they’re leading in a game, trailing in a game and tied with an opponent. I’ve also included the league’s top Fenwick For percentage and the worst to show where in the range the Oilers fall.

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As expected, we see that the Fenwick for percentage is highest when team’s are trailing, doing more and taking risks to tie up the game, compared to when team’s are leading and playing more defensively. The Oilers are just below average when the game is tied or when they’re leading. But when they’re trailing, they’ve only posted a 51.48% share, which ranks in the bottom quarter of the league.

What’s interesting is that while they do allow slightly more shot attempts against when trailing, it’s their offense that goes completely dry. Below is breakdown of their rate of unblocked shot attempts generated in different score states, along with the best and worst rates in the league.

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Offensively, there’s not much of a difference for the Oilers whether they’re leading or trailing – it’s like they use the same tactics and playing style regardless of the score. On average, teams see an increase of 6.35 unblocked shot attempts per hour when trailing compared to when they’re leading – the Oilers are on the low end with an increase of only 5.10.

It should also come as no surprise that the Oilers do a lot better offensively with McDavid on the ice when trailing as the Oilers generate 45.07 unblocked shot attempts per hour with him on the ice and only 39.53  without him. In other words, much closer to league average rates with him and closer to the Detroit Red Wings without him. This is one of the drawbacks of focusing so much on improving the penalty kill this past off-season and bringing in defensive-minded forwards to fill-out the bottom six. Yes, McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl are going to see an increase in their ice-time proportion when the team needs a goal, but there’s still a big portion of ice time when the bottom six needs to contribute offensively and at  least create chances.

For reference, below are the Oilers forwards, sorted by total even-strength ice time, and their proportion of the team’s ice time by the three different score-states.

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Minor observation: Sam Gagner sees a spike in his ice time proportion when the team needs a goal. I thought that was strange until I noticed that he has the highest on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts  when the Oilers are trailing in a game. Of the bottom-six forwards, he’s the one player who can chip in offensively. But unfortunately for him and others, the team can’t get a save. Below is a table of the forwards, sorted by the rate of unblocked shot attempts for per hour.

Player TOI FF/60 FA/60 GF/60 GA/60 SH% SV% PDO
Gagner 119.57 49.18 33.62 2.51 3.01 6.76 86.67 0.934
Kassian 222.83 45.77 41.74 4.04 3.50 12.30 89.08 1.014
McDavid 252.93 45.07 44.12 4.03 3.56 12.41 89.51 1.019
Nygard 91.03 43.50 38.23 3.95 0.00 11.32 100.00 1.113
Granlund 78.90 41.83 38.02 1.52 3.04 4.76 85.19 0.899
Draisaitl 247.67 40.94 47.48 2.91 3.63 10.08 90.26 1.003
Jurco 39.77 40.74 28.67 4.53 1.51 18.75 91.67 1.104
Haas 106.60 40.53 30.39 1.69 2.25 5.26 87.50 0.928
Neal 188.02 40.53 38.93 1.28 4.15 4.55 85.71 0.903
RNH 170.38 40.14 37.68 1.76 2.11 6.10 92.50 0.986
P. Russell 93.88 39.62 35.79 1.92 2.56 6.52 88.89 0.954
Khaira 134.50 38.81 35.24 0.89 3.57 2.94 86.67 0.896
Chiasson 149.10 38.23 38.63 1.61 2.01 5.63 92.06 0.977
Archibald 97.52 35.69 38.15 0.62 4.31 2.44 82.50 0.849
Sheahan 108.13 35.51 36.07 1.11 3.33 4.17 86.05 0.902

Another thing I found was that when the team needed a goal and McDavid was on the ice, the rate of shots against would go up. In fact, his on-ice Fenwick For% when the Oilers are trailing is currently at 50.53%, which among the Oilers forwards is only better than Chiasson (49.75%), Sheahan (49.61%), Archiabald (48.33%) and Draisaitl (46.30%).

The fact that Draisaitl ranks last made me wonder what the splits were like between him and McDavid. Here’s what their share of unblocked shot attempts are like with and without each other at even-strength when the Oilers are trailing. I also included the goal-rates and goal-share.

Combo TOI FF/60 FA/60 FF% GF/60 GA/60 GF%
Together 184.15 42.36 49.85 45.94 3.58 3.91 47.83
McDavid without Draisaitl 68.78 52.34 28.79 64.52 5.23 2.62 66.67
Draisaitl without McDavid 63.51 36.84 40.62 47.56 0.94 2.83 25.00
Neither 387.23 39.98 35.64 52.87 1.55 2.63 37.04

Small sample size, but it appears that part of the reason McDavid has only been league-average when the the team is trailing is because of Draisaitl. I don’t expect Draisaitl’s numbers away from McDavid to be great due to the lack of talent on the roster to play him with. But McDavid does see a significant jump in his Fenwick For% due to a big drop in the rate of shots against when he doesn’t have Draisaitl with him.

You’ll probably get a lot of resistance doing this, but one way to increase Draisaitl’s rest-time and potentially get more overall productivity from him is to reduce his minutes when the team is trailing. He’s not doing well in that game-state offensively, dragging down his linemates, and it appears that the low-event bottom six are at least getting a decent share of the shot attempts.

Summary

  • The Oilers aren’t very good when it comes to Fenwick For% at even-strength, especially when they’re trailing in games.
  • It’s their inability to create offence when trailing that’s especially troubling as they rank near the bottom of the league in terms of Goals For% and Fenwick For%.
  • Part of the problem is their bottom six who while do a good job suppressing shots when the team is trailing, have a lot of trouble creating chances. The team is in dire need of offensive talent, not just guys who can kill penalties.
  • The other problem is the goaltending, which ranks near the bottom of the league at even-strength and when the team is trailing.
  • Draisatl has been playing very poorly defensively as reflected by his on-ice share of shot attempts and the rate of unblocked shot attempts against when the team is trailing.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Tracking the Pacific Division – As of December 31, 2019

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The Pacific Division is wide open at this point as not a single team has posted a points percentage that would rank in the top ten league-wide. Vegas currently ranks first in the division but is 13th in the league, Vancouver is 15th and Arizona is 16th.

What’s crazy is that only two of the eight teams have a goal-share above 50% at even-strength this season: Vancouver with 50.67% and Arizona with 51.35%. The remaining six teams are in the bottom ten league-wide.

Team Goal Differential Goals for% League rank
Arizona 4 51.35 13th
Vancouver 2 50.67 16th
Vegas -4 48.85 22nd
Anaheim -9 47.06 25th
Los Angeles -11 46.41 26th
Calgary -17 44.37 27th
Edmonton -22 43.6 28th
San Jose -29 41.81 30th

The Edmonton Oilers are only ahead of New Jersey, San Jose and Detroit when it comes to even-strength results – three teams destined for a draft lottery pick. What’s especially concerning is how poorly the Oilers rank in terms of shot-share metrics within the Pacific as they’re spending more and more time defending and playing in their own zone.

Below are the division results at even-strength (5v5) as of December 31, 2019, with teams sorted by point-percentage. For each of the shot-share metrics, I’ve applied a basic heat-map to show which teams are doing well compared to the division teams and which are struggling.  A description of each metric is at the end of this article.

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The Oilers score/venue-adjusted Corsi For% at even-strength continues to slide as they currently rank 26th in the league and have posted a Corsi For% of 46.53% over their last twenty-five games – ahead of only Detroit and the New York Rangers. Vancouver and Arizona aren’t faring much better, posting a 47.0% Corsi For% and likely unable to keep up with Vegas whose shot-share numbers rank in the top ten league-wide. Los Angeles continues to do well in terms of shot-share, but don’t appear to have the talent to convert their opportunities into goals or enough consistent goaltending. San Jose, Calgary and Anaheim are all around the 49.0% mark in terms of Corsi For% over their last twenty five games.

Below is a snapshot of the last twenty-five games for each team at even-strength, sorted by points percentage. Note the Oilers goal-share of less than 40% and their Corsi For% of 46.53%. I’d like to believe the Oilers will bounce back even slightly, but they’ve been spending a lot of their time without the puck – and that’s with and without their top players on the ice.

Team PTS Point% CF% FF% xGF% GF% SH% SV% PDO
Vegas 29 0.580 53.49 53.48 54.54 52.88 8.12 91.74 0.999
Arizona 28 0.560 47.02 47.71 46.87 48.22 7.12 93.04 1.002
Los Angeles 27 0.540 55.09 54.82 55.19 48.95 6.01 92.51 0.985
Calgary 27 0.540 49.06 48.61 48.32 42.09 5.99 92.38 0.984
San Jose 26 0.520 49.58 49.01 48.19 45.54 8.96 89.22 0.982
Vancouver 25 0.500 47.05 47.36 45.73 44.49 7.09 92.36 0.994
Edmonton 24 0.480 46.53 47.69 47.14 39.96 8.05 89.34 0.974
Anaheim 19 0.380 48.84 48.73 47.77 41.95 7.03 90.98 0.980

From the looks of it, Vegas should be able to secure the top spot in the division, and I think should eventually move into the league’s top ten. The rest is anyone’s guess as every other team in the Pacific, except for Los Angeles, consistently gets out-shot and out-chanced.

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Quick glance at each team’s special team units, and the Oilers continue to do well and get production from their powerplay and penalty kill. Below is each team’s combined goal rates which adds together the rate of goals for and against on the powerplay and penalty kill.

Team Special Teams Combined Goal Rates
Edmonton 3.97
Vancouver 3.24
Vegas 2.83
San Jose 1.03
Arizona 0.21
Calgary -0.27
Anaheim -1.98
Los Angeles -3.98

Vegas has slipped slightly from last month when they posted a +4.09 goal rate, and San Jose has dropped from +3.26 to +1.03. Anaheim has improved quite a bit even though they’re still a negative team, jumping up from -4.17 at the end of November.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Charting Hockey

Glossary:

  • Points-percentage (Point%) – The total points accumulated divided by the points that were available, including extra time.
  • Corsi For percentage (CF%) – The proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Corsi For/(Corsi For + Corsi Against). This is used as a proxy for possession and can predict a team’s future share of goals (GF%).
  • Fenwick For percentage (FF%) – The proportion of all the unblocked shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Fenwick For/(Fenwick For + Fenwick Against). This is used as a proxy for shot quality and considers shot blocking a repeatable skill. It can also predict a team’s future share of goals, slightly better than Corsi.
  • Shots For percentage (SF%) – The proportion of all the shots on goal that the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Shots For/(Shots For + Shots Against).
  • Expected Goals For percentage (xGF%) – This is a weighting placed on every unblocked shot based on the probability of the shot becoming a goal. This depends on the type of shot, location and uses historical shot and goals data to come up with the probability for each unblocked shot. This has been found to be a better predictor of future goals than Corsi and Fenwick.
  • Goals For percentage (GF%) – The proportion of all the goals that the team scored and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Goals For/(Goals For + Goals Against).
  • Shooting percentage (SH%) – The percentage of the team’s shots on goal that became goals (i.e., total goals divided by the total shots on goal).
  • Save percentage (SV%) – The percentage of the team’s shots on goal against that were saved (i.e., 1-(totals goals allowed divided by the total shots on goal against))
  • PDO – The sum of a team’s shooting percentage (SH%) and its save percentage (SV%). It’s based on the theory that most teams will ultimately regress toward a sum of 100, and is often viewed as a proxy for how lucky a team is. (Source)

Special teams tracking

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With the Oilers play at even-strength (5v5) being so poor, it’s become more and more imperative that the club gets as much out of their special teams as possible. The Oilers currently have a 43.90% goal-share at even-strength, a -20 goal differential – fourth worst in the league only ahead of New Jersey, San Jose and Detroit. What’s especially alarming is that their underlying shot-share metrics (47.30% Corsi For%, 48.17% Fenwick For%) are poor and continuing to decline, indicating that they’re spending more time defending and less time in the offensive zone at 5v5.

Now our expectations of the Oilers special teams should be higher considering the high-end offensive talent on the roster for the powerplay and the amount of work and resources management put towards fixing the penalty kill this past off-season. In my mind, the powerplay should be elite, while the penalty kill should at least be somewhere above league average rates (which would be a significant improvement from last season).

So far things have gone well for the most part as the Oilers rank second in the league scoring 10.69 goals per hour on the powerplay. And their penalty kill sits fourth in the league allowing  5.39 goals per hour on the penalty kill. To put things into context, the average rate of goals on special teams over the last three seasons is about 7.10 per hour.

Special Teams (2019/20) Rate League rank
Powerplay – Goals for/60 10.69 2nd
Powerplay – Fenwick for/60 78.12 8th
Powerplay – Shooting% 18.95% 1st
Penalty Kill – Goals against/60 5.39 4th
Penalty Kill – Fenwick against/60 74.11 21st
Penalty Kill – Save% 89.90% 3rd

Note: I do use rate stats (i.e., goals, shots per hour) for special teams as it factors in the time a team takes to achieve their objectives. Powerplay units are up against the clock when they’re deployed, so team’s that can get results faster should be considered more efficient. I also use unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) to assess a team’s ability to score or prevent goals on special teams. Blocking shots and keeping pucks to the outside is a big part of killing penalties, so Fenwick gives us a sense of well the skaters are doing their jobs and helping out their goaltenders.

Powerplay

The Oilers powerplay is looking good for the most part, getting results and appearing to have the right tactics in place as reflected by their rate of unblocked shot attempts. Couple concerns however, the first of which is the team shooting percentage which could dip down if individual players get into slumps or if they run into a few hot goaltenders. The second concern is around their declining rate of shot attempts, which was at one point one of the best in the league. Below is a graph showing the Oilers rate of unblocked shot attempts per hour over rolling 25 game segments. They’re still around the league average rates, but it’s a little odd  that a team with that much elite talent has seen such a drop.

Oilers PP FF60.png

The other concern with the Oilers powerplay is that they’re allowing the highest rate of shorthanded goals against this season (2.08 per hour!), so far giving up seven. This one is on the goaltending as it’s not like the Oilers are allowing a ton of chances against on the powerplay – they allow the sixth lowest rate of shot attempts against, while the team save percentage is second worst in the league with 78.79% . This has to be a spot of bother for the coaching staff that is doing everything they can to improve their overall goal differential of -11.

Penalty kill

While the powerplay is good and has some underlying issues that need to be addressed, the penalty kill is good and is actually showing signs of progress. Over the full season, the Oilers have allowed 74.11 unblocked shot attempts per hour, slightly worse than league average and ranking 21st in the league. However, that rate has gradually been been declining over the course of the season, with the Oilers posting a rate of 67.71 unblocked shot attempts against per hour over their last twenty-five games – a rate that would have them in the top ten league-wide. Slight uptick happening recently, so it’s worth monitoring as the season progresses.

Oilers PK FA60

Something that I think the coaching staff might overlook is the rate of shot attempts against when certain players are on the ice. Below are the regular penalty killing forwards this season (minimum 30 minutes of ice time), sorted by their on-ice rates of unblocked shot attempts against (FA/60).

Player TOI TOI/GP FA/60 GA/60 On-Ice SV%
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 58.75 1.68 57.19 5.11 87.50
Jujhar Khaira 63.58 1.72 59.45 2.83 93.33
Patrick Russell 33.67 1.12 67.72 12.48 76.67
Riley Sheahan 81.52 2.26 85.38 4.42 93.18
Josh Archibald 70.43 2.20 89.45 3.41 94.74
Markus Granlund 40.72 1.31 92.84 10.32 84.09
Leon Draisaitl 43.75 1.07 94.63 5.49 90.91

The team does a lot better keeping pucks to the outside when Nugent-Hopkins and/or Khaira are on the ice, with the actual rate of goals against being in a reasonable range. Where the team does see a spike is when the likes of Sheahan, Archibald or Granlund (who was demoted because of his poor penalty kill numbers) have been on the ice. What’s especially interesting to me is that Archibald’s on-ice rate of shots against isn’t that much better than Granlund’s. The only difference being that Granlund had a higher rate of goals against when he was on the ice  – which we know can often be goalie performance driven. Just compare Granlund’s on-ice save percentage (84.09) to Archibald’s (94.74). More on this in a second.

For those interested, here’s how the Oilers defencemen have done on the penalty kill so far this season, again sorted by their on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts against. Interesting to me at least is that Nurse is not leading the team in ice time and looks more to be on the second penalty kill unit; the rate of shots against also increase when he’s on the ice. He’s also not a regular option on the powerplay, which should factor in to his next NHL contract.

Player TOI TOI/GP FA/60 GA/60 On-Ice SV%
Ethan Bear 73.58 1.79 74.20 5.71 88.89
Oscar Klefbom 118.40 2.89 79.05 6.59 88.79
Kris Russell 102.43 2.56 79.08 5.86 89.90
Darnell Nurse 81.78 1.99 81.43 5.14 90.91

The big question mark is the team save percentage (89.90%) on the penalty kill, which sits third in the league and can be expected to drop considering the talent-level between the pipes. Both goaltenders have been very good so far this season shorthanded. Among 41 goalies who have played at least 80 minutes on the penalty kill, Mikko Koskinen ranks ninth  with a save percentage of 0.894 (115 minutes), while Mike Smith ranks third with 0.917 (92 minutes). The issue is that both goalies are posting save percentages above their NHL career norms. Over the last three seasons prior to 2019/20, Mike Smith has played 152 games (752 minutes) and posted a save percentage of 0.865. Koskinen has only played 55 games (243 minutes) but posted a save percentage of 0.854 shorthanded. Worth noting that both of their historical penalty kill save percentages are slightly below the league average team save percentages from the last three seasons (0.867). I’d expect the Oilers to finish the year with a team save percentage closer to league averages.

One last note about the penalty kill. The Oilers do very little to squeeze out shorthanded goals while killing penalties. While they’ve allowed seven shorthanded goals, tied for most in the league, they’ve only scored once shorthanded themselves – the lowest rate of goals scoring in the league. They’re also generating the lowest rate of unblocked shot attempts in the league on the penalty kill, indicating that the coaching staff doesn’t really care to play more aggressively while shorthanded. Considering the the team is desperate for goals, it might be an area worth looking into.

Macaroni

To sum up how well the entire special teams are doing, I look to combine the rates of goals for and against on the powerplay and the penalty kill. Below is how the Oilers have done over the course of the season.

Oilers Macaroni - 20191231

To put things into context, teams with great special teams post a combined goal rate above +1.50 (Source). Last season, Tampa Bay was over 6.00 as their powerplay was ranked first and only allowed three shorthanded goals. And their penalty kill was first and also scored the fifth highest rate of shorthanded goals. Five other teams posted a combined goal rate above +1.50.

The Oilers got some outstanding contributions from the special teams early on, which helped bank those points but also masked their major issues at even-strength. Now we’re seeing the special teams come back down to earth a bit, but should still expect them to finish well considering the talent up front on the powerplay and the amount of resources put towards addressing the penalty kill this past off-season. With the Pacific division being wide open this season, it’s critical that the Oilers correct their underlying issues and adjust their roster and deployment tactics as necessary.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 10 – Keith Anthony

3000by3000 (1)This week on the podcast I was joined by Keith Anthony (@keyantonyo) to discuss the Bakersfield Condors and the Oilers prospect pool. Keith has done a lot of work keeping tabs on the Condors using video analysis and his own tracking data – you can find his past work at his blog: Petro Praxis. Definitely worth a follow on Twitter if you want to know how the Oilers prospects are doing.

Keith shared his perspective on player development and the Oilers overall approach under Ken Holland. We also discussed specific players who’ll be critical to the Oilers long-term success including Caleb Jones, Kailer Yamamoto, Tyler Benson and William Lagesson.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010. Jamendo.com