Reviewing the Oilers vs Kings

Can’t say enough about Connor McDavid’s performance in the series against Los Angeles. Over the seven games, the Kings had no answers for McDavid, as the Oilers dominated puck possession at even-strength (Corsi For% of 63%) and the share of scoring chances (Expected Goals For% of 73%) with him on the ice. The results: in the full series, the Oilers outscored the Kings 11-4 at 5v5 with McDavid, and 5-1 in the two must win-games.

The Oilers struggled without McDavid on the ice, regularly getting out-shot and out-chanced, posting shot-share numbers below 48%. Four of the five goals they managed to score happened in the Oilers 8-2 blowout of the Kings in game 3. Between games four and seven, which included the two must-win games, the Oilers scored 0 even-strength goals without McDavid on the ice and allowed four.

Oilers (5v5)
Round 1

Corsi For% Fenwick For% Expected Goals For% Goals For% GF/GA
With McDavid 62.90 62.36 71.36 73.33 11/4
Without McDavid 47.92 47.50 47.14 38.46 5/8

There were games in the series where the Oilers did out-shoot the Kings without McDavid on the ice, as shown in the graph below. The problem is that they when they did control the flow of play in games and keep pressure in the offensive zone, they couldn’t convert those into actual goals – an indication that key players like Draisaitl have been playing hurt since the end of the regular season.

The Oilers were clearly struggling between games one to five, so it wasn’t susprising to see McDavid play over 42% of the team’s total 5v5 time in games six and seven – an increase from the 33% share he saw over the first five games of the series and over the course of the regular season. It’ll be interesting to see if Woodcroft continues deploying McDavid excessively, or if he tries to scale things back in games one and two against Calgary to see if the rest of the roster can find their production. McDavid is just playing at such a high level right now, and we know others are playing hurt, so it’s hard to imagine his share of 5v5 ice time go anywhere below 35%.

Quick summary of how the two teams matched up over the seven game set.

Edmonton Oilers 5v5 Los Angeles Kings
53.95 Corsi For% 46.05
53.46 Fenwick For% 46.54
57.83 Expected Goals For% 42.17
57.14 Goals For% 42.86
16/12 GF-GA 12/16
7.95 Shooting% 6.58
93.42 Save% 92.05
1.014 PDO 0.986

The issue for the Kings in the regular season was their lack of finish and it definitely carried over in the playoffs. In the final twenty five games of the regular season, their 6.99% shooting percentage was the worst in the western conference, only slightly better than the 6.58% they posted over the seven game series. Their goaltending was better in the playoffs than it was in the regular season – which didn’t susprise me considering Quick’s numbers were actually pretty solid over the final stretch of the regular season.

Smith was solid too, posting a +2.61 GSAA, third highest among the 17 goalies who played at least 100 5v5 minutes in the first round. And just ahead of Quick who ranked fifth overall with a +2.22 GSAA.

And finally a quick summary of how the individual players performed over the seven games.

Worth repeating again that Draisaitl and Hyman shouldn’t be playing together. In 56 minutes at 5v5, they were crushed by the Kings, posting a Corsi For% of 41.50%, an Expected Goals For% of 34%, and getting outscored 5-1. Playing away from Hyman on a line with McDavid, things are a lot better for Leon as he’s posting stronger shot-share numbers (61% Corsi For and 70% Expected Goals For) and a +2 goal differential. And Hyman I think is bound to break-out soon – he’s been difficult to play against and posting similar on-ice shot-share numbers to Draisaitl’s.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Home ice disadvantage

Couple issues heading into game seven.

First, a quick look at how the Oilers have performed this series at even-strength (5v5) on home ice and on the road. They’re definitely getting better results on the road, and it’s a little concerning that their numbers aren’t as solid at home with their expected goal share being 46.60% and their actual goal-share being 38.46%.

We also know the Oilers are struggling in this series at even-strength (5v5) whenever McDavid isn’t on the ice. In their six games against Los Angeles, the Oilers have out-scored the Kings 9-4 with McDavid on the ice, but have been out-scored 8-5 without him. And that’s due in large part to their inability to control the flow of play and out-chance the Kings without McDavid, as the club has posted a Corsi For% of 47.35% and an Expected Goals For% of 44.67%.

What’s especially concerning is how poor the Oilers play at home without McDavid – not exactly what you’d want to hear heading into a game seven in Edmonton. In the three games at home this series, the Oilers without McDavid on the ice (about 65% of the team’s total 5v5 ice time) have scored only one goal at 5v5, and allowed six. Their underlying shot-share numbers have also seen a drop when they play in Edmonton, especially their Expected Goals For% which is 48.32% on the road but 39.97% at home.

There were three games this series where the Oilers posted an Expected Goals For% above 50% without McDavid on the ice – games 2, 3 and 6. Those were also the games that the Oilers won. No surprise that if the depth of the team is holding their own in terms of puck possession, shots and chances, the Oilers have a much better chance of winning games.

Compounding matters is the fact that Mike Smith has struggled at home as the Oilers 5v5 team save percentage at home is 89.33% – the worst among all playoff teams. Smith’s numbers have been significantly better on the road this series, with the 5v5 team save percentage ranking third overall with 95.60%. If the Oilers can spend more time with the puck and in the oppositions zone, it’ll definitely benefit Smith who has been fine this series, but not significantly better than Quick. The Kings team save percentage at 5v5 on the road is at 92.96% – fifth among all of the playoff teams.

Another look at the Oilers skaters at 5v5 at home, and sorted by their on-ice goal differential (i.e., Goals +/-). As noted last time, Draisaitl and Hyman have struggled in this series at even-strength as the Oilers tend to get out-shot and out-chanced with them on the ice. So it makes some sense to have Draisaitl play with McDavid. The problem is the Oilers already allow more chances than they can generate at home. And with the Oilers loading up their top lines, there’s plenty of opportunity now for the Kings to control the flow of play and exploit the depth players.

It’s also worth noting that Ceci and Keith have also seen their numbers take a slide when playing at home, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Kings continue targetting Keith’s side of the ice.

Anything can happen in game seven on Saturday night, but here’s hoping the Oilers coaching staff knows what their issues at even-strength are at home and can make the necessary adjustments to improve their odds of moving on to the second round. In game six, the solution was to play McDavid more often at 5v5, as the captain was on the ice for 42% of the team’s total ice time, an increase from 33% over the previous five games. It’s fair to expect the same on Saturday, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Kings coaching staff and players respond.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Pulse check

Quick evaluation of how things have gone for the Edmonton Oilers in their first four games of the playoffs. Two games at home, two on the road and a 240-minute sample size, let’s dig in. This should also be much more enjoyable than the last time I did a four-game playoff review of the Edmonton Oilers.

Let’s start with the good news:

  • The Oilers have two wins, outscoring the Kings 17-10 in all situations, and 10-7 at even-strength (5v5), a goal-share of 58.82%.
  • Their overall results at even-strength (5v5) are supported by solid shot-share numbers, with the Oilers controlling the flow of play as reflected by their 53.21% Corsi For percentage and generating a higher share of scoring chances – posting an Expected Goals For percentage of 56.64%. These are fairly consistent with how they ended the regular season.
  • The goaltending has been solid with the Oilers posting a team save percentage of 93.63% in all situations, ranking second in the league. Among 16 goalies who have played at least 80 minutes at even-strength (5v5), Smith ranks seventh with a 93.75% save percentage and fifth with a +1.55 goals-saved-above-average (GSAA).
  • The Oilers powerplay continues to be excellent, converting on 35.7% of their chances and scoring at a rate of over 13 goals per hour. They’re also generating over 60 shots per hour with the man-advantage, which is right around where they were in the regular season.
  • The penalty kill has also been very good, killing 93.3% of the Kings opportunities, allowing only one goal and scoring a shorthanded goal as well.
  • With McDavid on the ice at even-strength (5v5), the Oilers have completely dominated the Kings, posting a Corsi For percentage of 65.74%, an Expected Goals For percentage of 72.40% (!) and out-scoring the opposition 5-2 (a 71.43% goal-share). These are superhuman on-ice numbers and the Kings don’t appear to have a solution for him.

The things that might be of concern to the Edmonton Oilers:

  • While the team is breaking even in terms of goal-differential without McDavid on the ice at even-strength (5 GF, 5 GA) there’s a concerning drop off in the team’s overall play, especially defensively, as they’re getting outshot and out-chanced without their captain.
  • In about two hours of total 5v5 ice time without McDavid, about 67% of the team’s total ice time, the Oilers are spending more time without the puck and are allowing just over 40 shots against per hour – 10 shots higher than league average levels. Their current Expected Goals For percentage is closer to what the Oilers were posting when Tippett was coaching.
  • Looking at the on-ice numbers for forwards and defencemen this series, we see that the top line players are doing great, but most of the other players, including some of the top end forwards are having some issues. The table below is sorted by on-ice goal-differential and has a basic heat map applied to see how the players compare to one another.
  • One tandem in particular is Draisaitl and Hyman, who are both posting Corsi For percentages around 45% and expected goal shares even worse than that. As Dennis King mentioned on my show recently, the two of them did not post very good numbers on the road together during the regular season, indicating that they may be struggling when opponents have last change and can apply specific tactics. Since the coaching change, the two played 128 minutes together on the road, going -1 in goal differential (5 GF, 6 GA) posting an on-ice Corsi For percentage of 46.71% and an Expected Goals for perentage of 42.65%.
  • Not sure what the coaching staff is expecting from Archibald. He was dreadful in his limited minutes during the regular season and is only dragging down Nugent-Hopkins – who himself struggled in the last twenty five games of the regular season. If the Oilers want to make a deep run, they need three solid lines that control the flow of play and out-chance opponents. It’ll be interesting to see if Woodcroft and the coaching staff recognizes this and can make the necessary adjustments. Perhaps putting Nugent-Hopkins with Puljuarvi is the answer, as we know the Finn tends to have a positive influence on his linemates, especially on the defensive side of things.
  • The other issue facing the Oilers is the play of Jonathan Quick whose even-strength numbers (93.40 save percentage, +0.95 GSAA) are slightly above average and only slightly below Smith’s numbers in this series. As mentioned in my series preview post, Quick posted above-average numbers in the final twenty give games of the Kings season, and was getting breaks between starts, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he finishes with numbers similar to Smith.

Down to a best of three, we’ll see how it goes.

Data: Natural Stat TrickNHL.com

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Update: Here’s how the King’s skaters have done after four games.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 43 – Dennis King (@dkingbh)

Joined by Dennis King (@dkingbh) to discuss the Edmonton Oilers first round series against the Los Angeles Kings, what’s gone well in the first three games, and what to keep an eye on. We also shared our thoughts on the Oilers upcoming off-season, what to do with Evander Kane and how the Oilers might handle Jesse Puljujärvi’s next contract. We also discussed the potential roster options for next season, including the prospects that could push for spots and which free agents the Oilers might be targeting.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

CBC Radio Active: Oilers, Kings, goaltending and depth

I joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk about the Oilers series against the Kings. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2022, May 6)

Topics we covered:

  • What the Oilers did well in game two against the Kings.
  • Mike Smith’s performance over the first two games, and how best to manage his game.
  • The Oilers depth, and how the team has struggled at even-strength so far without McDavid on the ice.
  • Evander Kane, and the risks associated with signing him to a long term contract.
  • What the Oilers will need to do well in games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles.

Thanks as always to the great team at CBC for putting it all together!

Previewing the Oilers vs Kings

With the first round of the playoffs set to begin, I wanted to get a sense of how both teams finished the season, what their key drivers were and how individual players performed.

The Oilers we know have been outstanding since the coaching change, going 19-4-2 in their final twenty-five games, a points percentage of 0.800 – second best in the league only behind Minnesota who went 19-3-3 in their last twenty five games. The Oilers had the highest all-situations goal-share in the league, posting a +35 goal differential due in large part to their outstanding play at even-strength, solid goaltending and excellent results on the penalty kill.

The Kings had solid results as well over their final twenty-five games, going 13-8-4, which translates into a 0.600 points percentage. And while they did a solid job out-shooting opponents at even-strength and generating an average rate of shots on the powerplay and preventing shots on the penalty kill, they only posted a -6 all-situation goal-differential – a 47.89% goal-share that ranked 18th in the league.

Even-strength (5v5)

Here’s how the two teams performed at even-strength (5v5) over their final twenty-five games.

Last 25 games, 5v5 Oilers Kings
Points% 0.800 0.600
Corsi For% 53.38 53.08
Fenwick For% 53.25 54.13
xGoals For% 52.74 52.92
Goals For% 55.46 45.45
Shooting% 9.01 6.99
Save% 91.59 90.44

The two clubs are fairly evenly matched when it comes to shot-share metrics, with both teams posting a Corsi For% and Fenwick For% above 53% – right around what top teams typically post. The Kings have been doing it a lot longer this season, as we know the Oiler’s process metrics, especially their share of quality scoring chances, only improved after the coaching change. Regardless, what’s apparent is the big difference in scoring talent, as the Oilers finished with the 11th best team shooting percentage in the league at even-strength while the Kings were dead last. Full details on how the Oilers and Kings rank within the western conference can be found here. A summary table can also be found in the Appendix at the end of the article..

Goaltending (5v5)

The Oilers also got great goaltending at the end of the season, with Mike Smith posting some of his best numbers in his career and posting a save percentage above 94%. Below are the Oilers and Kings goalies from the last twenty-five games, with their rankings among the 61 goaltenders who played at least 250 minutes.

Goalie (5v5) GP TOI Save% High-danger Save% GSAA
Mike Smith 13 619 0.941 (4th) 0.857 (11th) +7.46 (5th)
Jonathan Quick 14 636 0.923 (16th) 0.849 (17th) +5.48 (19th)
Mikko Koskinen 13 604 0.894 (54th) 0.761 (58th) -7.46 (56th)
Cal Petersen 12 591 0.884 (58th) 0.807 (41st) -5.48 (59th)

Worth noting that while he wasn’t playing at the level of Smith, Jonathan Quick was still above league average levels in the last stretch of the season posting a goals-saved above average (GSAA) of +5.48 (19th among 61 goalies) and a high-danger save percentage of 0.849 (17th). Both Koskinen and Pedersen ranked fairly poorly, which will make it an interesting series if one of the starting goalies struggle.

Special teams

The Edmonton Oilers powerplay had a strong finish to the season, generating the highest rate of shots per hour (70.38) in the league over the final twenty-five games, and scoring over 10 goals per hour – ranking 6th best overall. These numbers were consistent with their full-season results on the powerplay, largely driven by their top end players and their overall tactics.

And while the Kings generated the fourth highest rate of shots on the powerplay in their final twenty-five games, they were again let down by their shooting talent, as they could only muster 5.34 goals per hour – ranking 25th in the league. These results were also consistent with their full-season results.

Powerplay (Last 25 games) Oilers Kings
Shots for/60 70.38 (1st) 64.56 (4th)
Goals for/60 10.37 (6th) 5.34 (25th)
Team shooting% 14.73% (11th) 8.27% (28th)

The Kings did pretty well on the penalty kill, allowing 7.82 goals against per hour (16th in the league) due in large part to their play in front of their goalies. They allowed the 10th lowest rate of shots against in the league, and got league average goaltending.

The Oilers penalty kill on the other hand relied completely on their goaltending, as they allowed the fourth highest rate of shots against in the league, but got the best team save percentage (93.53%). I’m a little skeptical that the Oilers goaltenders will be able to maintain this level considering their full-season save percentage was 87.53% – which ranked 10th in the league. The Kings could find an edge here considering they have consistently generated chances on the powerplay, something the Oilers need to be mindful of.

Penalty Kill (Last 25 games) Oilers Kings
Shots against/60 62.21 (29th) 52.15 (10th)
Goals against/60 4.03 (2nd) 7.82 (16th)
Team save% 93.56% (1st) 85.00% (20th)

Skaters (5v5)

Another thing I wanted to see ahead of the series was how the players on each team did in terms of on-ice shot and goal differentials at even-strength (5v5) over the final twenty-five games. Just to get a sense of which players are playing well, but might not be getting the results.

Below are all of the Oilers skaters, sorted by their on-ice goal differential (Goals +/-), with the Oilers top line players leading the way.

Puljujärvi, McDavid and Kane had excellent results at 5v5 to finish the season, with all three posting solid shot differentials. McDavid is a major driver for results, but it’s worth noting that even when away from McDavid, Puljujärvi is posting strong numbers. Over this final stretch of games, Puljujärvi has played 111 minutes away from McDavid (about 40% of his total ice time), and posted an on-ice expected goal-share of 64%, and an on-ice goal-share of 70% (7 GF, 3 GA). For comparison, Kane has played 63 minutes away from McDavid (about 15% of his total ice time), and posted an on-ice expected goal-share of 41% and on-ice goal-share of 60% (3 GF, 2 GA). It’s clear Kane needs McDavid to thrive, while Puljujärvi seems to post solid numbers offensively and defensively, wherever he is in the line-up. That’s an important player to have come playoff time when line matching and finding any sort of edge becomes critical.

One player that will need to improve for the playoffs is Nugent-Hopkins, who posted poor shot-differentials over the last twenty-five games. He’s not getting the tough match-ups, so I’m suspecting either there’s an injury issue he’s dealing with or he’s struggling with not having consistent linemates. Regardless, he and others including Hyman and Draisaitl will have increased roles in the playoffs so hopefully whatever ails them can be fixed by the coaching staff.

Looking at the Kings skaters, only Athanasiou was riding percentages to close the year. The key player to watch is Arthur Kaliyev who posted excellent on-ice shot and expected goal differentials, but couldn’t convert those into actual goals. Both Kopitar and Danault are worth watching closely, as they’ll likely see a lot of the top lines. Plus they can hold their own and challenge for offence as well. The Kings do have some good supporting talent including Kempe who scored 35 goals this season and Arvidsson who has a history of scoring – so we’ll see if they can turn things around in the playoffs. And while they’ve been without Doughty who helps more offensively, the Kings have been fine over the last twenty-five games allowing the fifth lowest rate of shots against at even-strength in the league and the 10th lowest rate of expected goals against. The Oilers were closer to league average defensively. For a deeper dive into the Kings line combinations, check out Sid’s work here.

Thoughts

The Oilers have the edge when it comes to talent up front, and their goaltending was much better at the end of the season. But the Kings have been pretty solid as well posting similar shot-share numbers as the Oilers, and playing very well defensively both at even-strenth and the penalty kill. And while their goaltending hasn’t been great, Quick has been performed slightly above average over the Kings last twenty-five games. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he steals a game or two. If the Kings can pressure the Oilers defence, which could still potentially be exploited, and capitalize on their chances, this might be a longer series than some might anticipate.

Should be a great first round!

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Puck IQ

Appendix A: Summary of the western conference (Source)

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 is the best at predicting a team’s future share of goals (GF%). (Source: Hockey Great Tapes – Draglikepull)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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)

Tracking the Western conference – As of May 1, 2022

One last check-in on the western conference before the playoffs get underway.

The Oilers have been excellent over their final twenty five games, posting the second best points percentage in the western conference with 0.800 (!), only behind Minnesota. The Oilers posted a +13 goal differential at even-strength (5v5), fourth best in the league and only behind Minnesota and Calgary in the west. Their shot-share metrics, which we use to predict future results, were excellent – indicating that with even average goaltending, they could win a round in the post-season.

Based on their final twenty-five games, St. Louis, Dallas and Nashville appear to have some issues controlling the flow of play and tend to get out-shot and out-chanced. And they’ll likely need their goaltending to bail them out. Not a good sign when their team save percentage has been closer to or below league average rates over the last stretch of the season.

What’s interesting is that of the eight western conference teams that made the playoffs, only three had really strong goaltending – Colorado, Minnesota and Calgary. The rest including Edmonton are closer to league average levels, while the teams that had strong goaltending down the stretch including Vancouver and Winnipeg failed to qualify. Suspect there’ll be a lot of goals in the west this post-season.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 42 – Rob Soria (@Oil_Drop)

Joined by Rob Soria (@Oil_Drop), author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One, and writer for The Copper & Blue. We discussed the Edmonton Oilers, the improvements since the coaching change, and the key drivers for their success. We discussed the Oilers chances in the playoffs, what the areas of concern are and what will need to go right for them to win a round. We also covered the roster construction issues that Oilers management is facing this off-season, and what areas should be prioritized.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

Progress

One of the critical areas the Oilers have improved on since the coaching change has been the team’s results and supporting shot-share numbers without McDavid on the ice at even-strength (5v5). It’s been a regular issue since McDavid’s arrival in the NHL, as the Oilers are a standout team whenever he’s been on the ice, but are often getting caved in terms of shot-share, scoring chances and goal-differential without him. Year after year, management has failed to construct a roster that can hold their own without their captain, with coaching staffs making things worse by not trying out different line combinations, playing it safe and often loading up the top line with a combination of McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins.

Here’s how the team has done without McDavid over the course of his career, with the Oilers not once being able to break even in terms of goal-share (grey bars). A big reason for that has been the poor goaltending and offensive finishing talent, with management unable to properly identify talent and efficiently manage their salary cap. But they were also losing the shot-share battle, spending more time without the puck and in their own zone – issues that should have been addressed with better on-ice tactics by previous coaching staffs.

Things were trending the same way this season while Tippett was behind the bench, as the Oilers were outscored 54-73 (a 42.54% goal-share) in the 1,400+ minutes without McDavid – roughly 66% of the team’s total time. And while the club did barely break even in-terms of shot attempts with a 50.17% Corsi For percentage without McDavid, they struggled to convert these into meaningful scoring chances, posting an Expected Goals for percentage of only 46.22%. These numbers were consistent with how the Oilers performed the last two seasons under Tippett, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise.

Since Woodcroft has been hired and able to implement his tactics, things have drastically improved when the Oilers are without McDavid at even-strength (5v5). The team’s shot-share numbers have seen a slight bump and their expected goal share has improved by over four percentage points reaching the 50% mark thanks to their reduction in shots and scoring chances against. And more importantly, the Oilers are now posting a positive goal-differential for the first time since McDavid’s arrival. Goaltending has obviously been better as well, and hopefully it continues. But it’s clear the tactics Woodcroft has implemented, including his reluctance to sit back and protect any leads like his predecessors often did, are working as reflected by the shot-share and scoring chance numbers.

This is a positive development for a team that couldn’t really be considered a championship contender the last two seasons because of the lack of depth offence and scoring, and a coaching staff that was too risk averse with so many blind spots. With the team rolling the way it is and actually outscoring opponents without McDavid on the ice, there’s a good chance they can at least win a couple playoff games. And depending on how the goaltending holds up, maybe even a series.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Comparing Woodcroft to the previous Oiler coaches

Pretty remarkable turnaround for the Oilers since the coaching change, with the Oilers now winning 21 of the 32 games with Jay Woodcroft behind the bench. The data after the first ten games indicated the early results under Woodcroft were sustainable – we just didn’t know if the team would stay healthy and if the goaltending would hold up. Thankfully for the club and their playoff aspirations, everything has gone really well.

The even-strength (5v5) results since Woodcroft took over is the key driver right now, with the Oilers doing an excellent job controlling the flow of play (as reflected by the shot-share numbers), consistently pushing for offence even when leading the game, and just dominating opponents on the score sheet. Goal-differential at five-on-five is an important metric for Holland, so it should be obvious to him how significant the results have been since Tippett was dismissed.

The Oilers under Woodcroft have been getting much better goaltending with the team’s save percentage closer to league average levels, and have also seen their team shooting percentage improve. But they’re also getting a higher share of the total scoring chances, as reflected by the expected goals for percentage, due in large part to the coaching staff’s tactics. This includes changing how players are deployed, how they play in the neutral zone, looking for more favorable line match-ups and pushing for offence regardless of the score.

And relative to the previous coaches in the McDavid era, Woodcroft is doing really well with the roster he’s been given and should strongly be considered for a new contract.

This is the first time since 2016/17 that the Oilers have posted a positive goal differential at even-strength – something the Oilers couldn’t achieve under Holland’s first coaching hire (and someone the general manager actually wanted to extend just prior to dismissing him). And this is the first time the Oilers are posting underlying shot share numbers that are better than just break-even and closer in line to what the top teams in the league post (i.e., teams that have a points percentage above 0.600 in the regular season). A 54% Corsi For percentage and Expected Goals For percentage is what top end teams like Florida, Calgary, Carolina, Boston, Toronto and Colorado are currently posting. The Oilers are closer to that group thanks to the coaching change, and should expect to continue doing well if they stay healthy and get decent goaltending.

Now it’s understandable if management wants to wait for the off-season to make the call on whether or not Woodcroft should be given a new contract. Maybe it’s in Woodcroft’s best interest too in case another team brings forward a better offer. But it’s difficult to envision a scenario that would disqualify Woodcroft’s candidacy to be the head coach in Edmonton next season. The regular season results have been excellent and far better than what they’ve had since McDavid arrived seven years ago. And it’s not really reasonable to base the coaching decision on what happens in the post-season considering the playoff tournament is highly volatile that could go either way in a series – really depending more on which team gets the better goaltending. And if the players and their agents are already signing off on having Woodcroft stick around, it’s difficult to go another direction.

It’ll be interesting to see what approach the Oilers take, either going with someone they know and have developed as a coach, someone who appears to have progressive ideas and knows the players and prospects well. Or do they go with an external option, likely someone with similar traits to the previous three coaches. Just keep your expectations of the team lower if that ends up being the case.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Related:

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.