CBC Radio Active: Oilers post mortem

cbc edmonton logoI joined Ken Dawson on CBC Radio Active on Monday to talk about the Oilers series against the Blackhawks and the upcoming off-season. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2020, August 10).

Topics we covered:

  • The key issues for the Oilers loss against the Blackhawks, including the goaltending and their defensive play.
  • Some of the coaching decisions around the line combinations and how it impacted the outcome.
  • What the Oilers need to address in the off-season, and which players may need to be moved to clear up some cap space.
  • The 2020 NHL entry draft, and how the Oilers can address their prospect pool.
  • The NHL playoffs, which team impressed in the first week and who we expect to see in the finals.

Big thank you to everyone at CBC for putting it all together!

 

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 15 – Scott Powers

3000by3000 (1)My guest this week is Scott Powers, senior writer for The Athletic – Chicago!

Scott has extensive experience covering the sports scene in Chicago and joins me to preview the upcoming qualifier series between the Blackhawks and Oilers.

We discussed a number of topics including the strengths and weaknesses of Chicago, how they finished the regular season, key drivers on the roster that could make an impact and how their line-up could match up with the Oilers.

Full segment below:

The SuperFan Podcast – Sunil Agnihotri · The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 15 – Scott Powers

Related articles:

Podcast channels:

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

CBC Alberta at Noon: Oilers, Flames and the NHL’s return to play

cbc edmonton logoHad the pleasure of joining guest-host Jim Brown on CBC’s Alberta at Noon radio program on Monday afternoon. Along with freelance writer Vikki Hall, we discussed the NHL’s return-to-play plan.

Full segment is here: CBC Alberta at Noon (2020, July 27)

Key topics we covered:

  • Leading up to phase four of the return to play plan, what our expectations were and our thoughts on how things have rolled out thus far.
  • Key storylines in Edmonton and Calgary heading into their qualifier series against Chicago and Winnipeg, respectively.
  • The feeling in Edmonton about being a hub city and the limited benefits to the city and its residents for hosting.
  • The impact of playing in a bubble on the players and how their performance might be impacted by the season’s pause.
  • How the NHL aims to prevent outbreaks and what we expect would happen if a positive case is found.
  • What the fan experience will be like and the NHL’s opportunity to grow the game.
  • Our expectations of the Oilers and Flames, and which team we expect to go further in the playoffs.

Big thanks to CBC and the wonderful team that put it all together!

Powering up in Chicago

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Could Chicago’s powerplay become a factor in their qualifier series against Edmonton? A look into their regular season struggles and some of the key underlying issues.

One of the storylines coming out of Chicago’s training camp ahead of their playoff series against the Oilers is around getting their powerplay going, which was one of the league’s worst in the 2019/20 regular season. The Blackhawks ranked 28th in the NHL scoring only 5.31 goals per hour, ahead of only the Senators, Red Wings and Ducks. And they were well behind the Oilers who finished first in the league scoring over ten goals per hour, which was a major factor in their second place finish in the Pacific.

Below are the top five and bottom five teams when it came to goals scored per hour (GF/60) on the powerplay this past regular season. I’ve included for each team their rate of unblocked shot attempts or Fenwick per hour (FF/60), a proxy for scoring chances, the actual shots on goal per hour (SF/60) as well as the team shooting percentage. At the bottom of the table I’ve also included the league average rates for each metric over the previous three seasons for additional context.

Rank Team FF/60 SF/60 GF/60 SH%
1 Edmonton Oilers 71.21 52.46 10.64 20.27
2 Boston Bruins 80.47 57.41 9.19 16.01
3 St Louis Blues 73.17 53.98 8.97 16.61
4 Vancouver Canucks 72.12 51.99 8.54 16.42
5 Carolina Hurricanes 80.50 58.87 8.33 14.16
27 Columbus Blue Jackets 66.88 52.55 5.70 10.84
28 Chicago Blackhawks 67.86 50.17 5.31 10.58
29 Ottawa Senators 69.83 47.38 5.12 10.80
30 Detroit Red Wings 58.71 41.53 5.09 12.26
31 Anaheim Ducks 64.41 47.91 4.79 10.00
League average, 2016-19 74.81 53.57 7.07 13.20

The fact that the Blackhawks could only muster 33 goals with the man-advantage – and on top of that allowed eight shorthanded goals (tied for 7th highest in the league) – is definitely troubling for a club that actually broke even when it came to scoring at even-strength (5v5) and had the ninth best penalty kill in the league, allowing 6.34 goals per hour. Put another way, had their powerplay converted their shots into goals at even a league average rate (13.20%) instead of 10.58%, they would have scored 41 powerplay goals instead of 33. An additional eight goals would have boosted their overall goal differential from -6 to +2, and likely much closer to a wild card spot. Thanks to the playoff format they still made it, and key players like Kirby Dach recognize the importance of having an efficient powerplay heading into a competitive tournament.

“I think power plays in the playoffs are a huge thing to gain momentum,” he said. “As a group of power-play players, we know that the regular season was kind of unacceptable and that we have a lot of growth to do there to help our team win. I think the way we’re moving the puck now and making plays, hopefully it can all come together and be a factor for us against Edmonton.” (Source: NBC Sports – Chicago)

Aside from their terrible team shooting percentage on the powerplay, the Blackhawks also had issues generating scoring chances and shots on goal this past season, ranking in the bottom ten league-wide and well below league average rates. And it was an issue all season long as the club didn’t appear to make any significant changes to their overall tactics or player deployment that would have perhaps increased their odds of scoring. Another potential reason for their lack of scoring chances could be that over 25% of their shot attempts on the powerplay came from defenceman, typically from areas of the ice with a low probability of goal-scoring. In contrast, less than 18% of the Oilers shot attempts on the powerplay came from defencemen, as we know the club often moved the puck into higher danger areas where the forwards could do their magic.

What’s interesting is that closer to the end of the season the Blackhawks did start generating closer to league-average rates of unblocked shot attempts, which really isn’t too far off from where the Oilers finished their season when it came to the same metric. The difference of course is that the Oilers’ top players were prolific converting their chances into goals, with players like McDavid, Draisaitl leading the way scoring over 40 points and getting support from the likes of Nugent-Hopkins, Klefbom, Neal and Chiasson.

Chicago wasn’t as fortunate, as some of their key contributors from the 2018/19 season didn’t perform nearly as well. In the previous season the Blackhawks powerplay finished 13th in the league scoring 7.26 goals per hour and generating just over 71.0 unblocked shot attempts per hour – both numbers being right around league average. That season, Kane led the way with 30 points, Debrincat had 24 points and Toews had 23 .

This past season, Kane continued to lead the way scoring at about the same rate of points per hour (5.33) as he did in 2018/19 (5.99) but seeing a slight dip in his own rate of shots for per hour, finishing the season with 23 points. Debrincat saw his total rate of points per hour drop from 5.38 to 3.97 per hour, due in large part to his personal shooting percentage dropping from 25.0% to 21.74%. Worth noting too that Debrincat’s even-strength shooting percentage took a much more significant dive down to 4.76%, which may be an outlier considering that in 2017/18 he shot 12.68% in 82 games and in 2018/19 he shot 15.29 in 82 games. Can probably expect that to turnaround eventually, at even-strength and on the powerplay, maybe even after a three month layoff.

The player of most interest, to me at least, is Toews who scored only one powerplay goal and assisted on seven in 2019/20. He was getting around the same amount of ice time and generating the same rate of shots on goals, but just couldn’t convert on his chances posting a personal shooting percentage of only 2.63%. That’s a major drop considering that his personal shooting percentage over the previous five seasons on the powerplay had been 13.7%. He’s remained effective at even-strength this year, but for the Blackhawks to be competitive they’ll need their captain to be more productive on the powerplay.

Here’s how the powerplay units are shaping up in training camp (Source), with Kubalik moving up to the first unit and looking to make an impact with increased opportunity. He had an outstanding regular season scoring 30 goals, with 23 at even-strength, but ranked fifth on the team in total powerplay ice time behind Kane, Toews, Debrincat and Strome, and sixth in terms of minutes per game.

  • First PP unit: Kane, Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, Dominik Kubalik, Keith
  • Second PP unit: Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, Alex Nylander, Adam Boqvist

One other thing to consider is on the Oilers side, where their goaltending on the penalty kill had been outstanding finishing the season with a league-best 90.61% team save percentage. Among 55 goaltenders who played at least 100 minutes shorthanded in 2019/20, Mike Smith ranked first with a 91.80% save percentage, while Koskinen ranked sixth with 90.10%. Both also finished in the top five when it came to goals saved above average. Keep in mind though that Mike Smith’s shorthanded save percentage was 86.5% in his previous three seasons, much closer to league average rates, and Koskinen posted an 85.4% save percentage in his previous 55 games. Both goalies could potentially regress to league average rates and it remains to be seen if the Oilers can control the shots and chances against as they were allowing the ninth highest rates in the league shorthanded over the final twenty five games of the season.

With both teams having plenty of time to watch video and game-planning for one another, it’ll be very interesting to see how each side does on special teams and if the success and failures from their regular seasons carry over to the tournament.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Depth perception

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One of the key drivers for success in the upcoming playoffs, aside from goaltending, is going to be consistent production from the Oilers depth players at even-strength (5v5). We can expect to see McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins get a regular proportion of ice-time, likely more, and the extra attention from the opposition. And that leaves about 40% of even-strength time that the Oilers depth forwards will have to survive and thrive without them.

This past season, the Oilers as a team were poor at even-strength, posting a goal-share of 47.32%, a -16 goal differential, that ranked them 25th in the league. And it’s well documented how special teams was the key driver for their overall success. Without one of their top three forwards on the ice at even-strength, about 40.1% of the teams total ice time, the Oilers were dreadful posting a goal-share of 38.20%, a -21 goal differential. While the Oilers without their top three forwards did an okay job when it came to the proportion of scoring chances (48.54% Fenwick For% and an expected goal-share  of 49.32%), they could not capitalize on their opportunities posting a shooting percentage of 5.67%. The lack of finishing ability outside of their top players, an ongoing problem for a number of years, has to be of concern to the coaching staff and management.

Edmonton (5v5) TOI% CF% FF% xGF% GF% Goal +/-
With
Stars
59.9% 48.44 48.68 48.61 51.20 +5
Without Stars 40.1% 47.77 48.54 49.32 38.20 -21

How do the Oilers depth players compare with the Blackhawks depth players? Chicago had a similar issue as the Oilers in that their top three players  – Toews, Kane and Kubalik – were the primary drivers of offence with a largely weak roster surrounding them. With one or more of their top three forwards on the ice at even-strength, the Blackhawks posted a goal-share of 52.22%. Without one of the three, they posted a goal-share of 45.05%, a -9 goal differential. We can always expect a team’s results to take a dip without their star players on the ice, but at least the Blackhawks depth wasn’t as poor as the Oilers.

Chicago (5v5) TOI% CF% FF% xGF% GF% Goal +/-
With
Stars
63.0% 47.67 48.62 50.43 52.22 +13
Without Stars 37.0% 47.86 47.26 45.97 45.05 -9

What I also found interesting is that over the final twenty five games of the 2019/20 season, the Blackhawks without their top three forwards posted a goal-share of 54.29% at even-strength, a +3 goal differential in about 40% of the team’s total ice time. And those results appear to have been sustainable as the depth players controlled the flow of play, owning 51.52% of the total shot attempts, and doing a respectable job controlling scoring chances as measured by unblocked shot attempts (50.25% Fenwick For%) and an expected goal-share of 49.80%.

Final 25 (5v5) CF% FF% xGF% GF% Goal +/-
Oilers 48.29 47.33 45.78 34.48 -9
Blackhawks 51.52 50.25 49.8 54.29 +3

The Oilers without their star players at even-strength over the last twenty give games weren’t nearly as good. They posted a goal-share of 34.48%, a -9 goal differential in about 43% of the team’s total ice time. Finishing chances was obviously a regular problem for the Oilers but it also didn’t help that they could only muster a 48.29% Corsi For percentage, a 47.33% Fenwick For percentage and an expected goal-share of 45.78%. If the Oilers have a weakness heading into this playoff series, it’s their even-strength play, especially with their depth forwards on the ice.

Worth monitoring how the Oilers shape up their bottom two lines ahead of the playoffs, and so far it doesn’t look promising. Early on in training camp, Khaira is getting another look at center with Neal and Chiasson on his wings. While the trio did spend about 34 minutes together at even-strenngth, all of which was in the final twenty give games, and outscored opponents 3-0, their possession numbers were dreadful, posting a Corsi For% of 41.49%. They also lost the scoring chance battle quite badly, posting a Fenwick For% of 38.05% and an expected goal-share of 32.94%. Worth repeating again: Khaira cannot play center on an NHL line unless he has a right-handed linemate who can share the centerman duties with him. The Oilers have tried him as the sole center on a line a number of times and the results have never been good. My analysis from last summer when the Oilers coaching staff was prepping for training camp can be found here: Realistic Solutions – The Copper and Blue (2019, August 2).

Also worth noting that the Blackhawks appear to be distributing their talent across their line combinations with their top three players on their own lines. Kubalik, who I think is the most interesting player on the Blackhawks finishing the season with 30 goals, has started training camp on a third line with Dach and Caggiula. Considering that he finished with more even-strength goals (23) than both Draisaitl (22) and McDavid (21) and posted an expected goal-share of 56.18% in over 300 minutes playing away from Toews and Kane, you can start to see what Chicago’s coaching staff might be trying to exploit. Anything can change at the Blackhawks training camp between now and when the qualifying round starts, but it’s worth monitoring how the coaching staff might deploy their top players against an Oilers team with even-strength issues.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

CBC Radio Active: NHL set to return to play

cbc edmonton logoI joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active today to talk about the NHL’s Return to Play plan and what to expect in the Oilers qualifier series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2020, July 10).

While it’s exciting to have hockey starting up again, it’s difficult to ignore the health risks these players and team staff members are taking on. The harsh reality is that we’re likely to see players test positive for COVID-19 and there’s no guarantee that the protocols like social distancing and masking along with regular testing will limit the spread of the virus and prevent serious outbreaks. There’s also the mental health impact of playing away from family and friends for an extended period of time in a restricted bubble. And then you have the heightened risk of players getting injured with teams scheduled to play a lot of hockey withing tight time-frames. Make no mistake, this is driven by money, not the “love of the game”. Here’s hoping players and staff stay healthy and avoid the long-term health impacts of the COVID-19 virus.

The actual series between Edmonton and Chicago I think is going to be interesting and could be closer than we’d like to think. The Oilers definitely have the edge when it comes to overall talent and the powerplay, but I think the Blackhawks had some things going for them in the latter half of the season, especially at even-strength.

Over the final twenty-five games of the season, the Oilers went 13-8-4, a points percentage of 0.600 – placing them in the top ten league wide. Chicago wasn’t too far behind and actually posted stronger results with a +11 goal differential compared to Edmonton’s +2. Chicago also did a slightly better job when it came to controlling the flow of play as measured by shot attempts (i.e., Corsi) as well as scoring chances which uses unblocked shot attempts as a proxy.

Final 25 Games (2019/20) Chicago Edmonton
Record 13-10-2 13-8-4
Points% 0.560 (14th) 0.600 (9th)
5v5 – Goal-share 55.05 (7th) 50.93 (14th)
5v5 – Goal-differential +11 +2
5v5 – Corsi For% 50.22 (14th) 49.26 (18th)
5v5 – Fenwick For% 50.42 (14th) 48.83 (21st)
5v5 – Shooting% 8.73 (10th) 9.22 (5th)
5v5 – Save% 92.76 (7th) 91.76 (22nd)

What’s interesting is that while Chicago and Edmonton ranked 19th and 20th respectively when it came to preventing scoring chances, Chicago did a much better job generating scoring chances ranking 6th in the league while Edmonton ranked 22nd. The other area where I think Chicago has the slight edge is in net, which plays a significant role in the playoffs. Edmonton finished the season 14th overall with a 90.55% team save percentage at all strengths, while Chicago finished 6th with 91.30%.

The other area where Chicago did well with consistently was their penalty kill, which finished ninth best in the league when it came to the rate of goals against with 6.34 per hour. And that was due in large part to their goaltending, which ranked third in the league when it came to save percentage shorthanded. The fact that Chicago got consistent goaltending throughout the season, and the fact that the Oilers struggled to generate offence in the latter part of the season should be of concern and will hopefully be recognized and addressed by the coaching staff during training camp.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Re-connecting

gettyimages-1182911124-612x612

With the NHL planning to open training camps on July 10th and a playoff format in place, I needed a refresher on how the regular season finished. Mind you, because of the gap between when the season finished due to the pandemic and when the playoffs will hopefully start, it’s pretty much a whole new season. Players have fallen out of their regular season rhythms (i.e., hot streaks, cold streaks), they’ve had time to recover from injuries sustained during the regular season. And coaches are now preparing for playoff competition, which will likely require them to adjust their overall tactics.

Having said that, it’s still worthwhile to see how the Edmonton Oilers finished in relation to the rest of the Western conference, what their strengths and weaknesses were and what progress the franchise made from last season. All of this has to be factored in when continuously making decisions worth millions of dollars, with a championship being the ultimate goal.

From a high-level, we know the Oilers were a good team this season, finishing second in the Pacific division collecting 83 points in 71 games – a respectable 0.585 points percentage. Anything over 0.600 in a regular season, and you’re top 10 in the league and considered a legitimate contender – and the Oilers were close finishing 12th overall. Their +8 goal differential (all situations) was tied for sixth best in the Western conference and third in the Pacific with Arizona.

Here’s how the Oilers compared against the rest of the Western conference. Included in the table is each team’s shot-share numbers at even-strength (5v5) to get a sense of how well they controlled the flow of play and possession (i.e., Corsi For%) and scoring chances (i.e., Fenwick For%), as well as their actual results (i.e., goal-share). I’ve also included each team’s net rate of goals for and against per hour, both on the powerplay and penalty kill, which factors in shorthanded goals. I’ve applied a basic heat map (green is good, red is bad) and sorted the teams by points percentage.

West20192020

Now we know one of the biggest drivers for the Oilers success this season was their exceptional special teams, as the club finished first in the league on the powerplay scoring 10.64 goals per hour (59 goals-for, 10 goals-against), and second on the penalty kill allowing 5.15 goals against per hour (3 goals-for, 31 goals-against). For context, over the last three seasons prior to 2019/20, the league average rate of goals-for per hour was 7.07 on the powerplay, and about the same rate of goals against on the penalty kill (7.09). The Oilers powerplay generated a slightly below-average rate of unblocked shot attempts, but converted 20.0% of their shots into goals thanks to their high-end skilled forwards. And the penalty kill while allowing the ninth highest rate of unblocked shots against in the league, had the best team save percentage in the league shorthanded (90.61%).

The Oilers were very dependent on their special teams tactics and individual players to bail out their poor even-strength (5v5) results. They finished the season with a -16 goal differential at even-strength, a goals-for percentage of 47.32% (25th in the league) only ahead of the California teams, Ottawa, New Jersey and Detroit. Had the Oilers generated the same number of shots and instead posted a league average team shooting percentage on the powerplay (13.3% over the previous three seasons), they would have scored roughly 20 fewer goals. And had the goaltending been average on the penalty kill, they would have allowed another 13 goals. So instead of a +8 all-situations goal-differential, they’d be at -25 and in the bottom of the league contending for another lottery pick. I know special teams play only makes up about 20% of a team’s total playing time, but boy, it can cover up a lot of deficiencies and make or break an entire regular season.

What’s interesting is that while the goal-share results were poor, the Oilers even-strength play wasn’t horrible, having posted shot-share numbers closer to 50% at certain points after the new year. Below are the Oilers Corsi For percentage and Fenwick For percentage in rolling 25-game segments, as well as the actual goal-share which would took a big dive toward the mid-point of the season and what may have prompted tactical changes by the coaching staff at the Christmas break. Note that game 42 was played on December 31st, 2019 against the Rangers.

RollingCFFFGF

Worth noting that it was on both sides of the puck that the team struggled with early on in the season, and we can’t say for certain that it was completely resolved as they had some issues generating and preventing shot attempts over the final twenty-five games. Below is the team’s rate of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances) for and against at even-strength over 25-game segments. The gray line indicates the league average rate of unblocked shot attempts for and against from the previous three seasons. Note that allowing 44.00 unblocked shot attempts per hour would have a team in the bottom five league-wide, and the Oilers were one of the worst at preventing chances early in the season and were trending upwards before the league shut down.

RollingFF

So shot-share metrics were mediocre and goal-share results were poor – so what was driving the poor results? Turns out it was really their goaltending at even-strength that sunk them early in the season and cost them games. Below is the team’s shooting and save percentage over rolling 25-game segments to show the input players had on the Oilers actual results (i.e., goal-share) at even-strength.

RollingPDO

The Oilers team shooting percentage was consistent all year, finishing 13th in the league with 8.43%. Over the previous three seasons, league average shooting percentage has been 7.43%. The team’s save percentage on the other hand, was one of the weak points of the team. The Oilers finished the 2019/20 season with a 91.23 save percentage, 25th overall. Note that over the previous three seasons, the league average team save percentage at even-strength has been 92.17%. Heading into the end of 2019, they had hit a league-worst 89.0% save percentage, which, to the goaltenders’ credit, they did bounce back from posting league average numbers over the final twenty five games of the season.

If the Oilers want to be serious contenders, they need consistent, league average goaltending at even-strength and should be incorporating as much information and data as possible to their off-season decision-making process around the position. That and addressing their poor results at even-strength has to be a focus for management as they can’t count on special teams posting historical numbers every season. And more importantly, they can’t be blinded by the overall success and overlook their roster weaknesses, like the bottom six, and be willing to move out assets if it means making even incremental gains elsewhere. This isn’t a complete roster, and there’s plenty of work to get done this off-season if they ever want to contend for a championship.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 14 – Cameron Thomson (@ThomsonCam)

3000by3000 (1)My guest this week: Cameron Thomson!

We discussed the Oilers progress this season, how they did at the trade deadline and how we see the Pacific division and western conference shaking out. We also dug into the roster construction, areas that need to be addressed and how the Oilers should approach the off-season.

Full segment below:

 

Podcast channels:

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

CBC Radio Active: Recap of the Oilers transactions at the trade deadline

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Adrienne Pan on CBC Radio Active this evening to talk Oilers and their activity at the NHL trade deadline.

Full segment here: CBC Radio Active (2020, February 24)

Topics we covered:

  • The acquisition  of Andreas Athanasiou from the Red Wings and his case for being on the top line with McDavid. Price was a little steep, but he’s a skilled forward that will remain under team control past this season.
  • The acquisition of defenceman Mike Green from the Red Wings and the depth he adds to a pretty good defence core. Price a little high, but the team will value his pick moving ability. The Oilers should do what they can to acquire picks at the draft.
  • The acquisition of Tyler Ennis from Ottawa, where he could fit on the roster and what to expect from him. Reasonable price for a rental, and he should be more productive than the likes of Khaira and Chiasson. Should get a shot on the third line with Sheahan and Archibald and help draw more penalties.
  • Expectations the rest of the season.

Big thank you to everyone at CBC for putting it all together!

 

Addressing the goaltending

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The Edmonton Oilers are in an interesting position heading into the trade deadline and a competitive playoff race. Their recent success has them first in the Pacific division with a 0.593 points percentage and eleventh in the league. Since January 1st, the Oilers have out-scored opponents 65-48 and ranked ninth in the league with a 53.25% goal-share at even-strength. A big reason for their improved goal-share has been their ability to control the flow of play and spending more time in the offensive zone, posting a score-adjusted Corsi For% (i.e., a proxy for possession) of 51.22% and a Fenwick For% (a proxy for scoring chances) of 51.37%.

A playoff spot is looking more and more likely based on the overall results and the underlying shot-metrics, and will require the team to continue their strong play and  overcome the significant loss of key players. The question management faces now is whether or not they should look to adjust the roster to not only remain competitive in the playoff race but to also make a deep playoff run if they do in fact qualify.

There are plenty of areas on the roster to upgrade and management has to make some very shrewd decisions to build a roster for today and for next season. Draft picks and prospects are a significant part of developing a sustainable, championship contender and the Oilers have benefited from a nice influx of young talent over the last six months. It’s critical that management gets their decision-making right this upcoming trade deadline, especially when it comes to asset management, and properly assess where the true needs are.

And while a strong case can be made for adding skill to the top six forwards group to help with scoring at even-strength, it’s the Oilers goaltending that hasn’t received as much attention as it should and may be driving the need for scoring up front.

The Oilers currently rank 27th in the league when it comes to even-strength (5v5) save percentage with 90.87% – allowing 133 goals off of 1,456 shots against – and only ahead of New Jersey, Florida, Detroit and San Jose. Among 48 goaltenders who have played at least 1,000 minutes at even-strength this season, Mikko Koskinen ranks 29th with 91.50% save percentage, while Mike Smith ranks 46th with 90.10%.

The Oilers team save percentage has been below league-average levels all season, which is unfortunate considering the Oilers have done fine defensively posting just below league average rates of shots against. Note that 92.00% is the league average team save percentage at even-strength over the past three seasons and is represented by the orange line.

SV25

A team save percentage of 90.87% doesn’t seem so bad relative to the league wide average of 92.00 – that’s only a difference of 1.13. But if you factor in the actual number and rates of shots against, the goaltending is costing the team a lot of goals and potential wins in the standings.

Based on some quick math, if the Oilers received league average goaltending (92.00%) from Smith and Koskinen at even-strength and allowed the same number of shots-on-goal against (1,456), they would have allowed approximately 116 goals – 17 goals fewer than their actual number. Instead of posting a 46.59% even-strength goal-share ( 116 goals-for, 133 goals-against), the Oilers would be up to 50.00%. And instead of a +7 overall goal-differential, league average goaltending would have them closer to the top five teams in the league. This is all hypothetical of course, but it does emphasize the point that goaltending has been a drag on the overall results this season.

Where the goaltending has driven positive results is on the penalty kill, which ranks second in the league allowing 5.18 goals against per hour despite allowing the tenth highest rate of unblocked shot attempts against in the league. The Oilers team save percentage of 90.55% ranks second in the league, having allowed 26 goals off of 275 shots against. Using the same process as above, if the Oilers goaltending posted a league average team save percentage (86.34%) and allowed the same number of shots against, the Oilers would have allowed 38 goals – 12 more than their actual number and closer to league average rates of goals against on the penalty kill. The good news for the Oilers is that teams typically play the same proportion of total ice time on the penalty kill in the post-season as they do in the regular season (Source: Hockey Graphs). Over the last three seasons, teams play 8.20% of their total ice time on the penalty kill in the regular season. And in the playoffs, they play about 8.52% of their ice time on the penalty kill.

Having said that, it’s critical that the team get league average goaltending from their netminders at even-strength when over 80% of the game is played, especially for this playoff race which is expected to come down to the wire. It would be shortsighted to assume the Oilers have a goal-scoring issue based on the team’s goal-share at even-strength and give up significant assets at the trade deadline when when really the team is having bigger issues at the goaltending position. It’ll also be interesting to see what the Oilers do this off-season with their netminding and if they recognize what their actual deficiencies were in 2019/20.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Related:

Appendix: Oilers rate of shots against, 2019/20

Shot attempts against Unblocked shot attempts against Shots on goal against Scoring chances against
57.01 42.07 30.54 48.09
20th 19th 17th 21st