The Oilers Penalty Kill + Radio Spot (TSN 1260)

rnh-faceoff

Joined Lowetide this morning on TSN 1260 to talk Oilers. We touched on Sunday’s game in Nashville, the upcoming games in St. Louis and at home against Detroit, and what the Oilers should do heading into the deadline. Clip starts around the 25 minute mark.

One thing that we also touched on was the Oilers penalty kill, which was dreadful in Nashville and pretty much cost them the game, allowing three goals including the game winner.

The Oilers currently rank 23rd in the league when it comes to penalty kill efficiency with 80%. I find a more accurate method to assess a team’s penalty kill is goals against per 60 (GA/60), as team’s don’t play the same amount of time shorthanded. The Oilers have played 313 minutes at 4v5 so far this season, right around league average, and have allowed 32 goals and scored 3. In terms of goals against/60, the Oilers rank 19th in the league with 6.13, with the league average being 5.94.

This is a pretty big drop from where they were earlier in the season. From my analysis in November, the Oilers ranked 4th in the league with a 90.2% efficiency and allowed 3.54 goals per 60. I suspected at the time that their success was not going to be sustainable for two reasons: (1) they were allowing one of the highest rates of unblocked shots against, and (2) Talbot was posting a shorthanded save percentage above his career norms. To put it simply, their 90% penalty kill efficiency was not real.

Fast forward to today, and the coaching staff still hasn’t figured out a way to slow down the opposing powerplays, as they rank 20th in the league with 69.13 unblocked shot attempts against per 60 (league average is 66.7). And they’ve been around this level pretty much all season. Their team save percentage, which was 93.55% in November and ranked third in the league, is now down to 17th with 87.60%, right around the league average.

What’s frustrating is that the Oilers failed to adjust their penalty kill when the warning signs were there in November. The team chose to stand-pat based on goal metrics that are poor predictors of future success, instead of looking at simple, publicly available, shot rates. Had they recognized early in the season that their penalty kill wasn’t real, they could have changed either their tactics, which is far, far too passive right now controlling zone entries and passing lanes, or the personnel they were deploying.

And now that they penalty kill has crashed back down to earth, and has cost them games, there’s a good chance the team will finally address it. Rather than being a proactive organization, the Oilers are in a reactive mode, and are likely to do something at the trade deadline when acquisition costs are fairly excessive and often volatile.

One specific thing the Oilers may seek out to improve their poor penalty kill is a faceoff specialist. The Oilers currently rank 24th in the league at 4v5 faceoff percentage with 42.3%, ahead of Arizona, Pittsburgh, NY Rangers, Los Angeles, San Jose and Winnipeg. The league average for faceoff percentage shorthanded is 45%.

Worth nothing that Los Angeles has the third worst faceoff percentage, but they have the second lowest rate of goals against and the third lowest rate of unblocked shots against.On the flip side, Colorado has the second best faceoff percentage at 4v5, but they rank 17th in the league when it comes to shots against and 24th when it comes to goals against. I’d have to dig in more to see the correlation between faceoffs and shots/goals against, but at first glance, I suspect it’s not as important as people might think. There are just so many other things a team can do to limit shots even after they lose a draw, whether it be play more aggressively (similar to what Carolina does) or have the right mix of players who can slow down the flow and movement of a powerplay unit.

Something else I want to point out is that the team was poor at faceoffs early in the season, but it never became a talking point because they were ranked near the top of the league in penalty kill efficiency and goals against/60 thanks to Talbot’s outstanding play.

Month GP TOI FA/60 GA/60 Save% Faceoff %
October 9 54.40 77.21 (28th) 3.31 (5th) 94.12 (4th) 36.92 (29th)
November 14 74.61 65.14 (11th) 4.02 (7th) 90.74 (7th) 43.24 (21st)
December 14 76.52 62.73 (12th) 7.06 (22nd) 85.00 (22nd) 46.15 (12th)
January 14 65.78 71.15 (20th) 5.47 (16th) 89.83 (8th) 46.58 (13th)
February 11 42.00 74.29 (21st) 12.86 (30th) 73.53 (30th) 34.15 (28th)
TOTAL 62 313.31 69.13 (20th) 6.13 (19th) 87.6 (17th) 42.3 (24th)

Above I have the Oilers penalty kill stats broken by month. In October, the club allowed the third highest rate of shots against, but still had the 5th best goals against per 60, riding on some very hot goaltending. Plus, they ranked 29th in the league when it came to faceoffs. Their rates of shots against did come down slightly in November and December, but it doesn’t appear to be impacted by their faceoff success.

If the Oilers are seriously wondering why the penalty kill is broken, they can start with two things. First, examine the team’s rate of unblocked shots against (FA/60), which has been above the league average pretty much all season. And second, review the team’s save percentage, which has taken a significant drop over the course of the season. This is likely related to overplaying Talbot because the team failed to address the back up position last summer.

20170227 - PK Save Percentage.png

Rather than focus on a penalty-killing face off specialist, the team is better off finding a suitable backup goalie to give Talbot a break. I think it’s fairly obvious in the penalty kill numbers that the Oilers starting netminder is in need of some help, and it really shouldn’t take a lot of assets to address considering how little value goalies have around the trade deadline. If the Oilers are adamant about faceoffs, call up Lander and be done with it.

The Oilers also need to review the personnel they’re deploying shorthanded, something I dug into last month. Really, players that tend to do better on the penalty kill in terms of limiting shots, including Pouliot and Lander and Larsson, should be getting more playing time, as the regulars including RNH (who has seen a massive jump in PK TOI since last season), Russell and Letestu, are not having much success. This really is on the coaching staff to figure out, and the fact that they’ve waited until the end of February to make adjustments is a little troubling.

Now I understand the penalty kill isn’t going to make or break a team’s season. But how the Oilers have managed their penalty kill this season, and their total disregard of the early season indicators,  has me wondering what other pieces of information they’ll ignore going forward. It’s become pretty obvious that they favor goal-based metrics to assess their team, which makes sense to a degree. But as we’ve seen now for a number of years, goal-based metrics are not good predictors of future success. I get the sense that if the club ever rode a wild PDO wave, similar to Colorado and Toronto in the past, the management group and coaching staff would assume that their success would be sustainable and make some poor, long-term decisions based on that. Good teams find ways to be successful, but also conduct proper evaluation, through the highs and lows of a season, to ensure their success is real and sustainable.

The end goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and to do that the team needs to establish an extended window, at least a five year term, where they can be legitimate, championship contenders. Every decision they make has to be geared towards this end goal, and it has to be based on the right information.

Data: Corsica Hockey

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