Couple thoughts on the Oilers shooting percentage + TV spot (CBC)

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The Oilers team shooting percentage at even-strength (5v5) has been getting a lot of attention and for good reason. The club is posting some very nice possession numbers, often out-shooting their opponents, but they haven’t been able to convert their chances as often as they’d like. The Oilers are also getting quality chances, posting a score-adjusted Fenwick For% of 55.47%, which puts to rest any concerns that the Oilers aren’t making the most of their strong possession numbers.

  • Corsi For%: 54.52% (5th)
  • Fenwick For%: 55.47% (4th)
  • Goals For%: 39.13% (28th)

Last season, the club was right around the league average when it came to shooting percentage, finishing with 8.28% . Heading into their game against Dallas on Thursday night, the Oilers were at the bottom of the league with 3.99%.

The first thought here would be that because the team is posting such good possession numbers,  and with an elite talent like McDavid on the roster, their shooting percentage should eventually regress towards the mean, moving closer to normal ranges, and the club should start to score more often. It’s difficult to imagine the Oilers regularly outshooting their opponents over an 82-game season and finishing with a 39% goal-share, so one would hope that things will eventually have to start going the Oilers way.

The concern I have with this thought is that even if the Oilers do a good job controlling play and generating shots, they currently lack the talent to convert those chances into goals. The forward group definitely has NHL-calibre players, inclduing Patrick Maroon, Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic. But unfortunately for the Oilers, they’ve been fairly weak on the right-side with Draisaitl out, and have relied heavily on rookie Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Strome for offence.

Below is a table of the forwards sorted by the number of shots on goal they’ve had in the first eight games and their individual shooting percentages. I’ve also included each player’s career number of games played and their career shooting percentages heading into the 2017/18 season.

Player GP Shots Shooting% Career Games Played Career Shooting%
Connor McDavid 8 26 11.54 127 12.50
Kailer Yamamoto 7 19 0.00 0 N/A
Patrick Maroon 8 18 11.11 301 11.76
Ryan Strome 8 12 0.00 258 8.31
Milan Lucic 8 10 10.00 680 13.39
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 8 10 10.00 395 9.87
Leon Draisaitl 4 10 10.00 191 11.67
Zack Kassian 8 9 0.00 313 11.02

What stands out here are two things and really needs to be addressed, especially by management.

First, a rookie is getting the second highest number of shots for the team. The problem with that is you can’t expect a player to make a smooth transition from junior and be able to figure out NHL calibre goalies. He absolutely has the talent to have a good NHL career, but the timeline for his development, like any other highly touted prospect, is unknown. Keep in mind, Leon Draisaitl in his rookie season posted a 2.63% shooting percentage, scoring one goal in 37 games.  Jesse Puljujaarvi in his rookie season didn’t score a single goal over 28 games. While it’s wonderful for Yamamoto’s development to play a top-6 role, it’s not exactly a smart bet on the part of the Oilers to rely on him for offensive production.

The second issue here is that Ryan Strome, who does not have a history of offensive production, is in the top five among forwards when it comes to shots. His career shooting percentage over 258 games is 8.31%, which is below league average – typically around 10.0% every season among forwards. (Source: Quant Hockey).

NHL-Forwards-Average-Shot-Percentage

Strome’s shooting percentage could improve over time; we know we can be more confident in his actual numbers as he continues to compile more shots. But the fact is he cost the Oilers Eberle to acquire, an experienced player with proven goal-scoring abilities and a career shooting percentage of 12.5% over 507 games. That trade would’ve been fine had the Oilers followed it up by acquiring another top six player with a track-record of scoring, but they didn’t, instead banking on one of their younger players to step into the role. On top of that, the Oilers bought out Benoit Pouliot, who struggled last season, but was a player with a 12.0% career shooting percentage over 500 games. There was a financial case to make both transactions, but the Oilers are now weaker up front, leaving Strome as a top six option when his numbers indicate he would be better suited in a lesser role.

I think those two issues – fast-tracking Yamamoto and giving Strome a top six push – are part of the reason why the club’s shooting percentage is lower than expected. Maybe both Yamamoto and Strome head to a stick factory in Mexico, find their stride and start converting on their chances. But without any data or evidence to base their decisions on, the Oilers management is taking a significant risk by having players without any offensive history play important minutes.

Oilers management can hope for the team shooting percentage to bounce back, but they haven’t exactly done themselves any favors with the roster they’ve built. And the fact that the defence core is taking more shot attempts this season compared to the past two suggests to me that the Oilers coaching staff might feeling the same way.

Heading into last night’s game, three of the top five players when it came to shot attempts at 5v5 were defencemen.

Player GP Shot Attempts
Oscar Klefbom 8 43
Connor McDavid 8 41
Darnell Nurse 8 40
Adam Larsson 8 34
Kailer Yamamoto 7 31

Last season, only one defenceman finished in the top five.

Player GP Shot Attempts
Connor McDavid 82 301
Oscar Klefbom 82 293
Jordan Eberle 82 281
Patrick Maroon 81 245
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 82 231

And breaking it down between all defencemen and forwards, there’s a noticeable uptick in the proportion of shot attempts coming from the blueline this season at 5v5.

Proportion of Oilers’ Shot Attempts (5v5)
Season Defencemen Forwards
2015/16 35.8% 64.2%
2016/17 35.7% 64.3%
2017/18 42.6% 57.4%

I’m suspecting that because the forward group is lacking scoring depth, the defencemen are getting more responsibility to direct pucks towards the net and having forwards scrounge for rebounds. The other factor we have to consider here is the amount and proportion of time the Oilers are trailing and the score effects associated with that game state. With opponents often defending a lead against Edmonton, the Oilers skaters could start to take as many shots as possible to generate a scoring chances. But often these desperation shots tend to come from low-probability scoring areas – perhaps a result of the defencemen trying to force plays.

It’ll be interesting to check in again in a month to see how the shots are being distributed, but I think the roster will need some changes if the team wants to better improve their chances of scoring.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Corisca Hockey

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

And if you missed it, I discussed the Oilers early season issues and some of the positives heading into last night’s game against Dallas on the CBC news. Clip is here, starts around the six minute mark: CBC Edmonton News (2017, October 26)

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