Something I came across recently was just how poor the Oilers possession numbers have been and how they’ve been trending downwards. There’s been some optimism around the team as they had put together a somewhat respectable stretch, but their Corsi For percentage was 46.3%, with their Fenwick For percentage hovering around the same level (45.0%). (Link)
The other thing I found was just how badly the Oilers third and fourth line players were doing in terms of shot-share metrics, namely Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira. Now to me this isn’t that surprising. I put together a post earlier this month making a case for the two forwards to remain together on a line and dug into how they’d done as centers. Highly recommend reading that one first if you haven’t already.
- Related: Strome and Khaira – The SuperFan (2018, March 3)
In my opinion, neither is a great centerman on their own or without another centerman with them. But when they’re on the ice either together at even-strength (5v5) splitting duties this season, they’ve been just fine.
Strome and Khaira (2017/18)
What’s also worth noting is that general manager Peter Chiarelli views Strome as a good option for center, as discussed the day he was acquired from New York, and that it’s always helpful to load up on centers.
Chiarelli on whether Strome slots in at centre or wing: “If you can put two centres on a line it’s to your advantage. I think he’s a natural centre, but he can certainly rip a wrist shot so he’s quite good on the wing also.” (Source: Edmonton Journal)
Unfortunately for the Oilers, the coaching staff has been adamant for the last 12 games now to have Strome and Khaira away from each other and centering their own lines.
This all stems of course from McLellan’s desire to have his top three centermen, McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl, play in the top six. In the most recent stretch, McDavid has been playing with Nugent-Hopkins on the same line, with Draisaitl anchoring the second line. It’s understandable that a coach wants to have as much fire power together, but it’d make a lot more sense to spread the talent across three lines to really cause match-up issues for the opposing team.
Because of the coaching staff’s deployment tactics, two things are occurring: the team’s overall possession numbers haven’t been strong. And the on-ice numbers of both Strome and Khaira as they center their own lines have been horrible.
Over the last 12 games, the Oilers have gone 7-4-1, but that’s with an even-strength (5v5) goal-share of 44.9% (a -5 goal differential). So right away, we know this isn’t real. And we can also make a case that this recent success probably isn’t sustainable since their Corsi For percentage is 48.1%, and their Fenwick For percentage is 46.8%.
With Khaira or Strome on the ice centering their own lines, the team’s Corsi For percentage dips below 45%, with a higher rate of unblocked shot attempts against going way up, especially with Strome on the ice.
Looking at each player’s rolling 5-game Corsi For%, it’s pretty apparent that their on-ice numbers took a hit once they were split apart and trusted as centermen by the coaching staff.
If a coaches job is to put players in a position to succeed and improve the chances of winning games, then it behooves them to collect as much information as possible and deploy the best possible player combinations. And if things look fine on the surface and the team is winning, it’s even more critical to analyze and determine if the success is sustainable or not and make adjustments as needed.
It’s easy to dismiss criticism directed towards third and fourth line-type players. But as we’ve seen from other successful teams, depth is critical to be a contender. And while the Oilers are playing out a lost season and it makes sense to try out different players in different positions, it’s critical that they review the underlying numbers and the right information to know what the player’s true on-ice impact really is.