If there’s one thing that will stand out from this season for me, it will be the Edmonton Oiler’s inability to prevent goals against when shorthanded. Including how long it took to finally address it.
It’s been well documented how poor the penalty kill has been this season, ranking as one of the all-time worst in NHL history. But it doesn’t quite settle in until you look at how big of an impact it’s had on the team’s overall goal differential and where they currently sit in the standings.
After 79 games, the Oilers have an overall goal differential of -31. Had the Oilers been around the three-year league average of goals against per hour on the penalty kill (6.39), they would have allowed 40.8 goals shorthanded which is 16 less than what they’ve allowed so far thanks to a 28th ranked goals against rate of 8.77 goals per hour. Combine the 16 fewer goals allowed shorthanded, and the estimated 16 more goals they would’ve scored on the powerplay had they been league average there, and the Oilers have a (barely) positive goal differential. It’s obviously still not good enough to be a championship contender with plenty of work to do at even-strength, especially without McDavid. But they could’ve at least been competing for a wild card spot in the west.
Now the good news is that the Oilers penalty kill has improved over the course of the season. Below is the team’s rate of goals against per hour over rolling 20-game segments this season, which for the most part was over 10.0 and well above the three-year league average of 6.39 (represented by the red line).
Now a few things could be happening that would be driving down the rate of goals against. Either the Oilers are gradually doing a better job of preventing shots and scoring chances against. Or the team is getting better goaltending.
For the Oilers, it’s actually been all of the above.
Shots on goal
Below is the Oilers rate of shots on goal against per hour over rolling 20 game segments, including a red line representing the three-year league average of 51.24. The team has surprisingly been one of the league’s best at limiting the shots all season and have been trending well recently.
The Oilers rate of shots on goal against has been pretty decent for the previous two seasons as well, finishing 15th last season with 52.38 shots against per hour and 23rd the year before with 53.56. Both seasons, they’ve been right around the three-year league average.
High danger shot attempts
What has been an issue for the Oilers this season is their rate of high danger shot attempts against, which currently ranks 25th in the league, but has been trending much better since around the mid-point of the season. The three-year league average has been 20.38.
What’s worth noting here is that limiting high danger chances against has been an issue for the Oilers since the arrival of the current coaching staff. Last season, the Oilers had the fourth highest rate of high danger shot attempts against in the league. The year before, they had the third highest. What bailed them out in previous years and kept them around the league average mark for penalty kill sucess was their goaltending, which has been at or above the league average thanks in large part to Cam Talbot.
This season however, goaltending has been a different story.
Below is the Oilers team save percentage on the penalty kill this season, again displayed as rolling 20-game segments to show the season-long trend. It currently ranks 30th in the league shorthanded, but similar to the rate of shots and chances has been trending much better as of late – recently surpassing the three-year league average mark of 87.51%.
Cam Talbot was expected to have better numbers on the penalty kill, considering his career save percentage at 4v5 heading into this season was 89.47% – one of the best among starters. His 83.67% save percentage this season could be considered an anomaly and we may well be seeing his shorthanded numbers regressing towards his career average. But there’s also the possibility that he’s declining as most goalies do with age – a definite problem considering he has one more year left on his deal with no long-term replacement in the Oilers goalie pipeline. And with the workload Talbot has received from McLellan over the past few seasons, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to see his numbers eventually take hit. Whatever the case may be, the Oilers need to find a capable back up this off-season that can push for a long-term starting role, and fill-in for Talbot if the same goaltending issue arises on the penalty kill next season.
The Oilers obviously made some tactical changes that led to this improvement on the penalty kill and it obviously helps that the goaltending has been much better. The question for the coaching staff, as well as management, should be why it took so long for the tactical changes to occur, especially when the warning signs were there not only within the first 40 games this year, but also the previous two seasons.
Again, while the rate of shots on goal against were right around league average, the rate of high danger shot attempts have been some of the league’s worst since McLellan was hired. Rather than look into how or why the team had a league average success on the penalty kill the previous two seasons, the underlying numbers were ignored – pretty much setting themselves up for the 56 goals they’ve allowed this season.
So while it’s admirable that the team addressed the penalty killing problem, there should be questions around what kind of information, if they’re even using any, the coaching staff is relying on as part of their day-to-day operations. It’s critical for anyone that’s managing performance to know if the on-ice success or failures are real or not by first determining which information matters (i.e., correlates to winning), gathering the right data, and then monitoring the performance metrics to properly assess a team and individual players. Considering the Oilers have the best player in the world and should be chasing a championship, they really need to have better decision-making processes in place.
Data: Natural Stat Trick
- Missing the warning signs – The SuperFan (2018, January 6)
- Thoughts on the Oilers Penalty Kill and McLellan’s Past Success – The Copper & Blue (2017, November 8)