Shots from the blueline

klefbom

The Oilers are currently near the bottom of the league when it comes to scoring goals at even-strength (5v5) this season, having only scored 49 goals in 29 games. Their goals-per-hour rate of 2.10 is 26th overall, and well below their scoring rate from the previous two seasons.

What doesn’t help is the fact that the Oilers are an average team when it comes to generating shots, namely the shot attempts from the high danger area (i.e., home plate area) in front of the opposing goal.

They rank 13th in the league when it comes to unblocked shot attempts (i.e.. Fenwick; a proxy for shot quality) with 43.99 per hour. That number of course jumps to 51.31 per hour with McDavid on the ice, but drop to 40.16 without him. Anything below 40 has you in the bottom five in the league, so the Oilers are just barely getting by without their captain.

When it comes to generating high danger shot attempts, the Oilers are 17th in the league with 10.61 per hour. Again, we see a spike in this metric when McDavid is on the ice as the team generates 13.58 high danger shot attempts per hour with him. And the team sees a significant drop in production, currently only generating 9.06 per hour without him. Anything below 10.0 high danger shot attempts per hour, and you’re in the bottom third of the league.

Now a big reason why the team struggles to generate quality shot attempts and score goals is due to the fact that they lack shooting talent. It’s become obvious that Oilers management struggles to identify skilled players at the professional level, and has made poor, franchise-altering decisions based on flawed logic.

I think another related reason for their scoring issues is the team’s insistence on running low-to-high plays in the offensive zone, moving the puck to their defencemen for point shots in an attempt to make tip-plays and find rebounds.

Related: Tactalytics: Using Data to Inform Tactical Offensive Zone Decisions – Hockey Graphs (2016, July 11)

While there are benefits to moving the puck to the blueline and creating space and potential passing lanes, the shots that come from defenceman are typically from low probability scoring areas. And the rebounds that are created from point shots, which could just as easily be recovered by the opposing team, aren’t frequent enough to warrant the continuation of funneling offence through the point shots.

As of today, the Oilers have two defenceman in the top 10 in the league when it comes to the number of individual unblocked shot attempts (iFF/60) at even-strength: Oscar Klefbom who sits 5th among defencemen with 92 and Darnell Nurse who ranks 10th with 83. Worth noting that when it comes to the number of shots that actually hit the net, Klefbom currently ranks 3rd among defencemen with 71 – only behind Erik Karlsson and Dougie Hamilton. And Nurse ranks 7th among defencemen with 64, tied with Brent Burns who often finishes first every year.

Player Team GP iFF Rebounds Created
Erik Karlsson S.J 30 105 11
Dougie Hamilton CAR 28 103 13
Brent Burns S.J 30 100 10
Roman Josi NSH 29 94 5
Oscar Klefbom EDM 29 92 5
Kris Letang PIT 26 88 6
Morgan Rielly TOR 29 88 6
Thomas Chabot OTT 29 86 10
Matt Dumba MIN 29 84 8
Darnell Nurse EDM 29 83 7

The Oilers reliance on two of their left-shot defencemen shows up in the shot-map below. The club is well above league average when it comes to point shots from the left side near the blueline, but it’s not translating to a higher frequency of high danger shot attempts from in close. The frequent shots Klefbom and Nurse are taking are not only from low-probability areas, but their shots aren’t creating any rebounds.

 

Oilers - FF60 - HockeyViz

What’s worth noting is that the team only sees a slight increase in the rate of high danger shot attempts when Klefbom is on the ice (11.32 per hour), compared to when he’s not on the ice (10.15 per hour). When Nurse is on the ice, the team actually sees a slight decrease in the rate of high danger shot attempts (9.88 per hour). Without McDavid on the ice with him, Nurse’s on-ice rate of high danger chances decreases even more (8.30 per hour).

What’s interesting is that the Sharks also have two defencemen in the top 10 when it comes to individual unblocked shot attempts. The difference is that the Sharks are getting a much higher rate of high-danger shot attempts, second best in the league with 13.50 per hour. Whether that’s directly related to the defencemen shooting is unclear, but my thought is that the Sharks forwards do a great job playing from behind the opponents net and generating chances off cycles down low.

Below is the shot map for the Sharks.

Sharks - FF60 - HockeyViz

My initial take away from all of this is that the Oilers defencemen are taking way too many shots and are taking away offensive opportunities from the forwards. Now you could argue that the team doesn’t have enough talent up front, and that might be why the team is instructing the defencemen to shoot so often. The problem is that the defencemen are shooting from low probability scoring areas. And the shots they do take aren’t translating into rebounds and second chances. That could be due to Klefbom’s and Nurse’s shots being seen and saved by the goalie, or the fact that the forward talent isn’t doing enough to get to rebounds. Probably a bit of both.

Definitely something to keep an eye on as the season progresses. I’ll also dig through some of the micro-stats as they become available to see how often the Oilers make shots and passes through low-to-high plays and behind-the-net plays. At this point, the team needs to squeeze out as much offence as they can to contend for a playoff spot, and should be doing everything possible to improve their rate of generating high danger shot attempts.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz

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