To have a chance of making the playoffs this season, a lot of things are going to have to go right for the Edmonton Oilers. They’ll need their core players to be healthy. They’ll need their top end stars to produce and for their depth players to contribute. Special teams can’t be a drag. And they’ll need their goaltending to perform at or above league average levels. Pretty standard requirements for any of the western conference teams competing for a wild card spot.
One area that the Oilers really need to improve on to increase their chances of outscoring opponents at even-strength is their overall share of shot attempts, used as a proxy for possession, as well as their proportion of scoring chances. The Oilers have been posting some very poor numbers since Hitchcock arrived, generating the second lowest rate of shot attempts in the league, and allowing the eighth highest rate of shot attempts against. Looking at the rate of unblocked shot attempts for and against, or Fenwick (which I use as a proxy for scoring chances), the Oilers are getting around the same results – second lowest rate of chances for in the league, and sixth highest rate of chances against.
In their 30 games under Hitchcock, the Oilers have posted an even-strength Corsi For% (i.e., the proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated) of 46.61% – one of the worst in the league. To put things into perspective, the Oilers under Hitchcock are posting shot-shares that are similar to what the Oilers posted under previous coaching regimes.
Poor roster construction, under-performing players and injuries to key players are definitely playing a factor in the Oilers’s poor shot-share metrics. But there has to be something more to this considering that almost every player’s on-ice numbers have taken a hit since Hitchcock arrived. And that includes Connor McDavid who very often has been able to drive offence no matter who is on the ice with him.
Below are the Oilers forwards this season who have played at least 50 minutes under Todd McLellan and at least 50 minutes under Hitchcock, and what their on-ice Corsi For percentages have been under each coach.
The one player that sticks out, aside from McDavid, is Nugent-Hopkins, who saw his on-ice Corsi For percentage drop from 51.98% under McLellan to 41.39% under Hitchcock. Over his career, he’s usually been around 49.0%, regularly playing top competition, so there’s definitely something in the new system that’s driving down his numbers. When he’s been on the ice, the rate of shots against are at one of the highest among Oiler forwards, and not a lot is being generated in the offensive zone.
The fact that the team is having so much trouble sustaining offensive zone pressure at even-strength should be concerning to the management group who is obviously looking to improve their talent up front. One or two players aren’t likely going to turn the Oilers shot-share and scoring chance numbers around this drastically, so before making any transactions it’s important to dig into what the coaching staff is currently doing tactically, why it’s impacting almost every forward including the best player in the world, and how it can be improved.
Now management might be telling themselves that Klefbom’s return should improve things, as he not only brings a unqiue skill-set, but his presence will reduce the minutes played by guys like Nurse and Russell.
But if we look at the defencemen who played at least 50 minutes under McLellan and Hitchcock, we see that even Klefbom’s numbers took a hit, dropping from an on-ice Corsi For percentage of 53.24 down to 50.93. The fact that Klefbom’s numbers aren’t immune to the impacts of Hitchcock’s new system makes me skeptical that his return will drastically turn the team’s shot-share numbers around.
Something else to consider in all of this is how the rest of the teams that are competing for a wild card spot in the west have been doing over their last 25 games. Below is a summary, including each team’s points percentage, Corsi For% (proxy for possession), Fenwick For% (proxy for scoring chances) and Goals For%. I’ve also included each team’s shooting and save percentage to get a sense of how far above or below they are from league averages.
Just based on how well they’ve been controlling shots, and how well their goaltending has improved, I’d suspect that the Blues will make a stronger push for a wild card spot than teams like Edmonton and Vancouver. The Oilers always have the McDavid factor, and the goaltending could bounce-back, but they’re definitely going to have to make some deployment/tactical changes to remain competitive.
Data: Natural Stat Trick
Also posted at The Copper & Blue.