Checking in on the special teams


Got a good reminder from this afternoon’s loss to the Flyers about the importance of special teams. And good timing too; I was digging into the Oilers powerplay and how ineffective it had become heading into the all-star break.


The Oilers currently have the 10th best powerplay (5v4) in the league, scoring 7.79 goals per hour. This is just a hair below their rate of goals in 2016/17, when they finished the season sixth overall with a scoring rate of 7.88 goals per hour. What was great about that 2016/17 season was the fact that the team generated a lot of shots, finishing sixth in the league 55.77 shots per hour, and 10th in the league when it came to unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick), a proxy for scoring chances, with 77.55. Throughout that season, the team had its slumps, but there was a good chance that they would get positive results – which they did.

What’s interesting about the current season is that even though they are getting results (i.e., goals), the Oilers have not been very good at generating shots. They rank 20th in the league when it comes to shots per hour with 48.49, and 23rd in the league when it comes to unblocked shot attempts per hour with 66.33. That gives me the sense that the results aren’t likely to continue, considering the Oilers are below league averages when it comes to generating offensive opportunities.

Worth noting that it’s really been over the last 20 games – without Klefbom in the line-up – that the team has struggled to generate shots on the powerplay. Below is a breakdown of three segments of the season: first 20 games with McLellan, next 11 games with Hitchcock and Klefbom in the line-up, and the next 20 games with Hitchcock and Klefbom out of the line-up.

2018/19 Segment GP Fenwick For/60 Shots For/60 Goals For/60 Shooting%
McLellan 20 68.39 49.64 7.72 15.56
Hitchcock w/Klefbom 11 70.93 59.73 7.47 12.50
Hitchcock w/o Klefbom 20 60.87 40.33 8.07 20.00

It’s interesting to see how much better the team was at generating shots on goal when Hitchcock arrived. It probably had something to do with moving away from five left hand shooters and taking Lucic off of the top unit and replacing him with a right-hand shooter in Chiasson. But once Klefbom was hurt, things went south in a hurry, with the team generating only 40.33 shots per hour. To put things into perspective – over the last 25 games, the Oilers rank 28th in the league when it comes to unblocked shots per hour on the powerplay and 29th when it comes to shots per hour.

I’m curious to know if the Oilers are aware of this and the fact that their 20.0% shooting percentage is masking some pretty significant issues. (Note: the average team shooting percentage at 5v4 over the last three seasons was 12.58%. The highest shooting percentage was around 14.23%). McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins are leading the way in powerplay ice time over the last 25 games, but their talent alone hasn’t been enough. And there should be some heightened skepticism, if there isn’t already, around Nurse’s ability to replace Klefbom’s offence. Someone on the coaching staff needs to figure it out, or watch clips from the 2016/17 season.

Penalty Kill

After today’s performance in Philly, the Oilers penalty kill (4v5) ranks 27th in the league, allowing 8.11 goals against per hour. What has to be frustrating for the club is that they’ve done a good job limiting shots and scoring chances against, but aren’t getting consistent, league-average goaltending.

What’s interesting is that the Oilers were getting great results (i.e., goals against) when Hitchcock arrived, when Koskinen was putting up some outstanding numbers (well above league average norms). The team was allowing around the same rate of unblocked shot attempts against as they were under McLellan, which had them in the top 10 league-wide – the only difference being the goaltending.

Team GP Fenwick Against/60 Shots Against/60 Goals Against/60 Save%
McLellan 20 60.26 44.04 8.69 80.26
Hitchcock w/Klefbom 11 60.12 51.87 3.54 93.18
Hitchcock w/o Klefbom 20 70.60 51.66 9.76 81.11

Once Klefbom got hurt, the rate of unblocked shot attempts spiked up, falling below league average rates. And it’s been poor timing as the goaltending has cratered.

That note about the penalty kill being an issue specifically since December 2016 is interesting.

Between December 1, 2016 and February 2, 2019, the Oilers have allowed the second highest rate of goals against per hour in the league on the penalty kill, with 8.08, only ahead of the Canucks. What’s interesting is that the team has been doing some things right over this stretch as they’ve allowed the 8th lowest rate of shots against per hour with 49.42 and the 6th lowest rate of unblocked shot attempts per hour with 68.27. There’s always room for improvement – the team is allowing a higher rate of high danger scoring chances. But the big problem has been goaltending – as the Oilers have had the third worst team save percentage with 83.63%.

The only thing that really changed for the Oilers in December 2016 was the red-hot goaltending cooling off. In the first few months of the 2016/17 season, the Oilers penalty kill allowed a rate of 4.16 goals against per hour – third best in the league. Their goaltending was the main driver for their success, as the team save percentage was 92.38. This was likely going to be unsustainable considering that in the three seasons prior to 2016/17, the average team save percentage on the penalty kill was 87.76%. The Oilers were also allowing a high rate of opportunities against on the penalty kill in those first few months – so I wouldn’t want to replicate anything they were doing prior to December 2016.


With Klefbom out of the line-up this season:

Oilers Powerplay (5v4)

  • Unblocked shots per hour: 60.87 (28th)
  • Shots per hour: 40.33 (29th)
  • Goals per hour: 8.07 (10th)
  • Shooting percentage: 20.00 (2nd)

Oilers Penalty Kill (4v5)

  • Unblocked shots against per hour: 70.6 (18th)
  • Shots against per hour: 51.66 (21st)
  • Goals against per hour: 9.76 (30th)
  • Save percentage: 81.11 (29th)

Data: Natural Stat Trick

One thought on “Checking in on the special teams

  1. Pingback: CBC Edmonton News (TV): Current losing streak, playoff aspirations and getting things back on track | The SuperFan

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