Currently ranking fourth in the league with a 0.750 points percentage, going 7-2-1 and accumulating 15 points, the Edmonton Oilers are in a great spot but have a lot of work to do if they want to keep things on track and compete for a playoff spot. The issues that plagued them in years past including production from depth players, overall even-strength play and the penalty kill continue to exist, but have largely been masked by stellar goaltending and production from their top end players.
Even though the Oilers are having success to start the season, it’s imperative that management and the coaching staff apply a critical lens on their roster and overall play to determine if the results are sustainable. The big challenge of course is to actually address these issues, either by making changes to the roster, by way of trade or minor-league call-ups, or by adjusting the on-ice tactics or player deployment. The good news is that the Oilers issues aren’t hard to determine as long as shot-metrics which are helpful to predict future results, and a basic understanding of statistical variance are part of the evaluation.
Focusing on the team’s even-strength (5v5) play, the Oilers have posted a goal-share of 51.43% (18 goals-for, 17 goals-against), good for 14th in the league and fourth in the Pacific behind Arizona, Anaheim and Vancouver. It’s also somewhat encouraging that the team’s save or shooting percentage isn’t abnormally high after ten games, something that I think could be perceived looking at the team’s overall record and the roster construction.
|Corsi For%||Fenwick For%||Goals For%||Sh%||Sv%||PDO|
|46.88% (25th)||47.86 (24th)||51.43 (14th)||8.57 (12th)||92.48 (13th)||101.0 (11th)|
What’s worth noting here is that while the Oilers are allowing a 10th ranked rate of 2.11 goals against per hour and rank quite well when it comes to shot attempts against (i.e., Corsi) and unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances against), the Oilers have struggled to score, now ranking 17th in the league with 2.23 goals-for per hour. What’s especially concerning is the team’s inability to generate offence, ranking 30th in the league in shot-attempts against and unblocked shot attempts against per hour.
One of the biggest issues for the Oilers is the lack of production from the depth forwards, those playing predominantly on the third and fourth checking lines. Using McDavid, Draisaitl, Neal, Kassian and Nugent-Hopkins, the top five forwards in terms of overall even-strength ice-time, as a proxy for the top six, I was able to determine using Natural Stat Trick’s line tool what the split has been like between them and the bottom six forwards.
|Metric (5v5)||Top 6||Bottom 6|
Starting with goal-share, the Oilers have seen a significant drop when it comes to the bottom six forwards who have scored only once and allowed seven goals against this season (a goals for percentage of 12.50%). The team’s possession numbers have been very poor with the depth forwards on the ice, with the team posting a 44.36% Corsi For percentage and a 46.70% Fenwick For percentage. This is partly due to the fact that the depth forwards are starting more often in the defensive zone, but that alone shouldn’t be enough to justify the poor on-ice goal and shot-share metrics.
My initial thought when looking at the results of the bottom six was that maybe someone from the top six could be moved on to the third line or perhaps the Oilers could call-up someone from Bakersfield. But what’s interesting here is that it’s not as though the top six forwards are having great, sustainable success. While their goal-scoring rate has been excellent, they are only slightly better than the bottom six when it comes to shot-share metrics and the rate at which they’re generating and allowing shots and scoring chances.
|Oilers (5v5)||Team||Top Six||Bottom Six|
We know the team overall is having issues generating offence, so lets focus on that. As a team, the Oilers rank quite low overall when it comes to generating shot attempts (48.43 Corsi For/60) and unblocked shot attempts (36.04 Fenwick For/60). When the top six forwards have been on the ice, those rates only increase slightly relative to the team with the difference between them and the bottom six being about 4.25 more shot attempts per hour and 2.49 more unblocked shot attempts per hour. Defensively at even-strength, the bottom six has been just fine, allowing a rate of shots and scoring chances close to the overall team rate and being part of the reason why the team overall has had success.
The main takeaway here is that while the bottom six is getting a lot of attention for its lack of production at even-strength, there are also significant issues with the top six that really need to be addressed by management and the coaching staff. Heading into the season, the Oilers were aware of the lack of depth across the roster, and made a number of changes to address the issue. The early signs indicate that it hasn’t been enough, and that in order to compete for a playoff spot, they’ll have to take a closer look at their roster construction, tactics and player deployment and make the necessary changes. The concern now is that management has already bought into their overall results without looking at the underlying metrics, moving forward without regard for statistical variance and focusing solely on the bottom six forwards.
Data: Natural Stat Trick
Also posted at The Copper & Blue.