Shots against at even-strength and the penalty kill


Couple interesting trends from the first few weeks that are worth following throughout the season are the rates of shots against both at even-strength (5v5) and the penalty kill. The coaching staff has repeatedly emphasized the importance of bringing down the goals against  this season – obviously seeing what the results were the last few years – with shots, scoring chances and of course goaltending being significant factors in the final outcome.

As of now, the team does appear to have things on track as the team has allowed a rate of 2.32 goals against per hour (all situations), good for fifth in the league. Below is a breakdown of the results at even-strength (5v5) and the penalty kill, including Corsi (i.e., shot attempts) and Fenwick (i.e., unblocked shot attempts as a proxy for scoring chances) and shots on goal. For context, I’ve also included the team save percentage for each of the game-states and how the Oilers rank league-wide for each metric.

Metric Even-strength (5v5) Penalty Kill
TOI (mins) 535 63
Corsi against/60 54.81 (15th) 110.62 (28th)
Fenwick against/60 39.29 (6th) 89.64 (28th)
Shots against/60 28.06 (6th) 65.8 (28th)
Team save% 92.40 (19th) 92.75 (4th)
Goals against/60 2.13 (9th) 4.77 (6th)

What’s interesting here is that while the goals against rate have been excellent, the team’s underlying metrics that are being used to measure defensive prowess are quite different between even-strength play and shorthanded situations.

At even-strength, the Oilers are allowing a league-average rate of shot attempts against, but when it comes to attempts that become real chances, the Oilers rank quite well at sixth overall. Goaltending as measured by team save percentage has been just fine, hovering around the 92% mark, which is what the league average has been over the last three seasons. This gives us some assurances that the results (i.e., goals against per hour) is real and sustainable, and the Oilers should be fine as long as the goaltending holds up. What the coaching staff may need to do is figure out how to capitalize on their ability to shut down offence against and do a better job transitioning puck up-ice to generate their own offence (something that remains a significant issue).

Moving on to the penalty kill, the results, similar to even-strength situations, have been excellent, with the Oilers ranking sixth in the league in terms of goals against per hour with 4.77. However, the driving factor in their success has been the goaltending and only the goaltending, which ranks near the top of the league with a 92.75% save percentage.  The rate of shot attempts and scoring chances against are one of the worst in the league, with the team doing very little to help out their goaltender.

Worth noting that the Oilers current team save percentage of 92.75% will likely drop, as the highest team save percentage on the penalty kill over the last five seasons has never topped 90%. And we also know that offence has gradually been increasing league-wide as more teams are leveraging their powerplay opportunities. Knowing what we know about the Oilers goaltenders and the fact that they’re doing fine at even-strength, I think it’s fair to expect from them league-average goaltending which has typically been around 87%.

What’s interesting to me is the difference in shots and scoring chances against when comparing even-strength play and the penalty kill. The hope is that the team would hover around league average rates against in both game-states, but there’s currently a major drop-off when the Oilers are shorthanded. Definitely something I’d want to ask the coach about.

Early days obviously, but it’s interesting to see which forwards and defencemen are getting ice time and seeing the lowest (and highest) rates of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) against. Below are the forwards who have played at least nine minutes shorthanded sorted by Fenwick-against per hour (FA/60). Note that the average team rate of Fenwick against per hour has been around 75.0 over the last three seasons.

Player GP TOI TOI/GP FA/60
Patrick Russell 8 9.43 1.18 57.24
Jujhar Khaira 11 17.68 1.61 78.04
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 11 18.23 1.66 78.98
Riley Sheahan 9 20.00 2.22 84.00
Josh Archibald 8 18.08 2.26 86.27
Leon Draisaitl 11 16.82 1.53 132.01
Markus Granlund 10 13.83 1.38 134.46

The bottom six forwards are taking heat for their lack of production at even-strength, but are getting praised for the team’s penalty kill results. But hopefully the coaching staff is aware of how poorly they’ve been doing at limiting shots shorthanded, especially Granlund who has a bit of a sketchy history killing penalties. Then again, the Oilers current coaching staff itself has a poor track record on the penalty kill, so who knows.

And below are the defenceman who have played at least five minutes.

Player GP TOI TOI/GP FA/60
Matthew Benning 11 6.50 0.59 64.62
Ethan Bear 11 16.63 1.51 79.36
Darnell Nurse 11 22.90 2.08 91.70
Oscar Klefbom 11 37.32 3.39 96.47
Kris Russell 11 34.43 3.13 97.58

It sure would be nice if one of the third pairing defenceman, someone like Manning or Benning (and down the road, Lagesson) could log some more time on the penalty kill. I think ideally the team would have Klefbom spending more of his energy at even-strength where the Oilers are struggling to generate offence. And I can’t say I’m surprised to see (a) Russell get a lot of ice time shorthanded and (b) Russell struggle when it comes to shots against. It’s been an ongoing trend for quite some time, so hopefully we’ll see some changes to his deployment.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, HockeyViz

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