Line combinations that might help


In an attempt to find balance against a good Dallas team tonight, the Oilers have shuffled their line combinations with McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins each centering their own lines.

On the surface, these line combinations are fine. Ideally, the Oilers have three good lines that can chip in offensively and give opposing teams problems with match-ups. The problem is that the Oilers don’t have enough talent on the wings to be a three-line team, but Tippett seems to expect the top players to carry the load and make the best of their situation.

We’re looking for some balance, just some stability in our line up. I look at those three guys, three of our top players. And we need those players not only to play well themselves, but to drag some people along with them. That’s what good players do, they make other players around them better and we’re hoping that’s the scenario tonight. Source: Edmonton Oilers

It’ll be interesting to see how long the line combinations stick, especially if the Oilers fall behind on the scoreboard early on, something that’s very likely to happen.

While the line combinations aren’t terrible, I don’t think they’ll address the Oilers current issue preventing goals at even-strength (5v5) or their inability to out-shoot and out-chance opponents. Over their last ten games, the Oilers have been outscored 13-30, a goal-share of 30.23%  – second worst only to the Red Wings. Their even-strength issues, I should note, is not a recent trend as they’re now fourth worst in the league over the entire season in terms of goal-share, ahead of only New Jersey, San Jose and Detroit.

And when it comes to shot-based metrics, the Oilers have seen their numbers decline over the course of the season (as noted in my last post). Taking the full season into account, the Oilers rank in the bottom third of the league when it comes to Corsi For%, Fenwick For% and Expected Goals For%.

20191213 - Shot share at 5v5

Over the last ten games, the Oilers have posted the following:

  • Corsi For% – 45.41% (29th)
  • Fenwick For% – 46.02% (29th)
  • Expected Goals For% – 43.50% (30th)

The somewhat good news is that there may be a way to address these underlying issues and help improve the goal-share leveraging the existing roster of players. These potential  line combinations won’t carry the Oilers to a championship, but can at least help stop the bleeding. Especially when it comes to their rate of expected goals against, which ranks 23rd in the league with 2.34, and is getting worse. And it’s based on line combinations that have been tried before this season and posted good shot-share percentages, but maybe didn’t get the results desired by the coaching staff

Below are the line combinations, including each trios time spent together at even-strength this season, along with their shot-share metrics (score adjusted) and actual results as captured by their goals-for percentage. More details can be provided in the appendix. Starting off with the top six.

5v5 TOI CF% FF% xGF% GF%
Draisaitl-McDavid-Kassian 399.25 47.66 46.51 47.93 57.40
Neal-RNH-Chiasson 103.47 59.38 58.41 60.79 50.00

The top line is one where the underlying numbers have been poor all season for the trio, but the results have been very good. Ideally their possession metrics and expected goal-share is even higher, giving us some assurances that the results are sustainable. For now, we can assume their results will likely slip, but there’s that McDavid factor to take into account.

The second combination, featuring Nugent-Hopkins, Neal and Chiasson had results that were a little surprising. While the goal-share has broken even (4 GF, 4 GA), their possession numbers as captured by their Corsi For% of 59.38% has been excellent. What’s interesting is that it was their on-ice save percentage that pulled down their goal-share, as their expected rate of goals-for (2.38) was very close to their actual rate of goals (2.32). The only caveat with this line is that they did see a higher share of offensive zone face-offs, which might be fine considering the next two line combinations spent more time starting in their own zone.

5v5 TOI CF% FF% xGF% GF%
Khaira-Sheahan-Archibald 90.08 54.19 52.22 48.26 26.23
Granlund-Haas-Russell 64.75 59.36 62.25 64.94 50.00

These results were surprising to me. In just under 100 minutes at even-strength, the combination of Khaira, Sheahan and Archibald posted a Corsi For percentage of 54%. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to convert their time with the puck into actual scoring chances as measured by expected goals, but it was still impressive considering how often Sheahan starts in his own zone. I wouldn’t trust this line to be a shut down line, but they should be able to match-up well against the other team’s bottom six and prevent bad things from happening.

The last line is the one I’m really curious about in a larger role. The trio has only played an hour together at even-strength, but they’ve been quite effective supporting the puck and just being in good spots at both ends of the rink. I assumed their Corsi For% and expected goal-share would have been fine, maybe around break even. Just didn’t think it would be above 55%.

What I especially like about the bottom six here is that the team has two players who have played center on each line that can split centermen duties depending on what side and what end of the ice they’re on. It was interesting to hear Tippett address faceoffs in his media availability when asked about Haas and Sheahan on a line together tonight.

Those two will flip back and forth depending on where the draw is, left side or right side. So they’ll both get a little bit of a look that way. Both are smart players, they can adapt to the other.

I’ve actually done a bunch of that stuff before way back to some world championships with a lot of players where centermen if you got a right side guy and a left side guy on a line it really gives you an advantage to your percentages in your own end especially. That’s the thinking behind there. Source: Edmonton Oilers

Going to back to an earlier point about chances for and against, over the last ten games the Oilers have posted an expected goals for percentage of 43.50% (30th in the league), generating 1.98 expected goals per hour, and allowing 2.57 expected goals per hour. Keep in mind, league average rates over the last three seasons is 2.25 for both metrics so the Oilers are very far from reasonable rates.

Below are how the proposed line combinations have done in their time together this season at even-strength when it comes to the rate of expected goals.

5v5 xGoals For/60 xGoals Against/60 xGF%
Draisaitl-McDavid-Kassian 2.72 2.96 47.93
Neal-RNH-Chiasson 2.43 1.57 60.79
Khaira-Sheahan-Archibald 1.87 2.00 48.26
Granlund-Haas-Russell 2.82 1.52 64.94

All four line combinations have posted an expected goals-for share above their teams recent share. Three of the four line combinations have posted an expected goals-for per hour rate above what the Oilers have posted recently and closer to league average rates. And three of the four lines post an expected goals against rate below what the Oilers have recently posted and league average rates.

Again – these potential line combinations won’t win championships, but they have results this season that indicate that they can help the Oilers improve their chances of outscoring opponents today. The team is still in need of talent up front and could use more speed and finishing skill. Those issues aren’t likely to be addressed anytime soon, and it doesn’t appear that the young prospects will get a look either. But for now, the Oilers can use their present roster to help improve their share of shots and chances and bring their underlying numbers back to respectable levels. They’ll need any edge they can find to hold on to a playoff spot.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Appendix 1: Line combinations details

5v5 TOI CF% FF% xGF% GF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone FO%
Draisaitl-McDavid-Kassian 399.25 47.66 46.51 47.93 57.40 13.03 91.97 1.050 50.38
Neal-RNH-Chiasson 103.47 59.38 58.41 60.79 50.00 6.95 90.23 0.972 63.93
Khaira-Sheahan-Archibald 90.08 54.19 52.22 48.26 26.23 4.67 85.30 0.900 33.33
Granlund-Haas-Russell 64.75 59.36 62.25 64.94 50.00 6.69 90.72 0.974 43.33


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