The Oilers have been outstanding in the month of January having gone 7-1-2 over the ten games, outscoring opponents 45-27. Their overall goal-differential is now at +8, and has them second in the Pacific division behind Vancouver (+18 goal-differential). The Oilers are currently three points out of first and three points ahead of the second wild card spot currently held by Arizona.
|2020-01-02||Oilers 2, Sabres 3|
|2020-01-04||Oilers 4, Bruins 1|
|2020-01-06||Oilers 6, Maple Leafs 4|
|2020-01-09||Oilers 4, Canadiens 2|
|2020-01-11||Oilers 3, Flames 4|
|2020-01-14||Predators 2, Oilers 4|
|2020-01-18||Coyotes 3, Oilers 7|
|2020-01-29||Flames 4, Oilers 3|
|2020-01-31||Blues 2, Oilers 4|
|2020-02-01||Oilers 8, Flames 3|
So what’s been driving their results over these ten games in January?
- The Oilers are averaging over four goals per game, running at a team shooting percentage of 13.93%. To put that into context, teams have averaged a shooting percentage of 9.22% over the previous three seasons.
- At even-strength (5v5), the Oilers are playing a lot more often with the puck, controlling 53.16% of the total shot attempts for and against (i.e., Corsi For%). In the 42 games prior to this month, the Oilers had posted a Corsi For% of 47.25%, one of the worst shot-shares in the league.
- The Oilers are also getting a higher share of the scoring chances at even-strength, which uses unblocked shot attempts for and against as a proxy (i.e., Fenwick For%). Prior to January, the Oilers had posted a Fenwick For% of 48.18%, ranking 23rd in the league. Over the last ten, they’ve controlled 52.96% of the scoring chances, ninth best in the league.
- The Oilers are getting plenty of secondary offence, as the second line featuring Nugent-Hopkins, Yamamoto and Draisaitl has been on fire outscoring opponents 13-2 at even-strength in 126 minutes together. They’ve also posted a Corsi For% of 54.95% and a Fenwick For% of 55.68%. They’re not likely to maintain a 86.67% goal-share the rest of the season due in large part to a 113 PDO. But the results should continue being positive as they’re spending a lot of time with the puck and generating chances.
That’s all well and good, but it’s also worth noting there are some issues that are being masked by the overall success in January. If you’re running a team in a league that encounters a lot of randomness and you’re making decisions worth millions of dollars every day, you have to be applying a critical lens as often as possible. Especially with the trade deadline coming up and a potential playoff berth – and not to mention the long-term goal of being a sustainable contender – it’s even more critical to determine your strengths and weaknesses as you go about making decisions that are hopefully geared towards winning.
With that out of the way…
The first issue that’s a little troubling is the Oilers goaltending which has been mediocre pretty much all season long. In the month of January, the tandem of Smith and Koskinen have posted a team save percentage of 91.53% at even-strength, which only ranks 21st in the league but has actually been their best stretch this season. Prior to January, the duo posted a save percentage of 90.64%, which ranked them 27th in the league. League average at even-strength over the last three seasons has been 92.17%. Where the duo has been solid is on the penalty kill, where over the course of the season, they’ve posted a save percentage of 89.58% – second best in the league.
That leads to my next point.
The Oilers special teams have been solid all season, with the powerplay and penalty kill ranking top three league-wide. What’s interesting is that over the last ten games, the powerplay is generating just over 9.00 goals per hour – which is a goal below their scoring rate all season – but have struggled generating chances with the man-advantage ranking bottom ten league-wide with just over 60.0 unblocked shot attempts per hour. Definitely something worth monitoring.
On the penalty kill, the Oilers have slipped a bit in their last ten as well, having allowed over seven goals per hour, which is a couple goals below their season-long rate and are now closer to league average rates. They’ve been struggling with limiting chances against all season, and I think it was only a matter of time before the goaltending started to falter. Not the end of the world, but I’d be curious to know if the system changes they’ve made at even-strength are impacting their special teams play. And if so, what the coaching staff and potentially management might be able to do about it to mitigate any risks. The last thing the Oilers should be doing is re-signing guys like Sheahan and Archibald to long-term deals solely for their penalty kill results, as a lot of it has been driven by goaltending.
The other area that might be of interest is how well the group of forwards has done in the last ten games. Using the most common centermen as proxies, below are the on-ice results for each line. Note that for the data below, I ensured that the centers did not have any of the other three with them on the ice. Adding each player’s individual ice time together (again, away from the other centers), I was able to capture 95% of the team’s total ice time at even-strength.
As mentioned earlier, Draisaitl and his linemates have been outstanding, posting excellent shot-share numbers and giving us confidence in their ability to continue generating offence. And based on the data at PuckIQ (small sample size alert), among Oilers centers over the last ten games, Draisaitl is playing the second highest proportion of ice time against the opposing team’s top players, only behind RNH. And Haas, kinda surprisingly, isn’t that far behind. Haas has also posted some nice numbers for a fourth liner playing tougher minutes, with a 57.14 goal-share and a 49.0% share of shot attempts in the last ten games. Would be nice to see his on-ice proportion of scoring chances improve, but maybe that happens with more skill on his line. Sheahan has played the lowest proportion of ice time against elite players, and his on-ice numbers are also being dragged down by Khaira who has been playing poorly all-season. If the Oilers choose to break-in a prospect forward like Benson in the near-future, getting early reps with Sheahan might be a good idea. More on Benson in a second.
|Line||TOI||Goals For||Goals Against||GF/60||GA/60|
What really stands out to me are McDavid’s on-ice numbers over the last ten games, which have been excellent, but I’m wondering what better linemates could do for him offensively. Kassian has only posted a goal and an assist in this recent stretch, while Neal only has two assists, both of which were secondary assists. Defensively, McDavid and his linemates have been fine allowing a rate of shots and scoring chances against similar to the rest of the team. Goaltending, a weakness noted above, appears to be a factor in their rate of goals against per hour. And as I noted in a recent post, McDavid’s goal-share over the season has been great, but it’s not as good as the goal-shares being posted by other star players within the Pacific division. Depending on how well Benson can adjust to NHL play, he should eventually get some reps on the top line to see if he can add an element that might be missing. The Oilers do need to figure out as early as possible what they have in Benson at the NHL level, not only to potentially sign him to a value deal but to also start focusing on re-stocking the prospect pool this coming off-season.
A lot of things to consider heading into the deadline and into a very important off-season, especially when it comes to optimizing the roster and those on entry-level deals. Goaltending, special teams, production from the top lines and the prospect pool are hopefully getting attention from the Oilers management and coaching staff. This season has so far gone a lot better than I expected, and hopefully the long-terms goals haven’t been lost in the recent success. If anything, due to the emergence of young talent like Bear, Jones and Yamamoto, the team can re-calibrate their short-terms goals and continue focusing on building a sustainable winner.