One of the key drivers for the Oilers success in the last month has been their ability to create more offence at even-strength (5v5) than they’ve allowed. In their first ten games of 2020, the Oilers have posted a Fenwick For% (i.e., their total share of unblocked shot attempts for and against) of 52.96% – which has them in the top ten league-wide. Prior to January, they had posted a Fenwick For% of 48.18%, ranking 23rd in the league.
There’s definitely been a gradual uptick in the Oilers ability to control the total share of scoring chances, especially over the last month. Below is a graph showing the Oilers share of unblocked shot attempts over rolling twenty-five game segments this season.
The Oilers started off okay, but they’ve been poor at out-chancing opponents pretty much all season. The team still hasn’t posted a Fenwick For% above 50% over a twenty-five game segment, but it appears they’re on the right path and should clear the break-even mark soon if they continue to play well. If the Oilers have any hope of having a positive goal-differential at even-strength, they’ll need to have the puck more frequently and be playing in the offensive zone as much as possible.
Based on the recent spike in Fenwick For%, I suspect that the integration of mobile talent like Caleb Jones on the back-end, along with speed and skill up front in Kailer Yamamoto has had the desired impact expected by management and the coaching staff. But it also sounds like the coaching staff made some tactical changes coming out of Christmas break that’s been driving their offensive success.
Following the Oilers win against the Flames in Calgary, defenceman Ethan Bear was asked why the team has been playing well since the end of December. Bear has been excellent this season, playing significant minutes on the top pairing with Nurse and adding mobility and skill to a roster that was in desperate need of it. Bear’s response included the typical player comment about how the team was sticking together and all that good stuff, but he also added this tidbit about where he felt the offensive output was coming from.
“Letting our offence come from defence. Helping each other out in the backend. And getting those short-share passes. And everyone is working into position.” – Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear (Source)
Oilers forward Gaetan Haas, who has carved out a nice role for himself as a depth centerman, made a similar comment prior to the game against the Coyotes in Arizona when asked about the Oilers recent success.
“For sure the mindset changed after that game around Christmas. We wanted to do the right things well, and we’re starting to play smarter and easier trying to go out of the d-zone as fast as we can.” – Oilers forward Gaetan Haas (Source)
Whatever changes the Oilers coaching staff made after the Christmas break to the defensive zone structure and breakouts at even-strength are clearly working with the Oilers posting a Fenwick For% above 52%.
What I’m curious to see is if the Oilers believe in these tactical changes and adjust their approach to the trade deadline accordingly. The changes have made an impact on the team’s ability to generate scoring chances and the results (i.e., goal-share, goal differentials) have been outstanding. The question now is if the Oilers choose to keep the roster as-is or if they do target, say, a third-line center
As I noted in my previous post, all four lines have some positive things to highlight from this recent stretch. The top two lines did really well in terms of goal-share, as well as Haas’ line. There are percentages to be mindful of as Draisaitl’s line can probably expect to see their goal-share decline as their on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage come back down to earth. In terms of shot-shares, the top two lines have been great and doing so against top end competition. Sheahan’s line might not be doing well in terms of possession, but they’re putting up some decent scoring chance percentages. Haas has also done well with the new system changes, posting a Corsi For% just below break-even.
If the team believes the tactical changes are sustainable and they believe in the results they’ve posted since the Christmas break, it might be in their best interest to stick with what they have. Instead, the Oilers should focus on adding elsewhere, perhaps even the top six where McDavid could sure use some speed and skill to play with.
Another option would be to focus on moving out expiring contracts or players that may not have a future with the Oilers. Perhaps someone like Kris Russell who is the seventh best defenceman on the roster at this point. He’s also posted a Fenwick For% and Goals For% well below 50% over the last ten games, while the rest of the defenceman done a lot better since the system changes were made.
Considering that this was a transition year and that there are glaring holes emerging in the forward prospects chart and elsewhere on the active roster, it’s critical that the Oilers hold on to as many assets as possible, especially draft picks. There appears to be a good program in place at the AHL level, and the Oilers will need a continuous flow of talent and skill on value deals to help ensure long-term success. .
Data: Natural Stat Trick
Appendix A: Edmonton Oilers (2019/20) – Cumulative goal-differential (5v5)