Addressing the goaltending

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The Edmonton Oilers are in an interesting position heading into the trade deadline and a competitive playoff race. Their recent success has them first in the Pacific division with a 0.593 points percentage and eleventh in the league. Since January 1st, the Oilers have out-scored opponents 65-48 and ranked ninth in the league with a 53.25% goal-share at even-strength. A big reason for their improved goal-share has been their ability to control the flow of play and spending more time in the offensive zone, posting a score-adjusted Corsi For% (i.e., a proxy for possession) of 51.22% and a Fenwick For% (a proxy for scoring chances) of 51.37%.

A playoff spot is looking more and more likely based on the overall results and the underlying shot-metrics, and will require the team to continue their strong play and  overcome the significant loss of key players. The question management faces now is whether or not they should look to adjust the roster to not only remain competitive in the playoff race but to also make a deep playoff run if they do in fact qualify.

There are plenty of areas on the roster to upgrade and management has to make some very shrewd decisions to build a roster for today and for next season. Draft picks and prospects are a significant part of developing a sustainable, championship contender and the Oilers have benefited from a nice influx of young talent over the last six months. It’s critical that management gets their decision-making right this upcoming trade deadline, especially when it comes to asset management, and properly assess where the true needs are.

And while a strong case can be made for adding skill to the top six forwards group to help with scoring at even-strength, it’s the Oilers goaltending that hasn’t received as much attention as it should and may be driving the need for scoring up front.

The Oilers currently rank 27th in the league when it comes to even-strength (5v5) save percentage with 90.87% – allowing 133 goals off of 1,456 shots against – and only ahead of New Jersey, Florida, Detroit and San Jose. Among 48 goaltenders who have played at least 1,000 minutes at even-strength this season, Mikko Koskinen ranks 29th with 91.50% save percentage, while Mike Smith ranks 46th with 90.10%.

The Oilers team save percentage has been below league-average levels all season, which is unfortunate considering the Oilers have done fine defensively posting just below league average rates of shots against. Note that 92.00% is the league average team save percentage at even-strength over the past three seasons and is represented by the orange line.

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A team save percentage of 90.87% doesn’t seem so bad relative to the league wide average of 92.00 – that’s only a difference of 1.13. But if you factor in the actual number and rates of shots against, the goaltending is costing the team a lot of goals and potential wins in the standings.

Based on some quick math, if the Oilers received league average goaltending (92.00%) from Smith and Koskinen at even-strength and allowed the same number of shots-on-goal against (1,456), they would have allowed approximately 116 goals – 17 goals fewer than their actual number. Instead of posting a 46.59% even-strength goal-share ( 116 goals-for, 133 goals-against), the Oilers would be up to 50.00%. And instead of a +7 overall goal-differential, league average goaltending would have them closer to the top five teams in the league. This is all hypothetical of course, but it does emphasize the point that goaltending has been a drag on the overall results this season.

Where the goaltending has driven positive results is on the penalty kill, which ranks second in the league allowing 5.18 goals against per hour despite allowing the tenth highest rate of unblocked shot attempts against in the league. The Oilers team save percentage of 90.55% ranks second in the league, having allowed 26 goals off of 275 shots against. Using the same process as above, if the Oilers goaltending posted a league average team save percentage (86.34%) and allowed the same number of shots against, the Oilers would have allowed 38 goals – 12 more than their actual number and closer to league average rates of goals against on the penalty kill. The good news for the Oilers is that teams typically play the same proportion of total ice time on the penalty kill in the post-season as they do in the regular season (Source: Hockey Graphs). Over the last three seasons, teams play 8.20% of their total ice time on the penalty kill in the regular season. And in the playoffs, they play about 8.52% of their ice time on the penalty kill.

Having said that, it’s critical that the team get league average goaltending from their netminders at even-strength when over 80% of the game is played, especially for this playoff race which is expected to come down to the wire. It would be shortsighted to assume the Oilers have a goal-scoring issue based on the team’s goal-share at even-strength and give up significant assets at the trade deadline when when really the team is having bigger issues at the goaltending position. It’ll also be interesting to see what the Oilers do this off-season with their netminding and if they recognize what their actual deficiencies were in 2019/20.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Related:

Appendix: Oilers rate of shots against, 2019/20

Shot attempts against Unblocked shot attempts against Shots on goal against Scoring chances against
57.01 42.07 30.54 48.09
20th 19th 17th 21st

 

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