One of the key drivers for success in the upcoming playoffs, aside from goaltending, is going to be consistent production from the Oilers depth players at even-strength (5v5). We can expect to see McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins get a regular proportion of ice-time, likely more, and the extra attention from the opposition. And that leaves about 40% of even-strength time that the Oilers depth forwards will have to survive and thrive without them.
This past season, the Oilers as a team were poor at even-strength, posting a goal-share of 47.32%, a -16 goal differential, that ranked them 25th in the league. And it’s well documented how special teams was the key driver for their overall success. Without one of their top three forwards on the ice at even-strength, about 40.1% of the teams total ice time, the Oilers were dreadful posting a goal-share of 38.20%, a -21 goal differential. While the Oilers without their top three forwards did an okay job when it came to the proportion of scoring chances (48.54% Fenwick For% and an expected goal-share of 49.32%), they could not capitalize on their opportunities posting a shooting percentage of 5.67%. The lack of finishing ability outside of their top players, an ongoing problem for a number of years, has to be of concern to the coaching staff and management.
|Edmonton (5v5)||TOI%||CF%||FF%||xGF%||GF%||Goal +/-|
How do the Oilers depth players compare with the Blackhawks depth players? Chicago had a similar issue as the Oilers in that their top three players – Toews, Kane and Kubalik – were the primary drivers of offence with a largely weak roster surrounding them. With one or more of their top three forwards on the ice at even-strength, the Blackhawks posted a goal-share of 52.22%. Without one of the three, they posted a goal-share of 45.05%, a -9 goal differential. We can always expect a team’s results to take a dip without their star players on the ice, but at least the Blackhawks depth wasn’t as poor as the Oilers.
|Chicago (5v5)||TOI%||CF%||FF%||xGF%||GF%||Goal +/-|
What I also found interesting is that over the final twenty five games of the 2019/20 season, the Blackhawks without their top three forwards posted a goal-share of 54.29% at even-strength, a +3 goal differential in about 40% of the team’s total ice time. And those results appear to have been sustainable as the depth players controlled the flow of play, owning 51.52% of the total shot attempts, and doing a respectable job controlling scoring chances as measured by unblocked shot attempts (50.25% Fenwick For%) and an expected goal-share of 49.80%.
|Final 25 (5v5)||CF%||FF%||xGF%||GF%||Goal +/-|
The Oilers without their star players at even-strength over the last twenty give games weren’t nearly as good. They posted a goal-share of 34.48%, a -9 goal differential in about 43% of the team’s total ice time. Finishing chances was obviously a regular problem for the Oilers but it also didn’t help that they could only muster a 48.29% Corsi For percentage, a 47.33% Fenwick For percentage and an expected goal-share of 45.78%. If the Oilers have a weakness heading into this playoff series, it’s their even-strength play, especially with their depth forwards on the ice.
Worth monitoring how the Oilers shape up their bottom two lines ahead of the playoffs, and so far it doesn’t look promising. Early on in training camp, Khaira is getting another look at center with Neal and Chiasson on his wings. While the trio did spend about 34 minutes together at even-strenngth, all of which was in the final twenty give games, and outscored opponents 3-0, their possession numbers were dreadful, posting a Corsi For% of 41.49%. They also lost the scoring chance battle quite badly, posting a Fenwick For% of 38.05% and an expected goal-share of 32.94%. Worth repeating again: Khaira cannot play center on an NHL line unless he has a right-handed linemate who can share the centerman duties with him. The Oilers have tried him as the sole center on a line a number of times and the results have never been good. My analysis from last summer when the Oilers coaching staff was prepping for training camp can be found here: Realistic Solutions – The Copper and Blue (2019, August 2).
Also worth noting that the Blackhawks appear to be distributing their talent across their line combinations with their top three players on their own lines. Kubalik, who I think is the most interesting player on the Blackhawks finishing the season with 30 goals, has started training camp on a third line with Dach and Caggiula. Considering that he finished with more even-strength goals (23) than both Draisaitl (22) and McDavid (21) and posted an expected goal-share of 56.18% in over 300 minutes playing away from Toews and Kane, you can start to see what Chicago’s coaching staff might be trying to exploit. Anything can change at the Blackhawks training camp between now and when the qualifying round starts, but it’s worth monitoring how the coaching staff might deploy their top players against an Oilers team with even-strength issues.
Data: Natural Stat Trick
Also posted at The Copper & Blue.