Connor McDavid nets game winner, leads Edmonton Oilers to victory over  Calgary Flames -

The Oilers are in a great spot right now, sitting third in the North division with a points percentage of 0.625% after 40 games. Thanks to the Flames absolutely crashing and burning over the last few weeks, and with the Jets and Canadiens being pretty mediocre recently, the Oilers are a near lock for a playoff spot.

Now while the overall results have been excellent, their play at even-strength (5v5) hasn’t been great. And it’s these current numbers that the Oilers front office should probably be aware of heading into the trade deadline and the playoffs.

RecordCorsi For%Fenwick For%Expected Goals For%Goals For%Sh%Sv%PDO

Starting with goal-share, the Oilers have outscored opponents 86-83 at even-strength so far this season, which translates to a goal-share of 50.89%. They’re scoring at an elite level, generating 2.65 goals per hour, ranking ninth in the league and third in their division. The problem is that they’re giving it all back, allowing the tenth highest rate of goals against in the league – 2.56 per hour – which is just barely better than Calgary and Vancouver.

It’s the last ten games that have probably been the most concerning. They’ve been outscored 21-23, a goal-share of 47.73%, doing just fine generating goals (2.53 per hour), but struggling to keep the puck out of the net, allowing 2.63 goals per hour. One issue is that the goaltending has been below average, posting a team save percentage of 90.84%. The other problem is that the Oilers are spending a lot of time without the puck at even-strength and regularly getting outchanced. Over the last ten games, they’ve posted a score-adjusted Corsi For% of 45.62%, a Fenwick For% of 45.37% and an Expected Goals For% of 45.71%.

Over the course of the season, the Oilers were trending well, posting a ten-game stretch where they controlled over 52.0% of the total shot attempts (score adjusted) – a level that top end teams with points percentages above 0.600 typically finish a season with. But things have gone downhill for the Oilers recently, largely due to their offence drying up. At one point, they had a stretch of ten games where they were generating 56.75 shot attempts per hour, which is nothing great and closer to league average levels. But that rate has dropped by 28% over the last ten games, with the Oilers generating only 44.33 shot attempts per hour. For context, that’s worse than what Detroit and Buffalo have mustered over the season. Whether it’s the offensive rate of shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, expected goals – the Oilers rank either 30th or 31st when looking at the last ten games for every team.

One issue that’s returned again is the performance of the depth forwards. There were signs that things were turning around as the team improved their shot-share and goal-share numbers without their star players on the ice, but it seems things have gone south again. Over the last ten games, without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice at even-strength, the Oilers have been outscored 5-10 (a goal share of 33.33%). And it’s largely due to spending the majority of the time without the puck and getting outchanced as reflected by a Corsi For% of 38.93%, a Fenwick For% of 40.37% and an Expected Goals For% of 37.82%. Similar to the team-level numbers, the Oilers depth players are okay defensively. But they struggle to generate much offensively, and it appears things have become worse.

Something worth digging into if you’re the Oilers are the defence pairings and how they could be adjusted to improve the team’s overall offence, especially with those that are counted on to provide offence. Nurse in particular is having a great year, playing predominantly with McDavid, but I’m starting to wonder if all of the ice-time is starting to catch up to him. He’s played the second highest numbers of minutes in the league among defencemen, averaging 25:44 per game, which is the fourth highest. and two minutes more than his career averages. In his first 30 games of the season, Nurse was posting an on-ice Corsi For% of 52.72% (score-adjusted), but over the last ten games, he’s posted an on-ice Corsi For% of 46.68%. Barrie as well has seen his numbers slide over the course of the season. His on-ice Corsi For% has dropped from 50.17% to 45.09% – hardly numbers you would expect from an offensive defenceman who also gets a lot of the cherry minutes with McDavid.

PlayerCorsi For% (Games 1-30)Corsi For% (Games 31-40)Difference
Ethan Bear52.9355.222.29
Kris Russell47.1446.25-0.89
Caleb Jones51.0749.77-1.30
Tyson Barrie50.1745.09-5.08
Darnell Nurse52.7246.68-6.04
Adam Larsson46.7039.82-6.88
William Lagesson47.0530.76-16.29

At this point, I think it’s obvious that the Nurse-Barrie partnership needs to end. Over the full season, the two have had excellent results together, posting a goal-share above 60.0%, again due in large part of having McDavid or Draisaitl with them for the majority of their ice-time. But their on-ice shot-share numbers have been fairly mediocre with a Corsi For% of 50.39% and an Expected Goals For% of 47.91%. What’s interesting is that Nurse’s on-ice shot share numbers improve quite a bit when he’s played without Barrie and the team still has positive results with a goal-share above 52%.

Oilers (5v5) – 40 gamesTOICF%FF%xGF%GF%
Nurse + Barrie49750.3948.7347.9160.05
Nurse, no Barrie33552.6052.5056.7352.60
Barrie, no Nurse19445.6745.2948.1425.17

Barrie on the other hand struggles mightily without Nurse (45.67% Corsi For% and a Goals For% of 25.17%). And it’s been even worse over the last ten games with Barrie appearing to be a negative influence on Nurse’s performance.

Oilers (5v5) – Last 10TOICF%FF%xGF%GF%
Nurse + Barrie15644.8641.0136.0362.54
Nurse, no Barrie6450.9652.3358.4351.33
Barrie, no Nurse1048.1650.2470.760.00

The two together over the last ten games have seen their Corsi For% drop down to 44.86%, while their share of Expected Goals For% is down to 36.03%. Again it’s on the offensive side of things, as the Oilers are generating less than 48 shot attempts per hour with them on the ice, and that’s playing predominantly with McDavid or Draisaitl. Keep in mind, 80% of their total ice time is with one or both of these guys. In roughly 27 minutes playing with depth players over the last ten, Nurse and Barrie have shot-share numbers under 20%, which is incredible considering their reputations of being offensive drivers this season.

The team’s overall results are masking these underlying issues. And I can’t imagine the team continuing to have success if their top pairing is posting numbers like this. With the Oilers accumulating points, now might be the time to replace Barrie with Bear on the top line, with the expectation that he and Nurse can find that chemistry they had last season when they regularly played against top lines. Bear is already seeing a higher proportion of his total ice time against elite competition increase this season (refer to Appendix A). The Oilers also have young Bouchard on the active roster, and you have to wonder how the Oilers expect to evaluate him at the NHL level and know what his value is if he’s not getting ice-time. And Barrie might actually benefit from fewer minutes, recover from any injuries he’s dealing with, and be rested for a playoff run.

Whatever adjustments the Oilers make, it should probably be done sooner rather than later so they know what they have for the post-season and heading into what should be an important off-season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Puck IQ

Appendix A: Edmonton Oilers 2020/21, Defencemen TOI% against elite competition (PuckIQ)

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