Nice way to start the 2021/22 regular season.
The Oilers have kicked things off with five straight wins including back-to-back road wins in Arizona and Vegas. Outscoring their opponents 23-13, the Oilers have 10 points in the bank thanks in large part to their special teams. The Oilers powerplay has been outstanding scoring 8 of the team’s 23 goals, while the penalty kill has allowed only two goals and has scored one as well.
Even-strength (5v5) is where the Oilers are just getting by, posting a goal-differential of +1 (11 goals-for, 10 goals-against) and a goal-share of 52.38% – good for 17th in the league. Their 2.78 goals per-hour is 11th best in the league and third in the Pacific, just behind Vegas and San Jose. And their 2.53 goals against is ninth highest in the league – definitely something the coaching staff will need to address.
For context, below is the team’s Corsi For%, which gives us a sense on how often the Oilers have the puck and control the flow of play, along with with Fenwick For% and Expected Goals For% which serve as proxies for scoring chances. These have all been score and venue adjusted according to Natural Stat Trick’s methodology. Should also note that the Expected Goals For% is much higher for now, but it may have to do with the sample size we’re dealing with. I’d expect it to level off in the next few weeks and align closer to the Fenwick For%.
One of the Oilers current issues is their overall team defence at even-strength (5v5) as we’ve seen some pretty sloppy play in their own zone, resulting in extended zone time for opponents and additional shots and scoring chances against. The Oilers are currently allowing the 10th highest rate of shot attempts against in the league, the 6th highest rate of unblocked shot attempts against (i.e., Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances) and the 5th highest rate of actual shots on goal against. If the Oilers coaching staff can figure this issue out and make the necessary tactical and deployment adjustments, I’d expect the Corsi For% and other shot-share metrics to be closer to 52%, and closer to what we see from the top teams in the league,
One player in particular that needs to be a lot better is Tyson Barrie, who currently ranks third among Oilers defencemen in total even-strength (5v5) ice time and average ice time per game. The Oilers spend more time defending and hemmed in their own zone with Barrie on the ice, as his on-ice Corsi For% is currently 42.31%, while his on-ice Fenwick For% is 38.14%. Below are the on-ice numbers for each Oilers defencemen this season ranked by time-on-ice per game play (TOI/GP), with a basic heat map applied to the shot-share metrics and goal-share.
Considering Barrie’s two most common forward linemates so far this season are Draisaitl and McDavid, and that half of his total ice-time is with one of the two superstars, his on-ice numbers should be significantly better. And it’s pretty apparent that he’s a major drag with whoever he’s playing with, including McDavid.
With the two deployed on the ice together this season, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For% of 43.53% – which should be a red flag right away considering how good McDavid is at controlling the flow of play and the fact that no other defenceman has a Corsi For% that low when playing with McDavid (see table below). And when McDavid doesn’t have Barrie on the ice with him, that number jumps to 57.53%.
The actual results (i.e., goals) are also significantly better for McDavid when he’s been away from Barrie as the Oilers have outscored opponents 3-1 when they’re not deployed together. And when they have been deployed together, the Oilers have been outscored (3 goals-for, 4 goals against). It’s a little scary to think how many more points McDavid could have had if he didn’t have to play with Barrie, as they tend to be playing without the puck more often when deployed together. Should also add that we knew about the negative effect of having Barrie on the ice at even-strength last season, but the Oilers chose to overlook it when signing him to a three-year contract.
This also makes me wonder how much better the rest of the roster would be if Barrie was deployed less often.
Below is a breakdown of the Oilers on-ice even-strength (5v5) numbers so far this season with and without McDavid. Definitely a big positive that the Oilers aren’t getting outscored at even-strength (5v5), but I do wonder if their numbers, as well as McDavid’s, could be better if they had better options than Barrie on the blueline. Definitely something to track this season, and we’ll have to see if the coaching staff and management can figure their issues out. The sooner, the better.