Tracking the Western conference – As of February 28, 2022

With playoff positioning on the line and the trade deadline coming up in three weeks, it’s a good time to compare the Edmonton Oilers to the rest of the Western conference.

After 53 games, the Oilers have a 0.575 points percentage (with a record of 29-21-3), which ranks fourth in the Pacific, ninth in the Western conference and just outside of a wild card playoff spot. The good news is that things have been trending upwards for the Oilers since Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson replaced Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair, but there remains some areas of concern that could derail the Oilers playoff push.

Below is a table of the western conference teams sorted by their points percentage as of February 28th, 2022. I’ve included each team’s even-strength (5v5) results as reflected by goals for percentage (GF%) and goal differential, as well as the underlying shot-share metrics such as Corsi For% to measure how well the Oilers as a team control the flow of play, as well as Fenwick For% and Expected Goals For% to gauge how well they control the overall share of scoring chances. Team shooting percentage and team save percentage has also been included to capture the player-driven factors that may be impacting the overall results. A glossary can be found at the end of this article.

I’ve also included each team’s special teams results, combining the goals for and against on the powerplay and penalty kill (Goals +/-). The shot differential (Shots +/-) gives us a sense of which teams are doing the right things tactically and process-wise, but may be getting sunk by a lack of finishing ability on the powerplay or poor goaltending on the penalty kill.

The good news for the Oilers is that they’ve been playing much better at even-strength (5v5) since Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson replaced Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair, with the team posting a 55.85% Corsi For percentage, a 55.84% Expected Goals For percentage and a +9 goal differential in their first nine games behind the bench. It’s early, but so far the Oilers are generating about two more shots per hour and allowing four fewer shots per hour at even-strength since the coaching change.

Over the course of the regular season, the Oilers have been gradually improving when it comes to shot-share metrics at 5v5 hovering around the break-even 50% mark, but there’s been a definite uptick recently as indicated in the graph below. Breaking the season into into rolling 25-game sections, we see that the Oilers are now hovering around the 54% mark, which is where the top contenders hover over the course of a full season.

What stands out here is that while the Oilers did post a Corsi For% of 52% at the time of Tippett’s firing, the team barely broke even in terms of Expected Goals For%, indicating that while they were generating more shot attempts than their opponents, they couldn’t convert those into quality chances. Likely because those shot attempts were coming from low-probability scoring areas. Under Woodcroft, the team is not only possessing the puck more often as indicated by their 55.85% Corsi For percentage, but they’re also creating better scoring opportunities for themselves more often. Something worth monitoring to see if the Oilers can maintain this kind of productivity, and if management recognizes the impact the coaching change has had on the team.

The concern with Edmonton remains goaltending, which ranks 14th in the western conference in terms of save percentage (91.31) at even-strength – only ahead of Arizona and Seattle. The team is playing so much better up front, it would be a shame if goaltending is what costs them a playoff spot or a deep playoff run. The problem, as I’ve written about a few too many times now, is that the Oilers current management group under Ken Holland (a) doesn’t know how to properly evaluate goaltending, and (b) doesn’t have the assets, creativity and salary-cap management skills to solve their short-term and long-term problems in net.

And with special teams, the Oilers are no longer anything special – again thanks to their goaltending. The powerplay is still generating the second highest rate of goals in the league, scoring 10.14 goals per hour, and continue to generate the highest rate of shots. But the penalty kill is allowing the sixth highest rate of goals against (8.70), pretty much giving back everything the powerplay has created. And despite allowing an average rate of shots against, the Oilers team save percentage on the penalty kill ranks 25th in the league and 13th in the western conference, just ahead of Los Angeles, Dallas and Vancouver.

Put another way: if the Oilers received league-average goaltending, they would have allowed seven fewer goals at even-strength (5v5) and four fewer goals on the penalty kill. Stopping 11 goals would have the Oilers higher up in the standings, closer to second place in their division, rather than on the wild card bubble.

When comparing the Oilers full regular season to the rest of the western conference, it’s clear that they’re in the mushy middle – not quite good enough to be cup contenders but also not bad enough to be a draft-lottery team. But when looking at which way the Oilers are trending with a new head coach, it does make you wonder where the team could have been at this point had they made the coaching change right after they were swept by the Jets in the 2021 playoffs. And if they could have avoided some of the poor signings and trades they made in the following off-season – many of which appear to have been influenced by the previous coaching staff.

For now, the Oilers are in a tight playoff race with teams that have their own strengths and weaknesses. Vegas for instance has great shot-share numbers at even-strength, but the goaltending has been poor, just barely better than Edmonton’s. Los Angeles is similar to Vegas at even-strength, but their special teams are weak. Dallas has average shot-share numbers at even-strength, but are getting good goaltending and producing well on the powerplay. Nashville is similar to Dallas in terms of even-strength play, but have the fifth best team save percentage. It’s clear that the margin for error is pretty thin, which should make for a pretty entertaining playoff race. It’s just unfortunate that we’re having to talk about wild-card positioning at this point rather than a divison title.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Glossary:

  • Points-percentage (Point%) – The total points accumulated divided by the points that were available, including extra time.
  • Corsi For percentage (CF%) – The proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Corsi For/(Corsi For + Corsi Against). This is used as a proxy for possession and is the best at predicting a team’s future share of goals (GF%). (Source: Hockey Great Tapes – Draglikepull)
  • Fenwick For percentage (FF%) – The proportion of all the unblocked shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Fenwick For/(Fenwick For + Fenwick Against). This is used as a proxy for shot quality and considers shot blocking a repeatable skill.
  • Expected Goals For percentage (xGF%) – This is a weighting placed on every unblocked shot based on the probability of the shot becoming a goal. This depends on the type of shot, location and uses historical shot and goals data to come up with the probability for each unblocked shot.
  • Goals For percentage (GF%) – The proportion of all the goals that the team scored and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Goals For/(Goals For + Goals Against).
  • Shooting percentage (SH%) – The percentage of the team’s shots on goal that became goals (i.e., total goals divided by the total shots on goal).
  • Save percentage (SV%) – The percentage of the team’s shots on goal against that were saved (i.e., 1-(totals goals allowed divided by the total shots on goal against).

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