One of the critical areas the Oilers have improved on since the coaching change has been the team’s results and supporting shot-share numbers without McDavid on the ice at even-strength (5v5). It’s been a regular issue since McDavid’s arrival in the NHL, as the Oilers are a standout team whenever he’s been on the ice, but are often getting caved in terms of shot-share, scoring chances and goal-differential without him. Year after year, management has failed to construct a roster that can hold their own without their captain, with coaching staffs making things worse by not trying out different line combinations, playing it safe and often loading up the top line with a combination of McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins.
Here’s how the team has done without McDavid over the course of his career, with the Oilers not once being able to break even in terms of goal-share (grey bars). A big reason for that has been the poor goaltending and offensive finishing talent, with management unable to properly identify talent and efficiently manage their salary cap. But they were also losing the shot-share battle, spending more time without the puck and in their own zone – issues that should have been addressed with better on-ice tactics by previous coaching staffs.
Things were trending the same way this season while Tippett was behind the bench, as the Oilers were outscored 54-73 (a 42.54% goal-share) in the 1,400+ minutes without McDavid – roughly 66% of the team’s total time. And while the club did barely break even in-terms of shot attempts with a 50.17% Corsi For percentage without McDavid, they struggled to convert these into meaningful scoring chances, posting an Expected Goals for percentage of only 46.22%. These numbers were consistent with how the Oilers performed the last two seasons under Tippett, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise.
Since Woodcroft has been hired and able to implement his tactics, things have drastically improved when the Oilers are without McDavid at even-strength (5v5). The team’s shot-share numbers have seen a slight bump and their expected goal share has improved by over four percentage points reaching the 50% mark thanks to their reduction in shots and scoring chances against. And more importantly, the Oilers are now posting a positive goal-differential for the first time since McDavid’s arrival. Goaltending has obviously been better as well, and hopefully it continues. But it’s clear the tactics Woodcroft has implemented, including his reluctance to sit back and protect any leads like his predecessors often did, are working as reflected by the shot-share and scoring chance numbers.
This is a positive development for a team that couldn’t really be considered a championship contender the last two seasons because of the lack of depth offence and scoring, and a coaching staff that was too risk averse with so many blind spots. With the team rolling the way it is and actually outscoring opponents without McDavid on the ice, there’s a good chance they can at least win a couple playoff games. And depending on how the goaltending holds up, maybe even a series.
Data: Natural Stat Trick
Also posted at The Copper & Blue.