Pretty rough start for the Edmonton Oilers, securing only four points in their first five games of the season – all of which were at home and included three losses in regulation time.
The issue for the Oilers – which has been an ongoing thing for years now – is their play at even-strength (5v5) where they have only scored five goals in five games. We can’t expect this to last forever considering the talent they have and the fact that the team is currently converting only 4.38% of their shots into goals – the lowest shooting percentage in the league. This is a team that’s typically around the league average rate of about 8.50% and a number of players – including McDavid and Draisaitl – are posting on-ice shooting percentages well below their career levels.
What is concerning, however, is that the team itself is generating a relatively low rate of shots and scoring chances at even-strength this season – numbers much lower than they were last year after Jay Woodcroft took over as head coach. Shot metrics, including the rate of shots for and against and the overall share of total shots, are driven by tactics and deployment – things that are under the control of the coaching staff. So it’s been a little surprising to see the drop off.
The table below shows the Oilers offence as reflected by the team rate of shot attempts (Corsi), unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick), shots and expected goals (xGoals) this season compared to the numbers last season after Woodcroft took over. The numbers have been score and venue adjusted based on Natural Stat Trick’s methodology.
Now I’m using the numbers from last season under Woodcroft as a comparison because that was a really good team we saw in the final 38 games of the season. And they had the results and the strong underlying shot share numbers that top-end teams post at even-strength – levels that the Oilers should be trying to reach to be considered legitimate contenders.
And so far, they’re below where they should be. For example, the Oilers are currently generating about 37 unblocked shot attempts per hour, which ranks 25th in the league, only ahead of teams like Montreal, San Jose, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Anaheim, Chicago and Arizona. This current rate is about 20% lower than where they were last season when they generated over 46 unblocked shot attempts per hour – which was top five in the league. Their actual shots on goal has dropped by 18.6% compared to last season and their rate of expected goals has dropped by 13.3%.
Yes it’s five games, and there’s plenty of time to correct this. But it’s a good topic to ask the coaching staff about considering some of the other higher-end teams are getting positive results due in large part to their ability to out-shoot and out-chance opponents consistently. Pittsburgh for example is off to 4-0-1 start, have scored 19 even-strength goals, are generating some of the highest rates of shots in the league and are posting shot-share numbers (like Corsi For% and Expected Goals For%) above 52%.
That brings me to my next point. Because of their lack of offence and issues controlling the flow of play and generating shots, the Oilers are also posting poor possession and shot-share metrics compared to last season under Woodcroft.
The Oilers currently rank in the bottom third of the league when it comes to things like Corsi For% (46.61%, 23rd overall), Fenwick For% (44.15%, 27th overall) and Expected Goals For% (45.45%, 21st overall), well below where they were last season when they ranked near the top of the league after Woodcroft took over.
And if we look at the top teams from last season, and how they did in their first five to six games, we see that while the results may not have been there right off the bat, at least they were beating opponents on the shot clock and setting themselves up for success. Six of the top seven teams in terms of points percentage last season posted a Corsi For% above 50% in their first few weeks of the season and averaged an expected goals share above 53%. Interesting to see that Colorado was the one team in this group that struggled early on, but managed to turn it around – definitely an outlier that the Oilers can try to emulate.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers can turn things around at even-strength, and the influence Woodcroft can have on the underlying numbers through potential tactical and deployment adjustments. Woodcroft and his coaching staff did set the bar quite high based on the numbers the Oilers posted last season. But it’s important to reach those expectations as soon as possible if the Oilers want to improve their chances of winning hockey games and establishing themselves as contenders.
Data: Natural Stat Trick
Also posted at The Copper & Blue.