Thoughts on the Oilers: Team defence and goaltending are two separate things

One of the Oilers best traits this season has been their ability to control the flow of play and scoring chances,  spending more time with the puck and the offensive zone. And that’s been with and without their best players. Their Corsi For% and Expected Goals For% remains one of the best in the league, and it’s been that way since late November.

This has translated to success defensively, as the Oilers spend less time in their own zone, and have limited the rate of shots and scoring chances against at even-strength – a positive sign heading into the playoffs. Over the course of the season, this rate of shots against had gradually decreased and has been better than league average for some time now. In their last twenty five games, the Oilers are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to preventing shots and scoring chances against.

The chart below displays the Oilers rate of unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick) at even-strength, which can be used as a proxy for scoring chances. You can use shot attempts against (Corsi), shots on goal, scoring chances, expected goals – they all have a similar trend of gradually declining over the course of the regular season and being slightly better than league-average levels.

The obvious problem for the Edmonton Oilers is that while they’re doing everything they can to limit chances against, their goaltending has gradually been getting worse. The graph below shows the team’s save percentage at even-strength over rolling 25-game segments, with the blue line representing the league average.

Now while it is true that goaltending is taking a hit league-wide, it appears the Oilers goaltending has been impacted even more. Looking at each team’s last 25 games, the Oilers team save percentage at even-strength ranks 29th league-wide with 89.35%. That’s only better than Seattle in the western conference.

Put another way – based on Natural Stat Trick’s expected goals model that factors in shot quality and location, the Oilers should have allowed 2.38 goals against per hour at even-strength in their last 25 games, so about 48 goals against. But because of the goaltending, they’ve allowed 62 goals, a differential of 14 goals. That translates to about two wins in the standings, which would have had them first in the Pacific division.

Sixty goalies have played at least 250 even-strength minutes over the last 25 games. Campbell’s played in nine games, and his save percentage ranks 57th and his goals saved above average ranks 58th. Skinner is around league average levels in his 17 games, ranking 31st in save percentage and 36th in goals saved above average.

Skinner is the obvious starter for the Oilers, but you do have to wonder if the extra workload in his rookie season is impacting his recent performance. Earlier in the season, especially in the first 20 games or so when the team struggled, he was very good – posting numbers slightly above league average levels. But now his performance levels have come back down to earth, due in large part because a suitable back-up goalie hasn’t been available for the coaching staff. Not an ideal situation heading towards the playoffs, and something that needs to be addressed better in the off-season if the team wants to remain competitive.

Data: Natural Stat Trick


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Oilers: Team defence and goaltending are two separate things

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