CBC Radio Active: The Oilers are looking for another win tonight

I joined Jessica Ng on CBC Radio Active to talk Oilers and their push for first place in the Pacific division tonight. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2023, April 13)

Topics we covered:

  • What needs to happen for the Oilers to finish first in the Pacific division.
  • The key players for the Oilers this season, including goaltender Stuart Skinner.
  • What the key factors have been for the Oilers success this season.
  • Potential first-round matchups, and teams that could give Edmonton some problems.
  • Reasons for optimism heading into the playoffs.
  • Also made an appearance on CBC Edmonton News segment on the Oilers.

Thanks as always to the team at CBC for putting it all together.

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

CBC Radio Active: The Oilers are hot heading in to the playoffs

I joined Min Dhariwal on CBC Radio Active to talk Oilers and their performance heading towards the playoffs. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2023, March 29).

Topics we covered:

  • The Oilers win against Vegas last night.
  • The outstanding play of Leon Draisaitl, and his improvement over the season.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the career-year he’s having.
  • Issues around goaltending and why it’s a weak spot heading towards the playoffs.
  • How the Pacific division is shaping up with the Oilers competing against the Golden Knights and Kings for top spot.

Thanks as always to the team at CBC for putting it all together.

Thoughts on the Oilers: Performance since the trade deadline, goaltending and special teams

Things have certainly turned around for the Pacific division teams since the trade deadline, with Los Angeles, Vegas, Vancouver (!) and Edmonton being the top four teams in the league when it comes to points percentage. Edmonton continues to perform well at even-strength (5v5), posting a 53% Corsi For percentage and Expected Goals For percentage in the 13 games since the trade deadline – which has them in the top-ten league-wide. Los Angeles’ shot-shares however have been better in this stretch, ranking second in the league with a 58% Corsi For percentage and first overall with a 61% Expected Goals For percentage. Vegas, while having excellent results, is over-performing a bit, as their shot-share numbers are well below league average, ranking 24th in Corsi For percentage (46%) and 30th in Expected Goals (44%).

What’s concerning for Edmonton is the goaltending, which hasn’t been great at even-strength since the trade deadline. They rank 22nd in this recent stretch with an 89.69% save percentage, while Los Angeles ranks third (93.76%) and Vegas ranks seventh (92.75%). And it’s been trending downward for some time now. Below is the Oilers team save percentage this season over rolling 25-game segments. The orange line represents the league-average save percentage.

Over this recent stretch since the deadline, Campbell ranks 56th among 61 goalies (minimum 100 minutes) with a 85.9% save percentage at even-strength. Skinner ranks 31st with a 91.2% save percentage.

It appears league-wide, goaltenders have seen their numbers take a hit with goal-scoring rates increasing; and the Oilers have been no different. The issue is that Los Angeles and Vegas (with multiple goalies) have been able to weather the storm and rank higher in the league, with their goaltending giving them a competitive edge heading towards the playoffs.

Where the Oilers do have a slight competitive advantage is their powerplay, which continues to perform well despite the departure of Tyson Barrie. They haven’t missed a beat with their rate of shots and goals remaining around the same levels, and at the top of the league. This wasn’t overly surprising as the Oilers powerplay has historically done exceptionally well with and without Barrie, who while is a useful player, isn’t one of the key drivers for the team’s powerplay success.

Oilers powerplay Games Shots per hour (rank) Goals per hour (rank)
Pre Trade deadline 62 65.77 (2nd) 13.08 (1st)
Post Trade Deadline 12 69.47 (3rd) 13.68 (2nd)

The penalty kill has been slightly better, going from costing wins to being good enough. Since the deadline, the Oilers have done a slightly better job reducing the rate of shots against, but the goaltending has declined and remains below league average.

Oilers penalty kill Games Shots against per hour (rank) Goals against per hour (rank) Save% (rank)
Pre Trade deadline 62 60.17 (25th) 9.31 (26th) 84.53% (25th)
Post Trade Deadline 12 55.08 (18th) 9.53 (22nd) 82.69% (21st)

Finally here’s a quick look at the on-ice numbers for the skaters at even-strength since the trade deadline. The tables below are sorted by the player’s time on ice.

Among the defencemen, the Ekholm-Bouchard partnership continues to excel. And they’re the only two defencemen with positive on-ice goal-differentials in this period. The Oilers tend to spend more time with the puck when they’re on the ice, playing just under 30% of their time against elite competition. It’s not the same proportion against elites as Nurse and Ceci, but it’s still a trusted pairing that’s performing very well.

Among the forwards, McDavid’s numbers stick out a little as he’s only posted a +1 goal differential at even-strength and a shots for percentage around 45%. The good news is that his on-ice Corsi For percentage and Expected Goals for percentage are around 50%, so I don’t think it’s the end of the world. But it does make you wonder how many points he could have accumulated had he had some better linemates and spent more time playing offence. Kane isn’t performing well at all, posting some of the worst shot-share numbers on the team, but still getting top six minutes. Part of it is the injuries he’s dealing with, but he’s also a fairly one-dimensional player that struggles defensively.

On the flip side, Draisaitl has been playing much better lately at even-strength and appears to be rounding into form ahead of the playoffs.  Before the trade deadline, Draisaitl was posting some of the lowest shot-share numbers on the team, just breaking even when it came to shots and scoring chances. Keep in mind too that Draisaitl is spending less time with McDavid in this recent stretch – only 20% of his total 5v5 time have they been together. McDavid’s numbers away from Draisaitl have been concerning – as he’s posted a 46% Corsi For percentage and a 47% Expected Goals For percentage.

Only 10 games left, so it’ll be important for the roster to stay healthy and for the coaching staff to figure out which combinations will perform well in the playoffs. And they’ll need the goaltending to bounce back and stay at league average levels. The western conference is looking far more competitive than earlier this season, with teams like Colorado and Los Angeles  emerging as legit contenders. Will dig into each club’s strengths and weaknesses later this week.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Puck IQ

Western conference star power and depth

Dom Luszczyszyn wrote a great piece at the The Athletic where he looked at the impact the star players have on their team’s playoff success and the impact depth players have. Using extensive metrics, what he found was that while depth players are important, it’s the top end players that drive success for a team.

Hockey may be the ultimate team game where every role, player and role player matters. But within that dynamic, there’s an opposing truth that they only matter as much as the players at the top of the hierarchy dictate.

Even in the playoffs, like it or not, it’s how bright the stars shine that decides who wins and who loses.

The Athletic

This article made me think about the western conference and how the Oilers compare with the other seven teams who are currently in a playoff spot. Specifically, I wanted to know how the Oilers top players compare with the other teams during even-strength play, as well as how the Oilers depth players compare.

To do this analysis, I took the forward with the highest ice-time at even-strength and used their on-ice numbers this season as a proxy for the team’s top line, which always features one or two of the team’s higher-end forwards. I then looked at how each team has performed without their top forward to evaluate the team’s depth. Below are the forwards from each team that were used in this analysis. Note that some players with the highest ice time may not be their team’s best player, but they do often play with the team’s higher end forwards. For example, Chandler Stephenson’s most common linemate in Vegas this season has been Mark Stone, while Mats Zuccarello’s most common linemate in Minnesota has been Kirill Kaprizov.

  • Vegas – Chandler Stephenson
  • Los Angeles – Anze Kopitar
  • Colorado – Mikko Rantanen
  • Dallas – Jason Robertson
  • Minnesota – Mats Zuccarello
  • Edmonton – Connor McDavid
  • Seattle – Yanni Gourde
  • Winnipeg – Mark Scheifele

First a look at how the team’s in the west compare with one another when their top players are on the ice at even-strength. Included in the table below is each team’s even-strength performance numbers (i.e., shot-share metrics that measure how well a team controls the flow of play and the total chances) as well as each team’s goal-share and goal-differential. I’ve applied a simple heat map to each metric to show how each club compares to the rest of the western conference. The table is sorted based on the team’s current points percentage.

If it’s a team’s top end talent that drives results in the playoffs, the Oilers appear to be in pretty good shape. While their goal-share is slightly lower than this group’s average, the Oilers top line has consistently been a handful for opponents controlling over 53% of the shot attempts when they’re on the ice and just under 58% of the expected goals (which factors in shot quality). Dallas, however, appears to be the team to beat as their top line has had the best results supported by the highest share of shots and scoring chances.

And here’s how the depth of each team compares with one another; again this is without their top line on the ice at even-strength. It’s important to note that this depth is going to contain some of the higher end forwards as well, which will impact the team’s success going forward.

Here the Oilers depth ranks around the group’s average levels, posting around a +3 goal differential and a shot-shares also at the break-even mark. Los Angeles’ depth, while having poor results relative to the other teams, has been more difficult to play against posting shot-share numbers closers to 53%. Colorado’s depth looks pretty good here too. They just need their top-end forwards to get and stay healthy, and they’re probably going to be a handful. Seattle has nice balance across their roster too, just need goaltending to not lose them games. The problem for them is they lack the least number of star players, according to Dom’s model. Edmonton and Colorado have the most star players (7) among western conference playoff teams, which is probably why they currently have the highest probability of making it to the western conference finals.

It’ll be worth taking a look at these numbers again prior to the playoffs, maybe with a focus on the more recent 25 games or so.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Leon Draisaitl hits 100 points again thanks to his powerplay production

Scoring another two goals on Tuesday night against Ottawa, 27-year old Leon Draisaitl reached the 100 point mark for the fourth time in his career. He currently ranks third in the league this season with 44 goals and seventh overall with 56 assists.

Draisaitl now has 716 points in 624 career NHL games – and has established himself as one of the top-end forwards in the league. His productivity in the regular season and playoffs has him in some very elite company, and he’s a big reason why the Oilers are one of the highest scoring teams this season.

The biggest driver for his success is his productivity on the powerplay, where he currently leads the league with 27 goals and ranks tenth with 23 assists. The 50 powerplay points he’s accumulated makes up 50% of his total points, an increase from the 38% proportion he’s posted over the last three seasons. He’s having an incredible year on the powerplay, which remains one the best in the league and a significant competitive advantage. Worth noting is that while Draisaitl continues to produce well at even-strength (5v5), his scoring rate is actually down this season compared to previous seasons, currently sitting at 2.16 points per hour.

Digging into the powerplay numbers a little more, Draisaitl’s scoring rate (11.31 points per hour) has been one of the best in the league and actually one of the highest rates over the last several seasons. Only a handful of players have surpassed the 10.00 points per hour mark in a year, with the average among regular powerplay forwards being around 4.4 points per hour (based on forwards who have played at least 150 minutes over the last three seasons). Draisaitl himself has posted a rate of 8.61 points per hour on the powerplay over the last three seasons, making his current rate of scoring about 31% higher where we’d expect him to be.

There’s been a few reasons for his powerplay success this season, which has helped him reach the 100-point mark.

First, he’s been shooting at a rate almost 12% higher than where he’s been at over the last three seasons, currently sitting at 19.23 shots per hour on the powerplay. Based on some of the shots we’ve seen him take on the powerplay, it’s clear he’s got a lot of confidence in his abilities, a by-product of his experience in the league and being on a unit that has now spent a lot of time together.

Second, Draisaitl is converting a significantly higher proportion of his powerplay shots into goals, currently sitting at a 31.76% individual shooting percentage. In the last three season, Draisaitl posted a 23.50% shooting percentage on the powerplay, so we’re talking about a 35% increase.

Considering the elite talent on the Oilers powerplay and the chemistry they’ve established over the years, it’s safe to assume Draisaitl will continue to get plenty of chances and help the club generate offence. But it’s hard to know how well he’ll convert on his chances and maintain a 31% individual shooting percentage. In the last three seasons, only three forwards among 206 powerplay regulars have posted an individual shooting percentage over 30%. Draisaitl has been 14th among this group with a 23.50% shooting percentage, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Either way, the Oilers have an elite powerplay producer. And if his regular linemates can stay healthy and if he can maintain first-line level production at even-strength, Draisaitl should be able to chase 100 points again next season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.


Couple thoughts on Ryan McLeod, who is getting some attention for the mistake he made in Toronto on Saturday that led to a goal against.

McLeod has been solid for the Edmonton Oilers this season as a centerman. He’s 23, averaging about 14 minutes per game, in a predominantly third-line role. And he’s got nine goals and nine assists at even-strength (5v5) – a rate of 1.76 points per hour, which is just under what second liners should be posting. He’s also been a regular on the penalty kill, getting the third highest total minutes. With him on the ice when shorthanded, the Oilers see their rate of shots against drop by about 15% relative to the team average.

Back to even-strength. McLeod’s been a big reason why the Oilers are doing well without McDavid on the ice – a major spot of bother for the club since McDavid’s arrival. With McLeod on the ice, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For percentage of 53.35% and an Expected Goal share of 55.09% – both of which are higher than the team average. The table below lists the on-ice numbers for the Oilers forwards (sorted by ice-time) with a basic heat map applied to show how each player has done relative to their teammates this season.

Again, it should be noted that McLeod barely spends any time with McDavid. Below is a table of the Oilers forwards sorted by their proportion of ice time spent with McDavid, along with their on-ice Corsi For percentage and Expected Goals share without McDavid. McLeod has only spent 3.3% of his total ice time with the captain – one of the lowest proportions on the team. And he’s been just fine (unlike some of the other forwards), posting shot-shares above 53% – again some of the best numbers on the team.

And while it’s true that McLeod doesn’t play against the other team’s top players as often as others, when he does get deployed against them he’s done pretty well. This season McLeod has spent about 20.6% of his time against Elite competition, according to PuckIQ. And in that time, he’s posted a Corsi For% of 47.90%, which ranks 6th among the Oilers regular forwards this season. And against Elites, he’s also posted a Dangerous Fenwick share (i.e., a weighted shot metric using shot distance location and type of shot to give each shot a “danger” value) of 53.20%, which ranks second on the team only behind McDavid. There’s a reason why he was even on the ice against Marner on Saturday night.

If there’s still any doubt about McLeod’s abilities or hesitation of deploying him regularly in meaningful moments, look no further than his performance in last season’s playoffs. With him on the ice at even-strength, the Oilers posted some of the best shot-shares – including a 53.60% Corsi For percentage (third highest on the team) and a 54.57% Expected Goals share (fifth highest). When the Oilers got crushed by the Avalanche in the western conference finals, McLeod was one of two players who had a positive shot-differential and broke even in terms of goals. My personal favorite stats for McLeod were from the second round series against Calgary. In that series, McLeod played about 14 minutes head-to-head against the Tkachuk line and went 20-10 in shot attempts, 9-7 in shots and 1-0 in goals. That’s the kind of productivity a team needs from their depth players to win games.

McLeod has been solid for the Oilers this season and has provided exceptional value based on the contract he’s currently on. His on-ice performance numbers and productivity is all you can ask for from a young centerman playing third-line minutes and the penalty kill. And there’s no doubt he’ll continue to grow if he’s in the right environment for development. He’ll make mistakes like any other player, but his importance to the team and the long-term goals cannot be overlooked.

Regular season, even-strength, penalty kill, playoffs. This is the kind of depth player that’s going to increase your chances of winning games.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Eyes on the prize

The Oilers are currently sitting fourth in the Pacific division, having secured 80 points in 66 games – a points percentage of 0.606 that ranks in sixth in the western conference. They’re currently the highest scoring team in the league, average 3.82 goals per game – driven largely by their powerplay scoring which ranks first in the league and their even-strength (5v5) scoring rate which ranks sixth. And it was their inability to prevent shots, scoring chances and goals early on in the season (about the first 19 games as we’ll get to in a minute) that’s prevented them from being higher up in the standings. Over the full season, they’ve allowed the 12th highest rate of goals against, ranking 22nd at even-strength and 27th on the powerplay.

Now when we look at the team’s progression over the season, we see that the Oilers have greatly improved at even-strength – and actually turned things around much earlier in the season than I think most people realize. Their performance metrics, which includes shots and scoring chances, all steadily increased after an embarrassing loss on November 21st in New Jersey. The Devils dominated the Oilers that night, posting a 60% share of the shots and scoring chances and scored four even-strength goals. After this loss, the Oilers sat 18th in the league in terms of points percentage, having allowed the sixth highest rate of shots against at even-strength in the league, the third highest rate of scoring chances and the seventh highest rate of goals against. It was looking dire.

But since that loss on November 21st, the Oilers have arguably been one of the best even-strength teams in the league, with the results to prove it. Their goal differential of +17 in this time range ranks second in the western conference, and it’s been supported by strong shot-share numbers – indicating that the results have been real and sustainable. Their 54% Corsi For percentage, a proxy for puck possession, is second in their conference and third in the league. And their expected goal-share, which factors in shot quality and serves as a proxy for scoring chances, is second highest in the league only behind Carolina. Below is a summary of their results since late November (the last 47 games), including their ranking in the league and the western conference.

What’s played a major role in the Oilers turnaround this season is the team’s depth players who have managed to outshoot and outscore opponents without their top stars on the ice. Up until that loss in New Jersey earlier in the season, it was looking like the Oilers were going to have the same issue as almost every other year – where the team would generate goals with McDavid on the ice, but give everything back when he wasn’t on the ice. The team was posting Corsi For and Expected Goals For percentages below 45% without McDavid on the ice, and posted a -9 goal differential early on in the season. McDavid himself wasn’t breaking even, which sank the Oilers team goal-share to one of the worst levels in the league. But since that loss in New Jersey, it’s been a different story with the Oilers posting shot-share numbers above 53% and a goal differential of +15 without McDavid on the ice. That’s a massive lift for the team and should be an area of strength heading into the playoffs when depth scoring becomes critical for success.

The one concern for the Oilers remains goaltending, which has ranked 23rd in the league in this time period. And we know it’s been Jack Campbell who has struggled the most. Among 57 goalies who have played at least 500 minutes, Stuart Skinner ranks 16th with a 0.921 save percentage and a +3.87 GSAA. Campbell on the other hand ranks 51st in this group with an 0.895 save percentage and 49th with a -8.85 goals saved above average (GSAA).

Put another way – had Campbell provided league average goaltending in the 22 games he played since November 21st, the team would have allowed eight fewer goals. That would have had them at a 56% goal-share, and likely higher up in the standings with an additional win or two. Again, this was in a time period of the season where the skaters (with and without McDavid) did a masterful job controlling the flow of play, allowing the ninth lowest rate of shots against in the league, and the fourth lowest rate of expected goals against. If the Oilers can even get league average goaltending the rest of the way, they should remain competitive in the western conference.

Heading into this final stretch of the season, it’s fair to expect the Oilers to finish strongly, especially when you consider how well the team has performed at even-strength since November, the addition of Mattias Ekholm to the defence core, the general health of the roster and the career season some of the top forwards are having. Combine that with strong performance and results from the depth players and good goaltending from Skinner, I think it’s fair to label the Oilers as a legitimate contender heading towards the playoffs.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 51 – Talking Oilers recent success, trade deadline and goaltending with Jeff Chapman (@NewWaveOil)

Joined by Jeff Chapman (@NewWaveOil) from The Copper & Blue on the show to talk about the Oilers recent success, their activity at the trade deadline and how the new additions can potentially help the team. We talked about the goaltending issues and potential solutions. And we discussed which teams in the western conference have the best odds of making a deep run in the post-season.

Full segment below:

Related links:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010. Jame

CBC Radio Active: Oilers trade deadline activities

I joined Jessica Ng on CBC Radio Active to talk Oilers and the deals they made at the NHL trade deadline. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2023, March 3).

Topics we covered:

  • The acquisition of Mattias Ekholm and Nick Bjugstad, and the key elements that they’ll bring to the roster.
  • Ken Holland’s overall approach with the trade deadline.
  • Fan reaction to the trade deadline and the overall outlook of the Oilers heading towards the playoffs.

Thanks as always to the team at CBC for putting it all together.