CBC Edmonton News (TV): Bounce back win against Montreal, McDavid-Draisaitl tandem and more

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Kim Trynacity on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 14:20 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, November 14)

Topics we covered:

  • Tuesday night’s win against Montreal, and what went well for the Oilers.
  • The tandem of McDavid-Draisaitl, their success together, but also the issues around roster construction and scoring depth.
  • The current state of the Oilers defence and Chiarelli’s recent comments about lacking a puck mover on the blueline.
  • The importance of improving their powerplay.
  • Important game against Calgary on Saturday night and playing Pacific division rivals seven times in the next eight games.

I also joined Adrienne Pan on CBC Radio Active on Tuesday afternoon. Will post a link if it becomes available.

Advertisements

Optimizing the powerplay

oscar-klefbom-connor-mcdavid

One of the most interesting things about this Oilers season has been the powerplay (5v4). It’s a critical area for the team, as they finished dead last in 2017/18 and the team tried to address it in the summer by revamping the coaching staff. The team isn’t exactly a powerhouse at even-strength due to the lack of talent and depth (especially on the wings) – so it’s going to be important for the powerplay to consistently produce if they want to contend for a playoff spot.

The good news so far is that the team currently ranks 12th in the league when it comes to the rate of goals for per hour (GF/60) with 7.81, scoring 12 times. The fact that McDavid has nine powerplay points (5 goals, 4 assists – three of which were primary assists) should tell you all you need to know about who has been the offensive driver. Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins, who each have seven points, along with Klefbom are the go-to unit with McDavid playing around 65 of the Oilers total 92 powerplay minutes this season. The roughly 25% of the remaining powerplay time has been left for Ryan Strome and really whoever else the coaching staff feels like throwing out there.

The team as a whole isn’t doing a great job of generating unblocked shot attempts (69.67 FF/60, 19th in the league), relying more on a team shooting percentage that’s currently at 16.0%. The average team shooting percentage over the last three seasons has been 12.58, so we’ll see how long the Oilers can convert at the rate that they’re currently at.

It’s really when the first powerplay unit is on the ice that the team gets going, generating over 80 unblocked shot attempts per hour – a rate that would have them among the league’s best. And they’ve scored 10 of the teams 12 powerplay goals –  a rate of 8.84 goals per hour – which isn’t bad but really should be better considering the talent that they have.

When the second powerplay unit is deployed, it’s been dreadful – generating 39.51 unblocked shot attempts and only scoring twice (a rate of 4.94 goals per hour). It’s easy to tell why the coaching staff is giving close to 75% of the total powerplay time to the first unit.

Couple things that I think the team needs to address.

First off, the first powerplay unit is heavily relying on Nugent-Hopkins, who is also getting regular minutes on the penalty kill (4v5) and also Draisaitl, who is gradually getting more reps shorthanded. Knowing what we know about recovery time, sport science, and the importance of rest for professional athletes, I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to have your best players spending so much of their energy on both special team units. Both RNH and Draisaitl are probably young enough to handle it, but it’d probably be in the team’s best interest if the workload was distributed.

It’d really help if the coaching staff had a stronger second powerplay unit, not only to take the load off the first powerplay unit, but to also have fresher legs on the penalty kill. The team really is lacking a special teams specialist on their fourth line, similar to what they had in Letestu who at one point was really effective on the powerplay. I don’t think these commodities are hard to find; some simple research and scouting can probably uncover these.

I think a big reason why the Oilers first powerplay unit is able to consistently generate shots and chances is because they’re working the puck down low to set up the forwards. And of course it makes total sense – the talent is there up front so get the pucks to them and get shots from high probability locations. What I’ve found is that the second powerplay unit isn’t nearly as effective at getting shot from the more high danger areas – instead relying more on shot attempts form the defencemen at the point. The concept is a pretty dated one – work the puck up top, get a shot from the defenceman and look for rebounds. Unfortunately, that’s not really making the best use of your time as your chances of scoring goals are much higher when the puck is in close coming from players with scoring talent.

Using Klefbom as our proxy for the top powerplay unit, the Oilers have generated 109 shot attempts (i.e., Corsi). And of those 109 shot attempts, 18 have come from the stick of Klefbom – coming out to 16.5%. When Klefbom isn’t on the ice, the team has generated 36 shot attempts, with 15 of those coming from the stick of one of the other defencemen – a proportion of 41.7%. Ideally, the Oilers would have enough talent up front on their second powerplay unit so they’re not taking this high of a proportion of low probability shot attempts. In my mind, the team needs to fix their overall powerplay tactics and find a way to balance their first and second units.

One last thing: the drop in the rate of unblocked shot attempts from the first powerplay unit to the second powerplay unit is massive, a difference of 40.96. I took a quick look at last year’s data, comparing each team’s first and second powerplay units (using each team’s top forward in terms of ice time as a proxy) and their rate of unblocked shot attempts. On average, a team’s rate of unblocked shot attempts dropped by 18.35 when their second powerplay unit was deployed. Only one team had a drop of more than 40 unblocked shot attempts and that was the Sabres who finished 24th in the league in terms of goals for per hour.

While the team is doing alright generating goals on the powerplay, I think it’s imperative that they put a critical lens on things and find ways to sustain their success. I don’t think what they’re doing right now is sustainable, and there are significant ramifications to the team’s overall success if they don’t make adjustments.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Current losing streak, Lucic’s fine, player development and game preview

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Sandra Batson on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 18:40 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, November 8)

Topics we covered:

  • The back-to-back losses in Washington and Tampa and tempering expectations.
  • Lucic’s actions against the Lightning and the fine he received.
  • The development of Yamamoto and Puljujarvi and why Bakersfield would be a good spot for both of them.
  • The Oilers goaltending, how it’s been alright at even-strength but not so good on the penalty kill.
  • Preview of tonight’s game, and why the Oilers shouldn’t be taking the Panthers too lightly.

Any feedback, let me know.

Hindering offence

coppernblue.com.full.54273A quick follow up to something I found last week when digging into Oscar Klefbom’s early season numbers.

To re-cap, with Klefbom on the ice with him this season at even-strength (5v5), McDavid’s on-ice Corsi For percentage (i.e., a proxy for possession) was 55.08% – a great proportion, right around where we would expect things to be when an elite forward is on the ice with a very good offensive-minded defenceman. And for good reason, we’ve seen the coaching staff play Klefbom as much as possible this year with the top offensive forwards to squeeze out every bit of offence possible.

Now I was expecting both players to post a a slightly lower Corsi For percentage without one another, but was surprised to see McDavid take a significant hit – dropping down to a 45.94% on-ice Corsi For percentage without Klebom this season. Below is what the results were after 13 games.

  • McDavid with Klefbom (111 mins) – 55.08% CF%, 75.0% GF% (6 GF, 2 GA)
  • McDavid without Klefbom (101 mins) – 45.94% CF%, 66.67% GF% (4 GF, 2 GA)
  • Klefbom without McDavid (129 mins) – 55.17% CF%, 62.50% GF% (5 GF, 3 GA)
  • Oilers without Klefbom or McDavid (271 mins) – 46.40% CF%, 35.0% (7 GF, 13 GA)

Knowing what we know about McDavid and his ability to drive offence, I think it’s fair to assume that something is dragging him down – either the play of an individual player or perhaps the team’s overall tactics. The fact that Klefbom’s Corsi For percentage has stayed above 55.0% without McDavid made me focus on McDavid’s numbers and what his numbers were like with the other defencemen.

To get a sense of how each defencemen has done this season after 14 games and what their on-ice possession numbers have been like with the four lines, I pulled their on-ice Corsi For percentages with each of the regular centermen, using these forwards as a proxy for the lines. The most common deployment has been McDavid, Draisaitl and Strome centering their own lines. And I picked Brodziak as a proxy for the fourth line as he really hasn’t spent much time with the other regular centers. I could have picked Khaira, but he’s played about 15 minutes with Strome this season.

Below are the results. I’ve highlighted the Corsi For percentages in green if it’s above 52.0% and highlighted them in red if it’s below 48.0%. Anything between 48.1% and 51.9% is in yellow. The Oilers team Corsi For percentage is currently 50.32% (14th in the league).

11-06-2018 4-17-09 PM

We’re obviously dealing with small sample sizes, so the idea here is to look at what has happened rather than predict what’s likely going to happen in the future. This isn’t a final word on what the Oilers should do. Rather it’s about highlighting these numbers and asking further questions around why they’re happening.

Focusing on McDavid’s numbers, we see that his on-ice Corsi For percentages are well above the team average of 50.32% except when he’s with Nurse or Russell. When McDavid has been on the ice with both of them, the team has scored only once and allowing none – an on-ice goals-for per hour rate (GF/60) of 0.94, well below the 3.0 mark that we would expect when McDavid is on the ice. What’s especially concerning is the drop in offence whenever McDavid is on the ice with Nurse. When McDavid is on the ice without Nurse, the team generates 66.6 shot attempts per hour (CF/60). That number plummets to 55.0 when Nurse steps on the ice with him. The team rate right now is 57.12 (14th in the league, right around league average).

The rate of unblocked shot attempts for (i.e., Fenwick, FF/60, a proxy for scoring chances) also takes a significant hit when Nurse is on the ice with McDavid. McDavid’s on ice rate goes from 58.4 unblocked shot attempts per hour without Nurse to 38.6 with Nurse. The team as a whole generates 44.54 unblocked shot attempts (12th in the league, right around league average). In my mind, at no point should McDavid have an on-ice rate of shots and scoring chances below the team’s average..

I don’t think Nurse has magically become a bad player. In 2017/18 he played most of his minutes with either Larsson or Russell. And with either partner, he didn’t drag down McDavid’s possession or offensive numbers this badly.

  • McDavid with Nurse-Larsson: 300 mins (5v5), 53.04% CF%, 62.77 CF/60, 50.38 FF/60
  • McDavid with Nurse-Russell: 147 mins (5v5), 49.69% CF%, 64.88 CF/60, 51.09 FF/60

I suspect that there’s something tactic-wise that the coaching staff is doing differently this season when Nurse is on the ice or they may have adjusted something about his game. Whatever the case may be – it’s impacting McDavid’s offensive output and should really be addressed. Especially if Nurse is going to continue leading the Oilers defencemen in ice time at even-strength.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Thoughts on the Oilers: Recent progress, depth scoring and KlefboMVP

mico113-114-2018-012419-jpg

Plenty of optimism around the Oilers as they sit third in the Pacific, winning their last two games and going 7-2-1 in their last ten. Their most recent win featured their fourth line scoring twice and a good performance from backup goaltender Mikko Koskinen.

Those two features right there – depth scoring and goaltending – should get a lot of attention for the rest of the season. We’ve known for some time now about how the Oilers struggle to break even (goal-wise and shot-wise) when McDavid isn’t on the ice, and it needs to be better if this team intends on contending for a championship. And finding a reliable back-up – who could not only give Talbot a rest but also potentially push for the starting position next season – is going to be critical for long-term success.

The Oilers most recent stretch of games has seen their overall goal differential improve as they’re finally getting production from their depth forwards.

20181104 - Goal differential

Since their loss to Nashville on Hockey Night in Canada, the Oilers have played quite well – outscoring opponents 16-9 for a goal-share of 64.0% over seven games. I know I was pretty disappointed in that loss against Nashville; I felt like they had been getting lucky pushing teams like Winnipeg and Boston into overtime and looked so-so against the Predators. Plus I hate it when the Oilers lose on national games (even though I should be used to it by now). So it’s been a relief to see the team show some signs of life over the last couple of weeks.

As Darcy McLeod (@woodguy55) pointed out, the line of Draisaitl, Rieder and Chiasson has been outstanding. Over the last seven games, they’ve played just over 63 minutes together at even-strength (5v5), outscoring opponents 5-0. Their shot-share numbers have been solid as well, posting a 53.57% Corsi For percentage (proxy for possession) and a 56.57% Fenwick For percentage (proxy for scoring chances). This is a line that’s getting results and has the underlying numbers that indicate their success has a good chance of being sustainable.

The other trio that has shown some chemistry over a limited sample size at even-strength is Brodziak, Khaira and Kassian. Over the last seven games, they’ve played just over 42 minutes together, outscoring opponents 3-1 (75.0% goal-share). Their shot-share numbers together have been good as well – 59.77% Corsi For percentage and a 60.73% Fenwick For percentage. I’m not too surprised Khaira is having this success – he tends to do well when he can play center part-time with another center on his line. Kassian I feel like is the replaceable one here, and that if the team were able to move his contract and plug in someone like Cooper Marody, Khaira and Brodziak would still have success.

One thing I will add is that whoever the Oilers have on their third or fourth lines this season needs to be able to do some work on the penalty kill or powerplay. Right now the Oilers are running their top powerplay unit quite regularly with all five lefties (McDavid, Lucic, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Klefbom) averaging over four minutes per game at 5v4. Finishing a season averaging over four minutes per game is almost unheard of for forwards, with only a handful of guys doing that over the last five seasons. On top of that, Nugent-Hopkins and now Draisaitl are getting regular minutes on the penalty kill – something I can’t see continuing. The coach is running his go-to players on the powerplay and may have an issue trusting others considering how much pressure he’s under to win this season.

One quick note about Nugent-Hopkins: he’s killing it on the penalty kill (4v5). He’s third on the team in total ice time shorthanded and has yet to be on the ice for a goal against. The rate of shots and scoring chances against are at their lowest this year when he’s on the ice – and he’s a big reason why the Oilers as a whole are doing better at limiting shots-against this season compared to last season. I have a couple theories as to why this is happening, but still working through some data.

One player that’s seeing significant minutes this season and doing quite well is Oscar Klefbom. He ranks fourth in the league in average ice time among defencemen, only behind Doughty, Suter and Karlsson. Over the first 13 games, the Oilers have a 68.75% goal-share (11 GF, 5 GA), and a 55.11% Corsi-for percentage with him on the ice – both metrics rank Klefbom first on the Oilers among defencemen. The possession numbers are what surprises me most as he’s often out there against the best opponents and starts most often outside the offensive zone compared to his teammates. It’s usually a team’s third pairing defenceman that often leads a team in Corsi-for perecentage and other shot-share metrics as they tend to get easier opposition and start often in the offensive zone.

Worth noting too that Klefbom has not been riding McDavid’s coat-tails. Some quick stats from the first 13 games:

  • McDavid with Klefbom (111 mins) – 55.08% CF%, 75.0% GF% (6 GF, 2 GA)
  • McDavid without Klefbom (101 mins) – 45.94% CF%, 66.67% GF% (4 GF, 2 GA)
  • Klefbom without McDavid (129 mins) – 55.17% CF%, 62.50% GF% (5 GF, 3 GA)
  • Oilers without Klefbom or McDavid (271 mins) – 46.40% CF%, 35.0% (7 GF, 13 GA)

That second bullet of the team posting a 45.94% Corsi-for percentage with McDavid but without Klefbom is interesting. We know McDavid has superhuman talent, so the concern here should be that someone is dragging down McDavid or is not playing the complementary role very well. My first thought is it’s Nurse’s play impacting McDavid, as I don’t think he’s been very consistent, especially in his own zone. He has posted a 45.95% Corsi-for percentage this season, which is just ahead of Rusell as well as Benning who only  up until recently been playing better. But it’s something to watch for on the Oilers blueline and its depth as I don’t think it’d be smart to overplay Klefbom.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Re-cap of the Oilers first month and previewing tonight’s game against Chicago

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Sandra Batson on the CBC Edmonton News to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 18:00 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, November 1)

Topics we covered:

  • Tuesday night’s loss against Minnesota and their issues on the penalty kill and powerplay.
  • How the Oilers did in their first month of the season, including their shot rates for and against, special teams and goaltending.
  • I also did a write up on how the Oilers compare against the rest of the Pacific division.
  • The Oilers handling of Jesse Puljujarvi and what their options are when it comes to his development.
  • Preview of tonight’s game against Chicago.

As always, a big thank you to everyone at CBC for putting it all together. 😉

 

Tracking the Pacific Division

904365054.jpg.0

After 11 games, the Oilers sit fourth in the Pacific Division with a 6-4-1 record and 13 points. Factoring in games played and extra time, the Oilers actually rank second in the division when it comes to points percentage, which is the points accumulated divided by the points that were available. It’s been an impressive month for the club as they’ve beaten some good teams and been competitive in most of their games.

Since the Oilers haven’t had a regular season game against any of their division rivals, it’s a good time to check in on the rest of the Pacific division to see how the other clubs are doing, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what we could expect from them going forward.

Below is a table containing the actual results for each team (i.e., points, points percentage), as well as the even-strength (5v5) numbers including shot-share metrics and goal-share. For context, I’ve also added each team’s even-strength shooting percentage and save percentage. For each metric, I’ve applied a basic heat-map to show which teams are doing well compared to the division teams and which are struggling.  A description of each metric is at the end of this article.

Pacific division

Couple thoughts:

  • The Oilers have a couple games in hand, which is why they rank higher in this table than the actual NHL standings. Points percentage is the way to go.
  • The Oilers are doing alright when it comes to goaltending at even-strength. But their shooting percentage is just a hair below average. They currently rank 27th in the league and I think it has to do with (a) the lack of scoring talent on the wings and (b) the Oilers lack of opportunities from the high danger areas.
  • Pacific Division teams are not doing well. The Sharks points percentage actually ranks sixth in the Western conference, with the Central teams leading the way. Of the bottom six teams in the West, five are from the Pacific.
  • I’m surprised to see that the Sharks have a negative goal differential, and it’s thanks in large part to their 27th ranked team save percentage. Expectations are obvious high after acquiring Erik Karlsson and they’re doing everything they can to be a good possession team. But it’d be awful if goaltending, which actually ranked 28th in the league last season, is what drags them down. Curious to see if they enter the goalie market this year or in summer 2018.
  • Arizona looks legit. They’re one of two Pacific division teams with a positive even-strength goal differential. I suspect they’ll start converting on their chances as they rank fifth in the league when it comes to generating high danger shot attempts. Challenge of course is finding the shooting talent to finish on those chances.
  • If there’s anything that drags Arizona down, it’ll be their powerplay (5v4). They’re one of the worst in the league with only three powerplay goals, and rank in the bottom five when it comes to generating unblocked shot attempts and scoring chances.
  • On the flip side, Arizona’s penalty kill (4v5) is top notch. One of the best in the league at preventing goals and scoring chances. Plus, they have five shorthanded goals and lead the league when it comes to generating shots and offensive opportunities shorthanded.
  • I can’t imagine Anaheim finishing the season with a positive even-strength goal differential. They’re getting crushed when it comes to shot-share metrics and have been relying on John Gibson to bail them out.
  • Looks like it’s going to be a long season for the Kings – they might already be out of the playoff race. Results have been poor and there really aren’t any underlying numbers you can hold on to.
  • Vegas is the team I expect to make a bounce back, and at least compete for a playoff spot. Strong possession numbers and they’re in the top ten when it comes to high danger shot attempts. Curious to see if they do anything with their goaltending.

Any feedback, let me know. I’ll have an updated table at the end of November.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference

Glossary:

  • Points percentage (PTS%) – The total points accumulated divided by the points that were available, including extra time.
  • Goals-for and Goals-against (GF/GA) – The number of goals scored and the number goals allowed at even-strength.
  • Goal Differential (Goal +/-) – The difference between the goals scored and the number of goals allowed (i.e., goals-for minus goals-against)
  • 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 can predict a team’s future share of goals (GF%).
  • 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. It can also predict a team’s future share of goals, slightlty better than Corsi.
  • Shots For percentage (SF%) – The proportion of all the shots on goal that the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Shots For/(Shots For + Shots Against).
  • Scoring Chances For percentage (SCF%) – The proportion of all the scoring chances that the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Scoring Chances For/(Scoring Chances For + Scoring Chances Against),
  • 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))
  • PDO – The sum of a team’s shooting percentage (SH%) and its save percentage (SV%). It’s based on the theory that most teams will ultimately regress toward a sum of 100, and is often viewed as a proxy for how lucky a team is. (Source)