A big interest for me this season has been the performance and results of the depth forwards. Their numbers were so incredibly poor last season, as the team was outscored 44-73 at even-strength (5v5) without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. And that was over the course of about 1,800 minutes, which was 52% of the team’s total ice time. The depth forwards were a big reason why the Oilers had a 47.32% goal-share, one of the worst in the league, and it was clearly a focus for management in the off-season as they tried to add more skill to the roster.
Over the first 30 games, the overall results haven’t been great for the depth forwards. The Oilers have been outscored 19-29 at even-strength without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, posting a score-adjusted Corsi For% of 46.16% and a Fenwick For% of 46.88% – pretty similar shot-share numbers to last season. Because Draisaitl and McDavid have been able to play on their own lines for most of the season, the depth forwards have been deployed a lot less, dropping from 51.9% of the team’s total ice time last season to 41.3% this season.
Depth forwards (5v5)
However, if you split this 2020/21 season into two parts, we actually see that all of the damage was really done over the first 15 games with things turning around nicely in the 15 games after. And this could be why Ken Holland is feeling better about his depth players (Global News).
Not only are the results significantly better in the second half of the season, with the goal-differential going from -9 in the first 15 games to even in the next 15, but the underlying shot share are much improved as well. Their Corsi For% jumped 10 percentage points up to the break-even mark, with their share of scoring chances increasing along with it. The team’s goaltending is playing a big role as well, which is critical considering the lack of finishing talent on the roster. We can probably expect the goal share to fluctuate depending on if and when a skater or goalie runs hot or cold, but at least we know the process behind everything has improved.
What I also found interesting was which defencemen have been deployed with the depth forwards, and some of the adjustments the coaching staff has made from the first 15 games to the second set of 15 games.
Below are the defencemen’s even-strength numbers with the depth forwards in the first 15 games of the season when things went sideways. Included for each defenceman is the proportion of the depth forwards ice time they were on the ice for, along with the shot-share numbers, goal-share, and PDO. What stands out here is that Larsson was the most deployed defenceman with the depth forwards, Russell and Lagesson posted the best shot-share numbers and Bouchard was the only player with a positive goal-share.
And here’s the same set of metrics for the defencemen for games 16-30 when the results were much better.
As mentioned above, the depth forwards received a higher proportion of the team’s total ice time at even-strength between games 16-30, going from 36.4% to 46.2%. I think that’s a byproduct of getting better results: score more goals, gain the coaches trust and expect to see more ice time. Plus, the Oilers have been running McDavid with Draisaitl a little more often to get the top lines going.
What I found interesting was the increase or decrease of each defencemen’s proportion of ice time with depth forwards between games 1-15 vs games 16-30.
Koekkoek’s injury definitely had an impact on how players were deployed. But it’s interesting to see how the coaching staff deployed Nurse and Barrie even less frequently with the depth forwards, and maintained Larsson as the main defencemen for them. Bear saw his proportion with depth forwards go from 13.8% to 24.4%, a 10.58% increase, the largest in the group. And the coaching staff seems to be showing some trust and confidence in Bouchard and Jones to help the depth forwards generate more offence. And I can’t say I would blame the coaching staff for giving Russell more time with the depth forwards. He did have the best shot-share numbers with them in the first 15 games (53.8%) when the group as a whole was posting a Corsi For% of 40%. There’s also the need to keep him away from McDavid and Draisaitl who both see their Corsi For% take a hit when Russell is deployed with them. Lagesson also had great possession numbers with the depth forwards in the first half of the season, which might be why he’s seen an increase in playing time.
Aside from the deployment changes on defence, and changes to the group of depth forwards (i.e, Turris), there had to have been tactical adjustments as well. I’d be curious to know what those were as the results have been much better recently. I’m also curious to see what lessons the Oilers take from all of this and if they really explore why it took over a month to fix their issues and how exactly it was fixed – was it all luck or did they have an actual strategy in place? The Oilers are in a decent spot in the standings now, but imagine if the depth forwards hadn’t been outscored 8-17 in the first 15 games. It cost them wins and playoff positioning, and it really can’t be ignored especially if they want to be considered a championship contender.
An encouraging indicator of progress has been the Oilers improved Corsi For percentage over the course of the season, which tells us how well the OIlers are controlling the share of shot attempts and the overall flow of play at even-strength. After the first ten games of the season, the Oilers had one of the lowest proportions in the league with 47.79%, which likely played a role in their 4-6-0 start. But from that point on, they’ve gradually improved, posting a Corsi For% of 48.85% between games 11 through 20, and then a Corsi For% of 52.92% between games 21 through 30.
A big reason for their progress has been the improved play of the team without their top forwards on the ice. In the first 10 games of the season, the Oilers were outscored 2-14 at even-strength without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, which is about 40% of the team’s total ice time. These results were largely due to playing the majority of the time without the puck and in their own zone as reflected by the team’s Corsi For% of 39.94%. We started seeing signs of life a few weeks ago when the team posted a Corsi For% of 45.19% over a ten game stretch, where they also posted a +2 goal differential (10 GF, 8 GA). And thankfully, they’ve continued to progress with the team posting a Corsi For% of 52.61% over the last ten games without their star players on the ice.
Since getting outscored 2-14 in the first ten games, the Oilers have turned things around nicely having outscored opponents 16-13 without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice over the last 20 games. That was a massive hole they put themselves in early on in the season, and they likely won’t recover to a 50% goal-share by the end of the season. But the adjustments they’ve made such as reducing Turris’ ice time and giving the depth forwards more offensive zone faceoffs, should be part of the lessons carried forward.
It’s also worth noting how well the Oilers depth compares with their North division rivals. What I did was take a couple of the top forwards from each team to serve as proxies for their teams top two lines, doing my best to find players who don’t play often with each other. I then looked at how their teams did without them at even-strength to gauge the performance of the team’s depth players. Below are the forwards I used for each club:
Edmonton – McDavid, Draisaitl
Calgary – Tkachuk, Gaudreau
Montreal – Suzuki, Danault
Ottawa – Tkachuk, Paul
Toronto – Matthews, Tavares
Vancouver – Pettersson, Horvat
Winnipeg – Ehlers, Wheeler
For each team in the table below I’ve included the proportion of the team’s total ice time that the depth forwards played, as well as the Corsi For% that they posted and their Goals For%. Table is sorted by points percentage. Note that the Corsi For% is score and venue adjusted.
Corsi For %
On average, teams typically have their depth players on the ice for about 40% of the teams total ice time at even-strength. Here we see that over the course of the season, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For% of 46.27% without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, and have a goal-share of 40.05%. As mentioned above, the Oilers depth played have made positive strides recently, and they’ll need to maintain a high level of play if they want to dig out of the hole they put themselves in. Vancouver and Ottawa are in a similar boat – their depth players have struggled in terms of puck possession, and they’ve been a black hole in terms of offensive production. And it’s made worse by the fact that even with some of their top players on the ice, they’re getting crushed on the score sheet. Toronto and Montreal appear to be in a good spot, doing a better job at controlling the flow of play with their depth players and getting good results. Winnipeg seems to have a team-wide issue when it comes to shot-share metrics, so it’ll be interesting if their results are sustainable. And if Calgary can find some finishing talent for their bottom two lines, they might be able to improve their overall goal differential.
It’ll be really interesting to see which teams in the North division can get the most out of their depth players, which can serve as a competitive edge in what should be a close playoff race.
The Edmonton Oilers are half-way through this condensed season, sitting third in the North division with a points percentage of 0.607%, only behind Toronto and Winnipeg. It’s been a nice turnaround from the last time we checked in in early February when the Oilers ranked sixth in the division after 11 games and were struggling at even-strength and on the penalty kill.
The Oilers overall goal differential has gradually been improving as they’re getting better at controlling the flow of play, spending more time with the puck and getting better goaltending. In early February, they were allowing the third highest rate of goals against in the league, but now they’re closer to league average levels. And they’ve continued being one of the highest scoring teams in the league. They’re not quite at the levels posted by previous top-end teams, but they’re progressing well.
Quick glance into how the Oilers compare against their division rivals at even-strength (5v5). The table below is sorted by points percentage, with a basic heat map applied to the shot-share numbers to see which teams are doing well, and whose results may or may not be sustainable. Note that the shot-share numbers are score and venue adjusted. A description of each metric is at the end of this article.
Nice to see the Oilers improve their Corsi For% from 47.13% in early February to 49.69% today. What’s especially encouraging is that they’ve posted a 52.10% Corsi For% (score and venue adjusted) over their last ten games, which is closer to what top end teams typically finish their seasons with.
Worth noting that it’s been the improved play of the depth forwards that’s helped drive up the team’s shot share numbers. There were signs of progress recently, and it’s nice to see it continue. Without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice over the last ten games, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For% of 52.56% as well as an Expected Goals For% of 51.07%. Unfortunately this hasn’t translated into an improved goal-share when depth forwards are on the ice, due to their team shooting percentage of 4.17%. Hopefully the Oilers are aware of the need for finishing talent, and can identify potential options – either internally or externally – to squeeze out better results.
As for the rest of the division, it’ll be interesting to see how Winnipeg does over the remaining stretch. They’re posting poor shot-share numbers at even-strength (5v5), allowing one of the highest rates of shots and scoring chances against in the league. And it doesn’t look like they’re riding a PDO wave, as their team shooting percentage and save percentage is around league average levels. Instead, it looks like they’re winning a lot of close games and doing alright on special teams as well, as their powerplay and penalty kill hasn’t been costing them games.
Below is a snapshot of how each North division team is doing on special teams. Starting with actual results, I’ve combined the goal rates for each team’s powerplay and penalty kill, also factoring in shorthanded goals. I’ve also combined the rate of unblocked shot attempts on each team’s powerplay and penalty kill, which can tell us if the team’s success on special teams is sustainable or not.
Combined goal rates
Combined unblocked shot rates
For example, the Leafs have the best powerplay in the league and their penalty kill is slightly below league average. Combine the rate of goals for and against on the powerplay and penalty kill, you get 2.90. That’s not bad, but when you look at their combined rate of unblocked shots, you get a sense that there’s a chance that it gets better – especially on the penalty kill where they’re one of the best teams at preventing chances, but not able to get consistent goaltending. Considering their goaltending has been solid at even-strength, you have to wonder if it’s a matter of time before the Leafs start to improve on the penalty kill.
Edmonton is pretty much getting what they deserve on special teams. They’re doing well on the powerplay, generating lots of chances and getting positive results. On the penalty kill, they’re one of the worst at preventing chances, and their actual results are below league average. I suspect Winnipeg could see a hit to their special teams results as they’re breaking even right now, but allowing a high rate of shots on the penalty kill. Maybe goaltending bails them out, but it’s not exactly a recipe for long-term success. The other team to watch is Montreal. They’re getting great results at even-strength, but their special teams is over-performing relative to their underlying shot rates for and against. Prime opportunity for the Oilers to stay ahead of them in the standings as long as their play at even-strength continues to improve and their special teams doesn’t cost them games.
Points-percentage (Point%) – The total points accumulated divided by the points that were available, including extra time.
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 is the best at predicting a team’s future share of goals (GF%). (Source: Hockey Great Tapes – Draglikepull)
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.
Expected Goals For percentage (xGF%) – This is a weighting placed on every unblocked shot based on the probability of the shot becoming a goal. This depends on the type of shot, location and uses historical shot and goals data to come up with the probability for each unblocked shot.
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)
An important and hopefully obvious question the Edmonton Oilers management group should be asking at this point: is this team any good?
With the trade deadline coming up and a playoff spot up for grabs, a proper evaluation of the results is critical to know which direction to take this team. I know if I was overseeing the management group, there would need to be some performance thresholds or indicators in place to determine if assets should start being spent to drive a playoff run or if it was time to make decisions geared to winning next year. There’s a lot at stake here both financially and when it comes to asset management, so it’s important to look at all of the information available and determine how good this team is and if they can be a legitimate contender or not.
In my mind, the Oilers don’t need to be a top-ranked team today, but they need to at least be playing like one and have underlying numbers similar to those posted by previous top-ranked teams. Since top-ranked teams typically finish the regular season with a 0.600 points percentage or better and are in the top ten leaguewide, it was a simple exercise to identity who the top teams were and establish some key performance indicators based on shot-based metrics that can predict future results. And by doing so, I was also able to find how league average teams did as well as bottom end teams. This way I could assess which level the Oilers are at offensively and defensively, and guide my thoughts on what course of action management should take.
Lets start with actual results at even-strength and focus on the rate of goals the Oilers are scoring and allowing this season, and their share of the total goals for and against (i.e., goals for percentage). Based on the last three regular seasons, here’s how the top teams, average teams and bottom teams have performed when it comes to goals. There’s nothing really surprising here – top teams outscore opponents and on average have a goal-share above 53%, while league average teams just break even.
After 25 games this season, the Edmonton Oilers have a goals for percentage of 48.08%, having posted a -4 goal differential (50 goals-for, 54 goals-against). That would have them between league average levels and the levels posted by bottom end teams. Offensively, the Oilers are doing well due in large part to their top players, currently scoring 2.52 goals per hour, which is slightly above league average rates but below what top teams have posted in previous seasons. Unfortunately, the Oilers are giving it all back this year, allowing 2.72 goals against per hour, which is even worse than what bottom teams allow on average (2.59).
Goaltending has obviously been an issue, with the team posting a save percentage of 91.21%, which as we see below is closer in line to what bottom teams have posted on average in previous seasons. The Oilers shooting percentage of 8.53%, on the other hand, is closer to what top end teams have posted.
So it’s clear when comparing the Oilers to previous teams that the actual results aren’t quite there yet, but are the Oilers at least playing like a top team? Are they controlling the flow of play, generating more opportunities than they are allowing, and maybe just need their goaltending to be league average to improve their spot in the standings? To do that, we’ll look at the Oilers rate of shot attempts, for and against, and the Oilers’ share of the total shot attempts for and against (i.e., Corsi), which can be used to predict future goal share (Source).
The Oilers are currently posting a Corsi For percentage (score and venue adjusted) of 49.17%, which is just below league average levels. The team is generating 53.40 shot attempts per hour, which is slightly lower than what bottom teams have generated. And they’re allowing 55.2 shot attempts per hour, which is slightly better than league average levels. Based on the Oilers underlying shot-based metrics, there’s little indication that the club is playing like a top team and we really can’t expect their goal-share to reach 53% any time soon. And it really is no surprise that the club is getting outscored at even-strength (5v5), especially considering how badly the team gets outplayed when their depth forwards on the ice. Without McDavid or Draisailt on the ice at even-strength (5v5), or about 40% of the team’s total ice time, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For% just under 45%. Even with Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers spend more time without the puck posting a Corsi For% of 47.39%.
Even if we look at the expected goals, which measures the quality of the unblocked shots taken, it’s a similar story. The Oilers currently have an expected goals for percentage of 50.23%, generating 2.32 expected goals per hour and allowing 2.30 expected goals against. Since they’re generating a lot of chances like a top team and at the same time allowing chances like a bottom team, they land in that league-average range.
Expected Goals For/60
Expected Goals Against/60
Expected Goals For%
Based on the Oilers current underlying shot-based metrics, we can confirm that the Oilers aren’t playing like a top end team and we can’t expect the results to be any better than league average if things continue this way. While there are signs of life offensively, their defensive numbers are more in line with bottom end teams of the past – something that has to be a spot of bother for the coaches and management as the club had similar issues last season.
While the Oilers could consider moving assets to improve their results, it might be in management’s best interest to hold on to their picks and prospects and find cap space for next season. I’m just not convinced that one or two moves will make a big impact at this point as their issues run a lot deeper and across the roster. There’s the goaltending that needs to be fixed, but who knows how a new netminder will do when the club is allowing a high rate of shots and chances against. There’s the issue of spending significant time playing without the puck and in the defensive zone when McDavid or Draisaitl aren’t on the ice, but who knows how much of an impact another depth forward or defenceman is going to have. The biggest issue underscoring all of this is the Oilers pro scouting department and if their player and goalie evaluation methods are ever going to improve and become a strength of the organization. This group’s results have not been good recently and you have to wonder why the Oilers would continue making million-dollar decisions based on their input.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers approach the trade deadline as it’ll give us insight on how much faith the Oilers have in their current roster to turn things around, and how desperate they are to be a contender this season. I’d rather they collet assets now by moving players whose roles are likely to be diminished next season and have internal replacements. Players like K. Russell who has seen his minutes decline, and Kassian who likely won’t be back in the top six again when he returns from injury, have value in the league – and it tends to be higher in-season when teams are gearing up for playoff runs. Whatever decisions the Oilers make, they need to have the future in mind and figure out how to consistently contend for championships.
Spent some time looking at the powerplay last week, so might as well do a check-in on the Edmonton Oilers penalty kill. Especially with trade activity set to pick up ahead of the deadline and the Oilers looking for quality depth players who will likely be promoted as penalty kill options. Canucks forward Brandon Sutter is currently being floated around as an option for Edmonton (Edmonton Journal, The Province).
The Edmonton Oilers penalty kill has allowed 16 goals over 125 minutes this season, a rate of 7.66 goals per hour which ranks 17th in the league and fourth in the North division. The league average rate of goals over the last three seasons has been 7.17, so they haven’t been getting terrible results. In fact, over the last ten games the Oilers have allowed a rate of 5.21 goals against per hour, which is right around what they finished with last season (5.15) that ranked second best in the league.
But make no mistake, the Oilers penalty kill relies heavily on its goaltending. The Oilers have allowed some of the highest rates of shots against in the league this season, second-worst only to the Canadiens in the North division. You can use any of the shot metrics – unblocked shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger chances – they currently rank bottom ten in the league. Thankfully the goaltending has improved recently on the penalty kill, playing well above league average levels. But it’s in the Oilers best interest to do a better job suppressing shots in the likely event that the goaltending comes back down to earth and the levels they were at earlier in the season.
Worth noting here that despite the reputation for defence, Dave Tippett doesn’t exactly have a long history of penalty kill success. His teams have typically allowed higher than average rates of shots and scoring chances against, but have been bailed out a few times by strong goaltending. It’s interesting to see that the rate of shots against this season aren’t too far off from where they were last season. The only difference is that the goaltending hasn’t been as strong in 2021.
5.66 – 6th
77.51 – 24th
54.51 – 19th
8.12 – 26th
89.35 – 30th
63.84 – 30th
5.20 – 8th
79.6 – 29th
55.62 – 27th
7.53 – 22nd
70.24 – 20th
49.63 – 19th
7.73 – 27th
77.97 – 22nd
57.36 – 21st
8.42 – 29th
86.39 – 30th
62.69 – 30th
8.09 – 28th
71.9 – 10th
50.79 – 12th
8.29 – 26th
80.98 – 27th
53.84 – 16th
5.15 – 2nd
76.28 – 23rd
54.84 – 22nd
7.66 – 17th
79.44 – 23rd
59.82 – 24th
The good news is that the Oilers are seeing some progress on the penalty kill this season, as their rate of shots against has gradually been declining recently. Over the last ten games, they have been allowing closer to a league average rate of shots, and that might be due to some adjustments they’ve made to player deployment.
One player who is doing well on the penalty kill is center Gaetan Hass. Since returning from injury, he’s been getting regular playing time shorthanded averaging a little over three minutes a game. He dressed in a couple games in late January (games 11 and 12) missed five more games, but has played in the last six games. In his 24 minutes of total ice-time on the penalty kill, the Oilers have allowed one goal, and have seen their rate of shots against drop down to 37.37 per hour, which is the best on-ice rate on the team among forwards and well below the team rate of 59.82. Below are the on-ice numbers for the Oilers forwards who have played at least ten minutes on the penalty kill this season.
You expect to see the shots against go up when your top penalty killers are on the ice, as they are typically facing the first powerplay units. But it’s still concerning to see the spike in scoring chances against with Nugent-Hopkins or Khaira on the ice. And you can see why Turris has been taken off the penalty kill and healthy-scratched. Not only do the rate of shots against go up with him on the ice (which aligns with his historical numbers), but he’s posted the worst on-ice rate of goals against (12.48 per hour) – something that coaching staff’s are very sensitive to. Haas really stands out here, and it’ll be interesting to see if Tippett trusts him more and more and what the on-ice shot rates are like with additional responsibility.
Below are the on-ice numbers for the defencemen who have played at least ten minutes. The Oilers are seeing an extra ten shots against per hour on the penalty kill with Russell on the ice, which is likely being masked by the stellar goaltending that he has little to do with. Hopefully Jones can emerge as an option to replace him; he’s played just under ten minutes but has been called out for being on the ice for a goal against, even though the rate of shots drops when he’s been on the ice – definitely something to monitor. And aside from Bear who might be dealing with a head injury, the rest of the group is fine, especially Nurse who has seen the most ice time and has posted on-ice rates of shots against below the team average. Curious to see if Lagesson gets more ice time as his numbers have been solid in limited minutes. The team rate of shots against are similar to Haas’ numbers with him on the ice.
Whatever the Oilers do at the trade deadline, it’s imperative that they know what they have on the team before spending assets to fill a need that might not exist. The penalty kill is showing signs of improvement, and in limited minutes there appear to be some good internal options who can help suppress shots and scoring chances against. Another reason why I think the Oilers should look within the organization is because the team’s professional scouting department doesn’t exactly have a strong track record at this point. This is the same group that thought Markus Granlund could help the penalty kill, even though his on-ice impacts were poor. And then they thought Turris could help on the penalty kill, even though his on-ice impacts were poor.
Similar to the goaltending position, the Oilers need to evaluate their evaluation process for forwards before spending any more assets on pro players. Until that happens, they’re better off doing a deeper analysis of their penalty kill, looking for internal options and having the coaching staff work with them.
The Edmonton Oilers powerplay has really ramped up, having now scored 22 times in 135 minutes with the man advantage this season. That translates to a rate of 9.78 goals per hour, which ranks ninth in the league and second only to the Leafs in the North division, who have scored 11.64 goals per hour. The Oilers current scoring rate is only slightly behind the rate they posted last season, when they led the league with a rate of 10.64 goals per hour.
Converting on 20% of their powerplay shots again is a lofty goal considering only a handful of teams have ever reached that mark. Then again, not many teams have had the skill level of the Edmonton Oilers, so maybe it’s not that unreasonable and we may even see them climb from the 16.79% shooting percentage they’re currently posting. The Oilers are also doing everything they can to be as dominant as they were last year, generating more scoring chances and getting an extra six shots on goal per hour this season.
Edmonton Oilers powerplay
2019/20 (71 games)
2020/21 (22 games)
Goals per hour
Unblocked shot attempts per hour
Shots on goal per hour
While powerplay goals make up about 20% of a team’s total goals in a season, the Oilers powerplay is currently making up 27.8% of their total goals. And that’s slightly up from last season when the Oilers powerplay goals made up 26.5% of their goals, which was the highest proportion in the league. The good news is that so far the even-strength results haven’t been as poor as last season and the team hasn’t had to depend on the powerplay, and penalty kill for that matter, to bail them out as was the case in 2019/20. That’s when they finished the season with a -16 goal differential at even-strength – a 47% goal-share which was the seventh worst in the league – thanks to below average shot-share numbers, a bottom-six forward group that struggled mightily and poor goaltending.
So far the even-strength results have been decent, with the Oilers posting a +4 goal differential – a goal-share of 52.13%, which ranks fourth in the North division behind Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. But because the Oilers are posting below-average shot-share numbers at even-strength (currently with a 48.32% Corsi For percentage, score/venue adjusted) and because their current starting goalie is posting a save percentage above his career numbers, I suspect the powerplay will once again need to be dominant for the Oilers to be a playoff contender. And so far, things are looking promising.
As mentioned above, the Oilers are generating more offence on the powerplay this season, having increased their rate of unblocked shot attempts (a proxy for scoring chances) by 8.5% and their rate of shots on goal by 10.0%. They’ve also been getting more time on the powerplay, averaging just over six minutes per game this season (seventh highest in the league) – drawing 4.04 penalties per hour. Note that the league average rate over the past three seasons is around 3.57 per hour, with anything over four on the high end. This was pretty surprising to see considering the Oilers have never drawn more than 3.36 penalties per hour over the past three seasons, often ranking in the bottom third of the league, and even ranking as low as 30th in 2017/18.
What’s also surprising to see is that Connor McDavid, who often has the puck, plays with speed and deals with a lot of uncalled infractions, is actually drawing penalties this season. So far he’s drawn 14 penalties at even-strength in 22 games – a rate of 2.34 penalties drawn per hour, which ranks him third among all forwards who have played at least 100 minutes. That’s a significant increase from last season when he only drew 19 penalties in 64 games, ranking 75th in the league, drawing just over one penalty per hour.
Hopefully this trend continues and the Oilers get plenty of powerplay time. It just may once again become a driving factor that secures them a playoff spot.
The bottom six forwards struggled out of the gate, but they’ve been productive over the last ten games.
The Oilers reached a significant milestone this past weekend, reaching a points percentage of 0.600 with a record of 12-8, accumulating 24 points in their first 20 games. A 0.600 points percentage is what the top ten regular season teams in the league typically reach every year and are often considered as legitimate cup contenders for doing so. The Oilers were close to this level last season, finishing with a 0.585 points percentage, good for 12th in the league. The one time they made the playoffs in the last fourteen seasons, they had finished the regular season with a 0.628 points percentage.
The Oilers recent ten games has really turned things around for them. They’ve won eight of their last ten, outscoring opponents 42-26 in all situations (a +16 goal differential). A big reason for their success has been the powerplay, which over the past ten games has scored at a rate of 11.93 goals per hour. This has them only behind the Leafs in the North division over this stretch, and closer to where they finished last season when they were the best in the league scoring 10.64 goals per hour. They’ve recently been generating the fourth highest rate of shots per hour, and converting at a 18.64% shooting percentage – which is just below where they were last season (20.27%).
The Oilers are also getting it done at even-strength (5v5), outscoring opponents 29-19 in their last ten games, posting a goal-share of 60.42%, which is third best in the league and only behind the Leafs in the North division. Safe to say the Oilers are on a bit of a heater right now over these past ten games, posting a PDO above 105 thanks to a 13.18% team shooting percentage and a 92.64% team save percentage – both being well above league averages. The Oilers have also posted a 48.64% Corsi For percentage (score adjusted) over this stretch, which tells us they’re playing more often without the puck, and because of that their results aren’t likely sustainable. Regardless, they’ve banked some much needed points to stay competitive in a fairly tight division.
What’s really stood out over the past ten games has been the improved production of the bottom six forwards at even-strength (5v5). Over the first ten games of the season, without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers were outscored 2-14, basically giving back all of the goals the top lines were accumulating. That’s a 12.5% goal-share due in large part to rarely having the puck as they posted a Corsi For percentage of 39.1%. That’s staggering considering the depth forwards as a group typically play about 40% of the team’s total time. What made it even worse is when you compared their production to the depth players of other North division teams. Those groups were at least breaking close to even in terms of goal-differential and shot-based metrics (Source).
Thankfully they’ve recently turned things around. Over the last ten games, the Oilers have outscored opponents 10-7 (a goal-share of 58.8%) without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. That’s a significant improvement for the bottom six forwards due in large part to the group’s on-ice shooting percentage jumping up from 3.03% in their first ten games to 15.52% in their last ten. Goaltending, as mentioned above, has also played a role with the group’s on-ice save percentage increasing from 85.8% in their first ten games to 93.0% over their last ten games. That’s a PDO swing from 88.9 to 108.9.
While the group’s PDO is what’s largely driving results, it’s also encouraging to see the depth players getting a higher proportion of the total shots. Remember this is a group that posted a Corsi For% below 40.0% early on in the season, but things have been gradually trending upwards towards the 50.0%, break-even mark. Below is a breakdown of the team’s Corsi Forpercentage over rolling ten-game segments, without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. Note that the Corsi For percentage has been score adjusted to factor in the time the Oilers have led games.
Where the group has improved is on defence, as the Oilers depth forwards are allowing eight fewer shot attempts per hour over the last ten games compared to the first ten games. They’ve also generated an extra five shot attempts per hour over the last ten. Again, they’re not out of the woods yet, but there’s at least improvement within an area of the roster that really can’t afford to be giving back the offence the top lines are generating.
The production of the depth forwards is eventually going to regress as indicated by their PDO levels. But by taking better control of the flow of play and improving their share of the shots and scoring chances, it should help to minimize the regression and hopefully reduce the impact on the team’s overall goal-share.
The Oilers have been getting excellent results recently, going 7-3 in their last 10 games and outscoring opponents 40-31. Posting a 0.700 points percentage in a competitive division over a shortened season is massive. Toronto has gone 7-2-1 in their last 10 (a 0.800 points percentage), while both the Flames and Canadiens have gone 6-4 (a 0.600 points percentage).
Over this recent stretch, the Oilers have outscored opponents 26-22 at even-strength (a goal-share of 54.17%), just breaking even when it comes to the flow of play posting a Corsi For percentage of 50.04% and scoring chances posting an expected goal-share of 50.23%. The Oilers have done a much better job converting their chances into goals, especially the depth players, posting a team shooting percentage of 11.10%. And it’s good timing considering their goaltending has struggled over this stretch, posting a team save percentage of 90.84% at even-strength, just barely better than Ottawa’s and three percentage points better than Vancouver’s.
The goaltending has also been poor on the penalty kill, posting a save percentage of 83.67%, and part of the reason why they have allowed over nine goals per hour over this stretch. The other issue is that the skaters have allowed the highest rate of shots against in the North division. Thankfully the powerplay has really clicked, generating the highest rate of shots per hour in the North division as well as goals per hour with 11.01. I suspect the Oilers powerplay should remain productive based on their talent level and their ability to generate chances. It’s the penalty kill that’s concerning considering the goaltending is unreliable, which could be offset by making some deployment adjustments among the skaters.
A quick look at the on-ice numbers for the forwards who have played at least ten minutes this season, including the rate of shots, unblocked shot attempts and goals against; sorted by time-on-ice per game. Haas has only dressed in a few games, but he’s been effective with the team allowing some of the lowest rates of shots against. On the other end of the spectrum, we see guys like Turris, who has historically been poor on the penalty kill and Nugent-Hopkins struggle. A lot goes into selecting who the forwards are, and we know coaches base a lot of their decisions on results (i.e., goals against per hour), but I’d be curious to see Yamamoto get some more time considering his speed playing style.
Here’s how the defencemen have done, again sorted by time-on-ice per game. The Oilers have been effective limiting shots and chances against when Nurse or Lagesson have been on the ice, which is great news considering special teams was a concern when Klefbom was declared unfit to play this past off-season. It’s the play of Russell that’s very concerning considering the Oilers allow the highest rate of shots against when he’s on the ice. Hopefully the coaching staff is aware of this, and look at potentially giving Koekkoek more time there or getting someone like Jones up to speed.
What’s also been encouraging has been the play of the bottom six over these last ten games. Without McDavid or Drsaitlt on the ice, the Oilers have outscored opponents 10-7 (a goal-share of 58.82%). That’s massive progress considering they were badly outscored, allowing 13 and only scoring once in the first eight games of the season. Despite the excellent results over the last 10 games, I wouldn’t say the bottom six is out of the woods just yet. They’re still getting outshot and out-chanced, posting a Corsi For% of 46.15% and an expected goal-share of 45.54%. It’s not great, but at least it’s an improvement from the 34.95 Corsi For% and 30.65% expected goal-share they posted in the first eight games of the season. We’ll still take it as progress, but it needs to get better for the Oilers to be a competitive team. Depth players typically play close to 40% of the team’s total ice time and the Oilers can’t risk over-playing their star players and risk injury. Reducing Turris’ ice time is a good start – he’s been getting absolutely caved at even-strength this season, with the Oilers posting some of their worst shot and goal-share numbers when he’s been on the ice.
One other thing to note is the Oilers defensive pairing of Nurse and Barrie. They’ve been getting positive results together, playing over 158 minutes together this season, posting a goal-share of 59.09% (13 GF, 9 GA). The Oilers shot-share numbers have been okay as well, with the team just breaking even when it comes to Corsi For%, but tend to get outchanced, posting an expected goal-share of 46.26%. What I’d really like to see from this pairing are improved numbers when playing without McDavid on the ice. Without him, Nurse and Barrie have posted a Corsi For% of 42.07% and an expected goal-share of 30.56% this season. That’s within 69 minutes, which also includes time with Draisait’s line. Something to monitor if the Oilers expect to improve their goal differential, as they should not have to rely solely on the top players for positive results.
While scoring hasn’t been issue for the Edmonton Oilers this season, it’s their inability to prevent goals that’s starting to really stand out.
Through 17 games, the Oilers have scored 60 goals in all situations – a rate of 3.53 goals per hour, fourth best in the league only behind Tampa, Toronto and Carolina. Anything over 3.50 would be considered outstanding, as really only Tampa Bay has posted numbers around that mark over the last few seasons. And similar to Tampa Bay, the Oilers are getting it done at even-strength (5v5), ranking 8th in the league scoring 2.82 goals per hour, and on the powerplay, posting the 11th best rate of goals scored in the league (and it should, based on their talent level, be getting better). What’s encouraging is that the Oilers are doing a good job generating chances, partly due to most of the North division teams playing pretty loose defensively (Source: TSN). Choose any offensive metric – shots, scoring chances, expected goals, unblocked shot attempts – the Oilers rank within the top five league-wide and have at least one or two of their division rivals right next to them.
What’s likely a spot of bother for the Oilers is that they’ve allowed 58 goals this season – the eighth highest rate of goals against (3.41), and only better than Ottawa and Vancouver in their division. For context, only three teams have posted worse rates of goals against in the last three seasons – Detroit last season (3.71), Ottawa (3.65) and Chicago (3.51) the year before, and the New York Islanders (3.53) and Ottawa (3.42) the year before that. I don’t expect the Oilers to finish that poorly, but if they continue to allow the rate of shots and chances against, and in front of the goaltending they have, they might come close.
The Oilers are allowing the fourth highest rate of shots against in all situations, only better than Vancouver in their division, and sit near the bottom of the league when it comes to any of the defensive metrics such as scoring chances against, expected goals or unblocked shot attempts. Whether even-strength or penalty kill, the Oilers are not good defensively, which is a major problem considering their goaltending has been well below league average (posting the sixth worst save percentage in the league at even-strength) and can’t be relied on for the Oilers to play an up-tempo style.
What’s perplexing is that the Oilers aren’t really addressing this issue, and trying to figure out ways to reduce the rate of shots and scoring chances against, specifically at even-strength. Instead, they seem like they’re all in on playing with pace and exchanging chances with opponents, to the extent where they’re more frequently deploying offensive-minded players like Tyson Barrie, who while can contribute offensively, typically struggles on the defensive side of things.
Partly due to Bear dealing with injuries and not getting the regular minutes he had last season, Barrie has seen his ice-time sharply increase (Source: Hockey Viz). Playing on the top pair and spending the majority of his time with either McDavid’s line or Draisaitl’s line – Barrie is bound to rack up points. But it’s defensively, especially against top competition, where Barrie has historically struggled and will likely struggle with increased responsibility (Source: Puck IQ). He’s typically been sheltered by his previous coaches – often playing against lesser competition and getting more offensive zone starts. And because he’s spending more time on the top pair against top lines, we really can’t expect the Oilers to get better defensively with him on the ice.
So far this season, the Oilers actually allow a rate of shots and scoring chances against closer to league average levels when Barrie isn’t on the ice. With him, the Oilers see a spike in their rates – over seven more unblocked shot attempts against per hour and seven more shots-on-goal against per hour. While the team does generate offence slightly better with him on the ice, it really might not be worth it considering how badly they get out shot. (Source: Natural Stat Trick)
It’s especially evident when Barrie isn’t on the ice with McDavid. When they’re together, the defensive numbers are decent relative to the team average rates of shots and scoring chances against. But when Barrie is on the ice without McDavid – look out. The Oilers allow 14 more unblocked shot attempts per hour and close to ten more shots on goal against. That’s partly due to the lack of talent in the bottom six forwards, but also Barrie’s inability to have a positive impact on the defensive side of things.
With the North division being as tight as it is, it’s critical for the coaching staff to find any edge, even the slightest, to stay competitive and secure a playoff spot. The good news is that the Oilers have the talent on their roster to help defensively – with the likes of Bear who played significant minutes last season against top lines and Jones who has the skill to potentially take that next step. The way things are going for Edmonton, it’ll be important for them to identify the issues and explore every option to rectify the problem. There really isn’t much time to make ground if they start to fall behind, making it even more critical to get their player deployment right as soon as possible.