Powerplay hotness

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 powerplay2019/20 (71 games)2020/21 (22 games)
Goals per hour10.649.78
Unblocked shot attempts per hour71.2177.82
Shots on goal per hour52.4658.25
Shooting percentage20.27%16.79%

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.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Hockey Viz

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

The Oilers depth forwards are showing signs of life

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.

Data: Natural Stat TrickOilers Nerd Alert/PuckIQ

(Special thanks to @OilersNerdAlert for the specific data set)

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Thoughts on the Oilers: Recent success, depth players, defensive pairings and special teams

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.

PlayerGPTOITOI/GPFA/60SA/60GA/60
Gaetan Haas313.824.6143.4334.740.00
Josh Archibald1844.502.4783.6068.765.39
Jujhar Khaira920.202.2480.2068.322.97
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins1837.052.0689.0772.8712.96
Kailer Yamamoto1825.231.4057.0742.8011.89
Kyle Turris1824.031.3487.3864.9112.48
Devin Shore1113.181.20109.23100.1313.65
Leon Draisaitl1812.470.6977.0152.949.63

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.

PlayerGPTOITOI/GPFA/60SA/60GA/60
Darnell Nurse1848.852.7172.4761.416.14
Adam Larsson1846.852.6083.2465.3110.25
Kris Russell1023.882.3982.9072.8510.05
Slater Koekkoek1531.972.1391.9765.699.38
Ethan Bear918.302.0385.2572.139.84
William Lagesson814.171.7746.5938.124.24

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.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Finding an edge

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.

Tracking the North division – As of February 1, 2021

The North division has been a lot of fun so far this season. Not the best quality of hockey with teams having shortened training camps and no pre-season games and still getting into form. But we’re seeing lots of high-scoring games and some fun rivalries building over these short series.

The Edmonton Oilers currently rank sixth in the division, 23rd in the league, with a 0.455 points percentage, and have been outscored 38-41 in all situations. The Oilers offence has been stellar, averaging 3.45 goals per hour, ranking seventh in the league, but only fourth in the division behind Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver. They’re also allowing the third highest rate of goals against with 3.72, just barely better than the Senators who allow over four goals per hour.

TeamGPPoint %Goal differential
Montreal80.750+12
Toronto100.750+4
Winnipeg80.625+4
Vancouver110.545+2
Calgary70.500+3
Edmonton110.455-3
Ottawa90.167-22

A big reason for the Oilers early-season struggles has been their play at even-strength (5v5), where they’ve been outscored 21-26 – a 44.68% goal-share, which has them sixth in the division and 23rd in the league. They’re scoring at a league average rate of 2.44 goals per hour, but are allowing just over three goals per hour – the fourth highest rate in the league. The goaltending, which was not adequately addressed in the off-season, is one of the problems as they rank 27th in the league with a 90.55% save percentage – and there’s little reason to believe it’ll get better considering Koskinen’s workload and the lack of options. But so to is the team’s inability to control the flow of play and prevent scoring chances against. And that’s going to need some attention from the coaching staff and management if they intend on making the playoffs.

Below are the even-strength (5v5) numbers for each team in the North division including goal-share results as well as the shot-share metrics that gives us a sense if teams have the right processes in place and if the results are sustainable or not. I’ve also applied a basic heat-map to show which teams are doing well or struggling relative to their division foes. You can find a description of each metric at the end of this article.

While the Oilers are spending a lot of time without the puck over the first eleven games, posting a Corsi For% of 47.13%, they are just breaking even when it comes to quality scoring chances. And the big driver for this is McDavid. With him on the ice, the Oilers have posted a 55.94% CF% and a 63.88% xGF%. Without him, a 43.00% CF% and a 42.46% xGF%. A little concern around that Draisaitl line – they’re just under 50% when it comes to shot-share metrics, and running a PDO over 107. We can probably expect their results to slow down. It’s the other two lines that while showing some signs of improvement, remain a large black hole. Without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers have been outscored 3-15 at even-strength. And that’s due in large part to posting a 39.40% CF% and a 37.09% xGF%.

It’ll be interesting to see what Toronto’s numbers are like in a month or so. They’re doing well controlling the flow of play, but it’s not translating into a higher share of scoring chances. Calgary looks like the team to watch as their underlying shot-share numbers are fine and goaltending looks solid, but they’re struggling to score goals posting the second lowest shooting percentage in the league. Montreal looks like they’re in full control – dominating when it comes to shots and scoring chances and getting results. While we can expect them to come back down to earth a bit, they still look like the team to beat considering how much time they spend with the puck. Vancouver’s getting some luck right now, as they’re getting outshot pretty regularly, but somehow have a goal-share above 56% thanks to a higher-than-average shooting percentage – expect them to fall back down. Winnipeg is also holding their own, posting good shot-share numbers and positive results – but might get sewered by their special teams. That brings me to my next table.

Here’s how the North division teams are doing when it comes to scoring goals on the powerplay and penalty kill. What I’ve done here is added the rate of goals-for on the powerplay and penalty kill, and then subtracted the rate of goals against in each game state. For context, when the Oilers were dominant on the powerplay and penalty kill last season, their combined special teams goal rate was +4.19.

TeamSpecial Teams – Combined goal rates
Toronto+6.83
Montreal+5.22
Calgary+1.62
Edmonton+0.23
Vancouver-2.66
Winnipeg-3.18
Ottawa-6.87

The Oilers powerplay does appear to be turning the corner, now ranking 11th in the league scoring 10.25 goals per hour and generating chances at just above a league average rate. But their penalty kill is giving that success back, now ranking 25th allowing just over 10 goals per hour and allowing the sixth highest rate of scoring chances against. If they can’t get results at even-strength, special teams needs to be a factor and soon. At least one of the four North division clubs that makes the playoffs will be propelled by special teams, and there’s going to be a lot of attention on the Oilers coaching staff if they can’t replicate last season’s success and miss the playoffs as a result.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Glossary:

  • 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))

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 20 – Preston Hodgkinson (@NHLHodgkinson), The Copper & Blue

Preston Hodgkinson (@NHLHodgkinson) from The Copper & Blue joined me this week to talk about the Edmonton Oilers early season results, their struggles at even-strength, and where we can expect improvement. We looked at which players have stood out among the forwards and on the blueline, and made a case for switching up the defensive line combinations. And we also discussed how the North division is shaping up and if the Canadiens and Leafs are the teams to beat.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

Oilers bottom six and how they compare against their division rivals

Probably not the start the coaching staff was expecting as the Oilers currently rank fifth in the North division after seven games with a 0.429 points percentage. They have a -4 goal differential (all situations), with even-strength (5v5) issues appearing to have carried over from last season. They’ve been outscored 12-15 at even-strength – a 44.44% goal-share, which ranks 24th in the league and sixth-best (only ahead of the Canucks) in their division.

Team GP Point % Goal differential
Montreal 6 0.917 12
Toronto 7 0.714 3
Winnipeg 6 0.667 5
Calgary 4 0.625 4
Edmonton 7 0.429 -4
Ottawa 5 0.300 -6
Vancouver 7 0.214 -14

While the Oilers top forwards are producing well, it’s the team’s results with their bottom six forwards on the ice that has been alarming. Turris’ goal against the Jets on Sunday night was the first time the Oilers have scored at even-strength without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. That’s over the course of 124 minutes, or about 38% of the Oilers total playing time where they’ve also allowed 10 goals against. In those minutes, the Oilers have spent a considerable amount of time playing without the puck, often in the own zone, getting out-shot at close to a 3-1 clip, and posting a Corsi For% of 33.93%.

Below is a breakdown of how the forward lines have done so far this season, broken up by the McDavid line, Draisaitl’s line and then the bottom six. Note that the 10 minutes that McDavid has played with Draisaitl is excluded in the table below. And note that the duo has outscored opponents 4-0 in that short span, posting a Corsi For% of 54.17% and an Expected Goals For% of 71.36%. Wild.

Group (5v5)TOIGF-GACF%FF%xGF%SH%SV%PDO
McDavid’s line104.724-459.5261.7669.145.2291.370.966
Draisaitl’s line88.334-144.2547.6147.128.1198.091.062
Bottom six124.551-1033.9333.2231.082.5886.810.894

The Oilers need to expect more from their bottom six and on both ends of the ice, and the results aren’t going to get better until they make some tactical adjustments. The group is struggling to generate shots, averaging only 19 shots per hour and allowing 37. For context, the league average rate of shots for and the average rate of shots against is 30.7 over the last three seasons. The Oilers can try to find a way to solve their 2.58% shooting percentage, but it won’t matter if the team barely has control of the puck.

This needs to be addressed by the coaching staff and fast, especially in a condensed season. The reality is that the teams the Oilers are competing against for a playoff spot in the North division appear to have things figured out and are benefiting from having a competent bottom six.

Let’s start with Toronto. They’re currently second in the division and have a deep roster on paper with high end talent carrying the top two lines.

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Matthews line 97.40 6-5 61.67 58.38 55.67 12.43 87.86 1.003
Tavares line 93.72 2-3 53.75 52.71 52.2 3.96 93.07 0.97
Bottom six 125.63 2-3 49.18 47.01 43.07 3.85 94.13 0.98

Similar to the Oilers, the Leafs bottom six has played about just under 40% of the team’s total time at even-strength, but have only posted a -1 goal differential. The bottom-six group’s on-ice shot-share numbers aren’t great – the team obviously sees a boost when Matthews or Tavares’ line is playing – but they’re significantly better than what the Oilers bottom six has posted. They are having trouble generating shots, a rate of 24 per hour, but they’re also doing a job suppressing shots, allowing 24 per hour. Again, the league average rate of shots for and against is 30.7 over the last three seasons.

Winnipeg’s bottom six is similar in that they’ve played just under 40% of the team’s total time at even-strength, and have a -1 goal differential. The Jets currently rank third in the division with a 0.667 points percentage, but second in terms of goal differential with +5.

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Scheifele line 95.28 4-6 46.64 47.33 39.77 9.01 88.03 0.97
Statsny line 74.60 6-1 53.77 50.50 58.84 12.26 97.45 1.097
Bottom six 102.97 3-4 49.60 48.72 43.05 6.02 92.04 0.981

The Jets definitely have some work to do when it comes to their share of scoring chances (that Scheifele line might be a spot of bother for the coaching staff), but the bottom six is at least generating and allowing league average rates of shots and are performing much better than the Oilers bottom six. Adding Dubois should give their top lines a boost, so it’ll be interesting to see what other line-up adjustments are made that could benefit their third and fourth lines. Similar to the Leafs, their bottom six might not be generating a lot, and they don’t necessarily need to for their team to be successful. But at least they’re doing a reasonable job suppressing shots and chances against and not giving up the gains made by the top forwards.

Montreal’s bottom six has been outstanding at this point and a big reason why they rank first in the division with a 0.833 points percentage and a +11 goal differential. They’ve played about 45% of the team’s total ice time at even-strength, outscoring opponents 8-3. While they might not be able to sustain a PDO of 106.7, they are doing everything they can to be successful, controlling the flow of play (Corsi For% of 59.35%) and the share of scoring chances (Expected Goals For% of 58.41%).

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Suzuki line 73.50 5-3 58.06 58.92 64.19 11.1 89.43 1.005
Danault line 71.25 5-3 60.32 61.62 57.05 12.27 87.36 0.996
Bottom six 120.68 8-3 59.35 57.26 58.41 12.32 94.34 1.067

Not even sure we should be calling them the Canadiens bottom six – they’re running more of a top nine with the likes of Toffoli and Kotkaniemi marked on the third line. Must be a nice perk for the higher-end forwards to know that they can take a break and not watch their team play in their own zone the whole time.

Hopefully the Oilers coaching staff can figure things out in terms of tactics and deployment, and get some reasonable production from the forwards. Remember – the bottom six was an area of focus for management this past off-season, as the Oilers were outscored badly in 2019/20 without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. While the bottom six posted a 47.73% Corsi For% and a 48.22% Expected Goals For% last season, they were outscored badly (44 GF, 73 GA, a -29 goal differential), which translates to a 37.61% goal-share. The bar isn’t even that high for this year’s group of bottom six forwards, and it would reflect poorly on the management and coaching staff if they couldn’t surpass that level.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Daily Face Off

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 19 – Jason Paul (@waveintel)

Jason Paul, an analytics freelancer behind WaveIntel.org (@waveintel), joined me to share his insights on the Montreal Canadiens, their off-season changes and how they might fare in the North division. We talked about how their roster has been constructed this season, what improvements they’ll need to be competitive at even-strength and special teams, and which players could have the biggest impact.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

Thoughts on the North division + CBC Radio Active segment

Joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk Oilers and previous the season-opener against the Vancouver Canucks. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2021, January 13)

Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty excited that hockey is back. While I didn’t like the idea of having to play the same teams over and over, I do like the playoff feel the regular season will have. The Oilers are playing against the teams they’ll be chasing or trying to create separation from every single night, which makes every game, every point that much more important. We’re probably going to see teams be a little more aggressive with goalie pulls and extra attackers, which should add to the drama. Lots of scoreboard watching.

The North division should be a lot of fun considering the rivalries and the fact that there’s going to be a lot of randomness in the results over a 56-game season. There’s less time to make up ground, making winning and losing streaks, all the more important.  Throw in injuries to key players and how teams adapt their rosters to cover for them, while playing two and three-game series over a short period – it’s going to be wild. All seven teams have their storylines worth following and it’ll be fun to watch some of the high-end talent and prospects from other Canadian clubs – see what the hype is about!

It’s going to be interesting to see how coaching staff’s adapt their powerplays and penalty kills. You’re playing the same teams over and over, so you can expect your opponents to game-plan their special teams a lot more. If your powerplay goes stale, and struggles to generate chances, you’re going to have to adapt and change the look of it – either tactical or changing up the deployment. I suspect the Oilers powerplay will continue to be strong, but will likely see a slight dip from their 20.27% team shooting percentage, likely hovering in the top five overall. Penalty kill is likely to regress, considering their high save percentage last season, but should remain competitive and (hopefully) not cost the team wins in the standings.

For my own curiosity, I wanted to see how well the Canadian teams did on special teams last season, combining their rates of goals for and against on the powerplay and penalty kill.

TeamSpecial teams Goals/60
Edmonton Oilers4.19
Vancouver Canucks2.07
Calgary Flames0.42
Toronto Maple Leafs0.25
Winnipeg Jets-0.24
Montreal Canadiens-1.53
Ottawa Senators-2.06

We all know how dominant Edmonton was on the powerplay, scoring 10.64 goals per hour, Vancouver was right behind them ranking fourth scoring 8.54 goals per hour and Toronto ranking sixth scoring 8.26 goals per hour. What’s interesting is that while they struggled to score, Winnipeg posted some of the highest rates of unblocked shot attempts and shots on goal. Montreal was dreadful – they were one of the worst at generating chances and finished 24th in terms of goals per hour. Looking at penalty killing rates, both the Senators and Jets were dreadful at preventing chances against, finishing in the bottom five in terms of shots against and goals against. Will be interesting to see how much the teams rely on special teams to boost their overall goal-differentials.

Goaltending is going to be huge. With a condensed schedule, teams will need to be mindful of their starters’ workloads, getting them rest between games and avoiding any significant injuries. Some of the teams in the North division look pretty solid in net, with Hellebuyck coming off a strong season, winning the Vezina trophy as the league’s best goalie and Markstom solidifying things in Calgary. Anderson is looking to bounce-back from a down-year last season, but should be back to career-level marks – and motivated by the fact that he’s in a contract year. The Oilers goaltending is not a position of strength as this point. The Oilers have a good, league-average goalie in Koskinen, but he would benefit from a shared workload and I don’t think Smith is up for the job considering his dreadful numbers over the past few years.

To get a sense of the goalies in the division, I looked at each team’s netminders and what their numbers have been like over the past three seasons. The table below is sorted by save percentage, and is for all situations. Included is each goalie’s save percentage (SV%), goals-saved-above-average (GSAA) and high-danger save percentage (HDSV%). The full list included 95 goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes (about 10 games), with the average save percentage being 0.908.

PlayerTeamGPSV%GSAAHDSV%
Connor HellebuyckWPG1880.91951.660.815
Jack CampbellTOR620.91711.510.794
Frederik AndersenTOR1780.91526.520.805
Jacob MarkstromCGY1630.91415.560.831
Mikko KoskinenEDM930.9110.490.820
Carey PriceMTL1730.910-4.730.810
Jake AllenMTL1290.909-4.040.812
Matt MurrayOTT1370.909-5.020.832
David RittichCGY1140.908-8.360.831
Mike SmithEDM1360.907-12.580.815
Thatcher DemkoVAN370.906-5.190.811
Braden HoltbyVAN1610.906-23.450.800
Laurent BrossoitWPG540.905-8.210.817
Marcus HogbergOTT280.901-8.290.795

Good news is that Koskinen has been in the right range and we should expect him to be a league-average netminder. Couple wild cards in the division include Demko, a good prospect who has only played 37 games and is expected to carry the load with Holtby, who has not been very good in the last three years – something to watch for in Vancouver. I was also surprised to see that Murray’s numbers aren’t as strong as I’d thought and he doesn’t have a strong back-up either. I think Toronto appears to have the advantage here with an Andersen/Campbell combo.

One last thing I wanted to know was how each of the Canadian teams did last season without their best players on the ice at even-strength. That’s usually about 70% of the team’s total time, making it pretty critical that they control the flow of play as measured by shot metrics and not get outscored too badly.

Montreal and Winnipeg were the two that came out on top in terms of goal-share without their star player, but that doesn’t say much considering that it was below 50%. What’s interesting however is that the Habs posted pretty strong shot-share numbers. The issue was that they couldn’t finish, something that looks to be corrected with the addition of Toffoli and the development of players like Suzuki. Toronto had the shot-share advantage as well and that’s probably going to continue. Edmonton, as we know, struggled mightily thanks to their bottom six. That should be improved with the addition of Turris and Puljujaarvi, but I’m not convinced that they and the rest of the bottom six roster players can be above 48%.

Related:

Data: Natural Stat Trick

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 18 – Omar Rawji (@omarcanuck)

Omar Rawji (@omarcanuck) joins me to talk Vancouver Canucks, expectations for the upcoming regular season, how they compare against the Edmonton Oilers and how things might shake out in the North division. We talked about the Canucks roster changes, if they have enough depth behind their star players and what needs to go right for them to make the playoffs.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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