CBC Radio Active: Oilers quarter season checkup

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk all things Oilers. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2019, November 12)

Topics we covered:

  • The dismissal of Don Cherry.
  • The Oilers strong start, and the key drivers including goaltending and special teams.
  • Areas for concern, including the number of close games, lower-than-average shot shares and the competitiveness of the Pacific division.

Big thank you to everyone at CBC for putting it together!

Issues generating offence

connor-mcdavid

The Oilers even-strength (5v5) scoring issues remain a major concern, with the team only scoring 2.11 goals for per hour, ranking them 25th in the league. It’s only thanks to excellent goaltending and their ability to limit shots and chances against that their goal-share is a respectable 50.88% (14th in the league).

It’s great that the powerplay and penalty have helped keep their overall goal-differential just above break-even, and hopefully their special teams (especially the penalty kill) can remain at or above league-average rates. But it’s in the Oilers best interest to identify their underlying issues in the most time-consuming game state and try to generate more offence.

The biggest problem for the Oilers at even-strength has been their inability to generate scoring opportunities on a consistent basis. The team current ranks near the bottom of the league when it comes to shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts (used as a proxy for scoring chances) and expected goals, which uses historical data to give each shot a weighting to determine the probability of the shot becoming a goal.

2019/20 CF/60 FF/60 xGF/60 GF/60 Sh%
Oilers 50.21 (27th) 37.03 (29th) 2.06 (25th) 2.11 (25th) 7.74 (20th)
League Average 54.98 41.44 2.22 2.53 8.32

It appears based on shot-location data that the Oilers are having major issues getting opportunities from high-probability areas this season – something we should expect the coaching staff – through potential system adjustments – and perhaps management, to address if the team intends on competing for a playoff spot.

What’s concerning is that this issue is a continuation of one of last season’s biggest problems, as the Oilers finished in the bottom five league-wide not only in goal-scoring, but also shots and scoring chances. In fact, the Oilers are currently slightly below the offensive rates they posted en route to a 79-point/0.482 point-percentage season in 2018/19.

2018/19 CF/60 FF/60 xGF/60 GF/60 Sh%
Oilers 51.90 (28th) 38.53 (29th) 2.13 (26th) 2.17 (26th) 7.68 (21st)
League Average 56.5 42.26 2.3 2.47 8.07

It’s obvious that the Oilers are lacking the talent and depth to out-score opponents on a nightly basis.

But it’s worth noting that the Oilers top line featuring McDavid and Draisaitl is also having issues generating shots and scoring chances – numbers that are closer to league average rates. Below are their on-ice rates together at even-strength from this season (250 mins) and last season (805 mins).

McDavid/Draisaitl CF/60 FF/60 xGF/60 GF/60 On-Ice SH%
2019/20 51.94 39.30 2.58 4.47 15.11
2018/19 57.72 44.01 2.60 4.20 13.10

The Oilers can take solace in the fact that McDavid and Draisaitl are putting up points and have an on-ice rate of 4.47 goals-per hour. But the fact that their on-ice rate of shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts have slipped should be a flag for the team. I’d expect the coaching staff to explore ways for their star players to get more shots and chances to sustain their current scoring rate and also to potentially push their production further. And part of the Oilers’ analysis has to include a review of their star players ice time, which continues to be one of the highest in the league.

Adjustments both to the roster and the tactics have to be made if the Oilers want to make a serious run for a playoff spot.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, HockeyViz

 

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 8 – Darcy McLeod (aka Woodguy)

3000by3000 (1)This week on the podcast, I was joined by Darcy McLeod, also known as Woodguy online. Darcy and I chatted about the Oilers progress this season, what some of the drivers have been and potential areas for concern. We also discussed goaltending, and prospect development/deployment, and how the Oilers could handle their line-up in the short-term and long-term. Darcy also shared the story and methodology behind PuckIQ – a fantastic resource that allows fans to see how individual players have fared against varying levels of competition.

Big thank you to Darcy for sharing his knowledge and insight!

Full segment below:

Links mentioned in the podcast:

Podcast channels:

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

 

Tracking the Pacific Division – As of October 31, 2019

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The Oilers had a lot of success in October, going 9-4-1 in the month and collecting 19 points in 14 games. They sit first overall in the Pacific based on points, but if you factor in the number of games played and the points available, they finished second in their division with a points-percentage of 0.679 behind only Vancouver.

Something I started doing last season was tracking how the Oilers compared with their division rivals at even-strength (5v5) on a month to month basis. Metrics like points, points-percentage and goal-share (GF%) at even-strength gives us a snapshot of the current results. And underlying shot-metrics like shot attempts and expected goals gives us a sense of which teams in the Pacific are for real, and which ones might have issues to address if they want to contend for a playoff spot.

Below are the results as of October 31, 2019, with teams sorted by points-percentage. For each of the shot-share metrics, 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 - 20191031

Couple thoughts:

  • It’s a little concerning that the Oilers possession numbers are poor relative to their division. The big problem is their offensive output, as they rank near the bottom of the league when it comes to shots and chances at even-strength. It’s a team-wide problem that hopefully gets addressed.

  • The Oilers goal-share is right in line with their expected goal-share, which unfortunately is below 50%. Not many teams get into the playoffs with a negative goal-differential, but the fact that they have collected points puts them in a good spot to at least be contending for a playoff spot.
  • I’m honestly surprised to see the Vancouver Canucks doing so well at even-strength and that they’re doing well when it comes to the underlying shot-share metrics. The Canucks powerplay is sitting at 12th overall in the league scoring 8.79 goals per hour. I suspect those results will improve considering that they’re top five in the league when it comes to shot attempts and scoring chances (i.e., Fenwick) per hour.
  • I knew San Jose was struggling, but I did not realize how badly they were getting out-shot and out-chanced. It also doesn’t help that their goaltending has been poor, something that was an issue in years past but was masked by the team’s offensive output. Bright spot – their powerplay is generating a ton of shots and scoring chances on the powerplay, which ranks fifth in the league.
  • Suspect Vegas will climb back into the top three of the Pacific by the end of 2019. They’re playing well as a team, but just haven’t converted on their chances. Their powerplay has been dynamite, scoring 10.34 goals per hour (4th in the league) and sitting near the top of the league when it comes to shots and chances.
  • And here I thought the Oilers powerplay had an advantage over their division rivals. Vegas, Vancouver and San Jose are all top five in the league when it comes to shots and chances. Thankfully the Oilers aren’t too far behind them.
  • Arizona is going to be the team to watch. Excellent shot-share numbers, but I’m not convinced that they have the finishing talent – similar to their story last season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz

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 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, slightly 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).
  • 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. This has been found to be a better predictor of future goals than Corsi and Fenwick.
  • 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)

Shots against at even-strength and the penalty kill

Mike-Smith

Couple interesting trends from the first few weeks that are worth following throughout the season are the rates of shots against both at even-strength (5v5) and the penalty kill. The coaching staff has repeatedly emphasized the importance of bringing down the goals against  this season – obviously seeing what the results were the last few years – with shots, scoring chances and of course goaltending being significant factors in the final outcome.

As of now, the team does appear to have things on track as the team has allowed a rate of 2.32 goals against per hour (all situations), good for fifth in the league. Below is a breakdown of the results at even-strength (5v5) and the penalty kill, including Corsi (i.e., shot attempts) and Fenwick (i.e., unblocked shot attempts as a proxy for scoring chances) and shots on goal. For context, I’ve also included the team save percentage for each of the game-states and how the Oilers rank league-wide for each metric.

Metric Even-strength (5v5) Penalty Kill
TOI (mins) 535 63
Corsi against/60 54.81 (15th) 110.62 (28th)
Fenwick against/60 39.29 (6th) 89.64 (28th)
Shots against/60 28.06 (6th) 65.8 (28th)
Team save% 92.40 (19th) 92.75 (4th)
Goals against/60 2.13 (9th) 4.77 (6th)

What’s interesting here is that while the goals against rate have been excellent, the team’s underlying metrics that are being used to measure defensive prowess are quite different between even-strength play and shorthanded situations.

At even-strength, the Oilers are allowing a league-average rate of shot attempts against, but when it comes to attempts that become real chances, the Oilers rank quite well at sixth overall. Goaltending as measured by team save percentage has been just fine, hovering around the 92% mark, which is what the league average has been over the last three seasons. This gives us some assurances that the results (i.e., goals against per hour) is real and sustainable, and the Oilers should be fine as long as the goaltending holds up. What the coaching staff may need to do is figure out how to capitalize on their ability to shut down offence against and do a better job transitioning puck up-ice to generate their own offence (something that remains a significant issue).

Moving on to the penalty kill, the results, similar to even-strength situations, have been excellent, with the Oilers ranking sixth in the league in terms of goals against per hour with 4.77. However, the driving factor in their success has been the goaltending and only the goaltending, which ranks near the top of the league with a 92.75% save percentage.  The rate of shot attempts and scoring chances against are one of the worst in the league, with the team doing very little to help out their goaltender.

Worth noting that the Oilers current team save percentage of 92.75% will likely drop, as the highest team save percentage on the penalty kill over the last five seasons has never topped 90%. And we also know that offence has gradually been increasing league-wide as more teams are leveraging their powerplay opportunities. Knowing what we know about the Oilers goaltenders and the fact that they’re doing fine at even-strength, I think it’s fair to expect from them league-average goaltending which has typically been around 87%.

What’s interesting to me is the difference in shots and scoring chances against when comparing even-strength play and the penalty kill. The hope is that the team would hover around league average rates against in both game-states, but there’s currently a major drop-off when the Oilers are shorthanded. Definitely something I’d want to ask the coach about.

Early days obviously, but it’s interesting to see which forwards and defencemen are getting ice time and seeing the lowest (and highest) rates of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) against. Below are the forwards who have played at least nine minutes shorthanded sorted by Fenwick-against per hour (FA/60). Note that the average team rate of Fenwick against per hour has been around 75.0 over the last three seasons.

Player GP TOI TOI/GP FA/60
Patrick Russell 8 9.43 1.18 57.24
Jujhar Khaira 11 17.68 1.61 78.04
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 11 18.23 1.66 78.98
Riley Sheahan 9 20.00 2.22 84.00
Josh Archibald 8 18.08 2.26 86.27
Leon Draisaitl 11 16.82 1.53 132.01
Markus Granlund 10 13.83 1.38 134.46

The bottom six forwards are taking heat for their lack of production at even-strength, but are getting praised for the team’s penalty kill results. But hopefully the coaching staff is aware of how poorly they’ve been doing at limiting shots shorthanded, especially Granlund who has a bit of a sketchy history killing penalties. Then again, the Oilers current coaching staff itself has a poor track record on the penalty kill, so who knows.

And below are the defenceman who have played at least five minutes.

Player GP TOI TOI/GP FA/60
Matthew Benning 11 6.50 0.59 64.62
Ethan Bear 11 16.63 1.51 79.36
Darnell Nurse 11 22.90 2.08 91.70
Oscar Klefbom 11 37.32 3.39 96.47
Kris Russell 11 34.43 3.13 97.58

It sure would be nice if one of the third pairing defenceman, someone like Manning or Benning (and down the road, Lagesson) could log some more time on the penalty kill. I think ideally the team would have Klefbom spending more of his energy at even-strength where the Oilers are struggling to generate offence. And I can’t say I’m surprised to see (a) Russell get a lot of ice time shorthanded and (b) Russell struggle when it comes to shots against. It’s been an ongoing trend for quite some time, so hopefully we’ll see some changes to his deployment.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, HockeyViz

Top six bottom six

oilersjets

Currently ranking fourth in the league with a 0.750 points percentage, going 7-2-1 and accumulating 15 points, the Edmonton Oilers are in a great spot but have a lot of work to do if they want to keep things on track and compete for a playoff spot. The issues that plagued them in years past including production from depth players, overall even-strength play and the penalty kill continue to exist, but have largely been masked by stellar goaltending and production from their top end players.

Even though the Oilers are having success to start the season, it’s imperative that management and the coaching staff apply a critical lens on their roster and overall play to determine if the results are sustainable. The big challenge of course is to actually address these issues, either by making changes to the roster, by way of trade or minor-league call-ups, or by adjusting the on-ice tactics or player deployment. The good news is that the Oilers issues aren’t hard to determine as long as shot-metrics which are helpful to predict future results, and a basic understanding of statistical variance are part of the evaluation.

Focusing on the team’s even-strength (5v5) play, the Oilers have posted a goal-share of 51.43% (18 goals-for, 17 goals-against), good for 14th in the league and fourth in the Pacific behind Arizona, Anaheim and Vancouver. It’s also somewhat encouraging that the team’s save or shooting percentage isn’t abnormally high after ten games, something that I think could be perceived looking at the team’s overall record and the roster construction.

Corsi For% Fenwick For% Goals For% Sh% Sv% PDO
46.88% (25th) 47.86 (24th) 51.43 (14th) 8.57 (12th) 92.48 (13th) 101.0 (11th)

What’s worth noting here is that while the Oilers are allowing a 10th ranked rate of 2.11 goals against per hour and rank quite well when it comes to shot attempts against (i.e., Corsi) and unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances against), the Oilers have struggled to score, now ranking 17th in the league with 2.23 goals-for per hour. What’s especially concerning is the team’s inability to generate offence, ranking 30th in the league in shot-attempts against and unblocked shot attempts against per hour.

Offence (5v5) Results
Goals-for/60 2.23 (17th)
Corsi-for/60 48.43 (30th)
Fenwick-for/60 36.04 (30th)

One of the biggest issues for the Oilers is the lack of production from the depth forwards, those playing predominantly on the third and fourth checking lines. Using McDavid, Draisaitl, Neal, Kassian and Nugent-Hopkins, the top five forwards in terms of overall even-strength ice-time, as a proxy for the top six, I was able to determine using Natural Stat Trick’s line tool what the split has been like between them and the bottom six forwards.

Metric (5v5) Top 6 Bottom 6
TOI 323.85 160.57
GF-GA 17-10 1-7
Goals For% 62.96% 12.50%
Corsi For% 48.12% 44.36%
Fenwick For% 48.42% 46.70%

Starting with goal-share, the Oilers have seen a significant drop when it comes to the bottom six forwards who have scored only once and allowed seven goals against this season (a goals for percentage of 12.50%). The team’s possession numbers have been very poor with the depth forwards on the ice, with the team posting a 44.36% Corsi For percentage and a 46.70% Fenwick For percentage. This is partly due to the fact that the depth forwards are starting more often in the defensive zone, but that alone shouldn’t be enough to justify the poor on-ice goal and shot-share metrics.

My initial thought when looking at the results of the bottom six was that maybe someone from the top six could be moved on to the third line or perhaps the Oilers could call-up someone from Bakersfield. But what’s interesting here is that it’s not as though the top six forwards are having great, sustainable success. While their goal-scoring rate has been excellent, they are only slightly better than the bottom six when it comes to shot-share metrics and the rate at which they’re generating and allowing shots and scoring chances.

Oilers (5v5) Team Top Six Bottom Six
Corsi For/60 48.43 49.84 45.59
Corsi Against/60 54.87 53.73 57.17
Fenwick For/60 36.04 36.87 34.38
Fenwick Against/60 39.26 39.28 39.24
Goals For/60 2.23 3.15 0.37
Goals Against/60 2.11 1.85 2.62

We know the team overall is having issues generating offence, so lets focus on that. As a team, the Oilers rank quite low overall when it comes to generating shot attempts (48.43 Corsi For/60) and unblocked shot attempts (36.04 Fenwick For/60). When the top six forwards have been on the ice, those rates only increase slightly relative to the team with the difference between them and the bottom six being about 4.25 more shot attempts per hour and 2.49 more unblocked shot attempts per hour. Defensively at even-strength, the bottom six has been just fine, allowing a rate of shots and scoring chances close to the overall team rate and being part of the reason why the team overall has had success.

The main takeaway here is that while the bottom six is getting a lot of attention for its lack of production at even-strength, there are also significant issues with the top six that really need to be addressed by management and the coaching staff. Heading into the season, the Oilers were aware of the lack of depth across the roster, and made a number of changes to address the issue. The early signs indicate that it hasn’t been enough, and that in order to compete for a playoff spot, they’ll have to take a closer look at their roster construction, tactics and player deployment and make the necessary changes. The concern now is that management has already bought into their overall results without looking at the underlying metrics, moving forward without regard for statistical variance and focusing solely on the bottom six forwards.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 7 – Murat Ates

3000by3000 (1)This week I was joined by Murat Ates, Jets beat reporter for The Athletic Winnipeg. Murat shared his experiences getting into hockey and writing, and his approach to hockey analysis. We talked about the Jets current state and what area of the team’s performance and roster construction are worth following this season.

Big thank you to Murat for making himself available!

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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