Re-Capping game 3 on The Lowdown with Lowetide (TSN 1260)

Joined Lowetide this morning for my weekly segment on TSN 1260 to chat Oilers. Clip starts around the 20 minute mark, but definitely check out Jake Sundstrom’s segment right before. He and the crew at Fear the Fin do some great work covering the Sharks.

Topics we covered:

  • Last night’s win in San Jose
  • The new line combinations (finally!)
  • The play of Kassian, importance of depth scoring
  • Expectations over the next few games

The Weakest Link

What’s becoming increasingly obvious early on in the 2017 post-season is the importance of generating offence from across all four lines. While star players are fully expected to lead their teams in scoring, making a deep run in the playoffs often requires a group of supporting players that can contribute on a consistent basis. We’ve seen already the importance of depth players in the Leafs-Capitals series, and we’ll likely see more of that across other series as the playoffs go on.

After two games, the Oilers have received scoring from an array of players, at different game-states, which will need to continue if the club expects to have success in the playoffs. While the first two lines have plenty of talent and experience, and the third line featuring Letestu, Caggiula and Kassian had shown well in game two on Friday night, it’s the fourth line that might be the team’s weakest area. And it’s the play of David Desharnais in particular that the team may need to address, and fast.

In game one when the Oilers could only generate 31 shot attempts, and allowed 54, Desharnais was on the ice for one shot attempt for, and seven against in just over five minutes of ice time at even-strength. This didn’t seem so bad considering the whole team, except for Talbot, was dreadful in that overtime loss. But in game two when the Oilers outshot the Sharks 47-21, and really dominated the game, the team was again outshot when Desharnais was on the ice, this time going 2-5 in six and a half minutes of ice time.

It’s clear the coaching staff doesn’t really trust the 30-year old centerman, as Desharnais’ ice time in the first two games of the playoffs is well below the 10.73 minutes he averaged in his 18 regular season games with Edmonton since being acquired at the deadline. He’s not a powerplay or penalty kill option either, making him a fairly one dimensional player that the coaching staff typically deploys against the other team’s third and fourth lines.

Desharnais’s poor showing after the first two games isn’t all that surprising. In the 18 regular season games he played with Edmonton, he scored four points (2 goals, 2 assists), all coming within his first six games. Over the remaining 12 games, he mustered nine shots and not much else, which is disappointing considering his nice start and the fact that he often played the weakest competition.

His on-ice numbers at even-strength were fairly poor as well over the 18 games, as the Oilers were outscored (10-9) and regularly out-shot when he was on the ice.


Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Recapping Game 1 Against the Sharks on the CBC Edmonton News (TV)

I joined Sandra Batson on the CBC Edmonton News to talk about the loss in game one against the Sharks, and preview game 2. Will post the link when it becomes available.

Topics we covered:

  • Getting out-shot badly (used some graphics from Natural Stat Trick)
  • What areas the team needs to improve on heading into game two (i.e., line matching, penalty issues)
  • San Jose’s flaws and what the Oilers did well


The Oilers Powerplay Could Be the Difference Against San Jose


In their season series against the Sharks this season, the Oilers won three of the five games, going 3-1-1, outscoring them 16-13. Worth noting that at even-strength, the goals were even at eleven apiece, with the Sharks posting the better Corsi For%. Where the Oilers excelled at was on special teams, as they scored three powerplay markers and one shorthanded.

The key now will be for the Oilers to continue scoring on the powerplay in the post-season when games get tighter and even-strength scoring opportunities could slide.

The Oilers powerplay finished fifth in the league, and first in the western conference, when it came to goals for per 60 with 8.34. Their rate of unblocked shot attempts was consistently above league average with 72.31 per hour, which ranked 8th overall and indicates that not only was the powerplay effective, but the results are sustainable.

The scoring rate took a bit of a dip this season, but because the shot rates were consistently good, it was expected that it would eventually improve. The main drivers of the powerplay were Connor McDavid and Mark Letestu as the team generated over 80 Fenwicks per hour with either of them on the ice. Lucic (25), Draisaitl (25) and McDavid (23) were the top three scorers on the powerplay, with Klefbom leading defencemen with 14.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Previewing the Oilers-Sharks Series on the CBC Edmonton News (TV)


I joined Adrienne Pan on the CBC Edmonton News this evening to talk Oilers and their upcoming series against the Sharks. Clip is here and starts around the nine minute mark: CBC Edmonton News (2017, April 11)

Topics we covered:

  • The final stretch of the regular season, and the play of McDavid and Talbot
  • Improved play of Lucic, Eberle and RNH over the last month
  • Importance of depth players in the playoffs
  • Areas for improvement
  • How the Oilers match up against the Sharks

I’ll also be making an appearance on the news on Thursday night to preview game 2 and will be on more frequently for the duration of the playoffs. Looking forward to it!

Talking Oilers, season finale and playoffs on The Lowdown with Lowetide (TSN 1260)

Joined Lowetide on TSN 1260 to talk all things Oilers. Clip starts around 20 minutes in.

Topics we covered:

  • Season finale, Connor reaches 100 points!
  • The team Corsi For% was not strong over the final 25 games.
  • My recent article on the team defence this year, and why Talbot is the reason why the goals against are down.
  • Off-season goals and if retating Russell makes sense from a financial perspective.
  • Playoffs starting up!

How much better is the Oilers defence this season?


Following a 29th place finish, the Oilers focused on their defence, and made significant changes  in the off-season acquiring Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall, and signing Kris Russell. Adding experienced players allowed them to push Nurse further down the depth chart, at an appropriate level for a developing prospect. And it allowed for the Oilers to push down defencemen like Reinhart and Oesterle to the minors where they could continue to develop.

A quick look at the 2015/16 defence group that played at least 100 minutes at 5v5, compared to the 2016/17 group (sorted by TOI).

2015/16 GP TOI
ANDREJ.SEKERA 81 1,353.24
DARNELL.NURSE (R) 69 1,166.12
MARK.FAYNE 69 1,002.99
ERIC.GRYBA 53 796.07
ADAM.PARDY 23 153.45
2016/17 GP TOI
OSCAR.KLEFBOM 79 1,339.57
ADAM.LARSSON 76 1,325.61
ANDREJ.SEKERA 77 1,248.21
KRIS.RUSSELL 65 1,142.57
MATT.BENNING (R) 59 877.38
ERIC.GRYBA 39 564.52

Based on the group of defencemen, and the fact that they’ve been healthy for the most part, and the fact that the rate of goals against per 60 is down (goal differential of -36 to +22), my expectation was that the team improved this season in the following areas at even-strength (5v5):

  • Fenwick against/60
  • Shots against/60
  • Expected goals against/60
  • Scoring chances against/60
  • Average shot distance against

Now these are all reflective of the things that teams probably want to be good at defensively and where teams would want to improve if they revamp their defence core. They want to limit the shots getting through (i.e., they block shots), they want to keep shots away from their net, keep pucks to the outside, they want to force low-probability shots and limit scoring chances.

Here’s a high-level summary, comparing the Oilers numbers from last season to this season. I’ve included their league ranking for each metric.

Edmonton Oilers (5v5) 2015/16 2016/17
Fenwick Against/60 42.67 (24th) 40.33 (9th)
Shots Against/60 30.64 (24th) 29.46 (12th)
Scoring Chances Against/60 8.39 (19th) 8.81 (26th)
xGoals Against 2.55 (23rd) 2.64 (24th)
Avg Shot Distance 33.01 (27th) 30.92 (30th)
Goals Against 2.63 (30th) 2.16 (9th)
Save% 91.43 (29th) 92.68 (8th)

At first glance, it appears the Oilers have improved this season when it comes to the volume of shots against (Fenwick, Shots on goals). And when it comes to the quality of those shots (Scoring chances, expected goals), it appears they’re hasn’t been much of an improvement from last season. The key thing that jumps out is the team save percentage, which has been strong and consistent all year. But let’s take a look at each metric.

Fenwick Against/60

The Oilers saw their rate of unblocked shots against go down by 2 events per 60 minutes at 5v5 this season, which moved them from 24th overall to 9th. Below are the year-to-year numbers for the Oilers. Please note that in the graph below, the range (35 to 51) reflects the average league-wide range.

20170406 - Defence Analysis - FA60

The Oilers have been much better at blocking shot attempts this season, blocking 28% (7th in the league) compared to 26% last season (15th in the league). What’s a little troubling is that the rate of unblocked shots against has gradually increased over the course of the 2016/17season, as the Oilers started off well, but have gradually been worse. Below is the rolling 25-game segments, with two lines: the 2015/16 season on the left and the 2016/17 season on the right.

20170406 - Defence Analysis - FA60 Rolling

The team finished with a  rate of 42.67 Fenwicks against/60 last season, and actually exceeded that rate for a 25-game stretch this season. I’d say the defence has been better, but they still haven’t ironed out some of the deficiencies from last season.

Shots Against/60

The Oilers saw their rate of shots on goals against per 60 drop by 1.18 this season. This doesn’t seem significant, but it moved the Oilers from being below league average to just around it.

20170406 - Defence Analysis - SA60

But again, if we look at the rolling 25-game segments at 5v5, we see that the team is still having issues, especially in the most recent stretch where they’ve hovered around the same rate of shots against as last season. I find this pretty odd considering the Oilers defence core has been healthy all year, and the defence pairings have been consistent all year.

20170406 - Defence Analysis - SA60 Rolling

Scoring Chances Against/60

Now this I wasn’t expecting.

The rate of scoring chances against, as defined by Corsica, has actually increased this season, dropping them from 19th in the league to 26th.

20170406 - Defence Analysis - SCA60

It appears that last season, the club was a lot more consistent when it came to preventing scoring chances, hovering between 8 and 9 chances per 60. This season they’ve struggled, as they’ve shown signs of improvement, dropping from around 10 chances per hour down to 7. But this gradually got worse again, even surpassing last season’s worst stretch.

20170406 - Defence Analysis - SCA60 Rolling

What’s worth noting here is that the average distance of the shots against has dropped, meaning the shots against are getting closer. The Oilers are 30th in league when it comes to this metric, meaning Talbot is getting shot at from a lot closer than past seasons. This leads us to our measure for shot quality.

Expected Goals Against/60

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 captures a lot more data compared to scoring chances, as every unblocked shot against is included, and also does a good job of predicting future goals. (Detailed explanation can be found at Corsica Hockey).

20170406 - Defence Analysis - xGA60

It appears that when it comes to expected goals against, the Oilers have been worse this season compared to last, dropping from 23rd to 24th in the league. So while the team is preventing more shots from getting through (i.e., they’re blocking more shots), the shots they allow are of the higher quality, and the ones more likely to becoming goals.

20170406 - Defence Analysis - xGA60 Rolling

What’s worse is that the rate of expected goals against has gradually increased this season, again surpassing some of the worst stretches from last season.


My takeaway from this is that the team hasn’t really improved when it comes to the defensive side of the game, making only marginal progress when it comes to the rate of shots against, but actually getting worse when it comes to the quality of those shots against. This is pretty disappointing considering the cost of acquiring Larsson, and some of the narratives about this team being more balanced on the back-end and being harder to play against.

The biggest factor that has driven down the rate of goals against has been Cam Talbot, who has started the vast majority of games this season. First, a quick glance at the team’s save percentage year over year:

20170406 - Defence Analysis - SV%

The club went from having the second worst team save percentage last season to the 9th best this season. What’s even better is that the save percentage has trended upwards over the course of this season, with the club even reaching 94% (!!) for a 25-game stretch.

20170406 - Defence Analysis - SV% Rolling

Without Talbot’s improved play from last season, there is no way this team would be contending for a division title. While the Oilers even-strength offence is relying heavily on McDavid, it appears that the drop in goals against is largely due to Talbot, and not the defence core.

Data: Corsica Hockey