Good times

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The Oilers have been outstanding in the month of January having gone 7-1-2 over the ten games, outscoring opponents 45-27. Their overall goal-differential is now at +8, and has them second in the Pacific division behind Vancouver (+18 goal-differential). The Oilers are currently three points out of first and three points ahead of the second wild card spot currently held by Arizona.

Date Results
2020-01-02 Oilers 2, Sabres 3
2020-01-04 Oilers 4, Bruins 1
2020-01-06 Oilers 6, Maple Leafs 4
2020-01-09 Oilers 4, Canadiens 2
2020-01-11 Oilers 3, Flames 4
2020-01-14 Predators 2, Oilers 4
2020-01-18 Coyotes 3, Oilers 7
2020-01-29 Flames 4, Oilers 3
2020-01-31 Blues 2, Oilers 4
2020-02-01 Oilers 8, Flames 3

So what’s been driving their results over these ten games in January?

  • The Oilers are averaging over four goals per game, running at a team shooting percentage of 13.93%. To put that into context, teams have averaged a shooting percentage of 9.22% over the previous three seasons.
  • At even-strength (5v5), the Oilers are playing a lot more often with the puck, controlling 53.16% of the total shot attempts for and against (i.e., Corsi For%). In the 42 games prior to this month, the Oilers had posted a Corsi For% of 47.25%, one of the worst shot-shares in the league.
  • The Oilers are also getting a higher share of the scoring chances at even-strength, which uses unblocked shot attempts for and against as a proxy (i.e., Fenwick For%). Prior to January, the Oilers had posted a Fenwick For% of 48.18%, ranking 23rd in the league. Over the last ten, they’ve controlled 52.96% of the scoring chances, ninth best in the league.
  • The Oilers are getting plenty of secondary offence, as the second line featuring Nugent-Hopkins, Yamamoto and Draisaitl has been on fire outscoring opponents 13-2 at even-strength in 126 minutes together. They’ve also posted a Corsi For% of 54.95% and a Fenwick For% of 55.68%. They’re not likely to maintain a 86.67% goal-share the rest of the season due in large part to a 113 PDO. But the results should continue being positive as they’re spending a lot of time with the puck and generating chances.

That’s all well and good, but it’s also worth noting there are some issues that are being masked by the overall success in January. If you’re running a team in a league that encounters a lot of randomness and you’re making decisions worth millions of dollars every day, you have to be applying a critical lens as often as possible. Especially with the trade deadline coming up and a potential playoff berth – and not to mention the long-term goal of being a sustainable contender – it’s even more critical to determine your strengths and weaknesses as you go about making decisions that are hopefully geared towards winning.

With that out of the way…

The first issue that’s a little troubling is the Oilers goaltending which has been mediocre pretty much all season long. In the month of January, the tandem of Smith and Koskinen have posted a team save percentage of 91.53% at even-strength, which only ranks 21st in the league but has actually been their best stretch this season. Prior to January, the duo posted a save percentage of 90.64%, which ranked them 27th in the league. League average at even-strength over the last three seasons has been 92.17%. Where the duo has been solid is on the penalty kill, where over the course of the season, they’ve posted a save percentage of 89.58% – second best in the league.

That leads to my next point.

The Oilers special teams have been solid all season, with the powerplay and penalty kill ranking top three league-wide. What’s interesting is that over the last ten games, the powerplay is generating just over 9.00 goals per hour – which is a goal below their scoring rate all season – but have struggled generating chances with the man-advantage ranking bottom ten league-wide with just over 60.0 unblocked shot attempts per hour. Definitely something worth monitoring.

On the penalty kill, the Oilers have slipped a bit in their last ten as well, having allowed over seven goals per hour, which is a couple goals below their season-long rate and are now closer to league average rates. They’ve been struggling with limiting chances against all season, and I think it was only a matter of time before the goaltending started to falter. Not the end of the world, but I’d be curious to know if the system changes they’ve made at even-strength are impacting their special teams play. And if so, what the coaching staff and potentially management might be able to do about it to mitigate any risks. The last thing the Oilers should be doing is re-signing guys like Sheahan and Archibald to long-term deals solely for their penalty kill results, as a lot of it has been driven by goaltending.

The other area that might be of interest is how well the group of forwards has done in the last ten games. Using the most common centermen as proxies, below are the on-ice results for each line. Note that for the data below, I ensured that the centers did not have any of the other three with them on the ice. Adding each player’s individual ice time together (again, away from the other centers), I was able to capture 95% of the team’s total ice time at even-strength.

Line TOI GF% CF% FF% SH% SV% PDO
McDavid 148.78 57.14 57.73 56.32 9.20 91.78 1.010
Draisaitl 148.15 81.25 53.82 54.38 14.77 95.89 1.107
Sheahan 98.25 33.33 47.75 49.42 9.52 85.19 0.947
Haas 74.40 57.14 49.07 46.55 11.43 91.89 1.033

As mentioned earlier, Draisaitl and his linemates have been outstanding, posting excellent shot-share numbers and giving us confidence in their ability to continue generating offence. And based on the data at PuckIQ (small sample size alert), among Oilers centers over the last ten games, Draisaitl is playing the second highest proportion of ice time against the opposing team’s top players, only behind RNH. And Haas, kinda surprisingly, isn’t that far behind. Haas has also posted some nice numbers for a fourth liner playing tougher minutes, with a 57.14 goal-share and a 49.0% share of shot attempts in the last ten games. Would be nice to see his on-ice proportion of scoring chances improve, but maybe that happens with more skill on his line. Sheahan has played the lowest proportion of ice time against elite players, and his on-ice numbers are also being dragged down by Khaira who has been playing poorly all-season. If the Oilers choose to break-in a prospect forward like Benson in the near-future, getting early reps with Sheahan might be a good idea. More on Benson in a second.

Line TOI Goals For Goals Against GF/60 GA/60
McDavid 148.78 8 6 3.23 2.42
Draisaitl 148.15 13 3 5.26 1.21
Sheahan 98.25 4 8 2.44 4.89
Haas 74.40 4 3 3.23 2.42

What really stands out to me are McDavid’s on-ice numbers over the last ten games, which have been excellent, but I’m wondering what better linemates could do for him offensively. Kassian has only posted a goal and an assist in this recent stretch, while Neal only has two assists, both of which were secondary assists. Defensively, McDavid and his linemates have been fine allowing a rate of shots and scoring chances against similar to the rest of the team. Goaltending, a weakness noted above, appears to be a factor in their rate of goals against per hour. And as I noted in a recent post, McDavid’s goal-share over the season has been great, but it’s not as good as the goal-shares being posted by other star players within the Pacific division. Depending on how well Benson can adjust to NHL play, he should eventually get some reps on the top line to see if he can add an element that might be missing. The Oilers do need to figure out as early as possible what they have in Benson at the NHL level, not only to potentially sign him to a value deal but to also start focusing on re-stocking the prospect pool this coming off-season.

A lot of things to consider heading into the deadline and into a very important off-season, especially when it comes to optimizing the roster and those on entry-level deals. Goaltending, special teams, production from the top lines and the prospect pool are hopefully getting attention from the Oilers management and coaching staff. This season has so far gone a lot better than I expected, and hopefully the long-terms goals haven’t been lost in the recent success. If anything, due to the emergence of young talent like Bear, Jones and Yamamoto, the team can re-calibrate their short-terms goals and continue focusing on building a sustainable winner.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, PuckIQ

Check your depth

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Things are pretty close in the Pacific division, with the top five teams currently separated by five points. None of the teams have been dominant this season, with the division-leading Canucks ranking tenth overall in the league with a points percentage of 0.608. Seven of the top ten teams are from the Eastern conference.

Below are the Pacific division standings, sorted by points percentage. (Note: Points percentage is the total points accumulated divided by the points that were available, including extra time.)

Team Games Record Points Point %
Vancouver 51 29-18-4 62 0.608
Edmonton 50 26-18-6 58 0.580
Calgary 52 27-19-6 60 0.577
Vegas 52 25-20-7 57 0.548
Arizona 52 26-21-5 57 0.548
San Jose 52 22-26-4 48 0.462
Anaheim 50 20-25-5 45 0.450
Los Angeles 51 18-28-5 41 0.402

Even-strength (5v5) is a common issue for all of the teams, as Vancouver ranks 16th in the league with a 50.50% goal-share (a goal differential of +2) and Arizona ranks 17th with a 50.50% goal-share. The remaining teams all rank in the bottom ten league-wide, posting negative goal-shares. Special teams has been the difference, especially for the Edmonton Oilers whose powerplay has been dynamite. (Note: Goal-share is the proportion of all the goals that the team scored and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Goals For/(Goals For + Goals Against))

At this rate, the top five Pacific division teams all have a legitimate chance of making the playoffs together, as the Central division teams, outside of St. Louis and Colorado, haven’t been very good either.

Now one of the Oilers biggest issues at even-strength has been their lack of production when McDavid hasn’t been on the ice, as the club has posted a +6 goal differential with him on the ice and a -22 goal differential without him. What’s interesting is that the other four Pacific division teams that are still in the playoff race are having very similar problems, relying a lot on their star player to drive positive results.

For this exercise, I picked who I thought was the star forward on each team based on their total points and total ice-time, and then looked at how their teams have done with and without them at even-strength this season. The star list is as follows:

  • Edmonton – C. McDavid
  • Vancouver – E. Pettersson
  • Calgary – M. Tkachuk
  • Arizona – N. Schmaltz
  • Vegas – M. Stone

Your opinions may vary on who the best player is for each team, but I’m comfortable with this list. Total points captures their actual results and their total ice time reflects what their coaches think of them. I should note that Taylor Hall is definitely the best player for the Coyotes, but he hasn’t spent nearly as much time with the team as Schmaltz, which would skew the with-and-without-you numbers.

Looking at actual results first, below is how each team has done in terms of goal-share with and without their star player this season at even-strength. Keep in mind, star players are typically on the ice for only about 35% of the their team’s total even-strength ice-time. It’s absolutely critical for teams to do as much damage as possible with their star players out there, and at the very least break even in terms of goal-share in the remaining 65.0% of ice time.

Pacific Stars GF

Here we see that while most of the teams have figured things out when their top forward is deployed, all five teams are struggling to get acceptable results from the rest of their roster. For example, the Canucks are getting over 60.0% of the goal-share with Pettersson on the ice, but are below 45.0% without him. They’re ranked 10th in the league now thanks in large part to their young superstar, imagine where they could be if they just broke even without him on the ice.

I wasn’t overly surprised to see this considering that we know all five teams are struggling to win the overall goal-share battle at even-strength. What did stand out, and what might bother the Oilers, is that the stars from other teams are posting better goal-share results than McDavid. We’ve known for quite some time that depth is an issue for the Oilers, and it should be especially alarming when McDavid is starting to get dragged down in comparison to his divisional counterparts.

Seeing the actual results, I also wanted to know what each team’s Corsi For percentage was like with and without their star players to get a sense of how well teams are controlling the flow of play. (Note: Corsi for percentage is 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%))

Pacific Stars CF

Again we see teams are having issues without their star players on the ice, as they’re often getting outshot and outchanced, and playing more defence. If they want to eventually get better at out-scoring opponents, they need to have the puck a lot more often to generate chances. Vegas, thanks to their actual depth, is the only team that has posted a positive Corsi For% (i.e., above 50%) without their top forward on the ice. What should be concerning for Oilers management is that they’re losing the shot-share battle even with their star player on the ice, posting a 48.79% Corsi For percentage when McDavid has been deployed. Imagine what his point totals could be if the Oilers had the puck more often. Something management and the coaching staff needs to figure out, both for this season and next.

Just for context, I also wanted to know what each team’s PDO was like with and without their star player to see if team’s might regress either positively or negatively over this last stretch of thirty-something games. (Note:  PDO is 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))

Team With Star Player Without Star Player
On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
Vancouver 11.55 91.08 1.026 7.06 92.57 0.996
Edmonton 11.16 90.85 1.020 6.81 90.87 0.977
Calgary 7.60 91.78 0.994 6.40 92.47 0.989
Vegas 7.55 91.35 0.989 7.34 90.91 0.982
Arizona 9.83 92.69 1.025 6.62 92.76 0.994

I think Vegas is the team to watch the rest of the way, as they have some excellent underlying numbers, both with and without their star player, but are being sunk by a below-average shooting and save percentage. Remains to be seen if the new coaching staff might impact things, but the club does have the skill and depth to take over the division if their shooting percentage improves. Calgary is also interesting as they’ve got okay shot-share numbers, but appear to be a little snake-bitten with and without their star player. I’m also curious to see if the Oilers without McDavid will see their goal share gradually improve from 40.0%, especially if the second line featuring Draisaitl, RNH and Yamamoto can continue to click.

Hopefully the Oilers management is aware of not only their own weaknesses, but also of their competition. The Pacific division is truly wide open this season, with one of these teams potentially having an easier track to the western conference finals. The other thing to watch for is how these teams go about enhancing their depth for a playoff run and for next season as the Oilers have to be able to keep up and position themselves for playoff, and hopefully championship, contention.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

CBC Radio Active: Oilers, the Pacific division and previewing the upcoming game against the Flames

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Adrienne Pan on CBC Radio Active to talk all things Oilers. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2020, January 28)

Topics we covered:

  • Thoughts on the Kassian/Tkachuk incident.
  • What to expect from the Oilers in their match against the Flames.
  • The Pacific division.
  • The emergence of Kailer Yamamoto.
  • Upcoming trade deadline.
  • Areas the Oilers need to focus on to make the playoffs.

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

Looking into the potential reasons why the Oilers are better on the road than at home

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The Oilers are playing better on the road than at home this season, which is odd considering that on average over the last three seasons teams collected 60.7% of the available points (i.e., points percentage) when playing at home and 50.7% of the available points when on the road. This year, the Oilers have a 54.8% points percentage at home (21st in the league, fourth in the division) and a 57.7% points percentage on the road (10th in the league and second in the Pacific division). Below are the results for the season thus far, including their overall goal differential.

2019/20 Games Pts% NHL Rank Goal differential
Home 21 54.8% 21st -10 (67 GF, 77 GA)
Away 26 57.7% 10th +5 (75 GF, 70 GA)

When asked at his media availability on Monday about the results at home as compared to on the road, Oilers head coach Dave Tippett provided this comment:

When you play on the road you play a simple direct style. You have to be all in. At home you tend to get fancy a little bit and maybe tend to try to put on a bit of a show for your fans. But the best show you can put on for your fans is for us to win.

On the road we’re generally playing a straight, disciplined game and that’s the kind of game, when we’re at our best, we play. We have to have that type of mindset wherever we play. It doesn’t matter. (Source)

Digging into the results a little deeper we start to see Tippett’s point about playing a more disciplined game on the road. Focusing first on even-strength (5v5) play, we see there’s been a drop off in terms of how well the team does in controlling the flow of play and their share of the shot attempts and scoring chances – metrics that are largely team driven.

HomeAway5v5.png

Starting with goal-share, we see that the Oilers even-strength play hasn’t been good overall, posting a negative goal differential both at home and on the road. Their 43.01% goal-share at home is the second worst in the league this season, while their 47.57% goal-share on the road is ranked 15th overall.

Looking at shot-share metrics, the Oilers do see an increase when they’re on the road, as their Corsi For% (a proxy for possession) and Fenwick For% (a proxy for scoring chances) see an uptick towards league average proportions when they’re on the road. And it’s a little alarming that all of their shot-share metrics at home rank in the bottom-five league-wide. Note that the league average shot-shares at home and on the road are right around 50.0% over the last three seasons. The odd team has seen a difference of 2.00 to 2.50 percentage points between their home shot-share compared to their road shot-share, but the difference for most teams is negligible.

This indicates to me that there’s definitely a team-wide issue that the coaching staff needs to address, as the Oilers are somehow managing to generate a slightly higher rate of scoring chances per hour and preventing more against when on the road.

5v5 FF/60 FA/60 GF/60 GA/60
Home 37.74 43.74 2.24 3.28
Away 40.37 40.12 2.44 2.45

What should be getting more attention is the significant drop in the team’s save percentage when the Oilers play at home. Currently, the Oilers goaltending at even-strength ranks 26th in the league with a save percentage of 90.86%. At home, that number drops to 89.78%, ranking 30th in the league. But on the road, for whatever reason, the Oilers goaltending ranks 14th with a save percentage of 91.76%.

The penalty kill is also where the goaltenders are really costing the Oilers wins at home. On the road, the goaltending has been excellent posting a save percentage of 92.74% – the best in the league. But at home, the save percentage ranks 22nd, with a save percentage of 85.86%. And it’s not like the Oilers penalty kill allows a lot more scoring chances against at home than on the road. In both situations, the Oilers allow close to league average rates.

Penalty Kill FA/60 GA/60 Sv%
Home 75.22 7.52 (23rd) 85.86%
Away 73.86 3.96 (1st) 92.74%

If you look at all situations, the Oilers team save percentages goes from being the 29th ranked team with 88.38% at home to being the 5th ranked team on the road with 91.61%. This is definitely an area worth looking into and assessing how the goaltenders are managing themselves on the road versus at home.

leon-draisaitl.jpg

Another thing to look into is the play of Leon Draisaitl at home versus on the road. Almost every player on the team sees a drop in their on-ice share of shots and scoring chances when the Oilers play at home, but Leon’s numbers are something else.

The Oilers tend to play a lot more without the puck when Draisaitl’s been on the ice this season, as his on-ice Corsi For% has been 45.31% – second worst among Oilers forwards, only ahead of Khaira. The team has also been out-scored 49-42 with Draisaitl on the ice, a goal-share of 46.15%.

It’s on home ice where his biggest struggles are, as the team has posted a goal-share of 41.38% with Draisailt on the ice. Goaltending is definitely a factor as noted above, but the team also controls only 41.98% of the shot-attempts and 41.73% of the scoring chances with him on the ice.

Draisaitl (5v5) CF% FF% xGF% GF% SH% SV% PDO
Home 41.98 41.73 40.7 41.38 12.15 87.63 0.998
Away 48.11 48.28 49.84 51.21 10.27 91.43 1.017

Leon’s numbers improve significantly on the road, with the team posting a Corsi For% of 48.11% and a Fenwick For% of 48.28%. What’s driving the improved shot-share proportions is the team’s inability to suppress scoring chances against when Leon is on the ice, going from 54.15 unblocked shot attempts against at home (one of the worst rates in the league among regular forwards) to 43.45 on the road.

What’s also interesting to see is the negative impact Draisaitl’s been having on McDavid both at home and on the road, as the Oilers appear to be controlling the share of scoring chances just fine when the captain is on the ice with Draisaitl.

Fenwick For% McDavid and Draisaitl McDavid without Draisaitl Neither on the ice
Home 41.45% 55.53% 47.82%
Away 48.96% 56.61% 49.89%

What’s really driving their poor on-ice shot-share numbers is their defensive play when deployed together. At home, they see a rate of 57.86 unblocked shot attempts against per hour – a significant jump from when they’re on the road posting a rate of 42.56 unblocked shot attempts against per hour.

What’s interesting is that it appears to be Draisaitl’s that’s causing the spike, as McDavid’s numbers without Draisaitl and the rest of the team without the two see similar rates of shots against whether at home or on the road.

Fenwick Against/60 McDavid and Draisaitl McDavid without Draisaitl Neither on the ice
Home 57.86 38.99 38.26
Away 42.56 34.05 39.49

There’s definitely more to the Oilers struggles at home, but starting with the team’s overall play at even-strength, the goaltending and Draisaitl’s performance would be a good start. With the playoff race getting tighter in the Pacific, it would behoove the Oilers coaching staff and potentially management to uncover as many weaknesses and try to rectify them as soon as possible.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 11 – Catherine Silverman

3000by3000 (1)This week on the podcast – Catherine Silverman (@catmsilverman) from InGoal Magazine and The Athletic!

Catherine shared her insights on the Arizona Coyotes season, how the roster has been constructed and the key drivers for their success thus far. I also got to learn about how the young core is progressing and the impact Taylor Hall has had as the club pushes for the top spot in the Pacific division. Catherine also gave her take on the Oilers goaltending situation and how best to deploy the Koskinen/Smith tandem.

Big thank you to Cat for her knowledge and insights!

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

Boosting the powerplay

coppernblue.com.full.54273With the Edmonton Oilers even-strength (5v5) performance being so poor this season – ranking 29th in the league in terms of goal-share with 44.69% (-19 goal differential) and often getting out-shot and out-chanced – it’s become even more critical that the Oilers generate as much offence as possible on the powerplay. It’s a game-state the Oilers should excel within given the high-end talent on the roster and the success the group – including McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Klefbom – have had in previous seasons.

The good news is that the Oilers currently rank near the top of the league with the man-advantage, second only to the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring 10.69 goals per hour – a metric that also captures how efficient teams are at scoring in a time-pressured situation. Since it’s a competitive results-driven league, it’s also important to dig behind the outputs and determine if the results are in fact sustainable and try to uncover any areas that might need attention from the coaching staff and management.

The first thing to note about the Oilers powerplay is that it’s allowed seven short-handed goals – the most in the league and the highest rate of goals against per hour with 1.92. That doesn’t drive down their overall results on the powerplay significantly as they would still rank third in the league if we factor in goals against. But not allowing those goals would have them at an even overall goal-differential today and likely a little higher up in the Pacific division standings. Worth noting that the Oilers don’t allow a lot of chances against, but when they have, their goaltending has been poor.

The second issue is that the Oilers are heavily reliant on their top powerplay unit, which isn’t surprising considering (a) their top end talent, (b) the amount of time the Oilers have typically trailed in games this season and (c) the lack of depth options on the roster. In fact, the Oilers for the second year in a row are near the top of league when it comes to the proportion of powerplay ice time the top unit is deployed. The league average proportion of ice time for top powerplay units is typically around 65% over the last three seasons. The Oilers currently deploy their top unit 81.0% – second in the league only behind the Washington Capitals.

Note: To determine the top powerplay units proportion of ice-time and their results, I took the forward with the most ice-time on each team and used them as a proxy for the first powerplay unit and divided their ice time with the team’s total powerplay time. The second powerplay units ice time and results were determined by subtracting the ice-team leaders TOI and results from the team totals. Data can be found in the Appendix.

It’s worth noting that a team like Tampa Bay who have historically been excellent with the man-advantage and are competing with the Oilers for the top powerplay have enough depth to ice two productive powerplay units this season. The first unit, using Kucherov as a proxy, is deployed for 66% of the total powerplay time – much closer to league average rates – and has generated 11.22 goals per hour (a total of 25 goals), well above the league average of 7.93 goals per hour. And while Kucherov and his group take a much needed break and to stay fresh for even-strength play, the second unit scores at a similar rate, generating 11.32 goals per hour; a total of 13 goals. That’s very impressive considering that second powerplay units on average generate 5.51 goals per hour. Both Lightning units are also above average relative to similar deployment groups when it comes to creating chances with the man-advantage, with the top powerplay unit generating 89.74 unblocked shot attempts per hour and the second unit generating 78.42 per hour. On average, top powerplay units generate 80.34 unblocked shot attempts per hour and second powerplay units generate 56.78 per hour. Put another way – the Lightning’s second powerplay unit generates more unblocked shot attempts per hour than half of the league’s top powerplay units.

Note: for special teams analysis, I include unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) to assess a team’s ability to score or prevent goals against. Blocking shots and keeping pucks to the outside is a big part of killing penalties, so Fenwick gives us a sense of how well the skaters are doing their jobs and helping out their goaltenders.

The Oilers on the other hand don’t have enough depth to regularly deploy two powerplay units, as the bottom six forwards are predominantly penalty-killing specialists – a major focus for Oilers management this past off-season. In the limited minutes that McDavid hasn’t been on the ice for the powerplay, the Oilers have scored only one goal – a rate of 1.43 per hour – and generated 31.81 unblocked shot attempts per hour – both of which ranks last among all second powerplay units. What the Oilers roster is missing are depth players, individuals on the third and fourth lines at even-strength, that can play powerplay minutes and contribute, similar to the Lightning have available in Maroon, Killorn and Gourde and what the Oilers had in Letestu a few years ago.

As long as the Oilers second powerplay unit can’t even generate league-average rates of shots and chances, the pressure will remain on McDavid and the top group to continue producing. So far they’ve been excellent, generating 86.95 unblocked shot attempts per hour and 12.86 goals per hour – both of which rank highly among top powerplay units.

But since the Oilers management group ignored the results and findings from last year’s powerplay – one in which the top unit played close to 80% of the total time and the second unit was one of the worst in terms of goal-scoring – the pressure will remain on the likes of McDavid and Draisaitl to continue playing league-leading minutes and producing. Hopefully the Oilers recognize that their depth forward group isn’t just for penalty killing and begin finding cheap, reliable options for the second powerplay unit. It’s going to require critical analysis of their powerplay and looking past the results, something that’s historically been ignored by Oilers management when the overall results have been fine.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Appendix A: NHL powerplay units, 2019/20 (As of January 5, 2020)

NHL PP First and Second Units - 20190106.jpg

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Chasing the game

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The Oilers have been dreadful at even-strength (5v5) this season, now sitting 29th in the league with a goal-share of 43.75% – a -22 goal differential, scoring 77 goals and allowing 99. About 80% of the game is played in this state, so it’s critical that the Oilers start out-scoring their opponents more regularly if they intend on competing for a playoff spot.

One of the Oilers biggest issues is their inability to create offensive opportunities, as they currently rank 28th in the league when it comes to generating shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances) and shots on goal. What’s worth noting is that defensively, they’ve been hovering around league average rates having done a decent job suppressing shot attempts and chances against. Unfortunately their goaltending has not been good, posting a team save percentage of 90.54% – good for 29th in the league.

So while we can expect that the Oilers rate of goals against to improve if the goaltending gets back to league average levels, we can’t have as much confidence in the offensive side of things as the team consistently spends more time defending and playing in their own zone.

What’s especially troubling is the Oilers lack of offence when they’re trailing in a game –  a game state when most teams start controlling the flow of play more, taking chances as teams with the lead get into more of a defensive shell. The Oilers have posted a goal-share of 44.44% when trailing in games, good for 29th in the league and only one of eight teams with a goal-share below 50%. They rank 21st in terms of goals per hour with 2.39 and 28th in terms of goals against per hour with 2.98. And their underling numbers aren’t that much better either.

Note that for this analysis I’ll be looking at unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) as the Oilers appear to be less of a shot-quantity/volume-shooting team and more of a shot-quality team under Tippett.

Below is a breakdown of the Oilers share of unblocked shot attempts when they’re leading in a game, trailing in a game and tied with an opponent. I’ve also included the league’s top Fenwick For percentage and the worst to show where in the range the Oilers fall.

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As expected, we see that the Fenwick for percentage is highest when team’s are trailing, doing more and taking risks to tie up the game, compared to when team’s are leading and playing more defensively. The Oilers are just below average when the game is tied or when they’re leading. But when they’re trailing, they’ve only posted a 51.48% share, which ranks in the bottom quarter of the league.

What’s interesting is that while they do allow slightly more shot attempts against when trailing, it’s their offense that goes completely dry. Below is breakdown of their rate of unblocked shot attempts generated in different score states, along with the best and worst rates in the league.

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Offensively, there’s not much of a difference for the Oilers whether they’re leading or trailing – it’s like they use the same tactics and playing style regardless of the score. On average, teams see an increase of 6.35 unblocked shot attempts per hour when trailing compared to when they’re leading – the Oilers are on the low end with an increase of only 5.10.

It should also come as no surprise that the Oilers do a lot better offensively with McDavid on the ice when trailing as the Oilers generate 45.07 unblocked shot attempts per hour with him on the ice and only 39.53  without him. In other words, much closer to league average rates with him and closer to the Detroit Red Wings without him. This is one of the drawbacks of focusing so much on improving the penalty kill this past off-season and bringing in defensive-minded forwards to fill-out the bottom six. Yes, McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl are going to see an increase in their ice-time proportion when the team needs a goal, but there’s still a big portion of ice time when the bottom six needs to contribute offensively and at  least create chances.

For reference, below are the Oilers forwards, sorted by total even-strength ice time, and their proportion of the team’s ice time by the three different score-states.

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Minor observation: Sam Gagner sees a spike in his ice time proportion when the team needs a goal. I thought that was strange until I noticed that he has the highest on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts  when the Oilers are trailing in a game. Of the bottom-six forwards, he’s the one player who can chip in offensively. But unfortunately for him and others, the team can’t get a save. Below is a table of the forwards, sorted by the rate of unblocked shot attempts for per hour.

Player TOI FF/60 FA/60 GF/60 GA/60 SH% SV% PDO
Gagner 119.57 49.18 33.62 2.51 3.01 6.76 86.67 0.934
Kassian 222.83 45.77 41.74 4.04 3.50 12.30 89.08 1.014
McDavid 252.93 45.07 44.12 4.03 3.56 12.41 89.51 1.019
Nygard 91.03 43.50 38.23 3.95 0.00 11.32 100.00 1.113
Granlund 78.90 41.83 38.02 1.52 3.04 4.76 85.19 0.899
Draisaitl 247.67 40.94 47.48 2.91 3.63 10.08 90.26 1.003
Jurco 39.77 40.74 28.67 4.53 1.51 18.75 91.67 1.104
Haas 106.60 40.53 30.39 1.69 2.25 5.26 87.50 0.928
Neal 188.02 40.53 38.93 1.28 4.15 4.55 85.71 0.903
RNH 170.38 40.14 37.68 1.76 2.11 6.10 92.50 0.986
P. Russell 93.88 39.62 35.79 1.92 2.56 6.52 88.89 0.954
Khaira 134.50 38.81 35.24 0.89 3.57 2.94 86.67 0.896
Chiasson 149.10 38.23 38.63 1.61 2.01 5.63 92.06 0.977
Archibald 97.52 35.69 38.15 0.62 4.31 2.44 82.50 0.849
Sheahan 108.13 35.51 36.07 1.11 3.33 4.17 86.05 0.902

Another thing I found was that when the team needed a goal and McDavid was on the ice, the rate of shots against would go up. In fact, his on-ice Fenwick For% when the Oilers are trailing is currently at 50.53%, which among the Oilers forwards is only better than Chiasson (49.75%), Sheahan (49.61%), Archiabald (48.33%) and Draisaitl (46.30%).

The fact that Draisaitl ranks last made me wonder what the splits were like between him and McDavid. Here’s what their share of unblocked shot attempts are like with and without each other at even-strength when the Oilers are trailing. I also included the goal-rates and goal-share.

Combo TOI FF/60 FA/60 FF% GF/60 GA/60 GF%
Together 184.15 42.36 49.85 45.94 3.58 3.91 47.83
McDavid without Draisaitl 68.78 52.34 28.79 64.52 5.23 2.62 66.67
Draisaitl without McDavid 63.51 36.84 40.62 47.56 0.94 2.83 25.00
Neither 387.23 39.98 35.64 52.87 1.55 2.63 37.04

Small sample size, but it appears that part of the reason McDavid has only been league-average when the the team is trailing is because of Draisaitl. I don’t expect Draisaitl’s numbers away from McDavid to be great due to the lack of talent on the roster to play him with. But McDavid does see a significant jump in his Fenwick For% due to a big drop in the rate of shots against when he doesn’t have Draisaitl with him.

You’ll probably get a lot of resistance doing this, but one way to increase Draisaitl’s rest-time and potentially get more overall productivity from him is to reduce his minutes when the team is trailing. He’s not doing well in that game-state offensively, dragging down his linemates, and it appears that the low-event bottom six are at least getting a decent share of the shot attempts.

Summary

  • The Oilers aren’t very good when it comes to Fenwick For% at even-strength, especially when they’re trailing in games.
  • It’s their inability to create offence when trailing that’s especially troubling as they rank near the bottom of the league in terms of Goals For% and Fenwick For%.
  • Part of the problem is their bottom six who while do a good job suppressing shots when the team is trailing, have a lot of trouble creating chances. The team is in dire need of offensive talent, not just guys who can kill penalties.
  • The other problem is the goaltending, which ranks near the bottom of the league at even-strength and when the team is trailing.
  • Draisatl has been playing very poorly defensively as reflected by his on-ice share of shot attempts and the rate of unblocked shot attempts against when the team is trailing.

Data: Natural Stat Trick