Tracking the Pacific Division – As of December 31, 2018


It’s been a disastrous stretch to close the year. Six straight losses now, one win in their last eight. After 39 games, the Oilers have collected 39 points, going 18-18-3. They had nine wins in their first 20 games under McLellan. They currently have nine wins in their 19 games under Hitchcock.

Meanwhile, the Flames have now scored the third most goals in the league and moved to the top of the Pacific division. San Jose, Vegas and Vancouver have six wins in their last ten. Anaheim has slowly come back down to earth, something that was expected considering their poor shot-share numbers, with their results being propped up by above-average goaltending.

Here’s how the Pacific division teams have done as of December 31, 2018. An explanation of each metric can be found in the glossary at the end of the article.

Pacific Division - 20181231

Couple notes:

  • It was a matter of time before Calgary, San Jose and Vegas took over the top three spots in the division. At the end of November, these three teams were posting good shot-share numbers with Vegas behind Anaheim in terms of actual results. Vegas’ problem at the time was their goaltending, which has gradually improved.
  • San Jose appears to still be struggling with their goaltending, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they made a move to address it in the new year.
  • A big reason why San Jose is winning is their special teams. They rank 7th in the league with 8.63 goals per hour on the powerplay (5v4) and generate the third highest rate of unblocked shot attempts. Their penalty kill (4v5) ranks fifth in the league, allowing 5.29 goals against per hour, and are in the top ten league wide when it comes to limiting unblocked shot attempts.
  • The rest of the Pacific division teams (excluding Vegas) can’t seem to generate a whole lot of offence on their powerplays – they’re all in the bottom third in the league when it comes to unblocked shot attempts. Want to find an edge in this division? Fix your damn powerplay.
  • Arizona had a good start to the season at even-strength, posting a +5 goal differential and a 54% Corsi For percentage. Since then, they’ve plummeted to the bottom of the league (-23 goal differential at even-strength), with their shot-share metrics below 50% now.
  • Vancouver and especially Anaheim should be a lot lower in the standings, but they’re relying on individual talent to stay afloat. Anaheim’s relying on goaltending, while Vancouver is getting some outstanding production from Elias Pettersson. It’ll be interesting to see if they buy into their results and make some long-term decisions based on goal-metrics. But that just might be an Edmonton thing.
  • Los Angeles has gradually been improving getting some good goaltending and winning five of their last ten, but it’s probably too late. They put themselves into a deep hole early in the season and should probably start making some moves for next season. I’d expect an overhaul with their special teams  – both their powerplay and penalty kill is currently bottom five in the league. And they’re bottom five in the league when it comes to generating shots on the powerplay and limiting shots on the penalty kill.

Data: Natural Stat Trick


  • Points percentage (PTS%) – The total points accumulated divided by the points that were available, including extra time.
  • Goals-for and Goals-against (GF/GA) – The number of goals scored and the number goals allowed at even-strength.
  • Goal Differential (Goal +/-) – The difference between the goals scored and the number of goals allowed (i.e., goals-for minus goals-against)
  • 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, slightlty 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).
  • Scoring Chances For percentage (SCF%) – The proportion of all the scoring chances that the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Scoring Chances For/(Scoring Chances For + Scoring Chances Against).
  • High Danger Corsi For percentage (HDCF%) – The proportion of all the high danger shot attempts that the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., High Danger Shot Attempts For/(High Danger Shot Attempts For + High Danger Shot Attempts Against).
  • 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)

Settling Nurse Down the first period of Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, Oilers play-by-play commentator Jack Michaels and his co-host Bob Stauffer discussed the team’s struggles, focusing on the poor play of Darnell Nurse. The 23-year old defenceman had been on the ice for three of the four goals against in the first period, having made some poor reads and decisions with the puck in his own zone. What was interesting was that both commentators suggested that Nurse was struggling because of the absence of Kris Russell who has been Nurse’s most common defensive partner this season.

It may sound a little strange considering Russell has historically been a drag on his teammates offensive numbers, consistently posting poor on-ice shot share numbers relative to his team. But this season, it does appear that Nurse is in fact posting better on-ice numbers with Russell as his partner than without him.

Before digging into the numbers, it’s worth mentioning that the warning signs of Nurse’s individual struggles were apparent early in the 2018-19 season and have continued through the first 37 games. Among regular Oilers defencemen this season (those who have played at least 100 minutes), Nurse has the lowest on-ice goals-for percentage at even-strength (5v5) with 43.10% – a goal differential of -8 (25 GF, 33 GA). The team’s possession numbers as well as their share of unblocked shot attempts (a proxy for shot quality) have also been at their lowest this season when Nurse is on the ice – a 47.44% Corsi For percentage and 46.94% Fenwick For percentage.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Mediocrity 37 games, the Oilers are 10th in the western conference with a record of 18-16-3. They’ve collected 39 points – a points percentage of 0.527 – and are two points out of a wild card spot.

At even-strength (5v5), the Oilers have a -4 goal differential (64 goals-for, 68 goals-against) – a goal-share of 48.48%, which ranks 20th in the league. The team has struggled offensively, scoring at a rate of 2.15 goals per hour – the sixth lowest rate in the league. The Oilers have a done good job preventing goals – allowing a rate of 2.29 goals against per hour, ninth best in the league – due in large part to some good goaltending that ranks 10th in the league with a 92.44% even-strength (5v5) team save percentage.

On special teams the powerplay (5v4) currently ranks 8th in the league with a goals-for per hour rate of 8.25, and their penalty kill (4v5) ranks 22nd in the league with a goals-against per hour rate of 7.76.

The Oilers’ results after 37 games have them in a playoff race for sure, but there’s really nothing about them that indicates they’re anything better than a wild card team. Almost every metric at even-strength and on special teams has them either at or below league average numbers, suggesting that if they are to have any success it’ll be player/luck driven – either a league leading team shooting percentage or team save percentage.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Recent struggles, powerplay and lineup changes

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Kim Trynacity on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 19:00 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, December 20)

Topics we covered:

  • The Oilers recent struggles and what we  can expect going forward
  • The powerplay and the lineup changes we saw in practice this morning
  • The loss of Jujhar Khaira to a two-game suspension and what this means for the team
  • Preview of Saturday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning


Average ice-time per game before and after Hitchcock


After watching Milan Lucic play only 11 minutes in all situations on Friday night against the Flyers, it’s become quite apparent that the winger is a fourth-line option for Ken Hitchcock.

Lucic has seen his ice time gradually decrease over the course of this season, and it’s largely his powerplay minutes that have been taken away since Hitchcock’s arrival. He’s still averaging the same minutes per game at even-strength as he did when McLellan was behind the bench, hovering around 11.5 minutes. But it’s on the powerplay where he’s seen his average minutes per game drop significantly from just over three minutes per game down to less than one.

Lucic - Ice time per game - cumulative average

Quick note about the graph above: the cumulative average minutes per game at any given point factors in all of the previous games from that point. So at the 12-game mark, the average minutes per game factors in games 1 through to 12. At the 33-game mark, the average minutes per game factors in games 1 through to 33.

This had me wondering about who else has seen an increase or decrease in their average ice time per game since Hitchcock arrived compared to when McLellan was behind the bench. And in what situations (i.e., even-strength, powerplay or penalty kill) were the players seeing a difference. Ice time is the biggest influence a coach can have on the team – it is currency – and we can quickly get a sense of who the coach trusts and in which situations. Over the course of three seasons we learned a lot about McLellan – how he likes to manage his bench, who his go-to players are, but also where McLellan has his biases and blind spots. With a new coach, we get a fresh perspective on things, and a chance to see players placed in or removed from different situations.

For this analysis I only included players that were on the roster before and after November 20th, 2018 when the Oilers made the coaching change. So players like Evan Bouchard, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan Strome (who were on the roster before Hitchcock) and Caleb Jones, Chris Wideman and Valentin Zykov (who weren’t on the roster before Hitchcock) were excluded from this analysis.

Below is a list of the Oilers skaters and their change in average ice time per game after Hitchcock became coach by game-state. This table is sorted by the players change in average ice time per game in all situations. I’ve applied a color scale to show which players have seen a positive change (green) and which players have seen a negative change (red) for each of the game-states.

Oilers Ice Time - All Situations - 20181216

Leading the way is winger Alex Chiasson who has had a very productive season so far, and is currently skating on the top line with McDavid and Draisaitl. Since Hitchcock’s arrival, Chiasson has seen a bump in his average ice time per game at even-strength and on the powerplay. And he’s also seeing about half a minute more per game on the penalty kill.

Brodziak and Kassian have also seen more ice time at even-strength, but also on the penalty kill along with Draisaitl. With Strome’s departure and Rieder being out with an injury, it’s not too surprising to see other forwards start filling in more on the penalty kill.

What’s most surprising to me in all of this is that McDavid hasn’t seen as big of a bump in total average ice time – only a minute more since McLellan was dismissed. Hitchcock has commented on how well McDavid recovered on the bench and I had assumed McDavid was seeing or was going to see significantly more ice time.

At the other end are more of the fringe players like Marody and Russell, but also forwards who at one point played regular minutes in the top six group of forwards like Rattie and Lucic. As mentioned earlier, Lucic’s minutes at even-strength (5v5) are about the same as before Hitchcock arrived, but his powerplay minutes are what took a significant hit.

One player whose ice time is worth watching is Nugent-Hopkins. He’s been a solid all-round player for the team this season, and was at one-point leading the team in penalty kill ice time, while at the same time playing significant minutes on the powerplay.

Among the defencemen, Larsson and Gravel have seen the biggest change in total average ice time per game. Both players are averaging more ice time at even-strength, with Larsson also receiving more time on the penalty kill. Nurse has also seen a bump, due in large part to receiving more ice time on the powerplay. And surprisingly, Klefbom has seen a decrease in his average ice time as he’s spending slightly less time on the powerplay and the penalty kill.

It’s only 13 games with Hitchcock behind the bench, but we’re starting to see a change in how things are run based on the average ice time players are receiving. Hard to say if it’ll be for the best – the team is riding some amazing goaltending numbers right now and getting better results, but they’re also posting similar shot-share numbers as before and generating and allowing around the same number of shots per game. It’ll be worth looking into what impact the changes in average player ice time are having on the results (i.e, goal-metrics) and also the underlying numbers to validate the sustainability.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Hitchcock’s impact, Klefbom’s injury and previewing tonight’s game

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Alicia Asquith on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 16:00 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, December 13)

Topics we covered:

  • The contributing factors to the Oilers recent success
  • The Oilers team numbers this season, before and after Hitchcock’s arrival
Todd McLellan Edmonton Oilers (2018/19) Ken Hitchcock
20 Games 11
9-10-1 Record 8-2-1
0.475 Points% 0.773
-9 Goal differential +5
31.4 Shots per game 30.2
30.1 Shots against per game 29.5
9.1% Team Shooting% 8.9%
89.1%  Team Save% 92.4%
  • The loss of Klefbom to injury and what impact it will have to the roster
  • Preview of tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Shots from the blueline II


Recently I wrote about the frequency in which the Oilers defencemen are taking shots and how these shots aren’t really translating into rebounds and scoring chances. This all stemmed from the fact that the Oilers are currently the lowest scoring team in the league and should be making adjustments to improve their chances of scoring goals.

What we can also do thanks to some great tracking work done by Corey Sznajder is look at the type of passing plays the Oilers have  made, and break out what percentage of passing plays that led to a shot came from low-to-high plays and which came from behind-the-net plays. Along with passing stats, Corey is also tracking zone entries, zone exits, shots and scoring chances. You can check out his excellent work at his Patreon page.

Low-to-high plays are the ones that distribute the puck from down low to a defenceman at the point in an attempt to create space and provide the team on the offensive with more options. Behind-the-net plays are just that – a passing play that is generated closer to the net.

The article above by Ryan Stimson has more details on the passing plays and how well they correlate to scoring goals. The big takeaway is that a team’s shot-on-target shooting percentage is much higher from behind-the-net plays than low-to-high plays. Additionally, a team is more likely to create a rebound from a behind-the-net play than if they try a low-to-high play. So rather than having a defenceman frequently take shots from the point (like the Oilers have been doing) in the hopes of creating rebounds, a team is much better off and more likely to score if they move the puck down low and create a passing play from behind-the-net.

Based on Corey’s tracking methodology, the Edmonton Oilers made 2,743 passing plays that led to a shot in 82 regular season games in 2017/18. Of those passing plays, 22.06% were low-to-high plays, which is just above the league-wide average of 20.95%. This isn’t overly surprising as the Oilers coaching staff last season was fond of volume shooting and getting shots through from the blue line.

And of the Oilers total passing plays, 6.78% were from behind-the-net plays – right around the league-wide average of 6.75%. Not overly surprised to see this as I found last season that forwards were constantly sending passes to the point, possibly due to the fact that there wasn’t enough skill and finishing talent up front.

In the first 16 games of the 2018/19 season that Corey has tracked so far (569 total passing plays; McLellan behind the bench), the Oilers have had right around the same proportion of behind-the-net passing plays that led to a shot as last season with 6.70%. And not surprisingly (based on what I found in my previous post) the Oilers have a much higher proportion of low-to-high passing plays this season compared to last season – 27.4%.  Ideally, the team should work towards having a higher proportion of shots being generated from behind-the-net plays as it has a higher chance of generating rebounds and goals.

The good news for the Oilers is that they may see that increase in behind-the-net plays with Ken Hitchcock behind the bench. In 2017/18, based on the data that was tracked, the Dallas Stars finished with one of the highest proportions of behind-the-net passing plays that led to a shot with 8.67%. It’s only one season that we have for Hitchcock (67 games were tracked for the Stars, including 1,822 total passing plays), but it’ll be interesting to see how much of an impact he’ll have on the type of passing plays.

Stars - 20172018 FF60

Worth noting as indicated in the image above that last season the Stars still had a lot of involvement from their defencemen – namely right-shooter John Klingberg – to create chances. But there was a lot more activity from in close, something that hopefully starts to occur more often in Edmonton.

Data: Corey Sznajder’s tracking project, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz