Picking up the pace

Mikko-Koskinen-Edmonton-Oilers-Connor-Brown-Ottawa-Senators.jpg

While the special teams continues to produce, the Oilers even-strength (5v5) play remains an area for concern. Of the 11 teams that currently have a point percentage of 0.600 or above, only the Oilers have an even-strength goal-share below 50.0%, sitting 23rd overall with a 47.20% goal-share and a goal-differential of -7. Over the last three seasons, only two teams have finished their season with a 0.600 point percentage and a goal-share of less than 50.0%.

What’s encouraging is that it appears the Oilers are at least trying to generate more offence. What we know about this team based on their overall shot metrics is that while they don’t generate a lot of shot attempts (Corsi), they do appear to be more focused on getting quality chances as reflected by the expected goal metric (Source: Charting Hockey).

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Here we see that while the Oilers are below the league-wide average of Corsi pace, which is at around 111 total shot attempts (for and against) per hour, they are above average when it comes to the total expected goals (for and against) per hour (4.70). Currently, the Oilers generate 2.26 expected goals per hour, good for 14th in the league. And allow 2.31 expected goals against, which is ninth highest in the league.

What’s interesting is that the Oilers do appear to be trying to play with more pace as their total rate of shot attempts for and against have been gradually increasing, and are having an impact on their rate of scoring chances (as reflected by expected goals) at both ends of the rink. Below is the Oilers rate of shot attempts (Corsi) per hour as well as their rate of expected goals (xG) per hour, over rolling 10-game segments. Note again that the rates includes events for and against.

Pace - 20191207.jpg

Couple things to note here. Starting with their Corsi/60 represented by the blue line, the Oilers were at and around the league average of 111 events per hour at the start of the season as they generated one of the lowest rates in the league and didn’t allow a lot either. However over the last ten games, they’ve moved up in the league, generating more shot attempts, getting closer to league average rates, but also allowing a lot more. And it appears playing with more pace has increased the rate of expected goals for and against, as represented by the orange line. If we go back to Charting Hockey’s pace graph at the top of the article, the Oilers would be moving from the top left quadrant (“Few but dangerous shots”) to the top right quadrant (“Fun”), clustered with Vegas and Washington.

Unfortunately for the Oilers, the increased pace of play as represented by Corsi and expected goals hasn’t improved their overall share of expected goals. Over the last ten games, the Oilers expected goal-share sits at 47.66%, indicating that their new approach of allowing more shot attempts to potentially create more offensively isn’t working very well. And their actual results at even-strength reflect that as well as they’ve posted a 40.82% goal-share over the last 10 games.

Pace xGoals - 20191207

At his pre-game media availability on Friday, Tippett may have alluded to his team gradually taking more chances, but I’d be interested to know from him if their shot-based metrics were a result of adjusted tactics or if there were other factors such as injuries to RNH and Kassian and the ensuing line combinations at play here. It’ll also be interesting to track games 31-40 to see if they slow down their pace again, aligning with what they were generating and allowing in terms of shot attempts over the first ten games of the season.

You have to take some chances to get back in the game, but the chances we are taking…they aren’t giving us any advantage and we are giving up goals. We have addressed those things the past couple of days. Source: Edmonton Oilers

When I did recently see the uptick in shot attempts and chances against, I did write the following:

The concern I would have with the team as a whole giving up more chances (potentially in an attempt to create more offensively) is that their goaltending remains a little suspect, especially with Mike Smith still getting plenty of playing time. He currently ranks in the bottom five among 38 goalies (>500 minutes) when it comes to save percentage and goals-saved above average.

And that does appear to be the case. Below is the Oilers team save percentage over rolling ten game segments.

Pace Saves - 20191207

As the shot attempts and chances against have gradually increased over the course of the season, the team save percentage has gradually declined. As much as I’d like to, I can’t say for sure that it’s just the goalies that can’t handle the workload. I suspect that playing with more pace also exposes the Oilers lack of skill, speed and depth on the roster. Again, it’s something that Tippett might have an explanation for, if in fact he has been trying to play with more pace.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Charting Hockey

Related: Rolling along – The SuperFan (2019, November 27)

Tracking the Pacific Division – As of November 30, 2019

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The Oilers have continued rolling along, ranked first in the Pacific division with 35 points and a 0.625% point percentage. Vancouver did actually have a better point percentage at the end of October, but struggled in November going 5-7-3, with a 0.433 point percentage (fifth worst in the league). The Oilers meanwhile posted a 0.571 point percentage (14th in the league), with division rivals San Jose (0.733) and Arizona (0.594) doing better.

Below are the division results at even-strength (5v5) as of November 30, 2019, with teams sorted by point-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 - 20191130

Couple thoughts:

  • The big red-flag is the Oilers 49.14% goal-share (GF%) at even-strength. The good news: the rest of the Pacific division teams aren’t posting very good results at even-strength either, except Arizona. You can also see why some may feel that the Oilers should be all-in this season, potentially giving up future assets to make a playoff run in 2020.
  • While the Oilers expected goal-share has remained steady since the end of October (49.87%), their Corsi For% and Fenwick For% has declined slightly, now sitting below 49.0%. I recently looked into the rolling 10-game trends, and found that it’s not all on the depth players this time. Good news is that they were showing signs of progress in terms of shot-share, but it remains to be seen if they can sustain it.
  • Arizona is likely declining, as their Corsi For percentage in November was one of the worst in the league (44.63%, 29th overall), as well as their share of expected goals (44.67%). I don’t expect their goal-share to remain above 54%.
  • I originally thought Vegas was the team to watch, and they still are considering their strong underlying numbers. But San Jose did make a nice bounce-back in November going 11-4-0, and gradually improving their Corsi For% from 47.96% at the end of October to 50.29% at the end of November. Their goaltending is what might holds them back as it remains one of the worst tandems in the league.
  • Vancouver continues to do well in terms of shot-share, ranking 9th in the league when it comes to Corsi For% and 11th overall when it comes to expected goal-share. They lost some ground in November thanks to one of the worst team shooting percentages in the league. They’re probably due for a run.
  • We know how good the Oilers have been on special teams, but it’s worth noting that the Golden Knights, Canucks and Sharks are excelling as well – all four Pacific division teams are in the top eight league-wide. Below are the Pacific division teams and their combined goal rates on the powerplay and penalty kill (i.e., PP GF/60 – PP GA/60 + PK GF/60 – PK GA/60). League average is near zero with Boston leading the way with +5.7. Los Angeles is third worst in the league (heh) only ahead of New Jersey (-4.97) and Detroit (-6.18).
Team Special Teams
Combined Goal Rates
Edmonton 5.08
Vegas 4.09
Vancouver 3.90
San Jose 3.26
Arizona -0.89
Calgary -1.27
Anaheim -4.17
Los Angeles -4.54

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Glossary:

  • Points-percentage (Point%) – The total points accumulated divided by the points that were available, including extra time.
  • Corsi For percentage (CF%) – The proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Corsi For/(Corsi For + Corsi Against). This is used as a proxy for possession and 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)

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 9 – Minnia Feng

3000by3000 (1)This week on the podcast, I was joined by Minnia Feng, writer for The Athletic. Minnia and I chatted about the Oilers progress this season, areas for optimism and skepticism. We talked about how the fan experience in hockey compares to other leagues, including Minnia’s experience writing about other sports. We also discussed the changing relationships between professional players and coaches, and the evolving power dynamics between the two.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

Rolling along

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With the Oilers only posting a 50.94% goal-share at even-strength (5v5), I thought it’d be worth digging into how the Oilers have been doing at generating and preventing shot attempts and scoring chances this season, and if there might be some hope for the team to improve as they look to secure a playoff spot and (hopefully) do some damage in the playoffs. As I wrote in my last post, the special teams are outstanding, appearing sustainable, and it’s going to be a significant driver for their overall success. But the Oilers should still be targeting a stronger goal-share at even-strength.

  • Related: Power up – The SuperFan (2019, November 25)

Quick snapshot of the Oilers current state at even-strength after 26 games. Glossary with a description of the metrics can be found in the appendix.

Goals
For%
Corsi
For%
Fenwick
For%
xGoals-for% Sh% Sv%
50.94%
(16th)
49.21% (21st) 49.61%
(17th)
50.95%
(13th)
9.10
(6th)
91.52
(18th)

The good news is that the Oilers are just fine when it comes to underlying shot-share metrics, with the expected goal-share pretty darn close to the actual goal-share. What’s especially encouraging is that their numbers, especially Corsi For% (i.e., a proxy for possession) and Fenwick For% (i.e., a proxy for scoring chances) while appearing to be slightly sub-par, have gradually been improving over the course of the season and have at times hovered closer to the 51.0% mark. Below is a graph showing the Oilers shot-share metrics over rolling 10-game segments this season.

Rolling - 20191127.jpg

While the Oilers have posted a decent Corsi For percentage over the last 10 games (50.87%, 14th overall), their Fenwick For% of 51.35% has been 9th and xGoals For% of 52.78% has ranked 7th. The expected goal-share is what really stands out, as the team appears to be focusing on and getting better at creating more high-danger opportunities. Have to keep in mind too that this is a new coach, with a new philosophy, and it probably takes 20-25 games to get a group of players up to speed with the system and tactics.

And while the Oilers (including the top line) were struggling to generate shot attempts and chances earlier this season, things do seem to be gradually getting better offensively. Below are the rates of Corsi, Fenwick and Expected Goals for and against over ten game segments (apologies for the non-zero y-axes!).

Rolling Rates - 20191127

What’s interesting is that the team appears to be loosening up a bit defensively and perhaps willing to give up more chances in an attempt to create more, something I wasn’t expecting considering the talk all season about being better defensively and just how well they were suppressing shots. The Oilers were near the top of the league limiting opportunities earlier this season but have gradually regressed towards league averages. And the Oilers as a team do appear to be more focused on quality rather than quantity, just based on how strong the expected goal-share has been compared to the shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts.

Depth

The good news is that the improved shot-share numbers appear to be a team-wide trend, and not just the top-line driving things. Here’s how the team has done at even-strength after 26 games with McDavid on the ice (used as a proxy for the top line) and without McDavid (proxy for the depth players).

Oilers
(5v5)
Goals For% Corsi For% Fenwick For% xGoal
For%
Sh% Sv% PDO
With
McDavid
59.61 49.59 49.11 51.04 13.33 91.27 1.046
Without
McDavid
42.81 48.99 49.91 50.89 6.39 91.69 0.981

Breaking things down further over rolling 10-game segments, we see McDavid’s numbers drastically improving, perhaps a sign that his injury is healing well, and driving the overall results. But we also see that the team without their captain on the ice has been hovering around the 50.0% shot-share mark for most of the season and even seeing a brief spike in terms of expected goals – signalling that they’re getting quality chances more frequently. While the finishing talent isn’t there, it’s a good sign that the team has the right processes in place to improve their chances of scoring goals at even-strength without McDavid on the ice.

Rolling Rates w and wo 97- 20191127

Now most of the Oiler’s shots-share success without McDavid on the ice has been largely driven by the teams ability to suppress chances and basically do nothing else offensively. That appears to be changing as the group has gradually been allowing a lot more, but at least are generating more quality chances offensively.

Rolling Rates wo 97- 20191127.jpg

Thoughts

While the current goal-share at even-strength is just under where they probably should be (~52.0%), there are signs that the Oilers have the right tactics and processes in place that will improve their chances of better out-scoring opponents. The team’s possession numbers and share of scoring chances are trending upwards, and hopefully it continues as they work on holding down a playoff spot. The good news is that this is a team-wide trend with McDavid posting stronger shot-share numbers as he and his line are generating more and more, and with the depth forwards holding their own generating more high danger chances and posting decent shot-share numbers. The concern I would have with the team as a whole giving up more chances (potentially in an attempt to create more offensively) is that their goaltending remains a little suspect, especially with Mike Smith still getting plenty of playing time. He currently ranks in the bottom five among 38 goalies (>500 minutes) when it comes to save percentage and goals-saved above average.

I also wouldn’t mind seeing the talent get dispersed a little more, with perhaps Draisaitl playing  a little more frequently on the second line at even-strength, especially with Nugent-Hopkins currently out of the line-up. There clearly aren’t enough finishers on the team, so perhaps with the points accumulated and the upward trend of underlying numbers, it might be time to start exploring the trade market. The focus being of course on trading from areas of strength and constructing a roster that can regularly compete for a championship.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Glossary:

  • Goals For percentage (GF%) – The proportion of all the goals the scored for and against that the Oilers scored (i.e., Goals For/(Goals For + 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.
  • Expected Goals For% (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.
  • 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).

Power up

oilers-winger-james-neal-takes-a-shot-tuesday-against-the-islanders

With special teams being such a driving factor behind the Oilers success this season, it’s important to put things into perspective and get a sense of just how much of the game is played on the powerplay and penalty kill, and what share of the total goals are scored there.

The harsh reality is that despite a fifth-ranked 0.673 points percentage, the Oilers aren’t very good at even-strength having posted only a 50.86% goal-share, ranking 16th in the league. Over the last three seasons, nine of the ten teams that had a points percentage greater than 0.600 posted a goal-share of 52.0% or more at even-strength. And ten of the last twelve teams that made it to the conference final series had a goal-share of 52.0% or more in the regular season at even-strength. That’s probably a fair target for any team that wants to be a legitimate contender.

The big issue remains the Oilers depth scoring at even-strength – basically the team’s offensive output when McDavid isn’t on the ice.  Right now, the Oilers are close to pretty much giving back the goals that McDavid and the top line are generating, which is unfortunate considering the seasons he and Draisaitl are having. With McDavid, the Oilers have a 57.63% goal-share, and without him the Oilers have a 44.26% goal-share.

oilers GDiff - 20191125.jpg

Currently, the Oilers only have a +2 goal-differential (59 goals for, 57 goals against) at even-strength, making it even more important that the Oilers continue excelling both on the powerplay (currently scoring 12.53 goals for per hour, 2nd overall) and the penalty kill (currently allowing 4.24 goals against per hour, 2nd overall).

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In the three regular seasons prior to the current one, teams played on average 8.20% of their total time on the powerplay (which also means the same average time percentage exists for penalty kill), with 23% of the total goals scored league-wide occurring on special teams. After 26 games, the league average time spent on the powerplay is 8.90% with the Oilers ranking second last in the overall with 7.27%. Despite that, they  have scored 24 of their 83 totals goals on the powerplay (28.9%), thanks in large part to a league-leading 21.05% team shooting percentage.

The big question is if they can continue generating on the powerplay at a rate that will prop up their overall goal-differential. One way to determine if the results on the powerplay are real or not is to take a look at the teams ability to generate unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, also a proxy for scoring chances). I tend to use Fenwick to take into account the act of blocking shots, which is a standard tactic for penalty kill units. In my mind, good powerplay units find lanes and get shots through, which can be captured by the Fenwick metric.

The Oilers currently rank third in the league when it comes to generating unblocked shot attempts on the powerplay with 85.07. Over the last three regular seasons, teams generated on average 74.80 unblocked shot attempts, putting the Oilers in elite company as only five teams over the last three seasons have generated more than 85.0 unblocked shot attempts per hour in a season.

What’s promising is that the Oilers have remained consistent throughout this season in generating chances, thanks to their high-end talent remaining healthy. The current league average of 71.84 is represented by the orange line.

oilers FF - 20191125

The concern of course will be if the Oilers can maintain a 21.05% shooting percentage on the powerplay, which we should expect to fluctuate over the course of the season. The average team shooting percentage over the last three seasons has been 13.3%, with only one team finishing a season with a shooting percentage above 20.0%.

oilers PPSH - 20191125

The Oilers did see a dip in their shooting percentage earlier this season, but have bounced back nicely shooting over 25.0% on the powerplay over the more recent ten game segment. We can absolutely expect the shooting percentage to drop – it’s already happened – but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that the team finishes well above the league average rate considering the high-end talent the Oilers currently have.

One other note.

WheatNOil posted an interesting metric (Macaroni!) that captured a team’s special teams output, combining the rate of goals scored for and against on the powerplay and penalty kill (i.e., PP GF/60 – PP GA/60 + PK GF/60 – PK GA/60). Not susprisingly, the Oilers currently rank near the top of the league.

Out of curiosity, I replicated Wheat’s method for the last three seasons combined to see how it roughly correlates with a team’s points percentage. Below are the results, sorted by the Special Teams combined goal rates. I also included each team’s goal-share (GF%) at even-strength.

Team (2016-2019) Points % Special Teams – Combined Goal Rates Even-strength GF%
Tampa Bay Lightning 0.681 2.93 54.50
Boston Bruins 0.638 2.53 53.71
Toronto Maple Leafs 0.610 1.69 52.77
Pittsburgh Penguins 0.632 1.60 53.09
Washington Capitals 0.665 1.17 55.46
Florida Panthers 0.535 1.13 47.01
San Jose Sharks 0.610 1.13 51.42
Vegas Golden Knights 0.616 1.06 52.83
Minnesota Wild 0.589 0.94 51.80
Winnipeg Jets 0.610 0.93 52.61
Calgary Flames 0.579 0.53 51.51
New York Rangers 0.522 0.41 48.08
New Jersey Devils 0.486 0.33 44.67
Nashville Predators 0.632 0.31 54.49
Anaheim Ducks 0.581 0.21 50.56
Los Angeles Kings 0.518 0.00 49.05
St Louis Blues 0.593 0.00 52.04
Carolina Hurricanes 0.547 -0.13 48.31
Columbus Blue Jackets 0.616 -0.23 53.91
Buffalo Sabres 0.439 -0.49 42.71
Colorado Avalanche 0.474 -0.52 46.72
Edmonton Oilers 0.528 -0.75 49.18
Dallas Stars 0.537 -1.01 50.50
Arizona Coyotes 0.459 -1.11 44.95
Montreal Canadiens 0.549 -1.27 50.67
Ottawa Senators 0.465 -1.48 45.49
New York Islanders 0.563 -1.65 51.19
Vancouver Canucks 0.453 -1.88 45.29
Detroit Red Wings 0.459 -2.01 45.61
Philadelphia Flyers 0.545 -2.10 49.14
Chicago Blackhawks 0.547 -2.52 50.56

The team’s with the best combined special teams often did well overall, with eight of the ten teams posting a points percentage above 0.600 (which would have them comfortably top ten in the league). That’s not exactly ground-breaking information – if you’re killing it on both special teams, you’re improving your chances of finishing the season well. What does stand out is that of those top ten clubs that had solid special teams, seven also posted a goal-share of 52.0% or more at even-strength. Again, nothing earth shattering, but it does confirm that if the Oilers want to finish in the top half of the league, they can rely all they want on special teams, but they also need their even-strength goal-share to be better. Might be something worth digging into more, but at least it sets up a few reasonable targets to track as the season progresses.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

After 20 games, the key drivers and areas worth monitoring

tippett

The Edmonton Oilers are first place in the Pacific division with a 0.650 points percentage (+7 goal differential, 3rd in the division), leading many including myself to question if this team is real or not. We’re 20 games into the season, so it’s worth looking into what the drivers have been for the Oilers success and try to uncover any issues worth monitoring.

Starting with goaltending, which has been good so far. The Smith/Koskinen tandem has posted a team save percentage of 91.27 (all situations), good for tenth in the league. At even-strength, the Oilers’ team save percentage ranks 15th in the league with 92.21% – right around where we should expect them to be. Among 50 goalies who have played at least 250 minutes at even-strength (5v5), Koskinen ranks 8th in terms of save percentage with 93.6%, while Smith ranks 39th with 90.7% (average is 91.7%). Hopefully, Oilers management is seeing the benefits of splitting the workload between two capable netminders and refrain from overspending next summer on the goaltending position.

The powerplay has been dynamite, scoring 10.66 goals per hour (second best in the league). The Oilers are relying on their first unit, similar to what they did last season, loading up with their high end talent and getting major contributions from secondary options like James Neal. While the team can expect to see their shooting percentage regress towards league average rates (13.2% over the last three seasons), it’s at least encouraging to see how great they’ve been consistently generating shot attempts (CF/60) and unblocked shot attempts (FF/60, a proxy for scoring chances). And the team’s rate of expected goals (xGF/60), which uses historical data to give each shot a probability of becoming a goal, reflects their ability to generate higher quality chances.

CF/60 FF/60 xGF/60 GF/60 Sh%
114.56 (3rd) 81.92 (6th) 7.78 (3rd) 10.66 (2nd) 18.6% (2nd)

With the team’s powerplay being this strong, it sure would be nice if the Oilers had the personnel to draw penalties more frequently. The Oilers have the third lowest rate of powerplay minutes per game – something that could be addressed if either the team played with more pace or if they had someone who had that speed and skill-set.

The Oilers penalty kill has also been a key driver for their success as they currently rank 3rd in the league allowing only 4.54 goals against per hour. It appears they’re relying quite heavily on their goaltending, which ranks third in the league, as they haven’t been very good at limiting shots and chances against.

CA/60 FA/60 xGA/60 GA/60 Sv%
97.34 (17th) 75.15 (19th) 7.55 (27th) 4.54 (3rd) 91.74 (3rd)

What’s interesting is that the Oilers have in fact improved over their last ten games, giving some hope that the penalty kill results may be sustainable. Below is a split of how the team has done this season.

Oilers CA/60 FA/60 xGA/60 GA/60 Sv%
Games 1-10 116.3 93.25 10.4 4.19 93.94
Games 11-20 79.74 58.35 4.9 4.86 88.37

Starting with the goals against per hour (GA/60), we see that the Oilers have been consistent allowing about four goals per hour, even though their goaltenders performances have slipped. Thankfully, the Oilers have cut their expected goals in half, indicating that they’ve done a better job at limiting the high quality chances. Worth noting that these numbers from the most recent ten games has them among the leagues best. I’d be curious to know what the coaching staff has done differently tactic-wise that would’ve impacted the results and underlying numbers.

Thinking through this more, I probably shouldn’t be too surprised that the team’s penalty kill figured things out defensively. They have been good all season limiting shots and chances at even-strength (5v5), ranking top ten in the league in various metrics.

A big reason why things have gone well is the emergence of Ethan Bear and how well he’s done playing top minutes against the best competition. Looking at how each defencemen’s on-ice Corsi For% relative to the team, I was surprised to see him leading the way. With Larsson still recovering and Caleb Jones being called up, the Oilers could have some big decisions coming up including how to handle Russell and Nurse. If Jones emerges as a legitimate NHL player, the Oilers left-side is much more solid and gives Oilers management some leverage in their negotiations with Nurse.

Should note that the reason I use Corsi Rel is because of the predictive value of Corsi For% and it’s relationship to goal-share, which I touch on later in the post. It’s not meant to be a definitive metric, but it gives us a sense of what’s happening and can drive further questions and analysis.

20191113 - Defencemen CorsiRel

As great as those things have been, there are definitely issues worth monitoring.

The first issue is the team’s underlying shot-share numbers at even-strength, which are a good predictor of future outcomes. The Oilers currently rank 23rd in the league with a 48.62% Corsi-for percentage (a proxy for possession) and 20th with a 48.93% Fenwick-for percentage (a proxy for scoring chances). These are numbers that a coaching staff can influence through tactics and how they deploy the roster. But so far, it looks like it’s only getting worse.

20191113 - CF Rolling 10.png

The poor Corsi For percentage at even-strength is largely driven by the Oilers inability to generate offensive opportunities, as they rank 26th in terms of shot attempts per hour with 51.23 and 28th when it comes to unblocked shot attempts (i.e., scoring chances) with 37.79. If the Oilers hope to improve their rate of 2.40 goals per hour (17th overall), they’ll need to figure out how to carry the play and spend more time in the offensive zone. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for the team to post shot-share metrics above 50%. But considering the roster construction, we probably shouldn’t be surprised.

That leads me to my next point.

What’s especially troubling is that it’s not just the depth players dragging down the team’s overall performance – it’s the star players as well who are getting out-shot and out-chanced when they’re on the ice.

Below are the Oilers forwards who have played at least 65 minutes at even-strength this season and their Corsi For% relative to the team.

20191113 - Forwards CorsiRel

The key focus here is on McDavid and Draisaitl, who have no doubt been outstanding so far this season. But it’s definitely concerning to see how poorly they rank within a team that’s posting poor shot-share numbers. McDavid specifically, as crazy as it might sound, hasn’t looked 100%, perhaps because of the injury from last season or the fact that he and Leon have been leading the league in ice-time per game.

I usually save these graphs for when I look at depth players and their history relative to their teammates. But I had to see just how far off McDavid has been from his historical numbers. I suspect last season had to do with Hitchcock’s coaching tactics and being overplayed. I’d be curious to know if similar impacts combined with his injury recovery are driving his numbers down like this.

20191113 - McDavid Rel

The fact that a player like McDavid is posting these numbers should shine a light on management and the coaching staff. Yes the player is posting excellent results and the team is doing well. But is there something the coaching staff could do differently to get their star players more scoring opportunities. Are they aware that their even-strength results (i.e.,  goal-share) may not be sustainable? And is there something management could do to mitigate the risk of injuring a star player who is critical for the long-term success of the franchise?

It’s been a great start to the season, and the team has greatly improved their chances of making the playoffs. But there remains major issues both with the roster construction up front and the coaching staff’s offensive tactics that has me questioning the teams ability to keep pace in a competitive division.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

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!