Powerplay hotness

The Edmonton Oilers powerplay has really ramped up, having now scored 22 times in 135 minutes with the man advantage this season. That translates to a rate of 9.78 goals per hour, which ranks ninth in the league and second only to the Leafs in the North division, who have scored 11.64 goals per hour. The Oilers current scoring rate is only slightly behind the rate they posted last season, when they led the league with a rate of 10.64 goals per hour.

Converting on 20% of their powerplay shots again is a lofty goal considering only a handful of teams have ever reached that mark. Then again, not many teams have had the skill level of the Edmonton Oilers, so maybe it’s not that unreasonable and we may even see them climb from the 16.79% shooting percentage they’re currently posting. The Oilers are also doing everything they can to be as dominant as they were last year, generating more scoring chances and getting an extra six shots on goal per hour this season.

Edmonton Oilers powerplay2019/20 (71 games)2020/21 (22 games)
Goals per hour10.649.78
Unblocked shot attempts per hour71.2177.82
Shots on goal per hour52.4658.25
Shooting percentage20.27%16.79%

While powerplay goals make up about 20% of a team’s total goals in a season, the Oilers powerplay is currently making up 27.8% of their total goals. And that’s slightly up from last season when the Oilers powerplay goals made up 26.5% of their goals, which was the highest proportion in the league. The good news is that so far the even-strength results haven’t been as poor as last season and the team hasn’t had to depend on the powerplay, and penalty kill for that matter, to bail them out as was the case in 2019/20. That’s when they finished the season with a -16 goal differential at even-strength – a 47% goal-share which was the seventh worst in the league – thanks to below average shot-share numbers, a bottom-six forward group that struggled mightily and poor goaltending.

So far the even-strength results have been decent, with the Oilers posting a +4 goal differential – a goal-share of 52.13%, which ranks fourth in the North division behind Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. But because the Oilers are posting below-average shot-share numbers at even-strength (currently with a 48.32% Corsi For percentage, score/venue adjusted) and because their current starting goalie is posting a save percentage above his career numbers, I suspect the powerplay will once again need to be dominant for the Oilers to be a playoff contender. And so far, things are looking promising.

As mentioned above, the Oilers are generating more offence on the powerplay this season, having increased their rate of unblocked shot attempts (a proxy for scoring chances) by 8.5% and their rate of shots on goal by 10.0%. They’ve also been getting more time on the powerplay, averaging just over six minutes per game this season (seventh highest in the league) – drawing 4.04 penalties per hour. Note that the league average rate over the past three seasons is around 3.57 per hour, with anything over four on the high end. This was pretty surprising to see considering the Oilers have never drawn more than 3.36 penalties per hour over the past three seasons, often ranking in the bottom third of the league, and even ranking as low as 30th in 2017/18.

What’s also surprising to see is that Connor McDavid, who often has the puck, plays with speed and deals with a lot of uncalled infractions, is actually drawing penalties this season. So far he’s drawn 14 penalties at even-strength in 22 games – a rate of 2.34 penalties drawn per hour, which ranks him third among all forwards who have played at least 100 minutes. That’s a significant increase from last season when he only drew 19 penalties in 64 games, ranking 75th in the league, drawing just over one penalty per hour.

Hopefully this trend continues and the Oilers get plenty of powerplay time. It just may once again become a driving factor that secures them a playoff spot.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Hockey Viz

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

The Oilers depth forwards are showing signs of life

The bottom six forwards struggled out of the gate, but they’ve been productive over the last ten games.

The Oilers reached a significant milestone this past weekend, reaching a points percentage of 0.600 with a record of 12-8, accumulating 24 points in their first 20 games. A 0.600 points percentage is what the top ten regular season teams in the league typically reach every year and are often considered as legitimate cup contenders for doing so. The Oilers were close to this level last season, finishing with a 0.585 points percentage, good for 12th in the league. The one time they made the playoffs in the last fourteen seasons, they had finished the regular season with a 0.628 points percentage.

The Oilers recent ten games has really turned things around for them. They’ve won eight of their last ten, outscoring opponents 42-26 in all situations (a +16 goal differential). A big reason for their success has been the powerplay, which over the past ten games has scored at a rate of 11.93 goals per hour. This has them only behind the Leafs in the North division over this stretch, and closer to where they finished last season when they were the best in the league scoring 10.64 goals per hour. They’ve recently been generating the fourth highest rate of shots per hour, and converting at a 18.64% shooting percentage – which is just below where they were last season (20.27%).

The Oilers are also getting it done at even-strength (5v5), outscoring opponents 29-19 in their last ten games, posting a goal-share of 60.42%, which is third best in the league and only behind the Leafs in the North division. Safe to say the Oilers are on a bit of a heater right now over these past ten games, posting a PDO above 105 thanks to a 13.18% team shooting percentage and a 92.64% team save percentage – both being well above league averages. The Oilers have also posted a 48.64% Corsi For percentage (score adjusted) over this stretch, which tells us they’re playing more often without the puck, and because of that their results aren’t likely sustainable. Regardless, they’ve banked some much needed points to stay competitive in a fairly tight division.

What’s really stood out over the past ten games has been the improved production of the bottom six forwards at even-strength (5v5). Over the first ten games of the season, without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers were outscored 2-14, basically giving back all of the goals the top lines were accumulating. That’s a 12.5% goal-share due in large part to rarely having the puck as they posted a Corsi For percentage of 39.1%. That’s staggering considering the depth forwards as a group typically play about 40% of the team’s total time. What made it even worse is when you compared their production to the depth players of other North division teams. Those groups were at least breaking close to even in terms of goal-differential and shot-based metrics (Source).

Thankfully they’ve recently turned things around. Over the last ten games, the Oilers have outscored opponents 10-7 (a goal-share of 58.8%) without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. That’s a significant improvement for the bottom six forwards due in large part to the group’s on-ice shooting percentage jumping up from 3.03% in their first ten games to 15.52% in their last ten. Goaltending, as mentioned above, has also played a role with the group’s on-ice save percentage increasing from 85.8% in their first ten games to 93.0% over their last ten games. That’s a PDO swing from 88.9 to 108.9.

While the group’s PDO is what’s largely driving results, it’s also encouraging to see the depth players getting a higher proportion of the total shots. Remember this is a group that posted a Corsi For% below 40.0% early on in the season, but things have been gradually trending upwards towards the 50.0%, break-even mark. Below is a breakdown of the team’s Corsi Forpercentage over rolling ten-game segments, without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. Note that the Corsi For percentage has been score adjusted to factor in the time the Oilers have led games.

Where the group has improved is on defence, as the Oilers depth forwards are allowing eight fewer shot attempts per hour over the last ten games compared to the first ten games. They’ve also generated an extra five shot attempts per hour over the last ten. Again, they’re not out of the woods yet, but there’s at least improvement within an area of the roster that really can’t afford to be giving back the offence the top lines are generating.

The production of the depth forwards is eventually going to regress as indicated by their PDO levels. But by taking better control of the flow of play and improving their share of the shots and scoring chances, it should help to minimize the regression and hopefully reduce the impact on the team’s overall goal-share.

Data: Natural Stat TrickOilers Nerd Alert/PuckIQ

(Special thanks to @OilersNerdAlert for the specific data set)

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Oilers bottom six and how they compare against their division rivals

Probably not the start the coaching staff was expecting as the Oilers currently rank fifth in the North division after seven games with a 0.429 points percentage. They have a -4 goal differential (all situations), with even-strength (5v5) issues appearing to have carried over from last season. They’ve been outscored 12-15 at even-strength – a 44.44% goal-share, which ranks 24th in the league and sixth-best (only ahead of the Canucks) in their division.

Team GP Point % Goal differential
Montreal 6 0.917 12
Toronto 7 0.714 3
Winnipeg 6 0.667 5
Calgary 4 0.625 4
Edmonton 7 0.429 -4
Ottawa 5 0.300 -6
Vancouver 7 0.214 -14

While the Oilers top forwards are producing well, it’s the team’s results with their bottom six forwards on the ice that has been alarming. Turris’ goal against the Jets on Sunday night was the first time the Oilers have scored at even-strength without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. That’s over the course of 124 minutes, or about 38% of the Oilers total playing time where they’ve also allowed 10 goals against. In those minutes, the Oilers have spent a considerable amount of time playing without the puck, often in the own zone, getting out-shot at close to a 3-1 clip, and posting a Corsi For% of 33.93%.

Below is a breakdown of how the forward lines have done so far this season, broken up by the McDavid line, Draisaitl’s line and then the bottom six. Note that the 10 minutes that McDavid has played with Draisaitl is excluded in the table below. And note that the duo has outscored opponents 4-0 in that short span, posting a Corsi For% of 54.17% and an Expected Goals For% of 71.36%. Wild.

Group (5v5)TOIGF-GACF%FF%xGF%SH%SV%PDO
McDavid’s line104.724-459.5261.7669.145.2291.370.966
Draisaitl’s line88.334-144.2547.6147.128.1198.091.062
Bottom six124.551-1033.9333.2231.082.5886.810.894

The Oilers need to expect more from their bottom six and on both ends of the ice, and the results aren’t going to get better until they make some tactical adjustments. The group is struggling to generate shots, averaging only 19 shots per hour and allowing 37. For context, the league average rate of shots for and the average rate of shots against is 30.7 over the last three seasons. The Oilers can try to find a way to solve their 2.58% shooting percentage, but it won’t matter if the team barely has control of the puck.

This needs to be addressed by the coaching staff and fast, especially in a condensed season. The reality is that the teams the Oilers are competing against for a playoff spot in the North division appear to have things figured out and are benefiting from having a competent bottom six.

Let’s start with Toronto. They’re currently second in the division and have a deep roster on paper with high end talent carrying the top two lines.

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Matthews line 97.40 6-5 61.67 58.38 55.67 12.43 87.86 1.003
Tavares line 93.72 2-3 53.75 52.71 52.2 3.96 93.07 0.97
Bottom six 125.63 2-3 49.18 47.01 43.07 3.85 94.13 0.98

Similar to the Oilers, the Leafs bottom six has played about just under 40% of the team’s total time at even-strength, but have only posted a -1 goal differential. The bottom-six group’s on-ice shot-share numbers aren’t great – the team obviously sees a boost when Matthews or Tavares’ line is playing – but they’re significantly better than what the Oilers bottom six has posted. They are having trouble generating shots, a rate of 24 per hour, but they’re also doing a job suppressing shots, allowing 24 per hour. Again, the league average rate of shots for and against is 30.7 over the last three seasons.

Winnipeg’s bottom six is similar in that they’ve played just under 40% of the team’s total time at even-strength, and have a -1 goal differential. The Jets currently rank third in the division with a 0.667 points percentage, but second in terms of goal differential with +5.

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Scheifele line 95.28 4-6 46.64 47.33 39.77 9.01 88.03 0.97
Statsny line 74.60 6-1 53.77 50.50 58.84 12.26 97.45 1.097
Bottom six 102.97 3-4 49.60 48.72 43.05 6.02 92.04 0.981

The Jets definitely have some work to do when it comes to their share of scoring chances (that Scheifele line might be a spot of bother for the coaching staff), but the bottom six is at least generating and allowing league average rates of shots and are performing much better than the Oilers bottom six. Adding Dubois should give their top lines a boost, so it’ll be interesting to see what other line-up adjustments are made that could benefit their third and fourth lines. Similar to the Leafs, their bottom six might not be generating a lot, and they don’t necessarily need to for their team to be successful. But at least they’re doing a reasonable job suppressing shots and chances against and not giving up the gains made by the top forwards.

Montreal’s bottom six has been outstanding at this point and a big reason why they rank first in the division with a 0.833 points percentage and a +11 goal differential. They’ve played about 45% of the team’s total ice time at even-strength, outscoring opponents 8-3. While they might not be able to sustain a PDO of 106.7, they are doing everything they can to be successful, controlling the flow of play (Corsi For% of 59.35%) and the share of scoring chances (Expected Goals For% of 58.41%).

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Suzuki line 73.50 5-3 58.06 58.92 64.19 11.1 89.43 1.005
Danault line 71.25 5-3 60.32 61.62 57.05 12.27 87.36 0.996
Bottom six 120.68 8-3 59.35 57.26 58.41 12.32 94.34 1.067

Not even sure we should be calling them the Canadiens bottom six – they’re running more of a top nine with the likes of Toffoli and Kotkaniemi marked on the third line. Must be a nice perk for the higher-end forwards to know that they can take a break and not watch their team play in their own zone the whole time.

Hopefully the Oilers coaching staff can figure things out in terms of tactics and deployment, and get some reasonable production from the forwards. Remember – the bottom six was an area of focus for management this past off-season, as the Oilers were outscored badly in 2019/20 without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. While the bottom six posted a 47.73% Corsi For% and a 48.22% Expected Goals For% last season, they were outscored badly (44 GF, 73 GA, a -29 goal differential), which translates to a 37.61% goal-share. The bar isn’t even that high for this year’s group of bottom six forwards, and it would reflect poorly on the management and coaching staff if they couldn’t surpass that level.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Daily Face Off

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Working the powerplay

With special teams being the focus at training camp today, a look into Tyson Barrie’s powerplay history and how well he could integrate himself into the Oilers.

One of the biggest concerns for the Edmonton Oilers this coming season is around their defence core. Specifically – how exactly will head coach Dave Tippett replace the minutes left vacant by Oscar Klefbom who will be missing the season due to a shoulder injury.

Klefbom was heavily relied on by the coaching staff in all situations last season, leading the Oilers defencemen averaging over 25 minutes per game. He ranked fifth in the league, amongst a pretty impressive group of defencemen that often played about 40% of their team’s total ice time, and was one of only six other defencemen who averaged over 25 minutes per game last season.

A big reason why Klefbom’s ice time was one of the highest in the league last season was because of the significant time he played on the powerplay. He ranked sixth among all defencemen when it came to average minutes per games on the powerplay. And it shouldn’t be all that surprising considering that the coaches basically ran one powerplay unit with Klefbom playing 81% of the team’s total powerplay time. That’s a pretty staggering proportion, especially in comparison to the other top powerplay defencemen last season. Table below is ranked by ice time per games played (TOI/GP).

PlayerTeamGPTOITOI/GP% of team’s PP time
John CarlsonWSH69276.904.0174.1%
Torey KrugBOS61235.783.8772.4%
Quinn HughesVAN68256.133.7767.5%
Cale MakarCOL57213.373.7465.2%
Keith YandleFLA69254.033.6872.1%
Oscar KlefbomEDM62226.323.6581.2%
Kris LetangPIT61210.883.4669.2%
Rasmus DahlinBUF59197.033.3470.2%
Roman JosiNSH69229.203.3261.4%

The good news is that the Oilers appear to have found a pretty decent replacement for Klefbom’s powerplay time in Tyson Barrie, who led Toronto’s powerplay last season in ice time, averaging 2.80 minutes per game. That was good for 22nd in the league among defencemen, but he only played 36.7% of the Leafs total powerplay time as Morgan Reilly also saw significant minutes on the powerplay. Worth noting however that after Mike Babcock was replaced as the Leafs head coach with Sheldon Keefe during the 2019/20 season, Barrie actually played 70.6% of the Leafs total powerplay time. Had Keefe been the Leafs coach for all of last season, Barrie would probably have been top ten league-wide in terms of powerplay ice time per game. And that would have been closer in line with the proportion of powerplay ice time he was getting in Colorado prior to joining the Leafs.

In 2017/18, Barrie led all NHL defencemen in powerplay ice time per game with 3.72 minutes, playing 60.2% of Colorado’s total powerplay time. The next season in 2018/19, Barrie again led the league, this time averaging 4.04 minutes per game, and seeing a bump in his proportion of the teams total powerplay time, reaching 66.8%.

It’s strange looking at Barrie’s powerplay numbers in Toronto under Babcock. In the first 23 games of the 2019/20 season, Barrie was averaging 2.33 minutes per game and only played for 41.1% of the Leafs total powerplay time. The Leafs ranked 19th overall in goals per hour on the powerplay with 6.24, despite ranking ninth in the league in unblocked shot attempts per hour – a proxy for scoring chances. After Keefe took over, Barrie saw a jump in his ice time, averaging 3.09 minutes per game and playing 70.6% of the teams total powerplay time. Still not as much as Klefbom played, but definitely has him in the group of league leaders. From that point, the Leafs powerplay generated 9.51 goals per hour, ranking second overall behind the Oilers, thanks in large part to a team shooting percentage above 17%.

The other interesting thing about Barrie is that while he plays a lot of minutes and has a reputation of being a powerplay quarterback, he doesn’t appear to be a shooter and tends to instead distribute the puck. That’s definitely ideal considering the Oilers were successful last season on the powerplay in large part to the high-end skill up front and Klefbom’s puck distribution from the blue line.

Of all of the Oilers shot attempts Klefbom was on the ice for last season, 17.2% were from his stick. That’s thankfully a drop from a couple seasons ago when almost 30% of the Oilers shot attempts came from Klefbom when he was on the ice. You may recall him and Nurse were a little trigger-happy that season under head coach Todd McLellan often shooting from low probability scoring areas – which likely played a role in the Oilers powerplay struggling early in the 2018/19 season. Last year, it was players like Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and Roman Josi who were taking about 30% of their team’s shot attempts on the powerplay, and all three of their teams ranked in the bottom third in the league when it came to powerplay efficiency.

Looking at Barrie’s proportion of shot attempts over his career, he seems to be playing more of a puck distribution role at this point of his career. A couple seasons ago, he was taking almost 30% of his team’s shot-attempts when he was on the ice – closer to the levels of Burns and Doughty – which may have led to his reputation as being a point man that a powerplay goes through. In his final season in Colorado however, that proportion fell below 20%, with his lowest share actually happening in Toronto (16.5%). Worth noting too that when he took on more powerplay responsibility after the coaching change, he actually only took 12.3% of the shot attempts he was on the ice for. That’s a pretty good sign that he was deferring more to his forwards up front to take shots from higher-probability scoring areas.

SeasonTeamGPTOI/GP% of on-ice shot attempts
2011/12COL61.9414.3%
2012/13COL322.6428.0%
2013/14COL622.8820.9%
2014/15COL802.9924.6%
2015/16COL763.2224.5%
2016/17COL713.2129.3%
2017/18COL683.7223.6%
2018/19COL784.0419.3%
2019/20TOR682.8016.5%

It remains to be seen how quickly Barrie can adapt to his new teammates and if the coaching staff will have patience if the powerplay doesn’t click right away. But it is encouraging to know that Barrie is accustomed to heavier powerplay workloads and has adapted to modern powerplay tactics as a puck distributor. Having Klefbom out is a major loss for the team, but with their high-end talent up front healthy the Oilers powerplay should remain as one of the best in the league.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Kyle Turris as an option on the Oilers penalty kill

Nashville Predators: 10 Games In, 5 Burning Questions We Have

With Riley Sheahan signing a professional tryout agreement with the Buffalo Sabres, the Edmonton Oilers will need to find another forward or two to add to their penalty kill rotation this coming season.

Sheahan lead the Oilers forwards in shorthanded ice time last season, playing 155 minutes and averaging 2:21 minutes per game. Leaguewide, he was in the top 25 among all forwards in ice-time, which wasn’t out of the ordinary for him as he’d often been relied on as one the top penalty killers for his previous clubs. The Oilers, as we know, finished the 2019/20 regular season with the second best rate of goals against on the penalty kill with 5.15 per hour, due in large part to their goaltending. While the Oilers allowed the ninth highest rate of shots against, the team save percentage was the best in the league with 90.61% – well above league average levels.

When asked about the penalty kill and adjusting to life without Sheahan on the roster, head coach Dave Tippett had this to say on The Jason Gregor Show on Wednesday:

We’ve added some extra depth. I think you’ll see Turris come in and penalty kill. Haas really came on in the second half of the year. I think he could get some of that. We’ve got Josh Archibald here still. I like the structure…[Oilers associate coach] Jim Playfair does a nice job with our players.

Having the right handed centerman…instead we had Riley [Sheahan] who was a left hander. We got JJ Khaira too that can take face offs there. Having the right hander I think will help us. The one thing in the NHL, the team that goes on the powerplay gets to pick the side of the faceoff they’re going on. Majority of teams pick what would be our right corner, their left corner. So having a right handed faceoff guy there to start with puck as many times as you can will be a benefit for us.

I think Turris will do a good job for us. I had him in the same role at World Championships about five years ago. He was a good penalty killer for us there. He hasn’t done much the last couple years but we’re going to push him into that role a little more, so I think our penalty kill will be fine. Source: The Jason Gregor Show (2020, December 30)

I always appreciate it when coaches like Tippett take the time to share their knowledge and go a little deeper into their thought process. It doesn’t have to be detailed or too technical, but just enough insight that, when well communicated, can go a long way in educating fans and helping grow the game.

Couple things stood out for me in Tippett’s comments. First, Tippett has zeroed in on defensive zone faceoffs and improving in that area to get positive results on the penalty kill. Last season, the Oilers ranked 25th in the league when it came to defensive zone faceoffs when shorthanded with 41.8%. The league average was 44.6%, with Philadelphia and Vancouver being the only two teams above 50%. The Oilers relied solely on their left-handed centermen – Sheahan, Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl – to take defensive zone draws, with Draisaitl posting the best rate among the three with 48.8%. Sheahan finished with 40.7% and Nugent-Hopkins finished with 36.7%. Now with Turris slated to be a centerman in a bottom six that Tippett likes to rely on for penalty kill duties, he’ll be a prime candidate to take on at least some of those minutes left vacated by Sheahan.

I’m just not sure that Turris can be a guy that could have a positive impact on the penalty kill.

For one, he’s barely played on the penalty kill in recent years. In 62 games with Nashville last season, Turris played just over 40 minutes shorthanded and averaging 39 seconds per game, which had him seventh on the team among forwards. This appears to have been a way for the coaching staff to get Turris more ice time as he had gradually been falling further down the depth chart. In the two seasons prior with Nashville, he wasn’t a regular option at all on the penalty kill, spending more time in the top six and on the powerplay units.

The last time Turris was a regular option on the penalty kill was in his first two seasons in Ottawa between 2013 and 2014. He was third in total ice time among Senator forwards in the lockout-shortened season, averaging 1:25 per game, and played 142 minutes in 82 games the following season (2013/14), averaging 1:44 per game – good for third among all forwards on the team. The Senators penalty kill ranked 22nd in the league that season allowing 7.03 goals per hour, and 19th when it came to the rate of shots against.

Turris saw his penalty kill ice time drop down to 60 minutes in 82 games the following season in 2014/15, ranking seventh among forwards in average ice time per game with 0:44, and then drop even further in 2015/16 when he averaged only 0:19 per game. In 2016/17, and near the end of his tenure with the Senators, Turris did see an uptick in his penalty kill ice time over 78 games where he played about 43 seconds per game, ranking seventh among forwards.

What stands out in Turris’ penalty kill numbers are the rates of shots against when he’s been on the ice. In 2013/14 when Turris was third on his team among forwards in average ice time per game, the Senators allowed 12 more shots against per hour with him on the ice. Similar issue occurred the year before as the Senators allowed an extra 14 shots against per hour with Turris on the ice. Considering that on average teams allow about 54 shots against per hour, that’s about a 22% increase in shots against with Turris deployed. This might be why Ottawa’s coaching staff gradually reduced his ice time on the penalty kill and why Nashville didn’t give him any ice time shorthanded in his first two seasons as a Predator. And when Nashville did give him some reps on the penalty kill last season – perhaps to increase his trade value – they allowed an extra 12 shots against per hour with Turris on the ice. This translated to about a 24% increase in shots against per hour with Turris on the ice, which is consistent with his career averages on the penalty kill.

Where Turris might be able to help on the penalty kill is with defensive zone draws. He was poor last season in limited minutes with Nashville, only winning four of twelve draws. But over his career on the penalty kill, Turris has a 50.5% face off percentage in the defensive zone with his best season coming in Ottawa in 2013/14 when he won 55.8%. This might have been why Tippett had him on the penalty kill for Canada at the 2014 World Championships. Remember, the Oilers ranked near the bottom of the league in winning shorthanded defensive zone face offs last season with 41.8%, while the league average was 44.8%. There’s obviously more to defensive zone draws like what actually happens after a draw in terms of shots and goals against, and the team’s strategies to control the ice. But faceoff win percentage appears to have been one of the factors in the Oilers decision to sign Turris.

Perhaps Tippett is envisioning Turris’ role as what Tyler Dellow would refer to as a FOGO guy – face off, get off. This would mean someone like Gaetan Haas, who Tippett mentioned as a legitimate option, sees more playing time on the penalty kill as a right handed centerman to replace Turris after a draw. Haas was not a regular penalty kill option for the coaching staff last season, only playing a total of six minutes, and was poor when it came to face-offs winning only 42% in all situations. So it might be his defensive play at even-strength that has him in the discussion for shorthanded ice time. While offence pretty much died when he or any of the bottom six forwards were on the ice last season, Haas’ on-ice defensive numbers were strong. The Oilers allowed their lowest rate of shots against among regular forwards with Haas on the ice, perhaps making him an ideal candidate to see more time on the penalty kill.

It’ll be interesting to see how things play out this coming season and how exactly Turris will be deployed on the penalty and if he can have a positive impact. If Turris can flourish there as a FOGO guy in a tandem with someone like Haas, great. It could free-up the skilled forwards like Draisaitl and maybe even Nugent-Hopkins to spend more time and energy at even-strength. If not, the coaching staff will have to make adjustments on the fly and figure things out to remain competitive in their division.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Puck Base

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Does Ben Hutton make sense for the Edmonton Oilers?

The defenceman is rumored to be on the Oilers radar. What would the Oilers expect from him, considering their needs at even-strength and the penalty kill.

It’s probably a spot of bother for the Edmonton Oilers that they’ll be starting the 2021 condensed regular season without defenceman Oscar Klefbom.

When he’s healthy, he’s been one of their top performers on the blue line often earning the trust and praise of his coaches. Last season he lead the team in average minutes played per game, with over 25, regularly facing top competition every night. He was a key part of the powerplay and penalty kill, leading all defencemen in total ice time for both situations.

“Ultimately, you look at your bench and you look at players you can put into a situation where they can help you win the most,” Tippett explained earlier in the season. “When he’s on the ice that much, he must be doing some good things.

“That’s what we think of him.” (Source: Edmonton Oilers)

And it’s probably what Oilers management thinks of him as well considering how often the Oilers come up in recent free agent rumors surrounding the available defenceman.

Unless the Oilers are willing to move assets, the Oilers probably won’t be able to replace Klefbom and what he typically brings to the team with one of the available free agents. What they can try to do however is address each area of the team that he impacts the most and find suitable replacements for those.

For example, his puck distribution and offensive skill will definitely be missed on the powerplay unit that dominated the league last season. But the Oilers have added 29-year old Tyson Barrie, who has over 500 games of experience and was a key part of the Leafs powerplay, which finished the 2019/20 season with the sixth highest rate of goals per hour. There will need to be some adjustments considering Barrie is a right-shot defenceman, but you can see the Oilers mitigation strategy.

It still, however, remains to be seen how exactly Klefbom’s even-strength (5v5) and penalty kill time is going to be replaced. The Oilers may have some confidence in someone like Caleb Jones or William Lagesson, both of which have spent time developing within a good development program in Bakersfield, to take on those minutes. Jones in particular has been given opportunities in Edmonton, having now played 60 NHL games and was averaging more ice time than veteran Kris Russell at the end of the 2019/20 regular season.

Whatever internal options the coaching staff has confidence in, it’s imperative that the Oilers add a defenceman with even-strength and penalty killing experience. And Ben Hutton, who the Oilers are rumored to be in on, makes some sense especially if the cost and term is kept minimal.

Hutton was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 draft and made the Canucks opening night roster in 2015 following three seasons at the University of Maine. In his rookie season as a 23-year old, and because of the injury issues on the Caucks blueline, he finished second on the team among defenceman in total ice-time and had the most points among defenceman with 25. He was largely sheltered in those minutes, averaging the fifth highest minutes per game, leaving the likes of Edler, Hamhuis and Tanev to play against more of the top line competition. Hutton did also lead the Canucks defencemen in powerplay ice time, but his on-ice results were poor. The Canucks as a team finished 28th in the league in points percentage that season, only ahead of Edmonton and Toronto, with the powerplay finishing 27th overall scoring only 5.53 goals per hour.

Hutton went on to play three more seasons in Vancouver, with the team missing the playoffs all three seasons, before signing with Los Angeles when the Canucks did not make him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. Over the course of his four-year career with Vancouver, Hutton saw his total ice time increase to over 22 minutes per game, getting more responsibility at even-strength, while his deployment on special teams shifted – more on that later.

SeasonTeamGPTotal TOI/GP5v5 TOI/GPPP TOI/GPPK TOI/GP
2015/16VAN7519.8715.672.370.92
2016/17VAN7120.5017.142.060.54
2017/18VAN6118.4115.301.011.62
2018/19VAN6922.3617.371.872.33
2019/20L.A6518.2616.310.151.39

In his first three seasons with Vancouver, Hutton was often fifth or sixth among defencemen when it came to the total proportion of ice time playing against top line, or elite, competition according to Puck IQ. Because of the injuries to the Canucks blueline, Hutton played over 34% of his total ice time against elite competition. But for the next two seasons (2016/17 and 2017/18), that proportion of ice time was below 30% – probably right where he should be based on his skill set. He did well in those minutes, posting decent shot-share numbers relative to his teammates.

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Off-season roundtable

Took part in a Q&A/roundtable over at The Copper & Blue. Below were my responses.

The Oilers exited the play-in round a little more than a month ago, and it’s given us time to think a bit about the year. How do you feel about how the season went? Are you satisfied?

Even though they missed the playoffs, it’s hard to complain too much considering they posted a 0.585 points percentage in the regular season, finishing second in the Pacific and 12th in the league. The team was competitive most nights, special teams were outstanding, their top players did well and we saw a cluster of players transition from the minors and take on important roles. But the Oilers definitely over achieved, and Coach Tippett recognized that at his end-of-season availability. They were badly outscored at even-strength (5v5) relying heavily on their powerplay, posted mediocre shot-share numbers and their goaltending was sub-standard. Aside from their superstar players and the hope that more players will graduate from the AHL, there aren’t many indications that this team is going to be competing for a championship anytime soon. Over the course of the regular season, the team did very little to better position their roster construction going forward. They added a few bad contracts to their books, including signing Kassian to a long-term deal, and sent away much needed draft picks.

So while the results were good, management’s off-ice decision-making has been very concerning.

Who is this team’s top line right winger at the beginning of next season, and why?

Based on how much ice-time he received from the coaching staff at even-strength in the regular season and the contract that management gave him, it’s probably Kassian. He was fourth on the team among forward in total ice time and average ice time per game, even ahead of Nugent-Hopkins, and was McDavid’s most common linemate. Two things the Oilers need to do here: (1) find a better option for McDavid by either adding depth – this should not cost a lot, and (2) come to the realization that you do not pay a premium for players who do well with McDavid. The Oilers can’t be content with their current situation at right-wing.

Mikko Koskinen is signed for another two years in Edmonton, while Mike Smith is an unrestricted free agent. What should Ken Holland do between the pipes for the Oilers heading into next season?

First, review the process and methodology or whatever that led the Oilers to sign Smith to a contract last summer and fire it into the sun. Retain Koskinen since he’s provided league-average goaltending and expect him to start half of the games next season. His contract is a little high for the amount of workload expected, which makes it even more critical that they not overspend on the second goalie. Who they find as a second goalie doesn’t matter as long as they’ve posted league average numbers over the last few seasons and the acquisition cost is low. The only way the Oilers can acquire a higher-profile goalie like Holtby, or Lehner or Murray is if they’re planning on moving Koskinen – which I don’t suspect there’s much of a market for considering it’s a buyer’s market this off-season. I do like the idea of acquiring a younger goalie who has shown well recently like Alexander Georgiev, but that would require taking on some risk which I don’t think management is comfortable with. Also – look at goaltender coaching/consulting options and pray that one of the goalie prospects in the system continues to develop.

What do the Oilers do with Ethan Bear’s next contract?

The same thing that the Oilers did with Klefbom when they recognized his abilities early and wanted to see his best years happen in Edmonton. A long-term deal for Bear is ideal to potentially reduce the annual average value, knowing full well that he could be overpaid in the early years, but holding a value contract over the majority of its term. Financial risk is spread between the team and a player that it drafted and developed and deployed, and it’s how things have to be done in a salary cap world.

Is there any scenario where the Oilers can win a deal by moving Oscar Klefbom?

Definitely, as long as the manager isn’t basing his decisions on the NHL Guide and Record Book. The player coming back would just have to be young, on a long-term team-friendly deal and can contribute on the powerplay and penalty kill. Honestly, if the Oilers are so frisky to move a top-four defenceman, show some courage and start creating a market for Nurse whose perceived value is going to be much higher than his actual value.

We are a year away from the next expansion draft, but it’s never too soon to begin thinking about who could be selected. Who do you hope Seattle takes from the Oilers? Is there a player you believe the Oilers ought to keep, but is at risk being selected?

Ideally Seattle takes an older Oiler who’s on a bad contract and under producing, or whose actual contributions might be overhyped. Kassian and Neal come to mind, but it could be someone younger and further down the depth chart like Khaira. Knowing who Seattle has working in their hockey operations department, I suspect they’ll target young players who have shown well at the professional level and whose contracts are under team control.

Evaluating the evaluation

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Before they look for goaltending again, Oilers management needs to review their previous evaluation and decision-making methods.

One of the most important parts about decision-making, especially when you’re spending significant money or assets to achieve a specific goal, is the evaluation that follows it. It’s standard business practice in the corporate world when CEO’s work to maximize the value of an entity and try to find any sort edge over their competition. Scrutinizing internal processes, finding strengths and deficiencies and re-calibrating things is a critical component when building a sustainable product.

The same approach to evaluating decision-making has to apply in professional hockey. When every corner of the roster needs to be optimized for maximum value under a salary cap system, it’s critical that teams know if their roster decisions led to positive outcomes and, just as importantly, know if their methods behind the decision process was adequate and how it can be improved going forward. With a large pool of players and a limited number of roster spots, teams are faced with recurring decisions regarding their roster construction – so refining their decision-making methods has to be top of mind.

The Edmonton Oilers are facing one of those recurring decisions, that many teams are facing this off-season, as they’ll be searching for a goaltender to potentially start a significant number of games in the upcoming year. The Oilers goalie depth chart features Mikko Koskinen, a 32 year old with 101 NHL games on his resume, and under contract for two more seasons at $4.5 million per year, along with a group of goalie prospects that have a range of potential. This list currently includes Ilya Konovalov (age 22), Olivier Rodrigue (20), Stuart Skinner (21) and Dylan Wells (22).

Koskinen has shown reasonably well as a starter at the NHL level, having now played 93 regular season games and four playoff games for the Oilers since transitioning from the KHL and SM-liiga in 2018. Among 53 goaltenders who have played at least 70 games over the last three seasons (approximately 3,000 minutes between 2017/18 and 2019/20), Koskinen’s even-strength (5v5) save percentage of 91.9% ranks 36th overall, while his goals-saved above average of -2.52 ranks 35th. The average team save percentage at even-strength over the same time period has been 92.04%, so it’s safe to say Koskinen has been a league-average goalie for the Oilers.

Considering how teams, especially in the west where travel is onerous, are moving away from a starter-backup approach to deploying goalies to more of a tandem where they can split ice-time more evenly, it’s important for the Oilers to continue doing the same. While Koskinen has provided decent netminding for the team, we know from a 2014 research article at Hockey Graphs that goaltender performance declines with age, especially after age 30 – and it’s beneficial for both Koskinen and the team if he has more time to rest between starts.

When the Oilers looked for a goalie last summer to split time with Koskinen, they signed Mike Smith, a 37 year old netminder at the time with 571 games of experience. How much time and effort was put into the analysis that led to this decision is unknown. But what we do know is that their approach to finding an NHL-caliber goaltender this off-season has to be considerably better.

Smith’s results as an Oiler were poor, which wasn’t surprising as the probability of goalies posting save percentages below league average levels increases after age 30 and accelerates after age 35. For more details about goalie aging curves, I’d recommend checking out this 2014 research article from Hockey Graphs.

This past season, Smith posted one of the worst save percentages in the league at even-strength (90.0%), ranking 52nd out of 54 goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes, or about 24 games, and allowed the fourth highest rate of goals against per hour (2.92). His individual performance was a big reason why the Oilers overall team save perentage was 25th in the league with 91.23%, allowing the sixth highest rate of goals-against, 2.72 per hour. That rate is slightly worse than what the Oilers allowed in 2017/18 when they allowed the eighth highest rate of goals (2.60 per hour) and and 2018/19 when they allowed the ninth highest rate (2.65 per hour). For context, the league average rate of goals against per hour over the last three seasons has been 2.45.

What management should hopefully be aware of is the fact that the Oilers allowed close to the league average rate of expected goals against. Expected goals measures the quality of the unblocked shots taken, and assigns a value to it depending on the probability of it becoming a goal. Key variables include the type of shot taken, where it was taken from and compares it to historical shot and goal data to determine the value. So while the actual rate of goals against the Oilers was 2.72 this past season, based on the variables from the shot data, the expected rate of goals against was 2.36 – slightly above the league average rate of 2.30.

2020-08-14_16-23-09

Put another way, had the Oilers allowed the same rate and quality of shots against and received league average goaltending, they would have allowed approximately 136 goals at even-strength this past season. That’s a significant improvement of about 21 goals, (they actually allowed 157), which would translate to approximately three additional wins in the standings. And a key reason why this occurred and cost the Oilers a better spot in the league rankings is squarely on the player that management brought in last summer to shore up the goaltending.

2019/20 (5v5) Smith Koskinen
GP 39 38
TOI 1747.13 1702.87
Shots Against/60 29.09 33.23
Expected Goals Against/60 2.18 (19th) 2.58 (51st)
Save% 90.00% (52nd) 92.40% (23rd)
High Danger Save% 77.60% (52nd) 85.10% (9th)
Goals Against/60 2.92 (51st) 2.54 (34th)

Above is a summary of how the two netminders did for the Oilers in 2019/20 at even-strength. Included for some of the metrics is each goaltenders ranking among the 54 goaltenders who played at least 1,000 minutes this past regular season. What I found interesting was that the team’s rate of expected goals against, which again measures the quality of unblocked shot attempts, was higher when Koskinen was in net than when Smith was. Thankfully Koskinen did reasonably well, ranking 23rd overall among his peers with a 92.40% save percentage, just slightly above league average levels.

Whatever methods that the Oilers management used to determine that Smith was going to improve the team’s chances of winning games has to be under immediate scrutiny by someone in the organization. The publicly available data and research into goaltending made it clear that the probability of Smith posting league average numbers was low, which begs the question: what data and information and process was the team basing such an important decision on? What metrics were used and how well do these metrics correlate with targeted outcomes? Did they set out benchmarks and key performance indicators to measure their decision? How did the Oilers evaluate the probability of the player’s performance? Whose opinions were involved?

There has to be some level of accountability and proper evaluation of these key decisions – and it should come from someone outside of the hockey operations department. Preferably, above the general manager’s office, if Bob Nicholson has the motivation and courage to do so, or even an external consultant to ensure whatever the findings are can be actioned upon. The reality is that the second place finish in the division could be masking Smith’s poor goaltending performance, as Holland stated in his end of season media availability that goaltending was a strength. And there doesn’t appear to be any motivation for the general manager to dissect the goaltending decision from the 2019 off-season, leaving the team at risk of repeating the same mistake.

To improve their chances of landing a reliable goaltender this off-season and contend for the playoffs, it’s imperative that the Oilers evaluate how the decision was made to sign Smith last summer. The methods that were used were clearly flawed and it’s critical that management explore new ways – using data analysis, scouting and possibly an outside perspective – to evaluate goaltenders.

Data: Natural Stat TrickHockey Reference

Glossary:

  • Expected goals: Measures the quality of the unblocked shots taken, and assigns a value to it depending on the probability of it becoming a goal. Key variables include the type of shot taken, where it was taken from and compares it to historical shot and goal data to determine the value. (Natural Stat Trick)
  • Goals saved above average – the goals this goalie prevented give his save percentage and shots faces vs. the league average save percentage on the same number of shots. Minimum four shots faced per team gamed needed to qualify (Hockey Reference)

Article also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Reviewing the Oilers performance against Chicago

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Disappointing end to the Oilers season but it wasn’t completely unexpected. As great as their regular season was, the Oilers were a flawed team and their late season results weren’t that significantly better than Chicago’s. Combine that with the randomness that comes with playoff hockey and the fact that there was a four month layoff between the end of the regular season and the start of qualifying round it’s hard to be too upset.

Related articles:

While we can’t and shouldn’t make long term projections based on the series loss to Chicago, or ridiculous characterizations of the team and individual players, we can still highlight the actual results to see what the Oilers did well and where they struggled. Long-term projections that inform the decision-making process around roster construction always needs to rely on larger sample sizes. In this case, focus on the 2019/20 regular season results rather than four games in August.

For now, I want to focus on the results from the qualifying round.

The Oilers were outscored 16-15 by the Blackhawks, scoring five goals on the powerplay and allowing four shorthanded. At even-strength, they scored 10 goals, a rate of 3.28 goals per 60, which would rank them 6th among all teams, and 4th among teams that were playing in a qualifying round. Unfortunately, they also allowed 12 goals at even-strength, a rate of which was second highest among all teams.

The Oilers powerplay was solid, scoring five times in just under 30 minutes of ice time, a rate of 10.38 goals per hour. That’s just a hair below where they were in the regular season when they finished with a rate of 10.64 goals per hour – an outstanding rate which had them first in the league. They generated 58.13 shots per hour against Chicago, well above the regular season league average rate of 53.62 (over the last three seasons), which is around where they were in the regular season. And they converted about the same percentage of shots into goals, posting a 17.86% shooting percentage, which is slightly below their ridiculous 20.27% shooting percentage from the regular season.

The Oilers penalty kill on the other hand, was not as good as it was in the regular season. Allowing four goals in just under 30 minutes translates to a rate of 8.56 goals against per hour, well above their regular season rate of 5.15, second best in the league. A big reason for this was the amount of shots the Oilers allowed, one of the highest among all playoff teams with 64.21. The Oilers goaltenders were fine shorthanded posting a save percentage of 86.67%, which is right around the regular season league average rate of 86.59%. This was however below the Oilers league-leading save percentage of 90.61% in the regular season – not entirely surprising considering both goalies posted league average save percentages in their careers prior to this season.

Where the goalies really let the team down was at even-strength, as the Oilers posted a team save percentage of 85.88% – worst among all teams competing in the playoffs. What’s especially frustrating is that the Oilers did a pretty good job at controlling the flow of play, posting a Corsi For% of 53.52% over the four games and out-chancing the Blackhawks posting a Fenwick For% of 52.91%. And the Oilers did a decent job limiting the shots against (28.87 per hour, 7th best among all teams) and unblocked shot attempts against (a proxy for scoring chances) with 38.45 per hour, 6th best among all teams. Yes there were defensive breakdowns and missed assignments in their own zone, but the goaltending was by far the biggest issue allowing goals from low-danger areas of the ice.

Worth noting too that the Oilers goaltending at even-strength was one of the worst in the league during the regular season, ranking 25th overall with a 91.23% team save percentage. Among 54 goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes at even-strength during the regular season, Mike Smith ranked 52nd with a 90.00% save percentage and 53rd when it came to goals-saved above average (GSAA) with -16.26. Koskinen was much better and closer to league average levels ranking 21st among the group with a 92.40% save percentage and 20th in terms of GSAA with +4.53. We knew this going into the playoffs, making the decision to start Smith in game one of the series even more perplexing.

What’s also interesting is how the Oilers forward group did in the qualifying round, with coach Tippett electing to run McDavid and Nugent Hopkins as a pair on one line with rotating wingers, and Draisaitl and Yamamoto as pair on another line. Observers are fair to question why Tippett didn’t unite the trio of Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto who posted a ridiculous 77.78% goal-share at even-strength, out-scoring opponents 28-8 in 317 minutes of ice-time in the regular season, but only played a few together against Chicago. But digging into the numbers a little more, it’s difficult to criticize Tippett when his lines actually did well against the Blackhawks, posting strong shot-share metrics, including the bottom six forwards which I was initially very skeptical about.

Metrics Draisaitl + Yamamoto McDavid + RNH Bottom six
TOI 42.43 41.57 59.05
TOI/GP 10.61 10.39 14.76
Corsi For% 49.18 56.33 56.33
Fenwick For% 52.65 52.95 56.16
Expected Goals For% 60.03 57.86 59.97
Goals For% 33.33 37.50 50.00
Sh% 8.95 12.52 2.93
Sv% 81.04 78.37 95.94

With McDavid and RNH on the ice, (no Draisaitl or Yamamoto), the Oilers posted a Fenwick For percentage of 52.95% in about 42 minutes of ice time. And they scored 4.31 goals per hour, which is well above McDavid’s on-ice rate from the regular season (3.52 goals per hour). But due to the goaltending, and a 78.37% on-ice save percentage, they were outscored by Chicago posting a goal-share of 37.50%.

Similar thing happened when Draisaitl and Yamamoto were on the ice without McDavid or RNH. The Oilers posted a Fenwick For percentage of 52.65% in about 42 minutes of ice time with them on the ice, but only came away with a 33.33% goal-share. They struggled to score, posting a slightly below average on-ice shooting percentage of 8.95%, but it was really the goaltending that sunk them as their on-ice save percentage was 81.04%.

And in about 59 minutes of ice time at even-strength without McDavid, RNH, Draisailt or Yamamoto the Oilers bottom-six forwards posted a Fenwick For percentage of 56.16%, which is just outstanding. Unfortunately, the best they could do was score one goal. The key takeaway from all of this is that the Oilers were spending more time with the puck and keeping play in the offensive zone – all the things teams need to do to give themselves a chance to out-score opponents and win games. Reviewing the underlying shot-share metrics, it’s hard to criticize how Tippett constructed his line combinations.

While we can’t project much from the four game-series, it’s still important to look at the actual results and the underlying on-ice metrics to gauge what went well and what didn’t. It’s easy to point to the lack of “intensity”, and “leadership” and develop narratives about the Oilers needing to “learn how to win”. The challenge is to look past the noise, identify what the key issues were in the playoffs and the regular season, and act on actual facts based on coaching tactics, player performance and numbers when making roster decisions this off-season. This requires effort and courage and sound decision-making processes – and hopefully Oilers management is up for the challenge.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

 

Powering up in Chicago

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Could Chicago’s powerplay become a factor in their qualifier series against Edmonton? A look into their regular season struggles and some of the key underlying issues.

One of the storylines coming out of Chicago’s training camp ahead of their playoff series against the Oilers is around getting their powerplay going, which was one of the league’s worst in the 2019/20 regular season. The Blackhawks ranked 28th in the NHL scoring only 5.31 goals per hour, ahead of only the Senators, Red Wings and Ducks. And they were well behind the Oilers who finished first in the league scoring over ten goals per hour, which was a major factor in their second place finish in the Pacific.

Below are the top five and bottom five teams when it came to goals scored per hour (GF/60) on the powerplay this past regular season. I’ve included for each team their rate of unblocked shot attempts or Fenwick per hour (FF/60), a proxy for scoring chances, the actual shots on goal per hour (SF/60) as well as the team shooting percentage. At the bottom of the table I’ve also included the league average rates for each metric over the previous three seasons for additional context.

Rank Team FF/60 SF/60 GF/60 SH%
1 Edmonton Oilers 71.21 52.46 10.64 20.27
2 Boston Bruins 80.47 57.41 9.19 16.01
3 St Louis Blues 73.17 53.98 8.97 16.61
4 Vancouver Canucks 72.12 51.99 8.54 16.42
5 Carolina Hurricanes 80.50 58.87 8.33 14.16
27 Columbus Blue Jackets 66.88 52.55 5.70 10.84
28 Chicago Blackhawks 67.86 50.17 5.31 10.58
29 Ottawa Senators 69.83 47.38 5.12 10.80
30 Detroit Red Wings 58.71 41.53 5.09 12.26
31 Anaheim Ducks 64.41 47.91 4.79 10.00
League average, 2016-19 74.81 53.57 7.07 13.20

The fact that the Blackhawks could only muster 33 goals with the man-advantage – and on top of that allowed eight shorthanded goals (tied for 7th highest in the league) – is definitely troubling for a club that actually broke even when it came to scoring at even-strength (5v5) and had the ninth best penalty kill in the league, allowing 6.34 goals per hour. Put another way, had their powerplay converted their shots into goals at even a league average rate (13.20%) instead of 10.58%, they would have scored 41 powerplay goals instead of 33. An additional eight goals would have boosted their overall goal differential from -6 to +2, and likely much closer to a wild card spot. Thanks to the playoff format they still made it, and key players like Kirby Dach recognize the importance of having an efficient powerplay heading into a competitive tournament.

“I think power plays in the playoffs are a huge thing to gain momentum,” he said. “As a group of power-play players, we know that the regular season was kind of unacceptable and that we have a lot of growth to do there to help our team win. I think the way we’re moving the puck now and making plays, hopefully it can all come together and be a factor for us against Edmonton.” (Source: NBC Sports – Chicago)

Aside from their terrible team shooting percentage on the powerplay, the Blackhawks also had issues generating scoring chances and shots on goal this past season, ranking in the bottom ten league-wide and well below league average rates. And it was an issue all season long as the club didn’t appear to make any significant changes to their overall tactics or player deployment that would have perhaps increased their odds of scoring. Another potential reason for their lack of scoring chances could be that over 25% of their shot attempts on the powerplay came from defenceman, typically from areas of the ice with a low probability of goal-scoring. In contrast, less than 18% of the Oilers shot attempts on the powerplay came from defencemen, as we know the club often moved the puck into higher danger areas where the forwards could do their magic.

What’s interesting is that closer to the end of the season the Blackhawks did start generating closer to league-average rates of unblocked shot attempts, which really isn’t too far off from where the Oilers finished their season when it came to the same metric. The difference of course is that the Oilers’ top players were prolific converting their chances into goals, with players like McDavid, Draisaitl leading the way scoring over 40 points and getting support from the likes of Nugent-Hopkins, Klefbom, Neal and Chiasson.

Chicago wasn’t as fortunate, as some of their key contributors from the 2018/19 season didn’t perform nearly as well. In the previous season the Blackhawks powerplay finished 13th in the league scoring 7.26 goals per hour and generating just over 71.0 unblocked shot attempts per hour – both numbers being right around league average. That season, Kane led the way with 30 points, Debrincat had 24 points and Toews had 23 .

This past season, Kane continued to lead the way scoring at about the same rate of points per hour (5.33) as he did in 2018/19 (5.99) but seeing a slight dip in his own rate of shots for per hour, finishing the season with 23 points. Debrincat saw his total rate of points per hour drop from 5.38 to 3.97 per hour, due in large part to his personal shooting percentage dropping from 25.0% to 21.74%. Worth noting too that Debrincat’s even-strength shooting percentage took a much more significant dive down to 4.76%, which may be an outlier considering that in 2017/18 he shot 12.68% in 82 games and in 2018/19 he shot 15.29 in 82 games. Can probably expect that to turnaround eventually, at even-strength and on the powerplay, maybe even after a three month layoff.

The player of most interest, to me at least, is Toews who scored only one powerplay goal and assisted on seven in 2019/20. He was getting around the same amount of ice time and generating the same rate of shots on goals, but just couldn’t convert on his chances posting a personal shooting percentage of only 2.63%. That’s a major drop considering that his personal shooting percentage over the previous five seasons on the powerplay had been 13.7%. He’s remained effective at even-strength this year, but for the Blackhawks to be competitive they’ll need their captain to be more productive on the powerplay.

Here’s how the powerplay units are shaping up in training camp (Source), with Kubalik moving up to the first unit and looking to make an impact with increased opportunity. He had an outstanding regular season scoring 30 goals, with 23 at even-strength, but ranked fifth on the team in total powerplay ice time behind Kane, Toews, Debrincat and Strome, and sixth in terms of minutes per game.

  • First PP unit: Kane, Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, Dominik Kubalik, Keith
  • Second PP unit: Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, Alex Nylander, Adam Boqvist

One other thing to consider is on the Oilers side, where their goaltending on the penalty kill had been outstanding finishing the season with a league-best 90.61% team save percentage. Among 55 goaltenders who played at least 100 minutes shorthanded in 2019/20, Mike Smith ranked first with a 91.80% save percentage, while Koskinen ranked sixth with 90.10%. Both also finished in the top five when it came to goals saved above average. Keep in mind though that Mike Smith’s shorthanded save percentage was 86.5% in his previous three seasons, much closer to league average rates, and Koskinen posted an 85.4% save percentage in his previous 55 games. Both goalies could potentially regress to league average rates and it remains to be seen if the Oilers can control the shots and chances against as they were allowing the ninth highest rates in the league shorthanded over the final twenty five games of the season.

With both teams having plenty of time to watch video and game-planning for one another, it’ll be very interesting to see how each side does on special teams and if the success and failures from their regular seasons carry over to the tournament.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.