Preventing goals might be a problem next season for the Oilers

coppernblue.com.full.54273It should come as no surprise that one of the Oilers biggest issues in the 2017/18 regular season were the number of goals against. Now a lot of the damage was done when the Oilers were on the penalty kill, as the club finished 27th in the league, and allowed one of the highest rates of scoring chances against when shorthanded. But it was also at even-strength (5v5) when the team struggled, allowing 176 goals – the fifth highest in the league – with a rate of 2.62 goals against per 60. What’s especially disheartening is that the Oilers actually scored 161 even-strength (5v5) goals this past season, 12th best in the league, and only four goals less than the season prior when they finished second in the Pacific division.

Needless to say, team defence was a significant issue. Not only were the goals against pouring in at even-strength, but the Oilers were also one of the worst teams in the league when it came to the rate of high-danger shots against, as well as the rate of scoring chances against. Another metric that captured the Oilers deficiencies on the defensive side of the puck was the rate of expected goals against (xGA), a weighting placed on every unblocked shot against based on the historical probability of the shot becoming a goal, taking into account the type of shot and shot location.

What’s troubling is that team defence has been an ongoing issue for the Oilers since Chiarelli and McLellan arived in the spring of 2015. The Oilers have historically had issues with defence, but you would expect things to improve considering the number of moves the current management group has made to address the blueline, including significant trades and free agent signings.

Here’s how the Oilers have done over the last three seasons when it comes to different defensive metrics, and where they’ve ranked league wide.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

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Lessons and takeaways

coppernblue.com.full.54273The Oilers played some very good hockey in the month of December heading into the Christmas break.

The club went (7-3), outscoring their opponents 37-26 in all situations. That +11 goal differential was massive for the team as it started pulling them out of the deep hole they put themselves in October and November, and things appeared to be on the right track. They defeated some pretty good teams that month, including Columbus, San Jose and St. Louis. And they put together an impressive four game winning streak.

Date Opponent Result Score
12/02/2017 at Calgary W 7-5
12/06/2017 vs Flyers L 2-4
12/09/2017 at Montreal W 6-2
12/10/2017 at Toronto L 0-1
12/12/2017 at Columbus W 7-2
12/14/2017 vs Nashville L 0-4
12/16/2017 at Minnesota W 3-2
12/18/2017 vs San Jose W 5-3
12/21/2017 vs St. Louis W 3-2
12/23/2017 vs Montreal W 4-1

Not only did they get the results they desperately needed, but at the time their success also appeared to be sustainable. The Oilers were dominant when it came to possession metrics, posting an even-strength (5v5) adjusted Corsi For percentage of 54.0% and a Fenwick For percentage of 56.1% over those 10-games. These are shot-share levels that the Oilers haven’t been able to reach at any other point in the season.

It’s worth noting that what bogged the Oilers down in December were the same issues that have plagued them all season. Their goaltending was mediocre, their powerplay wasn’t producing, and their penalty kill was abysmal. Nonetheless, they were very good at getting a higher proportion of shots at even-strength, posting a 61.9% goal-share (a +10 goal differential) and picked up some much needed points.

One of the big reasons why they had success in December was because the coaching staff was willing to deploy a balanced offence spread across three scoring lines. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins each had time centering their own units, with varying degrees of success. Here’s what the most common even-strength line combinations were over the 10-game stretch heading into the Christmas Break, including the on-ice shot-share, goal-share, shooting percentage and save percentage for each.

Line TOI Corsi For% Goals For% On-ice Sh% On-ice Sv% PDO
Lucic-McDavid-Puljujaarvi 108.48 52.38 83.33 8.62 98.28 106.9
Khaira-Draisaitl-Strome 77.3 56.06 66.67 9.09 91.67 100.8
Maroon-RNH-Cammalleri 67.3 57.14 42.86 7.5 87.1 94.6

Starting with goal-share, only Nugent-Hopkin’s line featuring Maroon and Cammalleri struggled, posting a 42.86% goals-for percentage – thanks in large part to an on-ice save percentage of 87.1%. Those struggles were off-set by the other two units, as Draisaitl’s line featuring Khaira and Strome had excellent goal-share results as did the trio of McDavid, Lucic and Puljujaarvi.

What was promising about rolling three scoring lines were the shot-share numbers for each. The Corsi For% was above 52.0% for all three units, suggesting that the process and tactics the coaching staff deployed were positive and the team as a whole was headed in the right direction.

It’s worth noting here that the Oilers were without two of their top defencemen during this stretch, as both Andrej Sekera and Adam Larsson missed time with injuries. But it didn’t seem to matter one bit when the forwards were deployed for offensive success. It’s amazing how well three good scoring lines can mask some of deficiencies on the blue-line. Similar really to what Pittsburgh did in last year’s playoffs with their key defencemen were out of the lineup.

Player GP TOI CF% FF% GF%
Darnell Nurse 10 180.02 52.86 55.89 52.38
Kris Russell 10 165.02 53.75 57.58 43.75
Matthew Benning 10 155.88 50.30 51.60 66.67
Oscar Klefbom 8 124.57 49.43 49.49 70
Brandon Davidson 8 115.73 56.28 59.88 71.43
Yohann Auvitu 7 90.63 53.09 57.43 88.89
Adam Larsson 3 57.42 54.55 54.79 0
Andrej Sekera 2 29.05 50.00 53.19 0
Eric Gryba 2 27.62 43.14 46.34 83.33

What’s the point of all of this?

Because of where the Oilers are in the standings, this 10-game stretch and the underlying factors that drove their success are very likely going to be dismissed. A 7-3 record and +11 goal-differential may be perceived as a fluke – a meaningless blip in a disaster of a season – by fans, the media and the team. Even though the results were real and sustainable, it will be overshadowed by the overall record and the fact that they missed the playoffs.

Now the Oilers have plenty of soul-searching to do this off-season to try getting things back on track to win a championship. But management has to be looking for lessons and takeaways using as much information and data as possible.

The problem we’ve seen with the current regime however is their lack of understanding of how variance works in hockey. Rather than look at underlying shot metrics (which predicts future goal-share well), decisions by the Oilers are often based on goal-metrics, which we know is heavily influenced by shooting and save percentages, and serve as a poor predictor of future success. The concern from my point of view is that the Oilers will be fixated with the standings and overall goal-differential, and incorrectly assign blame to players and areas of the team that may not be as significant as they think. By all means – question every part of the roster. But approach your problems with sound logic and reasoning, and with as much applicable information as possible – and hopefully this leads to well-informed decisions.

What the team really needs to do is look at different segments of the season, find patterns and outliers, such as the December run, and determine whether the results were real or not. From there, it’s important to draw out the lessons and better understand how things came about and why. Even though it was only a 10-game segment, there were takeaways that management needs to consider to (a) ensure they have a better read of the club and (b) to ensure they don’t make another blunder when trying to improve the roster.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Assessing the Oilers’ Goaltending Situation

coppernblue.com.full.54273The Edmonton Oilers are in an interesting spot right now with their goaltending.

With Cam Talbot expected to be out of action for another week or so, the team will be relying on two goalies with less than 22 NHL games between them. Both Laurent Brossoit and Nick Ellis are reasonable NHL prospects, but the Oilers are taking a risk with so much inexperience between the pipes. And it doesn’t come at a great time either – the Oilers are second last in the Pacific division and desperately need to be winning games to keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

So what’s the best approach for management to take?

The first option they have is to stick with their young guys, and give them a chance to establish themselves as legitimate NHL options. The Oilers made a commitment to Brossoit in February of 2016, signing him to a two-year deal following his entry-level contract. And at last year’s trade deadline when the Oilers were making their push for a playoff spot, management reaffirmed their commitment, electing to stick with Brossoit rather than find a more experienced goalie for the post-season. Ellis was signed to a two-year entry level deal out of college in 2016, and has since started 45 games for the Bakersfield Condors. Considering the dollars and development time invested in both goalies, the team may feel compelled to give them their reps at the NHL level. But it is the riskiest course of action at such a critical point of the season.

A second option for the Oilers, which is probably the most conservative (and therefore most acceptable) approach, is to acquire a more proven, veteran goaltender that has experience as a starter in the league. The team likely won’t want to spend too many assets to acquire this level of goaltending, as it would be more of a stop-gap while Brossoit and Ellis continue developing. The assumption here is that the Oilers want to retain one or both of their prospects long-term and sign them to new deals when they become restricted free agents at the end of the season.

Both of these options are fine, but it would be in the Oilers’ best interest if they approached their goalie situation a little differently and took a more aggressive approach with a long-term vision for the roster.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Thoughts on the Oilers Penalty Kill and McLellan’s results in San Jose

coppernblue.com.full.54273It’s wild to think that the Oilers playoff hopes are slipping this early in the season. But it’s a harsh reality considering the hole they’ve put themselves in and how difficult it is to make ground in the NHL because of three-point games.

What makes matters worse is that the Oilers poor results on the penalty kill is what’s absolutely sinking them and may end up costing them a season. Considering how high the expectations were following a playoff run, this is incredibly disappointing.

First it’s important to note that the Oilers are one of the least penalized teams in the league, having been on the penalty kill for just over 75 minutes, which is the 7th lowest in the league. They’ve taken 39 penalties so far, fifth lowest in the NHL.

When they are on the penalty kill, they’ve been a disaster. The team has allowed 14 goals now, third highest in the league, which translates into a 11.13 goals against per hour – the worst in the league. To put things into perspective, in the past three seasons no team has finished the year with a goals against per hour higher than 10 on the penalty kill.

Two things always worth digging into when analyzing a team’s penalty kill: the rate of shots against and the team save percentage.

Team’s are trying to block shots getting towards the net – a pretty standard task assigned to penalty killers who are pressuring puck carriers and disrupting passing lanes. So it makes sense to look at the rate of unblocked shot attempts against. And teams are doing everything possible to make sure shots don’t actually hit their net, as this creates second opportunities and chaos that could turn into scoring chances. So it makes sense to look at how well the team is limiting actual shots on goals against.

The good news for the Oilers is that they’re currently allowing 72.08 unblocked shot attempts per hour and 52.7 shots on goal per hour. This has them right around league average when it comes to both metrics.

Team save percentage on the other hand is what appears to be a significant issue on the penalty kill.

The Oilers currently rank 30th in the league, only ahead of the Coyotes, with a 80.56% team save percentage. This is far below where they were last season when the team ranked 11th in the NHL with an 87.75% team save percentage.

When the Oilers were bleeding shots against early on last season, Talbot, who started 73 games, bailed the team out with some outstanding performances, posting a 87.21 save percentage – one of the best in the league. Right now Talbot has a disappointing 81.82% save percentage, one of the worst in the league among starters.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

The Oilers’ special teams are going to be fine

One of the biggest issues for the Oilers this early in the season has been their special teams. And it was a big focus for the team at practice today.

When stories like this come out, it’s worth digging into a little further for a couple of reasons. Since the focus is on goals, both scoring them on the powerplay and preventing them on penalty kill, we’re dealing with all sorts of luck. Goals are influenced by so many things, we have to be able to dig into the shot metrics to know if the special teams success is sustainable or not.

It’s also good to know what the underlying numbers are like and which player’s are driving or dragging the team in the hopes that the team makes intelligent decisions going forward. For example, Mark Letestu has a history of success on the powerplay, but you wouldn’t think it considering he’s been mostly a bottom-six type player. Initially, the Oilers didn’t even give him a chance on the powerplay, even healthy scratching him for a stretch of games early last season. Today, he’s a key part of the powerplay and a big reason why they’re able to generate so many shots.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

 

Couple thoughts on the Oilers shooting percentage + TV spot (CBC)

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The Oilers team shooting percentage at even-strength (5v5) has been getting a lot of attention and for good reason. The club is posting some very nice possession numbers, often out-shooting their opponents, but they haven’t been able to convert their chances as often as they’d like. The Oilers are also getting quality chances, posting a score-adjusted Fenwick For% of 55.47%, which puts to rest any concerns that the Oilers aren’t making the most of their strong possession numbers.

  • Corsi For%: 54.52% (5th)
  • Fenwick For%: 55.47% (4th)
  • Goals For%: 39.13% (28th)

Last season, the club was right around the league average when it came to shooting percentage, finishing with 8.28% . Heading into their game against Dallas on Thursday night, the Oilers were at the bottom of the league with 3.99%.

The first thought here would be that because the team is posting such good possession numbers,  and with an elite talent like McDavid on the roster, their shooting percentage should eventually regress towards the mean, moving closer to normal ranges, and the club should start to score more often. It’s difficult to imagine the Oilers regularly outshooting their opponents over an 82-game season and finishing with a 39% goal-share, so one would hope that things will eventually have to start going the Oilers way.

The concern I have with this thought is that even if the Oilers do a good job controlling play and generating shots, they currently lack the talent to convert those chances into goals. The forward group definitely has NHL-calibre players, inclduing Patrick Maroon, Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic. But unfortunately for the Oilers, they’ve been fairly weak on the right-side with Draisaitl out, and have relied heavily on rookie Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Strome for offence.

Below is a table of the forwards sorted by the number of shots on goal they’ve had in the first eight games and their individual shooting percentages. I’ve also included each player’s career number of games played and their career shooting percentages heading into the 2017/18 season.

Player GP Shots Shooting% Career Games Played Career Shooting%
Connor McDavid 8 26 11.54 127 12.50
Kailer Yamamoto 7 19 0.00 0 N/A
Patrick Maroon 8 18 11.11 301 11.76
Ryan Strome 8 12 0.00 258 8.31
Milan Lucic 8 10 10.00 680 13.39
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 8 10 10.00 395 9.87
Leon Draisaitl 4 10 10.00 191 11.67
Zack Kassian 8 9 0.00 313 11.02

What stands out here are two things and really needs to be addressed, especially by management.

First, a rookie is getting the second highest number of shots for the team. The problem with that is you can’t expect a player to make a smooth transition from junior and be able to figure out NHL calibre goalies. He absolutely has the talent to have a good NHL career, but the timeline for his development, like any other highly touted prospect, is unknown. Keep in mind, Leon Draisaitl in his rookie season posted a 2.63% shooting percentage, scoring one goal in 37 games.  Jesse Puljujaarvi in his rookie season didn’t score a single goal over 28 games. While it’s wonderful for Yamamoto’s development to play a top-6 role, it’s not exactly a smart bet on the part of the Oilers to rely on him for offensive production.

The second issue here is that Ryan Strome, who does not have a history of offensive production, is in the top five among forwards when it comes to shots. His career shooting percentage over 258 games is 8.31%, which is below league average – typically around 10.0% every season among forwards. (Source: Quant Hockey).

NHL-Forwards-Average-Shot-Percentage

Strome’s shooting percentage could improve over time; we know we can be more confident in his actual numbers as he continues to compile more shots. But the fact is he cost the Oilers Eberle to acquire, an experienced player with proven goal-scoring abilities and a career shooting percentage of 12.5% over 507 games. That trade would’ve been fine had the Oilers followed it up by acquiring another top six player with a track-record of scoring, but they didn’t, instead banking on one of their younger players to step into the role. On top of that, the Oilers bought out Benoit Pouliot, who struggled last season, but was a player with a 12.0% career shooting percentage over 500 games. There was a financial case to make both transactions, but the Oilers are now weaker up front, leaving Strome as a top six option when his numbers indicate he would be better suited in a lesser role.

I think those two issues – fast-tracking Yamamoto and giving Strome a top six push – are part of the reason why the club’s shooting percentage is lower than expected. Maybe both Yamamoto and Strome head to a stick factory in Mexico, find their stride and start converting on their chances. But without any data or evidence to base their decisions on, the Oilers management is taking a significant risk by having players without any offensive history play important minutes.

Oilers management can hope for the team shooting percentage to bounce back, but they haven’t exactly done themselves any favors with the roster they’ve built. And the fact that the defence core is taking more shot attempts this season compared to the past two suggests to me that the Oilers coaching staff might feeling the same way.

Heading into last night’s game, three of the top five players when it came to shot attempts at 5v5 were defencemen.

Player GP Shot Attempts
Oscar Klefbom 8 43
Connor McDavid 8 41
Darnell Nurse 8 40
Adam Larsson 8 34
Kailer Yamamoto 7 31

Last season, only one defenceman finished in the top five.

Player GP Shot Attempts
Connor McDavid 82 301
Oscar Klefbom 82 293
Jordan Eberle 82 281
Patrick Maroon 81 245
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 82 231

And breaking it down between all defencemen and forwards, there’s a noticeable uptick in the proportion of shot attempts coming from the blueline this season at 5v5.

Proportion of Oilers’ Shot Attempts (5v5)
Season Defencemen Forwards
2015/16 35.8% 64.2%
2016/17 35.7% 64.3%
2017/18 42.6% 57.4%

I’m suspecting that because the forward group is lacking scoring depth, the defencemen are getting more responsibility to direct pucks towards the net and having forwards scrounge for rebounds. The other factor we have to consider here is the amount and proportion of time the Oilers are trailing and the score effects associated with that game state. With opponents often defending a lead against Edmonton, the Oilers skaters could start to take as many shots as possible to generate a scoring chances. But often these desperation shots tend to come from low-probability scoring areas – perhaps a result of the defencemen trying to force plays.

It’ll be interesting to check in again in a month to see how the shots are being distributed, but I think the roster will need some changes if the team wants to better improve their chances of scoring.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Corisca Hockey

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

And if you missed it, I discussed the Oilers early season issues and some of the positives heading into last night’s game against Dallas on the CBC news. Clip is here, starts around the six minute mark: CBC Edmonton News (2017, October 26)

Potentially signing Chris Kelly and what it tells us about the Oilers

coppernblue.com.full.54273When the Oilers signed Chris Kelly to a professional tryout on September 9th, I figured it was mainly to meet the requirement of having at least eight veterans on the roster for exhibition games. It also wouldn’t hurt for the coaching staff to have an experienced player around the younger prospects through camp. And it would increase the competition for jobs on the third and fourth line.

Nothing confirmed yet, but after Brad Malone was demoted to the AHL earlier this week, and the fact that he’s still on the roster today, it’s starting to feel like the Oilers may sign Kelly to an NHL contract.

“He’s performed well. We have to see how these things turn out with Yamamoto and Jesse, and there’s a number of other variables. Chris has done well, he’s skating better than he did last year. He’s a great character, I’ve seen what he can do in and out of the room.” – GM Peter Chiarelli (Source: Oilers Now, 630 CHED)

Of course, signing Kelly wouldn’t be the end of the world. But it raises a few concerns around the Oilers and how they’re managing the roster.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.