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It's Defense, Not Offense Where the Oilers Have Improved At Even Strength

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The Oilers are having an uneven season, which as the panels and pundits are quick to remind everyone, is to be expected from a team full of young gunz!© But the same panelists are quick to mention the improved overall talent level and exciting brand of offensive hockey the Oilers are playing. Tyler at mc79hockey talked about the improvement on the power play, but the improvements elsewhere have been less obvious.

But the pundits have been blinded by the percentages. Through the early-going, the Oilers are riding even strength shooting percentage to score a few more goals, but that won't continue. What the panelists and pundits have missed is the improvements in their own zone. When it comes to even strength play, it's not team offense that has helped drive team improvements, it's team defense.

While the Oilers seem like they're having more success at even strength, it's not because they're generating more shots on goal. The team is slightly better than the 2010 version, but still far off of the 2009 team as shown in the table below.

ESS/60 2009 2010 2011
Team 26.069 22.788 23.075
Forwards 6.664 6.094 6.223
Defensemen 2.995 2.823 2.510

At this point, the Oilers have taken just .287 (1.24%) more even strength shots/60 on net, and if we assume 3,800 even strength minutes this season, this increase represents just 18 more shots at even strength over the 2010 team.

ESATT/60 2009 2010 2011
Team 36.875 32.200 33.174
Forwards 9.273 8.380 8.933
Defensemen 4.506 4.329 3.629

Even strength attempts show a similar story. The Oilers have attempted only .974 (2.94%) more (unblocked) even strength shots/60. The increase represents 62 more attempted shots over the 2010 team.

Like shots for, the team has seen a slight improvement in shots against thus far.

ESSA/60 2009 2010 2011
Team 31.023 31.916 30.832

The Oilers have given up 30.832 shots/60 at even strength, 1.084 (3.40%) less than the 2010 team. The represents 69 less shots over 3,800 even strength minutes.

But the Oilers are better this year and scoring more goals and have a better goals differential, so they must be generating significantly more scoring chances at even strength compared to the 2010 team. Not the case: through 27 games in 2011 the Oilers have totaled 296 even strength scoring chances; through 27 games in 2010 the Oilers totaled 294 even strength scoring chances.

It all comes down to percentages. The Oilers' even strength shooting percentage is 10.15%, compared to 8.25% last season.

The difference over the 473 shots taken so far this season is 9 goals or 3 standings points.

Through 27 games this season, the Oilers have 29 points. Through 27 games in 2010, the Oilers had 25 points.

Where the team has improved in 2011 is in scoring chance prevention. Through 27 games in 2011 the Oilers have given up 317 even strength scoring chances; through 27 games in 2010 the Oilers gave up 371 even strength scoring chances. This isn't a result of the team's commitment to shot blocking, neither shots nor scoring chance counts are impacted by blocked shots.

Stats courtesy the venerable and terrifying Gabriel Desjardins and