Before the season started, I put together some high-level targets that I thought the Oilers should aim for. Things like possession, shooting percentage and save percentage (all at even-strength) served as preliminary, high-level metrics that could be further explored as needed. I used the performance of the Oilers' division rivals from around the same time last year to come up with these targets and made minor adjustments accordingly.
First off, a quick look at how they did in the first month compared to the targets I established.
As we expected, the Oilers haven't been good. With one month done, the Oilers are fifth in the Pacific division and 11th in the Western Conference. Every loss, in my opinion at least, has been marred by poor defensive play all over the ice. The team has an adjusted Corsi For% of 45.9%, good for second-last in the NHL. They've allowed the second most shot attempts (adjusted for score) in the league, but sit near the average when it comes to generating shot attempts. This might have to do with the "volume shooting" that Todd McLellan has used in the past, so there are some signs that the Oilers are making progress.
Digging into possession a little further, we see that the Oilers are not only generating fewer shot attempts than most teams, but this is translating to fewer actual scoring chances. Their current proportion of scoring chances is near the bottom of the Western conference, at a paltry 47.3%. When they do get a chance, they are converting with the team holding a 8.9% shooting percentage. The problem is, they're not getting enough chances, and are getting out-chanced on an almost nightly basis.
Worth mentioning, again, that the Oilers are just awful at preventing the high danger scoring chances that occur from the slot. This is where a bulk of the goals come from, yet the Oilers are not deploying enough players that can read and react when under attack. It's easy to point to the defencemen, who have been a major weakness of the team since pre-season. But it's important to question some of the forwards, especially the third and fourth lines, for the role they play in blocking passing lanes and directing oncoming plays away from the center of the ice. Maybe it's part of getting used to a new coaching staff or just poor communication, it's hard to tell.
What we do know from looking at the individual numbers is that the Oilers are a lot better when it comes to getting a higher proportion of high danger scoring chances when Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera or Mark Fayne are on the ice. This makes sense, since they've spent time with the top two lines, who have also done a good job generating scoring chances. The problem is the third and fourth lines who tend to lose the possession battle on a nightly basis. It can be forgiven that Anton Lander has struggled against second line competition as his linemates may not have the speed with which Lander often benefits playing with. But he's been important for the club as his assignments have allowed McDavid and Yakupov to take on weaker competition.
So what do the Oilers need to do to improve?
Plenty of options, but here's what I can think of at first glance.
1. Get better goaltending from Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson. The team save percentage at even-strength is the fourth worst in the league.
2. Improve the defence. And keep guys like Mark Fayne in the lineup. And keep Gryba and Ference out.
3. Get Lander some better wingers who can play second tier competition. With Jordan Eberle returning soon, I wouldn't mind seeing Lander get ice time with Taylor Hall, who has been outstanding so far this year.
As always, let me know your thoughts.