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Checking in on the Pacific Division

One month into the season, a look into how the Oilers are doing compared to their division rivals.

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers are in a nice spot right now with a record of 7-2-1, good for second in the league, and fifth in the league when it comes to goal differential with +9. Their points percentage, which is their total points divided by the maximum points available, is second in the league, only behind Montreal, with 0.750 (Source: Hockey Reference).

What's worth looking at this point is not only where the Oilers rank in the league, but also where they rank in their division. Please note, all data is for even-strength situations only. I've included Corsi For% as a proxy for possession, expected goals (xGF%), which attaches a goal probability to each shot, the actual share of all of the goals (GF%), as well as the team shooting and team save percentage. (Source: Corsica Hockey)

As of October 31, 2016

Div Rank Team GP CF% xGF% GF% xGF Diff (GF% - xGF%) Sh% Sv% PDO
1 EDM 9 49.13 50.75 56.68 5.93 8.05 93.47 101.51
2 S.J 9 55.10 55.61 47.99 -7.62 6.11 91.35 97.46
3 VAN 9 42.65 42.66 40.10 -2.56 5.83 93.48 99.31
4 CGY 10 47.55 43.70 54.62 10.92 9.17 92.80 101.98
5 L.A 9 55.33 50.11 42.06 -8.05 5.03 92.01 97.04
6 ANA 9 50.83 50.68 46.78 -3.90 6.02 93.49 99.52
7 ARI 8 47.30 41.08 47.34 6.26 9.67 90.94 100.61

Here we see that while the Oilers rank first in their division and lead the group in goals for percentage, they have an above average PDO thanks to some very good goaltending, and an average share of total shot attempts (i.e. Corsi). Having a high PDO isn't any sort of knock on the Oilers as teams have their ups and downs through the course of a season. The concern here is that some of their flaws, namely their possession numbers and poor roster construction, might get overlooked or neglected since the points are piling up.

If we sort this table by Corsi For%, which has been adjusted for score and venue effects, the Oilers rank 4th in the division with 49.13%, behind Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim. The reason why Corsi has importance is because it's a good predictor of future success and can tell a lot about a team even within the first ten games (Source: Broad Street Hockey). The Oilers current share of shot attempts is an improvement from last season, but the club will need to improve that number through proper roster construction and player deployment, to contend for the playoffs. The team has done well when it comes to expected goals with a share of 50.75%, second in the division, thanks in large part to young McDavid generating offence. But it's concerning that their actual share of goals is well above the expected share (+5.93%). This indicates that they are getting a little lucky, and as long as their possession numbers remains average, that difference between expected goals and actual goals is likely, based on past seasons, to come back down to earth by the end of the season.

Here's how the Pacific division looked last season after the first month.

As of October 31, 2015

Div Rank Team GP CF% xGF% GF% xGF Diff (GF% - xGF%) Sh% Sv% PDO
1 L.A 10 56.04 53.01 47.08 -5.93 5.19 93.71 98.89
2 VAN 11 48.63 49.89 52.98 3.09 7.30 93.20 100.50
3 ARI 11 49.09 46.96 53.35 6.39 9.09 92.63 101.72
4 S.J 10 49.04 55.22 52.31 -2.91 7.36 92.53 99.89
5 EDM 12 46.04 45.24 42.37 -2.87 8.94 90.16 99.10
6 CGY 12 47.47 46.17 33.29 -12.88 7.08 87.20 94.28
7 ANA 10 49.26 44.57 24.89 -19.68 2.74 93.05 95.79

If you recall, it was a pretty pitiful start as the division was looking like the weakest in the league, with only one team posting a Corsi For% above 50%. Arizona was the team riding the percentages as their young group had a shooting percentage near the top of the league and did put away some points thanks to their run. We also see here that the Ducks couldn't buy a goal thanks to their 2.74% team shooting percentage, and saw their goal share far, far below the expected level. Over the course of the rest of the season, as we see below, everything seemed to balance out.

November 2015 to April 2016

Div Rank Team GP CF% xGF% GF% xGF Diff (GF% - xGF%) Sh% Sv% PDO
1 ANA 72 53.57 53.97 51.77 -2.20 7.03 92.21 99.24
2 L.A 72 57.17 55.58 54.43 -1.15 6.90 92.71 99.61
3 S.J 72 52.36 55.18 52.81 -2.37 7.74 92.18 99.92
4 ARI 71 45.96 45.92 48.48 2.56 7.65 93.11 100.75
5 CGY 70 47.83 48.19 50.50 2.31 8.38 91.92 100.30
6 VAN 71 46.60 43.53 43.25 -0.28 6.80 92.48 99.28
7 EDM 70 48.38 48.83 44.31 -4.52 6.99 91.75 98.75

The Ducks bounced back in a big way as the coaching staff adjusted their player deployment and the team managed to bring their shooting percentage to a respectable level. Their goal share was still slightly below their expected goal share, but it was a vast improvement form the -19.68 in the first month. We also saw the Coyotes come back down to earth, as the difference between actual and expected goal share dropped from +6.39 to +2.56. We can't predict what will happen based on ten games with absolute certainty, but we can at least temper our expectations based on some very sound metrics.

Jumping back to the current season, the Oilers are one of the teams above their expected share of goals, while also holding down a very average Corsi For percentage. And on the flip side, both Los Angeles and San Jose are running at 55% Corsi For percentages, while posting actual goals well below their expected levels. We can probably expect those two teams to move up in the standings over the course of the season and push the Oilers down. In my opinion, the Oilers could compete with the Ducks for that third spot as both teams are close in terms of possession, and the Ducks are not that far off from their expected share of goals. The Flames, Canucks and Coyotes are posting some very poor possession numbers, and unless they make some changes to their roster or shake up their deployment, it's hard to envision those clubs improving. At this point, it's looking like the Oilers could compete for a wild card position, something I personally did not expect, but would be thrilled if we get meaningful games in March.