With the OIlers in a two game losing streak, and the looming regression hovering over them, I thought it would be worth looking into the current line combinations up front and to see if any changes are needed. Outside of the top line of Lucic, McDavid and Eberle, there hasn't been consistent production, especially from forwards Maroon, Draisaitl and Puljujaarvi. I'm giving Nugent-Hopkins, Pouliot and Kassian a bit of a pass as they've been taking on the opposing team's best players, and are doing a nice job playing on both sides of the puck. But I've still included them in this analysis to see how they compare to the other line combinations.
After 10 games, the Oilers have played four combinations with regularity at even-strength. Below is each line's adjusted possession numbers, their expected goals (xGF%), which is a weighted shot metric, as well as their actual share of goals at even-strength. I've also included the difference between the lines actual share of goals (GF%) and their expected share of goals (xGF%) to see how far they might be from their expected levels. I've also included each line's PDO, which has been used to measure their overall luck as both shooting and save percentage can be somewhat unpredictable. The data and the methodology behind expected goals is from Corsica Hockey.
|Combination||TOI||CF%||xGF%||GF%||Diff (GF% - xGF%)||PDO||Sh%||Sv%|
Worth noting right off the bat is the deployment of each line. At this point, the RNH and Letestu lines are seeing fewer offensive zone starts than the McDavid and Draisaitl lines. This is somewhat expected as RNH has a history now of playing against the other team's top lines and both he and Letestu have been given defensive zone responsibility in the past. Because Draisaitl is only in his second full season (and without Hall now), and Puljujarvi is a raw rookie, it makes sense to have them starting more often in the offensive zone.
What's surprising to me is that three of the four lines are getting a very respectable share of total shot attempts at even strength, The Letestu line is the one that's concerning as they typically see the opponents third and fourth lines, so hopefully that can improve, especially with more road games coming up. What also jumps out is each lines PDO as they're all over 100, but for different reasons. The Draisaitl line looks to be snake bit at the moment as their shooting percentage has to be one of the lowest in the league at 2.78%. I think it's safe to say that that number should get better, as they appear to be getting an abnormally high share of the quality shot attempts. Draisaitl's line has also received perfect goaltending from Talbot, which you can't expect for the long-term. McDavid's line is also cruising when it comes to possession and expected goals. But we can probably expect their production to come back down to earth a bit as their goal share is well above their expected goal share. Having said that, this is McDavid we're talking about, so he might end up maintaining that level of offensive production and pulling his entire team with him.
Initially I was expecting to see all four lines posting a goal-share above their expected levels thanks to a high shooting percentage and elite-level goaltending. I was also expecting sub-par possession numbers and figured there would need to be some line juggling, at least among the top six, to get players like Maroon and Draisaitl going and to offset the eventual regression. This team is still in need of experience on the right-side as they're embarrassingly shallow there, with only Eberle as the legitimate scorer. Puljujaarvi is being sheltered right now, and rightfully so, but it'd be worth looking around for an experienced forward who can contribute offensively and have Puljujarvi develop in Bakersfield. If they can find someone to take Puljujarvi's spot, I'd be hard pressed to make any other drastic changes at this point as the lines are doing well possession-wise and when it comes to shot quality. When their luck does come back down to earth, it'll be imperative that lines who post good possession numbers together remain intact, as Corsi remains a good predictor for future success.
Curious to hear what others think about the current line combinations, their numbers and on-ice tactics, and what changes could be made to sustain success.