After reading Minnia's article on Friday, I felt pretty good about the team. She made some great points about the team's progress, the impact different players have had, and how great McDavid has been. Ya know things aren’t so bad, I thought. The Oilers are first in the Pacific division. They're getting 51.9% of the total shot attempts at even-strength. They’re getting 51% of the total goals scored. The powerplay is in the top 5. The penalty kill is in the top 10.
Then I watched the game on Friday night. And the sunshine-and-lollipops feelings went away. Okay, who am I kidding. My cold, bitter heart that’s endured so much losing because of this team didn't let those feelings sink in for too long. We need to face it: this team has problems.
- Points are slipping away
After 30 games, the Oilers hold a record of 14-11-5. They sit first as of this writing, but could very well be out of the top three in their division by the end of the night. Their points percentage, the points divided by the total available points, is 0.550. To put this into perspective, a 0.550 points percentage was good enough for eighth place in the Western conference last season. Not only are the Oilers very mediocre up to this point, but so is their division, and pretty much the entire West. And the Oilers still haven’t been able to capitalize. They couldn’t beat the Coyotes this year. They couldn’t beat the Sabres. And they’ve consistently left points on the table against teams they should be competing against, like Minnesota, for a playoff spot.
2. Goal scoring
At even-strength this year, the Oilers have outscored their opponents 57-55. Convert this to goal-share, and their sitting at 50.9%, which ranks them 11th in the league, 5th in the West. McDavid leads the team in even-strength goals with 9, followed by Maroon with 8 and Pitlick with 6. What’s troubling for the Oilers is that the team has been badly outscored when McDavid is not on the ice. With McDavid, the Oilers have a goal-share of 59.1%, which is a remarkable number. Without McDavid, the Oilers goal-share drops to 45.7%, a significant drop that indicates the team’s depth players aren’t pulling their weight.
The Oilers powerplay is currently ranked 5th in the league, with a 22% efficiency. In terms of goals, the Oilers rank second when it comes to goals per 60, only behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s all well and good and should be expected considering the success Todd McLellan and Jay Woodcroft had in San Jose. But a quick glance at the underlying shot metrics tells us this success may not be sustainable.
A good predictor of future success on the powerplay is the rate of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) generated. Currently the Oilers rank 19th in the league when it comes to this metric, and were very recently in the bottom five. A lack of right shooting options that would work well with the two left handed quarterbacks, which should have been taken care of in the off-season, remains an issue for the Oilers. The club is also converting a high number of their shots into goals, with the third highest shooting percentage on the powerplay. There may be some luck involved here, so I’m not quite sold on the tactics the coaching staff is running with.
4. Penalty kill
The Oilers penalty kill currently ranks 9th in the league, and were very recently ranked as high as fourth. This is all well and good until again you look at the underlying shot metrics. The club allows the 10th highest unblocked shot against on the PK, and have struggled to keep shots to the perimeter all season. So what’s been the key to their success? Cam Talbot has been outstanding for the club shorthanded, holding a save percentage on the penalty kill above 92% up until last week. This number is starting to slip, down to 91.23, likely due to a high workload as the club failed to address their need for a legitimate, NHL caliber back-up this past off-season. If the club wants to continue allowing a high number of shots, they can’t expect to play Talbot this much and expect him to bail them out night after night. He currently ranks second when it comes to ice time among goalies. Last season. of the top 10 goalies in terms of ice time on the penalty kill, only one had a save percentage above 90%. The year before that? Only two.
As much as I’d like to believe this team is a real contender for the playoffs, I also recognize that there are plenty of holes. Yes the team has made progress from last season, but that’s in large part to Connor McDavid and the offence he generates, strong play from Cam Talbot, a healthy Oscar Klefbom, and Connor McDavid. But the team is failing to capitalize on a weak division and conference because of the questionable moves made by this management group in the off-season. The team is getting outscored badly when McDavid isn’t on the ice. They don’t have a right-shot quarterback on the powerplay or enough right hand options to open up passing lanes on the powerplay. Their penalty killers haven’t been good enough, with too much ice time given to Nurse and Russell, both of which negatively impact their team’s ability to prevent shots against. And the team will be likely relying heavily on Talbot going forward as the management group made a poor decision signing Gustavsson this past off-season.
All of the Oilers current issues today were preventable, which doesn’t give me a lot of faith in this management group going forward. Having said that, my hope is that the club can recognize the issues, build on the positives, and adjust the roster accordingly to ensure a playoff spot in April.