A big reason why the Edmonton Oilers have been a competitive team this season has been the play of 29-year old goalie Cam Talbot. The netminder has started 32 of the Oilers 36 games this season, the most among all goalies, playing over 1,900 minutes, and has a record of 17-10-5 with three shutouts. Among the 46 goalies who have played at least 500 minutes at even-strength (5v5) this season, Talbot ranks 20th with a save percentage of 92.73%. Worth noting that his play on the penalty kill was a big reason why the team ranked so highly at one point, as he ranks 10th among the 41 goalies who have played at least 70 minutes shorthanded with a save percentage of 89.66%. (Source: Corsica Hockey).
The Oilers currently sit 10th in the league, and 5th in the Western Conference, when it comes to team save percentage at even-strength with 92.55%. This is a major jump from the past three seasons, as the club has ranked 26th, 30th and 29th since the 2013/14 season. The league average typically hovers around 92.0% to 92.5%, so anything near that can be considered progress for this franchise.
Here we see that the team is currently right around league average, something that’s only happened a few times since 2007/08. In the season’s where the Oilers did get good goaltending, they often couldn’t generate enough shots and scoring chances to keep up. For example, in 2011/12, Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin split starts, and gave the team a 92.14 save percentage. Among the 46 goalies who played over 1,000 minutes that season at even-strength, Dubnyk ranked 17th with a 92.62% save percentage. Unfortunately for him, the club couldn’t generate enough shots and goals, ranking near the bottom of the league.
What makes this season standout from those previous years is that the Oilers are getting good goaltending AND they’re out-shooting their opponents. Through 36 games, the club has out-shot opponents 885-841, which translates to a 51.29% share of all of the shots (i.e., shots on goal). The Oilers rank sixth in the league when it comes to shot-generating with 31.39 shots on goal per hour, and rank 16th when it comes to shots against with 29.82 (score-adjusted).
Here we see that the league average when it comes to the rate of shots against typically hovers between 29 to 30 year-over-year. Since 2007/08, the Oilers have annually been above the league average, usually allowing over 30 shots against per hour at even-strength, so it’s pretty encouraging to see where the club sits today.
To remain competitive the rest of the season, the club will need to continue getting good goaltending from Cam Talbot, who appears to be the only option for the coaching staff at this point. The Oilers are putting themselves at risk by not giving their starter a regular break, and may lose some of his productivity by overplaying him. What the Oilers should also be focusing on is maintaining a league average, or below league average, rate of shots-on-goal against. Looking at the 10-game rolling averages this season, we see that the club has been trending upwards when it comes to the rate of shots against (red line), while the save percentage has remained relatively steady since a hot start early on (blue line).
What’s interesting here is that often this season when the rate of shots against dipped down, for example the 10-game stretch ending with the game against Colorado, the team save percentage trended upwards. And when the rate of shots against spikes, the save percentage often takes a hit, with the 10-game stretch ending against Columbus serving as an example. Nothing really new here, but it’ll be worth monitoring how the team does suppressing the shots-on-goal against, and if they can keep it below the league average going forward. The key will be of course staying healthy, and the proper line and defence combinations that can drive and sustain success.