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Getting Shots Through From the Blueline

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A look into how well the Oilers have done getting shots on goal this season.

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Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I looked into how the Edmonton Oilers were doing when it came to generating rebounds, and found that overall, the team is doing better compared to previous seasons. It likely has to do with McLellan's tactics as he and his coaching staff have preached about the importance of shot volume and attacking the blue paint since October.

What's also become critical for the Oilers to generate scoring chances is getting the initial shot on goal from the defence, something that the OIlers have been struggling with since the start of the season. As of today, the Oilers have 27.6% of their shot attempts blocked at 5v5, one of the worst percentages in the league, ranking them 27th overall. This is definitely something the Oilers' coaching staff is aware of and was even pressing when it came to Justin Schultz's performance back in December.

The one area we continue to emphasize with Justin is the willingness to continue to shoot the puck. The ability to hit the net when you do shoot the puck. And letting him know that, and encouraging him that, when you do shoot that creates offence for everybody. Even if that first shot doesn't get in, if it gets through, that's what leads to the second chance or third chance. But it's vital that that shot gets through from the top. - Assistant Coach Jay Woodcroft on Inside Sports (Source)

Lately, I had been noticing that Andej Sekera's shots in particular were getting blocked more often than his teammates, but figured it was because he was on the ice so often and taking plenty of shots to make up for it. When I came across a few tweets from fellow bloggers, I thought it would be worth looking into.

What I did was look at what percentage of shot attempts got blocked for each defenceman at 5v5 this season (ranked highest to lowest in the table below) to see if the eye test matched the data. I figured that it was possible that a player had a lot of his shots blocked, but still generated a lot of shots on goal (likely because they're taking a lot more shots overall). So I also looked into the rate at which each defenceman generates shots on goal (i.e., individual shots on goal per 60). Here's what I found for the Oilers defencemen who have played more than 25 games this season (Source: Corsica Hockey).

Name Gm TOI/Gm % of Shot Attempts Blocked Individual Shots on Goal/60
Andrej Sekera 70 17.15 43.50 6.75
Eric Gryba 53 15.29 39.72 7.03
Brandon Davidson 51 15.44 36.88 6.73
Mark Fayne 58 14.97 33.63 5.30
Oscar Klefbom 30 16.60 28.40 7.03
Darnell Nurse 59 17.48 28.22 9.70

Here we can confirm that Sekera does in fact get a higher proportion of his shot attempts blocked. On top of that, he ranks fourth when it comes to overall efficiency at getting shots on goal, ahead of Davidson and Fayne. We can also see here why the coaching staff likes having Nurse around and why he's been getting plenty of ice time at different score states. He gets a lower proportion of his shot attempts blocked, and he generates shots on goal at a decent rate. Nurse can be a bit of a hot mess at times the rest of the game, but he does have some things going for him at a young age.

Now this isn't to say that Sekera is a poor player or that he should lose ice time. We're only looking at a small subset of offensive ability here (i.e., shots getting through), so it's difficult to make any massive generalizations. Sekera has been the Oilers best defenceman this season, maybe second to Davidson, and regularly takes on the toughest competition. He has posted some good possession numbers this season and in years prior, and his ability to play in all situations can't be overlooked. And historically, he's been good at making passes that actually lead directly to shot attempts. So yes, he's been getting his shots blocked, but he can contribute to the offence in other ways.

Thoughts

We can confirm with the data available to us that Sekera does get a lot of his shots blocked at 5v5 and he's not that great at getting shots on goal. This might have more to do with the fact that the Oilers are still working through implementing McLellan's shot-volume, dump-and-chase, crash-the-blue-paint system that gave him success in San Jose. The rebound data tells us that the team is better at getting to initial shots quicker, but the shots aren't necessarily getting there often enough, something that can impact the proportion of scoring chances and high danger scoring chances (areas that the team needs to improve upon going forward).