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The Oilers and One-Goal Leads

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The Oilers are struggling with one goal leads. Is it all on the goaltending, or might there be more to it?

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

After blowing two one-goal leads last night against the Predators, I thought it would be worth looking into the underlying numbers to see what might be going on with the Oilers. This wasn't the first time the Oilers played so poorly with the lead as it's felt like a reoccurring issue since the start of the season.

Now you could make the case that the Oilers have poor underlying numbers in all score situations at 5v5 to begin with. And that it shouldn't come as a surprise that they're bad with a one goal lead, which is fair. Below are the Oilers numbers when it comes to their share of shot attempts, scoring chances, and goals for, along with shooting and save percentage (5v5) this season in all score situations and when they lead by one (Source: War on Ice).

Metric All Scores Leading by 1
Corsi For% 49.3% (18th) 44.2% (22nd)
Scoring Chances For% 49.3% (21st) 42.1% (25th)
Goals For% 43.7% (29th) 34.8% (29th)
Shooting% 7.0% (21st) 7.7% (12th)
Save% 91.5% (27th) 88.7% (30th)

We know that when a team has the lead, they tend to see their possession, scoring chances and goals for percentages take a hit, which is also what we see above for the Oilers. Teams with a lead tend to play more cautiously, and the opponent might start pressing for offence and deploy their skilled lines more frequently when trailing. The issue for the Oilers is that they drop off significantly across different metrics once they get the lead, more so than the majority of NHL teams.

What I've done here is show the difference between a teams typical performance number compared to when they have a one goal lead. So possession wise (Corsi For%), teams typically have a difference of about -4.0 percentage points (in grey) when they have a one goal lead. The Oilers on the other hand, have a difference of about -5.0 percentage points when it comes to possession, which isn't too far off of the average. What gets interesting is the difference in scoring chances, as the Oilers drop around 7.0 percentage points with a lead, while the rest of the league has a difference of only 2.5 percentage points. And it becomes no surprise really that the team sees their share of goals drop compared to their overall numbers as they get out shot and out chanced pretty badly.

Goaltending has been a weak point for the Oilers this season, although it has vastly improved over the last month or so. The Oilers do have the worst save percentage in the league when holding a one goal lead, which is a drop from their overall performance. What I found interesting is that the rest of the league actually sees their save percentage stand pat or is increase slightly above their season long average when they have a one goal lead.

Thoughts

Based on what we know about coaching tactics, we should expect teams to see their share of shot attempts, scoring chances and goals drop slightly when comparing their overall, all-score average, to when they have a one goal lead. But the drop-off the Oilers are experiencing is somewhat alarming. Goaltending could be pointed to as a major culprit for the Oilers inability to hold a lead. But we can't overlook the fact that since October the club has struggled to be a good to average possession team that can generate chances and goals, something that comes down to a combination of player personnel, player deployment and coaching tactics.