In my last post, I looked at how the Oilers did possession wise in 2015/16 and found that the Oilers improved from last season and avoided any sort of drop off over the course of the season. The team finished 20th in the league with 48.71% Corsi For (adjusted for score state, venue and zone by Corsica Hockey), which is still sub-par, but demonstrated some progress.
What's also worth noting is that for the first time in over seven seasons, the Oilers had a stretch of 25 games where their Corsi For% was over 50%. I'm not declaring that the rebuild is over, but it's a good sign nonetheless.
Between January 10th and March 4th, 2016, which were games 43-67, the Oilers posted a 50.9% share of all shot attempts at even-strength. The club also saw a bump in their share of goals, reaching 48.3% during those 25 games, but unfortunately only mustered eight wins in that stretch. Team shooting percentage at even-strength went up slightly from 7.1% up to 8.2% in that "streak", but the Oilers team save percentage stayed around their season long average of 91.5%.
Prior to January 10th, 2016, the Oilers played in 42 games and had an adjusted CF% of 47.9%. That number moved up in the next 25 games to 50.9%, but then dropped to 47.3% over the remaining 15 games. The same trend happened with the Oilers share of unblocked shot attempts and shots on goal. The team's share of goals was the most significant as the team reached 48.3% over their 25 game stretch, and were far below that before and after that stretch. I want to believe that the Oilers were doing something right between games 43 and 67, so I figured it'd be worth digging into player deployment.
Using the diagrams from Hockey Viz we can see how each team distributed ice time to forwards and defence over the course of a season. What I did was take the graphs available and add red bars at game 43 and game 68 to highlight the stretch of 25 games and see if there were any trends in the players' proportion of ice time between those two red bars. Below is the graph for the Oilers defencemen, which shows that the proportion of ice time for each player didn't fluctuate a whole lot during the streak. Davidson did see a bump in ice time during this stretch, but unfortunately he was injured soon after, making it a challenge to evaluate his impact on that 25-game run.
Next, I did the same thing for forwards and found one particular player saw a drop in their proportion of ice time when the Oilers were playing better. And when this player's ice time started going up again, well that's when the team started declining in possession metrics. That player: Lauri Korpikoski (highlighted below).
I honestly didn't intend to make this about Korpikoski but here we are again. Now I still think there's more to the story here and that the stretch of 25 games was caused by more than just one or two players. But it's hard to ignore the drop in his ice time over that 25 game stretch and how much better the Oilers were when it came to possession and their share of shots and goals.
This should not come as a total surprise to us. Korpikoski has historically been a drag on his team, with the club faring much, much better possession wise when the winger is on the bench.
This season, the Oilers posted a Corsi For% of 43% when Korpikoski was on the ice, with that number rocketing up to a respectable 50%(!!) when Korpikoski was on the bench. Last season in Arizona, the Coyotes posted a Corst For% of 43% when Korpikoski was on the ice, but moved up to 49% without him. This type of history cannot be ignored, and has to be considered as the club looks into making improvements in their bottom six this off-season.
While a single 25-game stretch of good possession numbers is hardly anything to celebrate, it can give us some hope that the Oilers are capable of taking another step next season. Historically, the Oilers possession numbers trend downwards as the season progresses. But this season, the Oilers actually kept their Corsi For% steady, ranking consistently around 20th place in the league.
As for why that happened, I can't recall any sort of change in playing style or tactics, so I focused mainly on player ice time and found Korpikoski's poor play to be a factor. If there are any other theories out there as to why the Oilers saw a bump in their possession numbers between January and March, I'd be interested.