In my last post I dug a little deeper into a stretch of twenty-five games from January to March where the Oilers posted, for the first time in over seven seasons, a Corsi For% over 50%. What I found was that the coaching staff had actually reduced the ice time of one Lauri Korpikoski during that stretch, which may have played a role in the team's overall performance when it comes to possession. As we know Korpikoski has been one of the league's worst possession players and has a history of dragging down the performance of linemates.
Now if we look at the actual rate of shot attempts for and against in rolling 25 game averages, we see that the team was actually suppressing shots poorly for most of the season, improved over that 25-game stretch from January to March, and then cratered late in the season (Source: Corsica Hockey). This indicated to me that something might have happened on the blueline and was worth looking at again in terms of deployment during the stretch of 25-game where they had a Corsi For% over 50, and the games after it.
Below is each defencemen's proportion of ice time during the course of the season, which is available at Hockey Viz. I've added the vertical red bars to show where the Oilers had a Corsi For% over 50% and highlighted young Brandon Davidson's line.
Here we see that Davidson saw a bump in his ice time during that nice run, which suggests that he might have played a role in the team's improved possession numbers. And when he got hurt on March 6th against Winnipeg, well that's when the team started allowing more shot attempts against per 60 and saw their overall proportion of shot attempts start to tank.
Here's another graph courtesy of Hockey Viz that shows the different defence pairings and whether they played top, second or third pairing minutes. Again, I've added the red vertical bars to highlight the stretch of games where the Oilers were a 50% Corsi For team. Davidson's bars are purple, which makes a more frequent appearance in the top pairing bands right around the time when the Oilers were playing well. Leading up to that stretch, Davidson was playing predominantly in the bottom pairing, but saw his ice time gradually increase until he got hurt.
What;s worth noting here is the amount of time Davidson played with Eric Gryba, and the impact that they had on one another. Gryba was Davidson's most frequent partner this season, playing 283 minutes together at even-strength, with the pair posting a 53.7% Corsi For. When Gryba was away from Davidson, his possession number plummeted to 47.5%, (Source: Hockey Analysis). What you'll also notice between the red bars is that McLellan trusted Davidson to play with the new additions like Adam Pardy and Jordan Oesterle, and basically carry guys like Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin.
It was also during this stretch of 25 games when the Oilers' expected goals against/60 hit its lowest point. The Oilers finished the season 22nd in the league in expected goals/60 with 2.59. This metric factors in shot quality (i.e., shot type and distance) as calculated by Corsica Hockey. Between January 10th and March 4th, when Davidson's ice time went up, the Oilers expected goals against/60 dipped below 2.50. Below is the rolling 25-game average for this metric. You'll notice that by early March, when Davidson was out of the lineup, the expected goals against/60 trended upwards rather quickly.
Just to confirm Davidson's impact on expected goals against, I looked at how his teammates did with and without him over the course of the entire season. Here we see, for the most part, teammates are better with him, than without him (red dots) when it comes to the quality of shots against (Source: Corsica Hockey).
It will definitely take more than a good stretch of 25 games to prove that the Oilers are turning things around. But what I've hoped to do in these past few posts is uncover some patterns when it comes to player deployment and line combinations that the team could learn lessons from and apply going forward.
For this post, I'm not arguing that Davidson is a number one defencemen or that he needs to be on the top line next season. But what I would suggest is that the Oilers have a solid young defenceman who was very good in his first full season in the NHL. His impact on the team's possession ratings, as well as the expected goals against is evident. The key now will be to find an appropriate partner for him and develop a complete roster this summer that drives possession, prevents high quality chances, and, eventually, generates goals.