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Looking for Positives from the 2015/16 Season

Digging a little deeper into the Oilers possession numbers as well as the expected goals.

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Recently I've been digging into the team's overall possession numbers, as well as other metrics, trying to find some positive signs from the 2015/16 season. My expectations going into the season were high considering the success Todd McLellan has had in the past when it comes to possession, but those expectations were tempered knowing that the roster had major deficiencies and the amount of injuries the club had to deal with. What I've found so far is that even though the team  mustered less than 50% of the total shot attempts at even-strength this past season, the club did remain rather consistent, hovering around 20th place in the league through the whole season. I consider this progress as the Oilers have historically posted brutal possession numbers and would typically trend downwards as the season wore on.  It's also worth noting that for the first time in over seven seasons, the Oilers posted a 25-game stretch where the team Corsi For% was over 50%.

What I've also found using rolling 25-game averages is that even though the team steadily declined in their share of shot attempts near the end of the season, the club actually improved, rather nicely, over the course of the season when it came to expected goals (xGF). This metric, available at Corsica Hockey, takes into account the quality of shots, including the type of shot, the distance from where it was taken, whether it was a rush shot or a rebound, and from what angle it was taken from. You can read more about the expected goals methodology at Corsica Hockey. Please note that the Corsi and expected goals data has been adjusted to account for score, zone and venue.

For my own verification, I also looked into War on Ice's scoring chance data and high danger scoring chance data (adjusted for score), two metrics that expected goals takes into account along with other factors. Looking at the rolling 25-game averages, I found that the Oilers gradually improved when it came to the rate at which scoring chances and high danger chances were generated this season.

Above we see that when it came to scoring chances, the Oilers finished the last stretch of games averaging around 30 events for per 60, which is what the top teams like Dallas, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles were able to sustain all season. And when it came to the high danger chances, the ones that are in close, the Oilers averaged over 13 events for over the last stretch of games, a rate that the top teams like Dallas and Pittsburgh produced all season. The Oilers obviously have a lot of work to do to match up against these kinds of teams, but it's interesting that the club made some drastic improvements from their performances early on in the season.

It's hard to tell why this happened but I suspect it might have to do with the volume shooting that Todd McLellan had mentioned throughout the season.

"Volume shooting, I don't know what that does to Corsi or Fenwick because I don't even know what those things are, but volume shooting is important. I think it breaks down defensive zone coverages, gets players out of position, taxes the opposition, makes them play more minutes in their zone." - Todd McLellan (October 20, 2015)

If we look at the rate of total shot attempts for and against generated in rolling 25-game averages, we see that the club struggled suppressing shots. This shouldn't be all that surprising considering the defence core, the weak defensive play of the team, and the inability to sustain pressure in the offensive zone. But we also see that the team actually gradually improved when it came to generating shot attempts, with the team finishing the season well.

The Oilers averaged over 58 shot attempts over their last 25 games of the season, which would've placed them in the top 10 league wide had they kept that pace all season. The shot attempts against escalated quickly near the end of the season, which drove down their overall proportion of shot attempts (i.e., CF%). But it appears based on the expected goals metric, as well as the scoring chance and high danger scoring chance data, that these shot attempts against didn't exactly translate into high risk events against. On the flip side, the shot attempts that the Oilers generated over the last stretch of games appear to have lead to more dangerous scoring chances.

Whatever the strategies were over the last 25 games, and I'm convinced that McLellan introduced some new tactics right before the trade deadline, it appears to have been working for the team. The club will obviously have to make improvements to their defence core and bottom six forwards to increase their overall proportion of shot attempts, expected goals and scoring chances. But it's encouraging to see some progress compared to past seasons, as things, for once, appear to be trending upwards.