It's wild to think that the Oilers playoff hopes are slipping this early in the season. But it's a harsh reality considering the hole they've put themselves in and how difficult it is to make ground in the NHL because of three-point games.
What makes matters worse is that the Oilers poor results on the penalty kill is what's absolutely sinking them and may end up costing them a season. Considering how high the expectations were following a playoff run, this is incredibly disappointing.
First it's important to note that the Oilers are one of the least penalized teams in the league, having been on the penalty kill for just over 75 minutes, which is the 7th lowest in the league. They've taken 39 penalties so far, fifth lowest in the NHL.
When they are on the penalty kill, they've been a disaster. The team has allowed 14 goals now, third highest in the league, which translates into a 11.13 goals against per hour - the worst in the league. To put things into perspective, in the past three seasons no team has finished the year with a goals against per hour higher than 10 on the penalty kill.
Two things always worth digging into when analyzing a team's penalty kill: the rate of shots against and the team save percentage.
Team's are trying to block shots getting towards the net - a pretty standard task assigned to penalty killers who are pressuring puck carriers and disrupting passing lanes. So it makes sense to look at the rate of unblocked shot attempts against. And teams are doing everything possible to make sure shots don't actually hit their net, as this creates second opportunities and chaos that could turn into scoring chances. So it makes sense to look at how well the team is limiting actual shots on goals against.
The good news for the Oilers is that they're currently allowing 72.08 unblocked shot attempts per hour and 52.7 shots on goal per hour. This has them right around league average when it comes to both metrics.
Team save percentage on the other hand is what appears to be a significant issue on the penalty kill.
The Oilers currently rank 30th in the league, only ahead of the Coyotes, with a 80.56% team save percentage. This is far below where they were last season when the team ranked 11th in the NHL with an 87.75% team save percentage.
When the Oilers were bleeding shots against early on last season, Talbot, who started 73 games, bailed the team out with some outstanding performances, posting a 87.21 save percentage - one of the best in the league. Right now Talbot has a disappointing 81.82% save percentage, one of the worst in the league among starters.
This season's save percentage is far below Talbot's career average as heading into this season he had a career penalty kill save percentage of 88.84% (186 games, 894 mins). Among 77 goalies who have played at least 200 minutes on the penalty kill since 2012, Talbot ranks 11th.
Doing some quick math - if the Oilers posted the same team save percentage as last season (87.75%) - and they've allowed 72 shots against this year - the club would've allowed about five fewer goals (5.18). That's a pretty significant difference translates into a few points in the standings. All because of the penalty kill.
The Oilers have to be hoping that Talbot finds his form again, and that his penalty killing numbers regress towards his career averages. They should take solace in the fact that even-strength play isn't an issue for the goaltending this season - the team ranks 11th in terms of team save percentage right now with 92.53%. So there's definitely reason to believe that Talbot can be better going forward and the penalty killing numbers should improve.
One last thing I wanted to highlight was McLellan's past performance when it comes to the penalty kill.
What I've done below is list McLellan's teams since 2009/10, and included their rate of goals, unblocked shots and shots against along with each metrics league ranking that season. I've also included the team save percentage.
Looking through his numbers from San Jose, it appears that McLellan's penalty kill success often relied on goaltending more than anything else. When it comes to unblocked shots against and shots on goal against, his teams were usually below or right below league average on the penalty kill. The times when the rate of goals against was low - 2009/10 and 2012/13 for example - it was because his team save percentage was so high. There was one season in San Jose, 2013/14, when the team was very good at suppressing shots against, but that appears to be more of a one-off.
What this tells me is that we shouldn't expect the Oilers to be great at limiting shots against. They'll probably be in the average range for the most part. And that if the team is to have success, it'll be because of their goaltending. Considering how easily a coach can influence the special team's units, either through tactics or player deployment, this is a little disappointing. McLellan has the reputation of being a top-end coach, but it makes you wonder why he couldn't have a greater influence on his team's ability to limit shots against on the penalty kill.