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Finding Offence

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With only one goal in the last 10 periods of hockey, it might be time to shake up the line combinations.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

With only four goals in their last five games, it appears that the Oilers might be having some scoring issues at even-strength. The good news is that the team still ranks 9th in the league when it comes to goal-share, as they’ve outscored opponents 103-94. And they rank 11th in the league when it comes to their goal-scoring rate, sitting just above the league average with 2.35 goals per hour at even-strength (5v5).

League Rank Team Goals For% Goals For/60
1 Pittsburgh 56.54 3.03
2 Washington 65.26 3.02
3 Minnesota 60.40 2.97
4 Toronto 50.94 2.76
5 Columbus 55.28 2.72
6 NY Islanders 52.15 2.72
7 NY Rangers 52.07 2.71
8 Montreal 56.68 2.50
9 Detroit 50.00 2.43
10 Nashville 53.59 2.40
11 Edmonton 52.28 2.35

The Oilers offensive outputs have been a big improvement from years past as the clubs rate of goal scoring was typically below the league average and often near the bottom of the league.

Data: Corsica Hockey

What’s also been encouraging is that over the course of the season, the Oilers rate of goal scoring has remained pretty steady, even up until now. Over the past 25 games, the team has seen their rate of goal production dip just below the league average of 2.31, but it doesn’t appear here, at first glance, that there are major issues.

Data: Corsica Hockey

Now a big reason for the Oilers offensive output this season has of course been Connor McDavid. When he’s been on the ice, the Oilers create a lot more offence and scoring chances, and have generated 3.11 goals per hour. Without him on the ice, the Oilers rate of goal scoring drops significantly to only 1.96 goals per hour, which is around what Buffalo (1.96), Arizona (1.91) and New Jersey (1.91) are currently generating as a team this season. It doesn’t help that the Oiler forwards paid to generate offence are struggling all at the same time. Players including Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Benoit Pouliot, all of which are experienced NHL players with past success, are below their historical averages when it comes to goal scoring and point production. If the Oilers intend on being a playoff team, with championship aspirations, they will need to find a way to generate more goals, especially with McDavid on the bench.

One way the Oilers can do that is by improving their rate of shots on goal, something that the team has been struggling with over their most recent stretch of games. The club currently ranks 10th in the league with 30.32 shots on goal per hour, with the league average being 29.70. But if we break the Oilers rate of shots on goal over rolling 25-game averages, we see an obvious trend that really needs to be addressed by the coaching staff.

Data: Corsica Hockey

Here we see that over the first 30 games, the club was generating around 32 shots on goal per hour at 5v5, which would rank them just below what Pittsburgh, Boston and Nashville are currently generating as a team. Over the most recent stretch of games, the team is generating about 28-29 shots on goal per hour, which would have them just ahead of teams like Arizona, Vancouver and New Jersey. If the team wants to increase the scoring rate, and get back to a competitive level, it’s ideal to start looking into ways to generate shots.

One thing the Oilers can do is look at the different line combinations the coaching staff has deployed this season and see which ones would increase their chances of scoring goals. Below is every combination of forwards who have played at least 50 minutes at even-strength, ranked by their shots on goal per hour.

Line TOI Shots/60 Goals/60 Sh% Sv% PDO
Lucic-McDavid-Draisaitl 63.17 42.74 2.85 6.67 85.71 92.38
Maroon-RNH-Eberle 120.72 41.25 1.99 4.82 92.06 96.88
Kassian-RNH-Pouliot 101.02 36.23 2.38 6.56 95.65 102.21
Maroon-McDavid-Eberle 96.17 35.56 3.74 10.53 92.45 102.98
Maroon-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi 70.58 33.15 1.70 5.13 100.00 105.13
Lucic-McDavid-Puljujarvi 65.56 32.95 5.49 16.67 93.10 109.77
Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl 241.00 32.37 3.49 10.77 91.75 102.52
Lucic-McDavid-Eberle 210.73 29.90 1.71 5.71 98.02 103.73
Pouliot-RNH-Eberle 141.70 28.79 2.12 7.35 95.59 102.94
Lander-Letestu-Pitlick 56.96 26.33 4.21 16.00 90.00 106.00
Maroon-RNH-Draisaitl 50.24 26.27 1.19 4.55 100.00 104.55
Lucic-Caggiula-Slepyshev 77.52 25.54 0.77 3.03 97.30 100.33
Hendricks-Letestu-Kassian 126.57 23.70 2.37 10.00 94.23 104.23
Lucic-RNH-Eberle 71.04 22.80 0.00 0.00 89.19 89.19

What’s worth noting here is that two of the three combinations the Oilers are currently deploying are generating less than the league average when it comes to shots on goal. While the McDavid-Maroon-Draisaitl line is generating a respectable 32.37 shots per hour, the RNH-Pouliot-Eberle line is generating 28.79 shots per hour and the Lucic-Caggiula-Slepyshev line are only at 25.54 shots per hour.

If the Oilers look into altering their line combinations, it would be worth trying Lucic with McDavid and keeping Draisaitl on the right wing. The trio posted a shot rate of 42.74 per hour in just over 60 minutes this season. This would move Maroon to RNH’s line with Eberle, as that trio has played over 120 minutes together this season, and had a shot rate of 41.25. Worth noting that both of these line combinations had low PDO’s, thanks to lower on-ice shooting and save percentages, which might be why the coach has shied away from putting them back together. This would leave Pouliot with Caggiula and Slepyshev, which isn’t ideal, but could work until the team addresses their center depth issue.

Whatever the Oilers choose to do, it’ll be imperative to find a way to generate more shots and sustain their goal scoring production. Playoffs remain an attainable goal, but the team will need to make adjustments to be competitive down the stretch.

Data: Corsica Hockey