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A Look Into the Oilers Declining Possession Numbers

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NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Edmonton Oilers Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Oilers have clinched a playoff spot, the question is how far can they possibly go.

Heading into last night’s game, the Oilers ranked 7th in the league, and 3rd in the Western conference behind Minnesota and Chicago, in even-strength goal-share with 53.93%, having out-scored their opponents 151-129. The Oilers powerplay has been very good as well, ranking second in the league when it comes to goals for per 60. And it appears their success is sustainable with the man-advantage as the club generates the sixth highest rate of unblocked shots-for per 60.

The one issue for the Oilers is that possession wise, they have slid down to 19th in the league sitting at a 49.66% Corsi For percentage, which indicates their goal-share at even-strength might not exactly be sustainable. What’s even more concerning is that over their last 25 games, which would go back to the end of January, the team’s Corsi has been 47.46%, a number that the bottom-feeders of the league typically post. To make matters worse, while the team continues posting a respectable Corsi For% with McDavid on the ice, over the last 25 games, without McDavid the Oilers have a Corsi For% of 45.48%.

Data: Corsica Hockey
NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Pittsburgh Penguins at San Jose Sharks Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Why does Corsi For% matter?

What we’ve seen from the past three playoff tournaments is that team’s increase their odds of winning a championship if they can post a respectable Corsi For% over the final stretch of games heading into the post-season. By no means are teams guaranteed success, but it’s a positive indicator if you’re out-shooting the opposition and posting better possession numbers.

Here’s a a quick glance at the four conference finalists from the past three playoffs, and what their Corsi For% was over their final 25 regular season games.

2016

Tampa Bay - 51.5%
Pittsburgh - 54.9%
San Jose - 52.7%
St. Louis - 54.7%

2015

Tampa Bay - 50.9%
New York Rangers - 48.7%
Chicago - 52.4%
Anaheim - 52.0%

2014

Montreal - 46.9%
New York Rangers - 53.2%
Chicago - 55.8%
Los Angeles - 57.3%

Only two of the last twelve conference finalists posted a Corsi For% less than 51%: the 2014 Montreal Canadiens and the 2015 New York Rangers. Worth noting that both of these clubs had elite goaltending in those seasons, ranking in the top three at even-strength save percentage, that may have been masking their issues. While the Oilers do have a solid netminder in Cam Talbot, the team’s overall save percentage at even-strength this season has hovered around league-average for the most part. And it’s doubtful, at this point, that it would be enough to cover the team’s larger deficiencies.

If we break out the rate of shot attempts for and against over rolling 25-game segments, we see that while the team’s ability to generate offence has dipped, it’s remained around league average for the most part. And that’s thanks in large part to McDavid, as the club generates 60.8 shot attempts per 60 with him on the ice, and only 52.51 without him.

Please note the range of shot attempts for and against ranges from 48 to 62, with 55 being league average, marked by the red line.

Data: Corsica Hockey
NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been the team’s ability suppress shot attempts that has been getting gradually worse this season. Early on, they were just under league average, allowing around 52 to 53 shot attempts against per 60. But since mid-January, the club is one of the worst in the league, reaching 61 shot attempts against per 60. Team defence has been the biggest factor for their declining share of shot attempts, but it’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause of it.

If we look at the top four defencemen for the Oilers, in rolling 25-game segments, all have seen the rate of shot attempts gradually go up when they’ve been on the ice.

Data: Corsica Hockey

And if we look at the three regular centermen, we see the same thing. Even McDavid’s on-ice rate of shot attempts against has gone up, with Nugent-Hopkins numbers standing out even worse.

Data: Corsica Hockey

It appears that the team’s poor shot suppression numbers isn’t being caused by one or two players, but may be a by-product of some systemic issues. Whatever the case may be, it’ll be imperative that the coaching staff identify the problem and make any necessary adjustments. The team is winning games and has a very good goal-share, but their success doesn’t appear to be sustainable as the club allows a high rate of shot attempts, and has seen their possession numbers gradually decline. With the playoffs in sight, the team has to do everything it can now to contend for a championship.

Data: Corsica Hockey