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Generating offence on the penalty kill

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Looking into how the Edmonton Oilers and the rest of the league did last season, I’ve started coming up with some rough numbers that the Oilers should be striving for if they want to be in the mix for a playoff berth.

Game state Targets
5v5 >52.0% GF%, 2.5 GF/60
5v5 with McDavid >57.0% GF%, 3.6 GF/60
5v5 without McDavid >50.0% GF%, 2.4 GF/60
5v4 >7.0 GF/60
4v5 <7.0 GA/60

Couple notes:

  • The top 14 teams at even-strength in 2017/18 finished the year with a 52.0% goal-share (GF%) or better. And of the top 14 teams (based on GF%), the average rate of goals per hour was 2.50.
  • Since we’re dealing with the Oilers, I think it’s important to split the even-strength time between when McDavid is on the ice and when he’s not. We can fully expect the goal-share to be great with him on the ice, but the team has got to break even when he’s not. In 2016/17, the Oilers posted a GF% of 48.9% (89 GF, 93 GA, -4 differential) and a goal-per-hour rate of 1.98. Things were worse in 2017/18 when the Oilers posted a GF% of 41.62% (82 GF, 115 GA, -33 goal differential) and a goal-per-hour rate of 1.81 without their captain.
  • Should add here that if McDavid’s on-ice goal-share drops down to mortal-levels, say below 55% GF%, something is wrong (either he’s hurt or someone is dragging him down) and it needs to be addressed right away.
  • I’ve set the targeted rate of goals-per-hour for the powerplay fairly low. This team has to be in the top 10, especially if their even-strength results are average. They have the offensive talent, but it remains to be seen if the coaching staff can put together the right tactics.
  • I’ve also set the targeted rate of goals against per hour fairly low for the penalty kill. Strive for league average, and hope that the goaltending comes through.

The reality is that a lot is going to have to go right for the Oilers this upcoming season. They have enough talent up front and on the blueline to contend for a playoff spot, but their goaltending, special teams and depth have to be significantly better than last season. They’ll also need some of their prospects like Jesse Puljujärvi or Kailer Yamamoto to emerge as productive NHL players, and hopefully the Oilers blue line remains healthy.

I’m not overly confident that everything is going to work out, as we know how random and volatile an NHL season can be. Plus there are a lot of question marks around the goaltending and if the powerplay and penalty kill will be better with a revamped coaching staff. Health always remains a concern and the team unfortunately doesn’t have the scoring depth that a lot of the top teams do.

Since so much is up in the air, it’s imperative for a team with playoff aspirations to look into which areas they could potentially squeeze out more goals from. One game-state in particular that I’d be interested in is when the club is shorthanded (4v5) and if they could try to produce the same rate of shorthanded goals as they did last season. Although they allowed the fifth highest rate of goals against on the penalty kill last season, they scored 10 shorthanded goals – a rate of 1.51 goals per hour, which was best in the league. It’s also one of the best shorthanded scoring rates over the past five seasons league-wide.

What’s interesting is that the team scored seven of their ten shorthanded goals in the first half of the season, when the team allowed the highest rate of goals against. And when the team’s penalty kill results improved in the second half, the shorthanded goals dried up, as the Oilers scored only three more times.

We made some big adjustments last year around Christmas, not only personnel-wise but systematically and it paid some dividends. Our goaltenders paid better obviously after that – that’s a big part of penalty kill as well. - Todd McLellan (2018, September 26), via @EdmontonOilers

My initial thought was that the team may have been cheating for offence on the penalty kill in the first half of the season, and while they got great offensive results they weren’t getting the job done in their own end. And when the team made personnel and tactical adjustments around Christmas, they may have focused a little less on scoring and more on the defensive side of things. And as we see from the results below, they became far, far better at preventing goals and high danger shot attempts.

2017/18 Penalty Kill (4v5) Games 1-41 Games 42-82
Minutes 205:58 190:43
Goals Against/60 11.07 (31st) 5.66 (5th)
Shots Attempts Against/60 95.26 (8th) 94.70 (9th)
High Danger Shot Attempts Against/60 27.97 (31st) 20.76 (16th)
Save% 78.65 (31st) 87.67 (12th)
High Danger Save% 76.04 (30th) 87.88 (8th)

What’s interesting here is that while the team killed more penalties in the second half of the season thanks to better defensive play and goaltending, it’s not as though they stopped trying to score goals. In fact, the Oilers were generating the same rate of shot attempts and scoring chances as the first half of the season, but just couldn’t convert at the same rate.

2017/18 Penalty Kill (4v5) Games 1-41 Games 42-82
Minutes 205:58 190:43
Goals For/60 2.04 (2nd) 0.94 (10th)
Shots Attempts For/60 16.9 (9th) 18.25 (6th)
High Danger Shot Attempts For/60 4.37 (6th) 4.09 (7th)
Shooting% 16.67 (2nd) 7.14 (17th)
High Danger Shooting% 33.3 (3rd) 15.38 (15th)

It’s encouraging to know that the personnel and tactical changes the coaching staff made around Christmas didn’t slow down the team’s ability to generate shots. I’d be really curious to see if the team continues trying to generate shots and scoring chances next season on the penalty kill, which is what they appear to have been doing all year in 2017/18. It might be difficult to replicate the same shooting percentage, but as long as they’re generating shots, we know they’re spending less time in their own zone.

Worth noting too that new Oilers assistant coach Trent Yawney also had similar offensive numbers when he oversaw the penalty kill in Anaheim. The Ducks finished last season tied with the Oilers for first in the league with 10 shorthanded goals. And in 2016/17, the Ducks scored nine shorthanded goals, fourth best in the league. In both of those seasons, the Ducks were top 10 in the league when it came to shot attempts and high danger shot attempts, so it’ll be interesting to see if a similar results will occur in Edmonton next season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick